Full Swing

Kurt Gibson Jr. places 30 golf balls in front of him and, one by one, moves a ball closer for target practice.

The yellow 150-yard marker is within striking distance, but it’s too close for this golf marvel. "Little Kurt," wearing his white polo shirt patterned with little blue golfers, is driving for the 200-yard marker and beyond.

Without taking a break, he fires shot after shot, clearing the 150-yard marker almost every time.

"Aim to the right a little more," dad Kurt Sr. shouts out. "That is a beautiful shot," he adds as his son clears the 200-yard marker.

With most of his golf balls planted on the grass at the FDR golf course, 20th Street and Pattison Avenue, "Big Kurt" tells his son to take a break.

The younger Gibson, who picked up his first golf club at 6 months of age, is spending his summer vacation at The Lakes. Some days he arrives on the course as early as 5 a.m. when his father, an irrigation technician, reports to work. While dad is working, he’ll play two rounds of golf and sharpen his driving and putting skills. Some days the fun lasts until 7 p.m.

The Stella Maris sixth-grader is often the talk of the South Philly golf course.

"He has gotten to know all the guys," Kurt Sr. said. "A day doesn’t go by when they aren’t all standing there shaking their heads, especially now that he is out-driving them."

If Kurt Jr. could out-drive Tiger Woods, the youth, of the 2700 block of South 12th Street, would be the talk of the golf world. But national fame is still several years away, as Little Kurt has to wait until he’s 15 before he can even join the Junior PGA. The A-student is in no rush.

"I’d rather wait four years because I’ll be even better than I am now," he said, while standing on the back of his golf cart.

His mother, Kim, also is patient.

"We could get him an exemption, but if he loses, it’ll be something against him," she noted.

For now, Kurt Jr. is sticking to the local competition, and pretty much dominating it. Two weeks ago, he finished second in a driving contest at FDR. None of the other 11-, 12- or 13-year-olds could beat him. He ended up losing to a 14-year-old by 2 yards.

For competition, Gibson spends his summer vacation playing for the Little Links golf program, which was started last summer at The Lakes to help promote the sport among inner-city youth. Kurt Sr. serves as one of the team coaches, and his son is the captain. The role has nothing to do with favoritism, as golfers earn the position based on scores.

The best golfers at the end of the season go on to compete at the Fairmount Open, which is held in late August or early September. Gibson virtually led the nine-hole event last summer. He had a one-shot lead heading to the eighth hole, where he struggled and ended up losing the match by one stroke.

Gibson spends other free time watching Woods on TV.

"Tiger is my favorite golfer of all time," he said. "I am trying to keep up with Tiger."

If the youth continues progressing at his current pace, he’ll develop his own major fan base, in addition to his local admirers. He earned his first paycheck at age 3 when he filmed a commercial for Somerton Springs golf course’s Quick Start Program. By 4, he was whacking golf balls 100 yards.

A year later, he was hanging out with pro golfer Nick Faldo in Florida. His mother recalls people saying, "Watch out, Nick, there is a new master in town."

The skill comes naturally for Gibson, who has never taken a professional golf lesson. At a much younger age than most, he even started driving — a golf cart, that is. At 11, he is already a pro at driving with one hand and parking by the hole.

Others are so impressed by Gibson’s abilities, they approach the young golfer for some pointers. His younger brother, Christian, 6, is one of his regular students. Like Kurt Jr., Christian enjoys spending his days on the golf course in his polo shirt, shorts and saddle shoes.

"He usually follows me to the driving range, so I have to show him," the older brother said.

Christian, a first-grader at Stella Maris, has learned about using the different irons and putting from his brother. Being fairly new to the game, Christian isn’t ready to challenge Kurt Jr. just yet.

"When I get to be 14, I’ll beat him," said the 6-year-old determinedly.

Golf might be the sport of choice around the Gibson household, but Kurt Jr. also has taken a liking to baseball, and plays for the Delaware Valley Youth Athletic Association. Last summer, he became the hero of the 10-year-old Texas Rangers in the championship game by smacking a two-run homer to win the contest.

He is also one of those Phillies fans who doesn’t hesitate to criticize one of their trades.

"I don’t know why they traded Curt Schilling," he said. "They could’ve won the World Series."

Playing professional baseball is Gibson’s back-up dream. His first, of course, is to join the PGA Tour. The family is already considering the options for a high school where he can play golf and get a good education. Whether that’s in South Philly, South Jersey or Myrtle Beach, S.C., they still have three years to decide.

Kurt Jr. has the academic credentials to get into the best schools, as he has maintained a 90-average or better since kindergarten. That includes a 93 average as a fifth-grader.

"My grades are like my golf swings," he said.

If those swings keep getting better, Gibson could find himself playing alongside Woods someday. His parents know the potential is there.

"You have something grown men strive all their lives to have," Kurt Sr. tells his son.