By DAVID DROSCHAK
It’s the 50th anniversary of The Beatles coming to America, so it’s fitting Tony Keeton appears to have finally found his way.
After migrating from England to the United States in 1997 to play golf at Campbell University, and then bouncing around local clubs such as Lochmere, The Neuse and Johnston County Country Club as an assistant or teaching pro, Keeton has landed at The Golf Academy with Keeton Custom Golf.
It is the perfect match for the passionate Keeton, who as a teenage golfer competed against PGA Tour stars Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia.
“I never beat them, but I played with them and I’m from the same era,” says Keeton, who now fits Champions Tour player Neal Lancaster with his clubs and gives him an occasional lesson. “I was a pretty good junior player.”
Keeton’s father Charles helped him journey to the U.S. to get an education in Buies Creek. And then it was off to locations such as Cary, Clayton and Smithfield before longtime operator of The Golf Academy, Herman Williams, left the facility off of U.S. 70 in Raleigh this past winter. Keeton was able to land an interview with owner Wayne Poole.
“I have all this equipment that I could bring to the table and when Mr. Poole saw that it was kind of like, ‘OK, come on,”’ Keeton said.
“One of the first days I was here there were 90 people hitting balls at the same time so I said, ‘Heck, this is perfect,”’ he added. “I walked around with an iPad and just started giving golfers five minute quick fixes and handing out business cards to generate business.”
Keeton uses state-of-the-art teaching software (V1 Golf) with high definition slow motion video to capture the swings of students, with images seen immediately on the driving range. His FlightScope launch monitor also can be used for a number of different things such as club fittings, distancing and wedge gapping.
“With technology moving at such a fast pace, the equipment that is now available for swing analysis and data capturing is incredible, but it still requires the best knowledge to use it efficiently and get the results that my students are looking for,” Keeton said.
But Keeton is not all about technology. Just ask Lancaster, who first met Keeton while he was out hitting balls on the range at Johnston County Country Club.
Keeton approached the PGA Tour pro and asked to video his swing. The easy-going Lancaster chuckled.
“I’ve never looked at video in my life,” Lancaster said. “Tony and I became good friends and the best thing Tony told me was, ‘You know what Neal, you can hit it any way you want. There is really no need to video you anymore because you are a feel player and anyway you do it you’re going to hit it pretty solid.
“Tony is a good teacher and he likes to look at video and analyze,” added Lancaster. “You can’t sell him short on the technology and equipment that he has. If I need anything done last minute I will call him and if I feel like I have a problem I’ll call him and say, ‘Hey Tony, can you meet me for 30 minutes and look at the video and see what it looks like.’ In golf it always feels totally different than it looks.”
While Keeton is partial to high-tech help, his versatility as a teacher is one of his strong suits. He is certified with more than a half dozen golf-related degrees and/or certificates, including custom club fitting and building.
“I don’t teach a specific way,” he said. “I basically take people as they are and adjust them, tweak them. I keep it fairly simple and I like to focus on swing plane. Most people’s problem is keeping the club on plane, they get flat. I like to focus on mainly people’s short games because that’s the most important part of the game. Everybody who stands out there and drives all day long isn’t doing anything with their game.”
“The Golf Academy has a nice 100-yard grass tee area, it has the repair shop and I have a back room with a net where I can teach in the winter time,” he said. “I am pumped. I got all my golf logos put on everything. Now I wear my shirt on the range and people are saying, ‘What’s that?’ I sort of just fell into my dream job. So I need to just run with it.”
Keeton’s home in Johnston County has a golf workshop that is “10 times larger” than the one at The Golf Academy.
“That’s all I know is golf, all I’ve ever done,” Keeton said. “I’m getting ready to do what I’ve been dreaming about doing for 20 years.”