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Craig Hocknull’s Upbringing Taught Him Tolerance, Respect

By Amanda Christovich
USA TODAY Sports

Painted head-to-toe in white clay, the Gumatj Clan, an Aboriginal community residing in the Northern Territory of Australia, cried and danced during a funeral-like ceremony for a 14- to 15-foot-long crocodile, which they believed was the reincarnation of a clan member’s father. One of the guests was Craig Hocknull, who attended the ceremony as a child.

The Crocodile Ceremony, one of the many experiences Hocknull had with Aboriginal peoples, was part of an upbringing that he said taught him lessons about how he should conduct himself both on and off the golf course today. Hocknull, 43, is among the 156 players in the field for this week's PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.

Born to Scottish parents in the highlands of Papau New Guinea, Hocknull and his family spent much of his childhood in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, where his mother worked for an advocacy organization. Hocknull spent many weekends visiting an Aboriginal village.

“One (thing I learned) would be tolerance and understanding of cultures,” Hocknull said of the experience. “And the other thing would just be to not be caught up in materialistic things.”

Hocknull, who took up golf at age 5, left the Outback in search of better educational opportunities. He attended the Kooralbyn International School south of Brisbane, which was working to build a strong athletic program when Hocknull arrived. Since Kooralbyn built its notable golf program, PGA Tour pros Steven Bowditch, Adam Scott and Jason Day also attended the school.

But Hocknull said he had no inkling of how much of a minority he would be at Jackson State, a historically black university. He received a rare opportunity: playing on a diverse team made up of both Caucasian and African-American golfers under head coach Eddie Payton, who is the brother of Walter Payton.

And the team was impressive, winning three PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championships during Hocknull's time in Jackson.

"I would categorize my four years at Jackson State as every single possible emotion that you can go through," Hocknull said.

Golf prowess wasn’t the only thing Hocknull gained from his time at Jackson State: being a minority on campus also reinforced in him the respect and tolerance he learned while spending time with Aboriginal people. He carries these lessons to his career as a golf coach, PGA Professional, entrepreneur and trick shot artist.

“Just looking every single person in the eye, shaking their hand, being respectful, asking them how their day is going,” Hocknull said. “It’s one of those things where, I just don’t take anything for granted.”

Hocknull is a member of PGA of Canada, PGA of Australia and PGA of America. He still maintains Australian citizenship.

This week Hocknull will make his PGA Championship debut at Bellerive. Hocknull, who is PGA Director of Instruction at Saber Sports Trainer in Gilbert, Arizona, qualified by tying for 12th in the PGA Professional Championship in Seaside, Caliifornia, in June.

He hopes to achieve personal goals involving keeping his focus and executing his shot, and is looking forward to spending quality time with his caddy for the week: his 18-year-old son, JC.

“Yes, I’m standing here right now at the PGA Championship, but that doesn’t make me any more special than the next person,” Hocknull said. “For me to keep that type of approach to my life and my teaching and everything that I do, I think that’s just the way it should be. I think nobody should try to push themselves up way higher than the next person just because they want an ego trip.”

Reprinted with permission from USA Today