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Golf Youth Sports

Q & A: Local Youth Golf Guru Len Kennett Hosting Tournament Again

The562’s coverage of Long Beach golf is sponsored by Dan and Desiree Gooch.

Len Kennett is a Southern California golf icon.

He has a passion for golf and a gift for giving back to his community by introducing the game to the next generation, helping players of all ages improve their game and telling wonderful stories of his time on the course with a smile on his face.

Kennett, 96, has been hosting his Junior Championship event at Lakewood Country Club since 1955 and some of the best young golfers will be out there again for this year’s tournament on Aug. 1. The event has featured future PGA golfers Tiger Woods and John Merrick.

We sat down with Kennett to talk about his tournament and how he came to be synonymous with local youth golf.

So what connected you to golf?

Well, very simple. The Santa Anita Golf Course, a public golf course in Arcadia, was about two blocks from my house. A kid in my Latin class came in one morning and he said, “I made a dollar.” And I said, “Good gracious. How’d you make that kind of money?’ He said, ‘I went over to Santa Anita Golf Course, and I carried this guy’s clubs around, and he gave me a dollar.’ I say, ‘Man, how can I get in on some of that?’ And he says, ‘It’s that easy. Just go over there and do it’ (laughing). So that’s how I started. I started as a caddy. I wasn’t a very good caddy, but I stayed out of the way and kept my mouth shut. 

And then how did you move up into the ranks?

Well, like all young men back in those days, I volunteered for the service.. And when I came out, they offered a college education if I wanted to take it. So I started at USC, which was a dream of mine. And, I did that and it was a good thing for me. I then had a chance to go to work as an assistant pro, so I jumped to that with little pay, but a lot of experience. I became the head professional down in Oceanside and then, San Gabriel Country Club, a wonderful private club. 

When did you know golf was going to be your focus?

I really didn’t know, but in those days there would be a dozen or so caddies, and they weren’t allowed in the clubhouse, of course. And they are out here away from the clubhouse. So I’d look up and I’d see this guy and he had a nice-looking sweater on. He has clean shiny shoes, and he was an assistant pro. And I thought, man, that’s a job I need right there. So I jumped at it when I had a chance and it didn’t pay a whole bunch. But it got me started and I have been very grateful to San Anita Golf Course ever since.

Would you say golf is a more physical or mental game?

I think it’s both. I think if you’re, mentally solid, you’re gonna be physically solid too, you know, there’s an emphasis now on training, strength, that sort of thing. And in the old days, Paul Runyan was five foot seven or five foot eight and weighed 130 pounds, but he won the PGA Championship twice. So there’s a guy that mastered the mental.

What aspect of the golf swing should people focus on?

Yeah, I think people are a little bit careless about checking the fundamentals of the game. Now you can go to the public library and get a very good book. You also could borrow some of these that you see on the wall. If you put your hands on the club properly, you’d be surprised how well you can play. And it’s very discouraging to me to see people play with awkward grips and never get anywhere. So my advice is to go to the library, spend $5 or $25, and get a lesson, whatever you want, but put your hands on the club properly. You’ve got to put your hands on it right, or else if it doesn’t work, then you’re not going to get anywhere. Again, you have to learn to be a little patient too. Golf’s hard. I’ll say it again: Golf’s hard. If you want to play well, you have to practice, you have to play, you have to pay attention. So again, the key is patience to hang in there. Be tough.

Do you have any other advice for players having a couple of bad holes, and trying to reset? What can they do to not just fall apart?

Well, champions don’t fall apart. Pretty simple. No patience. It goes back to that word again. Being tough. Golf is hitting a bad shot, chasing afterward, hitting it again, and doing it again. That’s the kind of game you play. Just forgetting that last shot and just going after it and trying to make another.  The only shot in golf that amounts to anything is the one you hit next, not the previous one.


How do you think the new age of golf with all this technology and the enhancement of clubs and golf balls has changed the game?

It has and it hasn't, but I'm in the minority on this. I think the golf ball goes too far. The people that put the United States on the moon are now working on golf balls and they damn well will find golf balls that will go further. I think that takes a lot of the zip out of  the game. So I would say the equipment has been a factor. The driver, too, is now 46 inches long. It's got a head the size of a bottle that allows some misses and still lets you play ahead. So, I'd say equipment has been a factor and I wish they would go back to the earlier measurements of both clubs and balls.

Do you think it would be fun to watch these new players play with older equipment?

I'd like to see them playing with older equipment. Yeah. What that does is test the guys of skill [rather than] his ability to buy a $500 driver. The ball goes too far and the club is long and has a big head. Both of those things simplify the game.

What junior golfer have you had the privilege to watch become successful as a professional golfer? 

That's pretty easy. We had Tiger Woods. Well, no need to say Tiger turned into a pretty good player. We got him when he was about eight or nine. And he was good then. And then we got him when he was about 16. In both instances, he was way, way above average. He was a good junior golfer. His dad, Earl, was very instrumental in that. His father had given him a lot of encouragement.  But his mother Kutilda took him to a lot of places, and drove him to the tournaments too. 

How do you think Tiger impacted the game of golf?

He set very high standards. You know, he was tough to beat. He won an awful lot of golf tournaments. So I would say he might have been the best.  I loved this style. Still do.

You saw Michael Block play in the PGA Championship. What was that like?

Well, that was exciting, wasn't it? I do not know Michael, but I followed his career from here and the man is well coordinated for sure. I thought he handled himself extremely well.

Do you think that inspired golfers or other PGA professionals to think they could qualify?

I do. I played in the Nationals three times myself. I did not get the kind of publicity, or success that Michael did, but I did put my name in. I went through qualifying and I was able to play with some very good players, which is really why I did it. To start with. I was teaching a lot of golf. I thought if I go back and play with those good players, I'm going to get some information that may not be available otherwise.

What does it mean for you to be honored at Lakewood Country Club after helping bring it back from near bankruptcy? 

I always liked Lakewood very much. Even when I was going to school at USC, we would come down and play golf matches against City College in those days. That's before the other schools. That was a City College thing. They always had good players and when I was at SC we had a lot of fun. I thought Lakewood was a wonderful place. It's not quite as well-conditioned as I wish it was. Now management companies don't like to hear that, but I'd like to see them spiff it up a little bit. If they did, you could play the US Open there, right? 

It's a very pretty course.

Well, it's more than pretty. It's demanding. It's got good design, good architecture. And these guys, Mike McMonegal and Jorge Badel both worked for me. And they believe in junior golf, and we believe that you have to challenge kids a little bit with a tournament. So, I'm glad that youngsters are playing again.

My friend, Zach Wood, works with Troy Grant, one of your mentees, over at Big Rec.

Yes, that's right. I knew Troy when he was three feet tall. Well, I think that Troy wanted to be a golf pro, and he liked what he saw. And he has become a good golf pro–a darn good golf pro. He's a good teacher. He has taken lessons from Butch Harman and spent his own money to do it. So, I tip my hat to guys like that.

How do you get to follow your dreams, like Troy did? 

I think that, you know, he goes to the head pro, and he says, ‘Look, I'll pick up balls till midnight, but let me get started’ So that's the way he does it.

How does it feel to be cemented in history in that PGA Hall of Fame?

Oh, of course, I'm flattered. Completely flattered. I'm also very proud. I think there are about 150,000 members in that organization. So, sure. I'm very delighted about that.

Do you think playing with better players and learning from them can make you better?

Yeah, I do. You don't have to play with the champions, but if you've been careful about your grip you're going to be okay. If you go to the public library, you'll see pictures there. Make your hands look the same way, and you'll laugh all the way to the bank (laughing).

Jake Cammarata
Jake Cammarata is a Millikan senior with a background in graphic design. He has been playing sports since he could walk. Now he is a four-year varsity athlete for the Millikan Golf Team. He is excited to cover all student-athletes in Long Beach.