Getting in the swing of things:Vicksburg High’s Hassell lights up many golf cours

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 15, 2003

Bill Hassell shows his form while teeing off at practice at the Vicksburg Country Club. The Vicksburg High School senior has solidified himself as one of the top golfers around Mississippi. (Illustration by Melanie Duncan Thortis and Ron Ott)

[5/15/03]For Vicksburg High golfer Bill Hassell, it has been a tremendous year on the fairways.

But if you ask the humble senior, he’ll just chalk it up to good fortune.

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“I had a really good year,” he said. “I don’t want to compare myself to other golfers, but I just try the best I can.”

Trying his best had led him to finishing second or better in every tournament this season on his way to the 5A state tournament at Madison’s Lake Caroline, where he struggled through windy conditions to place ninth.

In three tries, Hassell twice has beaten St. Aloysius’ Chase Smith, who finished first at the 1A state tournament Wednesday.

In the match Hassell lost, the two were on the third hole of the playoff when Hassell hit his ball off the fairway. A man playing in the opposite direction confused his ball with Hassell’s and hit Hassell’s ball.

Hassell was forced to take two penalty strokes, which resulted in losing the playoff.

But he doesn’t seem to mind, passing it off as something that “just happens.”

Since then, he has been a man on a mission, medaling in every competition and finishing near par for the season.

Vicksburg golf coach Mike Coleman said he thinks Hassell is the best golfer in the county.

“He’s determined to get better and better,” he said. “But he’s been good from the start.”

Prior to this season, Hassell was a member of the Mississippi Junior Golfers Association Cup Team and the Robert Trent Jones Junior Tour generally consisting of the top junior players in Alabama. With the latter, he participated in five tournaments across Alabama, with his best finish being fourth.

Not bad considering he only began playing golf seriously two years ago.

As a sophomore, Hassell was an accomplished tennis player, who occasionally picked up a set of clubs for recreation.

But the more he hit the greens, the more he enjoyed it, which led him to retiring from the world of aces and loves and entering the realm of birdies and eagles.

“It was a big decision to change,” he said. “But it hasn’t bothered me at all.”

Nor did it bother his family as golf seems to run in the genes.

Hassell’s older brother Barry is a golf standout in his own right, winning the Vicksburg Country Club title several times. He’s also a member of Ole Miss’ golf team something in which Bill hopes to follow in his brother’s footsteps.

Hassell already has won the country club’s junior title twice and plans to attend Ole Miss in the fall with hopes he’ll be able to walk on to the golf squad.

“It’s some stiffer competition out there,” he said. “I figure I have about a 50/50 chance of making the team.”

But Coleman thinks Hassell has a greater chance of making the team.

“Any course we played on this year he was at par or below,” he said. “And we played on some tough courses.”

Hassell has made remarkable improvement in the past two years, sometimes impressing even himself.

Coleman said he can’t do much to coach him.

“I just let him play,” he said. “I shoot bogey golf myself, so what can you tell someone that can beat you?”

He attributes Hassell’s learning curve to dedication and hard work.

Every day Hassell takes a trip over to the country club to practice his swings. He works on chipping and putting sometimes even in the rain.

“When I started if I shot 80 or a little better, I was thrilled,” he said. “Now I try to shoot even par whenever I can.”