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Claytor’s climbing the pro golf ladder

Former Bulldog Claytor heating up on SwingThough Tour

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He’s poised, prepared and certainly confident. His beloved 2008 Honda Accord, despite 230,000 miles, remains reliable and, most importantly, he’s healthy.

Life is good as a professional golfer and Daniel Claytor, now a Wilson resident, is feeling it.

His tremendous success at the outset of 2018 on the SwingThought Tour, the Class AA stop before reaching the PGA Tour, leaves Claytor with different expectations at the qualifying school for the (AAA) Web.com Tour this fall.

Claytor is seeking a fourth shot at Q-school after falling four strokes short in 2015 and 2016 and struggling last year, when he was hampered by a wrist injury.

But before that all-important occasion, the 27-year-old Claytor speaks of “a little more to accomplish” in his second SwingThought season.

“The guys that play every week are very well-established,” Claytor explained in a recent interview. “They know how to win and can play at the highest level”

Claytor notes backgrounds for many of his opponents include links with Web.com and even the PGA Tour.

“I would like to win a tournament when all 50-100 of the top players are all there,” he remarked. “That would give me a little more validation and respect.”

SENSATIONAL START

Whether respect is a tour issue is debatable, but Claytor is a definite tourney-to-tourney target.

In the first 13 events, Claytor owns three victories, a runner-up finish, a third-place showing and a couple of other top-five performances.

He is tied with Wade Binfield for the most wins (three) and possesses the SwingThought points lead (19.995) and is tops in earnings (approximately $25,000). Binfield is second in points with 17,474.

Claytor departed Monday for Louisville, Kentucky, to compete in a 72-hole tour event Wednesday through Saturday at Oxmoor Country Club — where the top purse is $10,000.

He is coming off his third victory at Greensboro National Golf Club — where he overcame a four-shot deficit the final round and triumphed by three shots with rounds of 66-64-62—192, a sizzling 15-under-par. Claytor’s final round of 30-32 included seven birdies and no bogeys.

Normally a par-72, Greensboro National was shortened to a par-69 and some 6,400 yards because of conditions. One par-5 was shortened to a par-4 and another to a par-3. Claytor attacked with 16 birdies and one bogey in 54 holes.

7 WINS IN 14 MONTHS

The three-time Barton College All-American (2011-13) also won at Southwood Country Club in Tallahasse, Florida; and at Eagle Harbor in Orange Park, Florida. At Eagle Harbor, Claytor established a course record with a 10-under 62.

Claytor has won seven professional events in the last 14 months.

He doesn’t deny that he misses his family, girl friend and friends on occasion, but assures he enjoys traveling and is living the dream of playing golf as a livelihood.

Claytor credits his association with teacher Reid Hill, for 17 1/2 years the head golf professional at Wilson Country Club before becoming the general manager. Hill has possessed Class A professional status since 1986. Claytor points out he has received lessons only from Hill and Dan Claytor, his father.

“I am growing into my own game,” Claytor defined his success. “Reid and I have worked really hard the last 1 1/2 years. And I am fully healthy for the first time in a long time.”

INAUGURAL HONOREE

Claytor was recently honored by the SwingThought TOUR as the first recipient of the Daniel Converse award.

The distinction salutes Claytor’s outstanding 2017 campaign, his first on the tour, when he posted four victories and consistently finished high on the leaderboard.

A recent release read that Claytor was honored for “excellent 2017 performance, integrity and exceptional professionalism on and off the course.

“He represented himself as a model professional as a Swing Thought TOUR member among his peers and as an ambassador to his sponsors and investors.

Claytor’s victories included the Bradley Putters Open at the Bryan Park Golf and Conference Center in Browns Summit.

The release stated: “Daniel Converse, father of CEO and founder of Bradley Putters, Bradley Converse, believed in integrity and honor. Daniel Claytor most certainly represents himself in that light.”

Claytor was awarded a custom putter from Bradley Putters.

“It’s a huge honor to be recognized by such a great organization,” Claytor said by cell phone Monday en route to his next tour stop in Louisville. “I always hold myself to a high standard of professionalism and I am very fortunate to be able to represent SwingThought TOUR.”

HAD TO WORK HARD

Hill is convinced Claytor has thrived because he was not as gifted as many who have pursued a pro career.

“Daniel has always had to work hard at it,” Hill explained. “His work ethic got him through and continues to get him through. He has a much more in-depth work ethic in all facets.”

Hill believes he and Claytor connected because of Hill’s simplistic approach to teaching.

“Daniel works really hard at keeping fundamentals consistent,” Hill continued. “He has worked hardest at keeping his golf swing the same and being able to self-correct during the round.”

Justin Hayes, a three-time Wilson County Amateur champion and a golf purist who played collegiately at Charlotte, credits Claytor with a “complete swing.”

Admittedly a Claytor admirer, Hayes reveals that Claytor has resisted the temptation to tweak his swing and heed suggestions of experts. Hayes is especially impressed with Claytor’s ability to immediately correct fallacies. Claytor’s swing, Hayes contends, is Claytor’s own and not technical.

“That’s correct,” Hill responds.

Adds Claytor: “That’s absolutely correct. I feel like that, if I can get to the clubhouse after playing, I can pretty much fix what’s wrong then.”

CAREER START

Claytor burst onto the area golf scene at Northern Nash High — where he reigned as 3-A NEW 6 Conference Player of the Year on two occasions and was proclaimed all-conference three years. He posted a pair of North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A top-five showings.

Then came a brilliant career at Barton College where Clayton became arguably the program’s most decorated golfer. He was named NCAA Division II All-America and All-Conference Carolinas three of his four years. He embarked upon his pro career in 2014.

Regarding the amount of success the last two years, Claytor responds: “It was a little surprising at first. Now, it makes me hungry for more. I am almost addicted to win and to win by as much as possible.”

Claytor rates himself an average driver of the golf ball and an above-average putter. Of his effectiveness at hitting greens in regulation, he declares: “It’s about 80 percent. I don’t know of anyone on the tour that’s any better.”

WINNING BREEDS WINNING

Hill lauds Claytor of his willingness to learn and work and his enjoyment for giving back to the game.

“He has gotten everything where he wants it to be,” the WCC pro commented. “Winning has helped him; winning breeds winning. I think you can say he’s very grounded. He’s confident but it’s not border-line arrogant. The sky is the limit for him.”

The window of time to reach the PGA Tour remains reasonable.

But in 2018, Claytor is committed to claiming one of the Q-school spots to the Web.com Tour. A top-16 points or money SwingThought finish will reward him with $4,400 and pretty much cover Q-school expenses. Sponsors Mid South Sports Network, Donald Ross Sportswear, Popticals, Titleist and Footjoy will be appreciative.

“I am very optimistic,” Claytor emphasized. “The main thing is staying healthy. I think I have a good opportunity to make some noise in Q-school this time.”

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