Conway’s own Brannon Watson of Arkansas Golf Center received Golf Digest’s award of top golf teacher in Arkansas for 2013-14.
The award was announced in the magazine’s November issue and gives a list of the top coaches in each state. Arkansas’ list included only two coaches: Watson and University of Arkansas’ Brad McMakin.
Watson said he wasn’t expecting the award.
"I was a little surprised because I hadn’t heard anything from them," he said. "They let me know I had come on the radar the past couple of years."
He said they notified him that he was in the top six in Arkansas, then the votes were taken.
Watson flourished his career at Vilonia High School where he won the conference and state tournaments individually. In 1997, he was runner-up in the Overall High School Championships, which include the top high school golfers in Arkansas.
After graduating, he attended the University of Central Arkansas where he received a four-year letterman. There he played 36 rounds, shot 2,781 total strokes for a round average of 77.25 and a low round of 70 with two top-10 finishes.
He said after playing in high school and college, he sort of stumbled into teaching golf after trying to play professional golf. He said he had some major foot problems that hindered him along the way.
"I had a lackluster [desire] for the grind that is professional golf," he said. "You have to [have an extremely] low score to do well. The driving range by the interstate was for sale. We ended up asking to buy it all."
He said he did not expect himself to own a golf shop or driving range at the age of 24.
Watson said his simplicity helped him win the award.
"I’m really good at cutting to the chase and cut through the jargon," he said. "There’s a lot of fluff in golf. Everybody is trying to write a book and make a dollar. Everyone is trying to re-invent the wheel. I’m taking the same wheel and trying to [perfect it]."
He said he has been a disciple of Butch Harmon, the reigning number one golf teacher in the United States. Harmon is the former golf instructor for Tiger Wood and current coach for Phil Mickelson.
"I like his style," he said. "[I have] just read a lot of books, magazines, articles and such from him."
Watson said he was a natural at teaching golf.
"It was just kind of something I was good at from the beginning," he said. "Getting my point across to people has always been easy. Fear of failure is what got me to where I am today."
One of Watson’s students has been Whit Parker of Conway, who, this summer, won the Arkansas State Golf Association state title at age 14. He was the youngest player in history to earn this title.
Watson said one of his favorite memories teaching golf came when he was teaching Parker and others at a junior golf camp. Watson said at the end of the day the group got together and played a fun game in which the golfers set up to try and hit Watson while he was swerving around on his golf cart. He said he thought Parker got lucky in hitting him the first couple of times, but that when it happened about 20 times, he knew Parker was good. Watson said he thinks some professionals couldn’t even do that.
One instrument that Watson uses in his teaching that many others do not is V1 technology. This technology includes a small camera that uses its own hotspots to analyze a player’s swing. He said from this technology he can use his iPad to draw the necessary lines to analyze the swing then send a link to the player’s phone and email.
"It’s becoming more readily available, but we’ve embraced technology from the day the doors opened," he said. "That doesn’t always mean the best thing to do is just show the student the video and overwhelm them."
He said that would be like doctors rushing to a diagnosis with the patient typing the diagnosis into Google and getting scared because of what he read. He said the player has to understand why the system is working and not just that it’s working.
Watson, founder of the Arkansas Golf Center, is the head golf instructor, master club fitter and V1 high-speed video lesson expert at the store. He currently works with the University of Central Arkansas teaching Beginning Golf. He said teaching this class allows him to see about 1,000 new swings per year where other teachers are only able to see about 100.
Arkansas Golf Center has won the title of top-100 fitter in the United States and 2012 Golf Range Association of America top-50 ranges in the standalone category.