Werner plays big in little people's tourney

Friday, June 30, 2006
Tanner Werner, 13, hit off the sixth tee at Bent Creek in Jackson on Wednesday during the Gateway PGA/Southeast Missouri Junior Series. Werner won his division with a 1-over-par 73. (Fred Lynch)

When you see a big, blonde-haired, husky 13-year-old in Jackson, thoughts immediately turn to football.

The community has been known to produce a few corn-fed linemen over the years. And Tanner Werner looks like he could fill that mold one day. He's got the thick ankles and legs that would serve an offensive guard or tackle well.

Put a golf club in his hand, and thoughts of Werner veer away from the football field. With his blond hair and rounded, cherry cheeks, thoughts begin to creep in of a young Jack Nicklaus.

While the swing may be a little removed from Nicklaus at this stage in life, there's little doubt the kid has game.

Last week at the Pepsi Little People's Golf tournament at the Indian Trails Golf Club in Camp Point, Ill., Werner finished tied for fourth in the 12- to 13-year-old boys category.

For Werner, the son of Connie and Randy Werner, it was the third time he played in the tournament.

"That's the best I've done by far," he said in his subdued manner.

That might not sound like a significant achievement until you learn more about the competition. Among the field of 81 competitors were three boys from Mexico, two each from England, South Africa and Thailand, while the Philippines and Guatemala each had one representative. The U.S. competition stretched west from California, east to New Jersey, north to Minnesota and south to Texas. Fourteen other states were represented, as well as Washington D.C.

The kid from Jackson was second after the first round with a 71.

He followed that round up with a 77.

"I was trying to finish in the top 10," Werner said. "That's all I really wanted to do."

The showing wasn't exactly an aberration.

Last summer, he shot his best round of 67 at the Missouri Junior Amateur at the Country Creek Golf Club in Carterville, Mo. The score had him tied for first, and he fell down the leaderboard with a second-round 77.

"It was pretty windy the second day, but that's no excuse," he said.

On Wednesday, he played in the PGA Junior Golf Series event at Bent Creek and shot a 1-over-par 73 from the white tees. He topped his closest competitor, Eric Hayes, by eight shots. It was a little revenge for Monday, when Hayes nipped him with a 76 at the Cape Girardeau Country Club.

Werner, who will be in the eighth grade this year at Jackson Junior High, plays most of his golf at Kimbeland Country Club. He started at age 7 in Kimbeland's junior program run by golf pro Jim Davey.

"He's been scoring pretty good since 9 or 10," Davey said.

Werner said this is his third straight summer where he's tried to play 18 holes a day. He's not much for practicing, maybe chipping and putting while waiting for a game.

"I play more than I practice," he admits.

Last year, his handicap dropped to seven, and he's lowered that to a five this summer.

"That doesn't happen very often," Davey said of Werner's handicap at his age. "That's him playing with adults, and they're not going to let him get away with anything. His scores are honest scores. The little kid can play. Well, he's actually not that little anymore."

The "little kid" also likes to play basketball, which may make some coaches in Jackson happy in the coming years. But despite his size, he has no interest in football.

He loves golf, and for a reason that matches advanced maturity to go with his size.

"You just rely on yourself," Werner said. "You do anything wrong and it's your own self."

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