By Donna Lampkin

Correspondent

When Landon Hearnes starts his senior golf season at Central Arkansas Christian this fall, he’ll have quite a summer to look back on.

Hearnes, 17, who lives at the River Plantation near Mayflower, will play in the 106th Southern Amateur Championship at Chenal Country Club’s Bear Den Course in Little Rock beginning today. The 72-hold stroke play event will end Saturday.

"Landon is certainly a strong powerful player like so many of them are," said Wyn Norwood, the former UALR coach and one of the people responsible for the tourney being played in Little Rock this week. "On this golf course it’s who can drive the ball straightest. And he is certainly provent that by qualifying here and his record of late. Landon a good player and he is starting to mature now.

"This is very uncommon for someone his age to be here. This is usually it ruled by college players and some of the better amateur players from around the world. Very few past college.

"Good lengeht, good ball stiker, like any 17 yr old learn to manage game hardest for the 17 and 18 yr olds. I think he has made giant strides in the last couple of year."

The 5A-Southwest champion for the Mustangs last fall, he has already this summer won the Arkansas qualifier for the Trusted Choice Big "I" National Championship; finished 10th in the Southern Junior at Pinehurst, N.C.; and tied for fifth in the Future Tour Championship at Greenville, Miss.

Besides the Southern Am this week, he’ll also play in the Maumelle Classic July 27-29 and the Trusted Choice Big "I" National Championship Aug. 7-10 at the University of Texas Golf Club before leading the Mustangs one final time to what he hopes will be a state championship.

While admitting it’s an honor just to be in the field of one of the most prestigious amateur tournaments in the country — he survived qualifying in early June at the Bear Den Course, where he shot 74, just to make the field — Hearnes has some goals this week.

"I want to shoot in the mid-70s all around and stay in there and not blow up and completely lose it," he said. "I want to make the cut. I don’t expect to win or anything, but it’s good to be there."

In a practice round Monday, he played with competitors who’d played collegiate golf at Memphis and Southern Cal.

He said having played the qualifier at the Bear Den Course should help him.

"Probably 90 percent of the people have never seen the course, so that helps," he said. "It gave me an idea of what I need to shoot."

He said he’d expected the course to be tougher during his practice round.

"But now they’re going to let it grow," he said. "As tough as it will be, I’d take 77 every day."

The winner rolls of the Southern Am include the legendary Bobby Jones (three times) and Webb Simpson, the reigning U.S. Open champion, who won in 2005 at The Dunes in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., and in 2007 at PGA Pinehurst in North Carolina.

Hearnes has grown up in the sport. His parents, John and Mary, formerly owned a driving range in Maumelle and still own one in Searcy. They are building one in Cabot.

"I’ve played forever," Landon said. "It’s frustrating; I know that. I get really mad, and I’m trying to work on that."

His older brother, Erik, now 21, doesn’t play anymore, but the younger brother said he hoped to play college golf, maybe at Arkansas State. Erik Hearnes farms in Northeast Arkansas, and the two are best friends and hunting buddies.

Landon said the two grew up on the driving range at Maumelle but hunted there "a lot more than we played golf."

"My family farms, and we’ve got a lot of hunting land, so my brother and I go hunting every weekend all winter," he said.

But golf will get his focus for the next few months. CAC finished runner-up in the Class 5A State Tournament last fall to a loaded Hot Springs Lakeside team, but the Mustangs will drop to Class 4A this year. John Hearnes coaches the CAC golf team.

"He has good lenght and is a good ball striker," Norwood said, "Like any 17-year-old learn to manage the game and that is the hardest part for for the 17 and 18 year olds. I think he has made giant strides in the last couple of year and will be a good college player."