TMGP: Who got you started into the game of golf?
John: My father was the one who introduced me to golf. He has always been a fierce competitor and from the first time he played golf around age 30 he was hooked. At that time we lived 30 minutes from the nearest course so some days he would drive up and walk 45 holes. When I was 6 he moved us from Thayer, MO to West Plains, MO where the course was and he still lives there today. I was given my first set of clubs at age 6 and started playing tournaments at age 8.
TMGP: Can you describe your best moment or day on the golf course?
John: After my freshman year of college I played the Missouri State Amateur Championship at Westwood Country Club in St. Louis. I don’t remember exactly which round of match play it was but my dad had a day off from the railroad and he drove to St. Louis to caddie that day. Up until then I think he thought I was becoming a good golfer but wasn’t 100% sure. That day I was on and I think I won my match 6&5 and was about five or six under par through 13 holes. Walking back to the clubhouse to get ready for the next match dad said… “Son, you can really play!!” I’ll never forget that day. The second best part of that day was that during that match I beat Kansas Jayhawk Clay Devers!!!
TMGP: Do you take lessons and have a regular teacher? Describe what you do to fix things when needed. Go to a teacher? Work things out yourself?
John: I don’t have a regular teacher these days but speak often about golf with my brother, Stan. With today’s technology I can email him video if I need a second opinion. I’ve been fortunate over the years that I’ve had a pretty simple swing with only a few keys to remember. I was taught the fundamentals when I first started golf by Missouri Golf Legend Ken Lanning from Rolla, MO who recently passed away. Relying on those basics over the years have allowed me to keep my game in check for the most part.
TMGP: What’s your best score? Number and what was it to par?
John: My best score ever was a 9 under par 61 at A.L. Gustin Golf Course about six or seven years ago. I remember being 6 under through the first nine and then 8 under through twelve when the sun started going down. At that point my playing partners Scott Sasek and Chris Johnson stopped playing to allow me to possibly finish a sub 60 round before dark if I made a few more birdies but with only conversion on the 16th coming I fell a couple shots short.
TMGP: What’s the most beautiful/scenic course you’ve ever played?
John: While I haven’t played it personally I have caddied for Stan at Pebble Beach a few times. It with no doubt is the most beautiful golf course setting I’ve ever been on.
TMGP: Have you ever met or played with a current or former PGA Tour player?
John: Having a brother, Stan Utley, that is a former PGA Tour winner I’ve played with and been blessed to meet many tour players over the years. Some include major champion winners Lee Janzen and Tom Lehman. I’ve also played Steve Stricker and many others. I myself had conditional status membership with the PGA Tour affliated Web.com Tour in 1992 and several of the players I played with that year are still on the tour today. Plus I’ve caddied for Stan in maybe 50 events over the years including the 1986 U.S. Open that has afforded me many other opportunities to be amongst the world’s best.
TMGP: What’s the best golf related advice/tip that you’ve ever been given?
John: One of Mr. Lanning’s on-liners was “Shampoo your mind.” I think this is so important because we have to let the last shot go and get focused on hitting the next shot. And for me the statement means don’t try to guess or fix what you can’t see anyway being out on the course….. instead take a deep breath, clear your head, and think about what you do to hit a good shot.
TMGP: Do you feel that your perspective on the game has changed or evolved since you first started playing?
John: Technology has changed the equipment of the game, but golf scores still come down to getting the ball in the hole. And for that simple fact I still believe that great fundamentals, a creative mind, and a great short game will always hold a premium for the game of golf.
TMGP: Do you have any specific golf products that you rely on/enjoy using?
John: One of the simplest tools that I use is a flat piece of metal that has a T-Square drawn on it. I put it on the ground with my ball at the end of the T-Square when practicing my putting and this allows me to know and see what my putter face looks like when it is in the proper “square” position at address. Your eyes can deceive you but to have the reinforcement of the training aid builds muscle memory to take to the course.
TMGP: What’s the coolest or dumbest golf gadget you ever bought?
John: Probably the most significant gadget or learning device I ever bought was a pocket sized metronome when I was a kid. I used to practice while listening to the ticks when working on my rhythm and tempo. And I can still here the beat in my head today when I am practicing.
TMGP: Can you share an amusing or little known fact or golf story that your golf buddies would be surprised to find out?
John: I’d have to say my best golf story is that while caddying for Stan during the 1994 season I was given the opportunity to caddie for Clint Eastwood the week of the Bob Hope Desert Classic (as it was called back then) in Palm Springs, CA. Stan was taking that week off and his amateur partner from the AT&T Pebble Beach Classic a couple weeks earlier was friends with Mr. Eastwood and was also playing in the Bob Hope with Eastwood. He arranged the job for me and it was one I’ll never forget!!!
TMGP: When Missouri is covered in snow do you fly off to play on warmer courses? If so, where do you go?
John: I don’t travel a lot in the winter but when I do leave I try to head to Scottsdale, AZ. Stan and his family live there and as he puts it they have a lot of “Dome Days” out there…..it’s hard to beat!!
TMGP: Have you changed out your Long Irons to Hybrids? What’s the longest iron in your golf bag?
John: As technology and design continue to evolve equipment I have taken out the two and three irons in my bag and I carry two hybrids now….a 20 degree and an 18 degree. A 4 iron is the longest traditional club in my bag.
TMGP: Have you ever taken putting lessons?
John: Again, Mr. Lanning taught me how to play and gave me putting lessons as a kid and through much of my competitive career. Now, Stan is my go to for my putting help. However our father Frank has seen us at our best so he is called upon when needed.
TMGP: What’s the course that you play on most often? What advice would you pass onto someone who is playing there for their first time?
John: These days being a Teaching Professional at The Club at Old Hawthorne and having my Columbia College Men’s & Women’s Golf teams home course being Columbia Country Club those are the two I play most often when I get the chance to play. For Old Hawthorne I would tell people to pay attention to the different quadrants of the green complexes and be sure to miss it in the right spots. That’s true everywhere but particularly there. With the amazing surrounds they have you always have a chance if you are on the right side of the hole. As for CCC…..you better just manage your ball and keep it in front of you. Their recent remodel has done a great job of preserving the old school tight fairways of the front nine with the deceivingly more modern open look of the back. But if you take anything for granted it will come back to bite you!
TMGP: What would you say are the top 3 golf courses in Missouri?
John: Of the Missouri courses I have personally played it is hard to pick a top three…..but I would have to say Hickory Hills CC in Springfield, MO, Old Warson CC in St Louis, and The Club at Old Hawthorne here in Columbia are at the top of the list. I’ve been to Dalhousie Golf Club in Cape Girardeau but not played it and been around Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, MO several times and they both are way up the list as well.