Not to make this all about me, but I just became a parent, which means I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff. And in my world, any line of semi-coherent thought usually involves golf.
I’d love my daughter to love golf, but I’m also scared. I’ve seen too many junior golfers’ passion for the game get smothered by their parents’ own well-intentioned love of golf. I really, really don’t want to be that parent.
It made being on the ground at the PNC Championship last week hit a little harder. Here was a group of some of the most successful players in the game who both loved golf themselves and had fostered a love of the game in their child.
“I think that being a parent in any sport is about being supportive and being encouraging,” Tiger Woods said earlier in the week, when I asked him what the secret is to being a good golf dad. “Being a parent, you always want to be the protector and guider of them and teach them skills that they will need in life when you’re not around. And so that’s the most important thing about being a parent.”
Create a good ‘environment’
Jordan Spieth was another player in the PNC field. He isn’t too far removed from the junior golf scene (he is still only 29) and a new dad himself (son Sammy is 13 months old), so I asked him the same question: What makes a good golf dad?
“Give them opportunity, make them set goals, create scenarios where they’re gonna be able to learn to love what they’re doing on their own,” Spieth said. “Put your kid in positions where they have high quality individuals around them to learn from. I think that’s probably as important as anything. That’s what my dad [Shawn, who Jordan teamed with at the PNC] did for me. I had a lot of individuals around me who were good kids that created competition.”
The mistake to avoid
If you want your child to share your love for the game, Spieth says to put them in an opportunity to fall in love with it, surrounded by good people, then wait to see if it happens. It’s not always easy to take that hands-off approach, but it’s essential to help your child create a healthy relationship with the game. In some ways, that came easy for Jordan’s father, Shawn, who was a baseball player in college and wasn’t closely involved with golf.
“I didn’t grow up playing the game,” Shawn says. “I couldn’t really tell how good he was until he shot eight- or nine-under on the back nine of a short course one day. We came in, he’s got a five- or six-stroke lead, guys have been playing golf their whole life. I thought: ‘Maybe he’s pretty good.’”
“I was never pushed to do anything,” Jordan adds.
“If I was forced into it, I wouldn’t have loved it the way I do. You have to fall in love with the work on your own because it’s not always gonna be easy.”
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Once they do start taking the game seriously, helping your child learn to set goals is another skill Spieth says he’d recommend to any golf parent.
“When I got serious about it, my dad would tell me to go write down my goals. He’d say: ‘What are your goals? OK, If those are your goals, I’m willing to support you through it, but you’ve gotta stay committed to these then, and that’s your choice.’”
It’s something Spieth does to this day and said it was perhaps the best thing his dad did for him as a junior golfer.
“[As a junior] when I was getting lazy or doing the wrong thing, Dad was there to point out my own goals I had set for myself,” Spieth says. “It’s why I think in life in general, it’s a good idea to write down goals.”