Throughout the remainder of the holiday season, we will provide a look back at some of the best content from our writers at Global Golf Post Plus. This article originally published on Aug. 27. Enjoy.
The label “natural talent” gets thrown around too often. But Wes McNulty might be a golfer who deserves it, both on and off the course.
The 50-year-old from White Hall, Arkansas, is the owner of a distinguished amateur career, a winner of six state amateur titles and seven state match-play championships in four decades. Having rewritten a good chunk of the Arkansas amateur record book, he’s long been a member of the state’s golf Hall of Fame and continues to dominate his younger competition on most opportunities. Last month at the state match-play championship, he beat five consecutive college-age players on his way to a seventh title. He is on top of the Arkansas player-of-the-year standings, three points ahead of his 19-year-old son, Josh, who plays for Division II Henderson State University.
Wes McNulty didn’t become a PGA Tour winner like other Arkansans he competed against and sometimes beat as a younger man – John Daly, Glen Day and Ken Duke, to name a few – but his golf accomplishments are well respected in The Natural State.
A lot of that has to do with his job. McNulty is a farmer, looking after 8,000 acres of rice, soybeans and corn. The farm he tends to now has a long family history dating back to the 1950s, and he took over the operation starting in the mid-1990s, navigating the business through modern challenges while playing golf at a high level.
So how does a lifelong farmer who grew up in Sherrill, Arkansas – a town of less than 100 people at the time – become one of the best amateurs in the state’s history?
It goes back to the 1986 Masters.
McNulty was 17 years old and a talented baseball player when he went out to play golf with some of his high school friends. When the longtime golf pro at Pine Bluff Country Club, George McKeown, saw McNulty on the course, he approached him about taking lessons but was promptly shut down.
“You wouldn’t be caught dead if you were a baseball player playing golf in Pine Bluff,” McNulty said. “What changed everything for me was watching the 1986 Masters. I watched Jack Nicklaus in that final round, and it dawned on me that in golf you didn’t need a team to practice and you didn’t have to rely on others. I could throw a no-hitter and still get beat. That wouldn’t happen in golf.”
So that summer, McNulty decided to give golf a try. He had been playing for less than six months when McKeown suggested he try to qualify for the state match-play championship at their home club. McNulty qualified and then won his first four matches to set up a semifinals clash with Daly, who was playing for the University of Arkansas at the time.
“Everybody always said I had a great golf swing, but I tried to learn a better way of playing instead of just doing it my way. Luckily I had a great mentor in George McKeown who helped me understand the game.” – Wes McNulty
McNulty’s unexpected performance had one drawback. His high school baseball team was competing in the conference tournament at the time and he was scheduled to pitch hours after he had played 36 holes of match play. After his baseball coach caught wind that he had been playing golf instead of resting for the game, he issued McNulty a tongue-lashing and promised to pull him off the mound quickly if any mistakes were made.
“I pitched a no-hitter, struck out 17 guys and hit two home runs that night,” McNulty said. “He really fired me up. I’m not that way now, but I had a bit of a temper when I was a kid.”
The next morning, McNulty lost badly to Daly in the semifinals. After the round, Daly pulled McNulty aside and asked him if he had thought about playing college golf.
McNulty, who went on to be drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1987, felt a growing attraction to golf but wasn’t willing to give up on his baseball career and didn’t give Daly’s suggestion much thought.
After playing one year of college baseball, McNulty competed in a golf tournament the following summer and was paired with Bill Woodley, the University of Arkansas golf coach at the time. McNulty’s enjoyment of the game grew and he accepted Woodley’s offer of a walk-on spot to the Razorbacks golf team. McNulty kept his roster spot for three years.
The first college tournament McNulty played was at English Turn in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he was paired with reigning U.S. Amateur champion Chris Patton from Clemson and future major champion Jim Furyk from Arizona.
“I didn’t have a clue how to play with those guys,” McNulty said. “And over the years, I got frustrated. Everybody always said I had a great golf swing, but I tried to learn a better way of playing instead of just doing it my way. Luckily I had a great mentor in George McKeown who helped me understand the game.”
After a quiet college career, McNulty briefly turned pro with modest success. Among his highlights, he qualified for a Nike Tour event (now the Korn Ferry Tour) at Texarkana Country Club not too far from his hometown and held a lead during the second round.
“I looked over at a leaderboard across the lake and guess whose names were under me by one shot?” McNulty said. “David Duval and Furyk. I must have inspired them because I’m at the farm and they went on to be major champions.”
By the time McNulty’s pro career came to a close in 1997, it was time for him to fully take over his family farm. He didn’t play any competitive golf until 2005 when his close friend, Chris Jenkins, another top amateur in the state, convinced McNulty to get his amateur status back. The two went on to compete together in USGA State Team Championships representing Arkansas, and the return to competition ignited the most important portion of McNulty’s golf life.
A raw talent early in his life, McNulty admits that he didn’t understand the intricacies of the game until later in life. In 2008-09, he competed in 10 tournaments each year and was better than a cumulative 100-under par each year. Mentally and physically, his game came together.
“I really learned how to play golf in my 30s,” McNulty said. “I learned to miss it straight, to miss it in the right places. I was putting better in my 30s and 40s than as a teenager. It was the opposite of a lot of people.”
McNulty says he has wanted to play a more national amateur schedule, and hopes to with senior golf now approaching. But his day job has largely prevented him from doing so. His farm work is predominantly in the spring and fall, with planting taking place from March to May and harvesting starting in late August through November. It leaves June, July and August as the only months available for tournament golf.
Farming has substantial obstacles to overcome. When McNulty started more than two decades ago, he sold a bushel of rice for $4.84 while using a $100,000 tractor and $250,000 combine, which is the piece of equipment used for harvesting. In present day, a tractor costs $400,000 and a combine is $500,000 – but a bushel of rice is still almost the exact same price.
“The only way we can survive is by producing more and doing it more efficiently,” McNulty said. “You farm a lot more acres now with less equipment and less people than we did 20 years ago. But the older I get, it seems like I am getting busier.”
McNulty has passed to his two sons what he has learned in both golf and farming. His oldest son, Jake, is a recent college graduate who has come back to the farm full-time but can still play solid golf when he gets the chance. Last year, he won the Pine Bluff Four-Ball, one of the bigger four-ball events in the country.
Josh is the more dedicated golfer of the two brothers, having been low amateur at the 2018 Arkansas Open and providing a good challenge for his dad.
“I’ve always been inspired by him, but my main goal was always to beat him,” the younger McNulty said. “I didn’t do it for the first time until the Arkansas Open when I was 16. I finished at 1 under and then walked over to him in the 18th fairway and said, ‘Hey, if you hit this in the water, I’m going to beat you.’ And he hit it right in the water.”
Joking and friendly rivalry aside, the McNultys share a mutual admiration.
“He has a lot more ability than me,” Wes McNulty said of his youngest son. “He has speed galore, clubhead speed up to 128 mph … but I just hope that if he turns pro that he will come back to the amateur game when he’s ready. I hate to see when kids don’t come back, because they are missing out on the best times of their life.
“I don’t want him to forget to play the game for fun, because that is what it’s all about.”
McNulty would know. By coming back to the amateur game, he’s charted one of the more unlikely and rewarding paths in golf.
Top: Wes McNulty (front row, right), sitting with son, Josh, when Josh signed with Henderson State University. Also pictured are son, Jake, and wife, Jamie.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?