Young Gun on the Links
One of the area’s most notable golfers wants you to know that he’s the second-fastest kid at his school and that he has received only one grade below an A on his report cards in the past year and a half. He says that he’s improved greatly in math. To prove it, he pulls a pencil and paper out of a drawer and begins scrawling a multiplication problem, using mom’s smartphone to check his calculations.
Slater Mobley is like many 10 year olds – bright, active, inquisitive, and a chatterbox when the mood suits him.
Put a golf club in his hands, however, and something special occurs. The boy with a favorite toy duck and a stash of Monopoly money in his bedroom disappears, and another being emerges, one with natural gifts that defy explanation for his age and, equally remarkable, the desire and discipline to put those gifts to use.
“I’ve never seen a kid like him come through here,” says Michele Paye, who has been the general manager at the Carolina Club in Grandy for the past 20 years. “He has more discipline and focus than most adults. He’s on the range or the putting green far more than any of the adults out here.”
The Mobleys live in the Grandy golf course community where Slater’s dad, Martin, works and where Slater need only go down the street to indulge his passion. “He’s got so much talent, it’s unbelievable,” said Martin, who is also a golfer.
It hasn’t taken long for Slater to begin to carve out a reputation in the golfing world, both regionally and nationally. He has won tournaments in his age group and has been invited to events here and abroad, all without the benefit of lessons.
Martin and his wife, Kara Mobley, both competitive athletes growing up, say they understand their eldest son’s gifts and while they’ll do what’s necessary to nurture them, it’s just as important to them to keep him grounded and allow him to remain a kid.
“We’ve never pushed the game on him,” Martin said. “That’s very important.”
Seated next to his dad, Slater volunteered, “I push myself. I push myself to play. Instead of him pushing me, I push him to take me out.”
Asked why he likes golf and what about the game appeals to him, Slater responded with a youngster’s matter-of-fact certainty.
“It’s probably one of the hardest sports there is,” he said. “Everybody says it’s easy, but they don’t play the game. It’s not easy. Having to get (the ball) inside a tiny hole from 280 yards in four shots, that’s not easy at all.”
Slater’s exposure to golf began with his dad, who would take Slater to work with him at the Carolina Club. Slater trailed his dad around, whacking balls with extra clubs and occupying himself for hours.
“I noticed it right off the bat,” Martin recalls. “He had the swing for it. When he was a little younger, before he started playing, he would swing a little bit – just run up and hit it. I noticed everything was in sync perfectly. Once he really started picking it up during the summer of 2014, everything was just nice. He was hitting the ball square. It was going straight. He was compressing the ball well. He made great contact.”
Martin was a competitive golfer and baseball player growing up in Chesapeake, Va. He gave up golf at 17, saying he was burned out, and rediscovered the game 25 years later as a more recreational and leisurely pursuit. He is a happy 5-handicapper who is now more steward than competitor.
“I’m more concerned about his golf than mine,” Martin said.
When Slater began playing competitively in the summer of 2014, he was successful almost immediately. He won the Virginia State Golf Association’s age-group events in Hampton Roads, at Cahoon Plantation in Chesapeake and Elizabeth Manor in Portsmouth – routinely finishing near the top of the leaderboard.
His early success earned him an invitation to the U.S. Kids Golf World Championships in Pinehurst, N.C. during the summer of 2015. He tied for 61st in the eight-year-old division among an international field of 138 in the three-day, 27-hole event.
The following March, at the 2016 Jekyll Island (Ga.) Cup, a major U.S. youth tournament, he tied for 11th out of 48 golfers in the nine-year-old division. He shot a second-round, 2-under-par 70, which tied for the event’s low score among all eight, nine, 10 and 11 year olds. It remains his best competitive round to date. He also tied for third place last June in the nine-year-old division of the Penn State Invitational in State College, Pa.
Slater also excels at Drive, Chip and Putt skill competitions for youth golfers. Playing from the junior tees, he regularly shoots in the mid-30s for nine holes.
“Slater has a ton of potential,” said Dan O’Boyle, director of golf at Sea Scape Golf Links in Kitty Hawk and a neighbor of the Mobleys in Grandy. O’Boyle’s son, Flynn, is a few years older than Slater and a junior golfer of note himself. Flynn and Slater are regular playing partners.
“His swing is fundamentally very good,” O’Boyle said. “His balance is very good. He doesn’t jump at it, trying to hit it too hard. He doesn’t try to do something he can’t do. His short game is very good. He’s got a very good work ethic for as young as he is.
“With golf, it’s a matter of whether you’re willing to put in the time practicing,” he continued. “He’s going to get bigger, he’s going to get stronger, and he’s going to be able to hit it farther. If he keeps at it, his future is bright, no doubt about it.”
The Mobleys don’t doubt their son will stick with it, describing Slater as a perfectionist who embraces challenge, be it schoolwork or golf. “If you tell him he can’t do something,” Martin said, “he’ll prove to you that he can.”
Slater watches the Golf Channel and PGA Tour events, memorizing players’ stats and absorbing what he sees on TV. At times, he even pretends he’s competing at the U.S. Open, complete with running commentary. He is content to spend hours at the course by himself, either playing or practicing.
Following a competitive break for much of the winter, Slater will resume playing this spring and summer. The Mobleys say they want his natural swing and gifts to carry him for the foreseeable future. They are careful not to burden him by overcoaching or overthinking at this stage of his game, and embrace the belief that now is the time to let his love of the sport flourish. The time for coaching will come.
“If he can handle this part of the game,” Martin says, tapping his temple with his forefinger, “the sky’s the limit. If he gets it up here, everything will go well for him because he has the talent.” ♦
Dave Fairbank is a freelance writer living in Kill Devil Hills. Dave was a sports writer for 30 years at the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press prior to relocating the the Outer Banks.