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Welcome to Crazy Town: Golf Dads Need to Chill Out, Man!

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Golf has become a big-time sport driven by not only opportunities for college golf scholarships, but also fame and fortune on the PGA Tour. Although some play for the love of the game, more and more start playing because they or their parents want them to be golf’s next billionaire.

I have watched the mania evolve over last the 25 years: first as a player, then as a junior golf coach, then as a college golf coach, and now as a mentor to some of the best junior golfers in the world. It’s all heady and intoxicating, and it has a huge impact on the relationships between players and their parents and coaches. What I see ranges from healthy and loving to what can best be described as “Crazy Town.”

Crazy Town is a land of delusion, frustration and slow, painful failure. It’s a place where the whole point of the process is missed. For me, golf is not about where a kid places in a tournament or shoots; it’s about teaching young people the habits and skills they need to succeed at everything, not just golf. Nowadays, too many parents and coaches create zero-sum evaluations during a child’s most fragile and important stages of maturation and development. The result is not only athletic failure, but also the erosion of faith in family, coaching, and the process of success.

Here are three key considerations for a parent who wants to avoid crazy town.

1. Do You Know Where You End And Your Child Begins?

The golf belongs to the kid. It‘s your child’s golf endeavor, not “yours” or “ours.” If you hear yourself talking about how “we” played today, what “we” shot, or what “we” won, then you already reside in Crazy Town.

Do you speak about “our” grades at school, “our” piano lessons, or cleaning “our” room? If so, maybe you have lost sight of where you end and where your child begins. Quickly get some separation, distance, and perspective. This is not about you or your family; it’s about your kid.

2. Who Wants This? You or Your Child?

The fact is that golf requires lots of long and lonely hours if your child want to play at the highest level, especially at the beginning when the child needs to invest huge sums of time in creating the proper patterns. The fact is that you can only demand they invest their time for so long. As children mature, they need to be able to explore boundaries and learn to be responsible for themselves. Once you have helped your child understand the investment needed and provided them a safe learning environment, your job is done.

At this point, your child is either going to have ignition and work at their game or not. If they don’t, then I recommend you help your child find another endeavor that does create a spark in them. It might be track and field that ignites the passion to learn and grow. Whatever it is, your job is to help your kid find it… then leave him or her to follow the dream.

3. Have You and Your Junior Learned the 6 C’s?

Dr. Richard Learner is a researcher at Tufts University where he’s the chair of the Institute of Applied Research in Youth Development. He’s known for his theory of relations between life-span human development and social change, and for his research about the relationship between adolescents and their peers, families, schools, and communities. His work centers around children developing what he terms the 5 C’s: Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, and Caring.

Researcher Jean Cote suggests a sixth “C,” specifically for sports: Competition. Together, the research suggests that when students work toward developing these skills, they become more successful human beings. Ask yourself if what you are doing is developing the 6 C’s in your child, because if it is then you and and him or her are likely headed in a good direction.

Remember, introducing sport to your son or daughter is not about the scholarship dollars or potential fame; it’s a way to teach them the skills and habits they need to live enriching and fulfilling lives. Use sport to help your child learn competition, friendship, humility, self-confidence, determination, challenging work, passion, and honesty. Reward them for learning these lessons and remind them, using your own experience, why they are playing sport. Over the long run, I promise you will be happy you did.

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Brendan Ryan is a golf researcher, writer, coach and entrepreneur. Golf has given him so much in his life -- a career, amazing travels, great experiences and an eclectic group of friends -- and he's excited to share his unique experience through his writing on GolfWRX. He hopes you enjoy!

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Tom54

    Jul 31, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    I know when I was young I would have loved the opportunity to play golf all the time if we would have been able to afford it. I’m not sure whether it would have gotten boring or not but I always enjoyed the time spent on the course. All parents try to look out for their childs best interest but I guess some also guilty of trying to produce the next golf phenom. At least young golfers are learning a game for life. Nothing wrong with that

  2. Ron

    Jul 31, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    I don’t completely disagree, but this isn’t the point of the article. The article focuses on parents who are basically putting too much pressure on their kids to succeed at sports. Your argument as to whether or not the parent is a good teacher for the kid is something entirely different.

    I agree with this article. Seen it so many times growing up playing a different sport than golf. Parents try to live vicariously through their kids and sometimes even treat them differently based on how well they played that particular day. It’s sick.

  3. James G

    Jul 31, 2017 at 10:25 am

    My son plays in competitions at 13 and I see what the author is speaking about all the time. Some insane parents that believe their child is the next Nicklaus. It’s the same mentality I see at son’s baseball games as well. It’s as if the parents seek some sort of validation for the lives if their child is a star athlete. Sad thing is, many of the kids who are good at 12 or 13, won’t be the top players at say 17 or so. Some kids are on the steady path of improvement and some that are great at a young age are as good as they will ever be at that young age.

  4. Lloyd

    Jul 31, 2017 at 2:49 am

    Rules: Our staff and moderators maintain a friendly environment that is in compliance with our rules, specifically in our forums. From Day 1, we’ve asked the GolfWRX Community to do the following, and it has been instrumental to our growth:

    Take the high road.
    Treat others as you would want to be treated.
    Lead by example.

    Today, we are the world’s largest and best online golf community, and we will continue to innovate and improve our site so we can stay on top and remain the go-to destination for golf on the web.

    True to our mission, we will also continue to prize and protect the purity of the opinions of our readers, and will evolve our platforms to make them more engaging. We want our readers to feel proud to contribute to GolfWRX, and protect their interests by offering an unbiased place for them to learn, share and discuss.
    Hey ooffaa, abide by the forum rules or flick off!

  5. Mad-Mex

    Jul 30, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    ATTENTION PARENTS: Its a GAME!!!!!!!!!!! your role is take the kid to the field or course AND pick them up,,,,,,,,,,

  6. Lloyd

    Jul 30, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    Interesting to note that ooffaa only responds to Obs with personal attacks to threadjack his comments. Makes you wonder how ooffa is connected to the forum. Anybody?

  7. Tom

    Jul 29, 2017 at 11:30 am

    parents reliving their past thru their children…..

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Podcasts

Jason Day’s performance coach, Jason Goldsmith, joins the 19th hole

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In this episode of the 19th Hole, Jason Goldsmith of FocusBand talks about how the breakthrough technology has helped PGA Tour stars Jason Day and Justin Rose to major wins. Also, host Michael Williams gives his take on Tiger Woods’ return to golf.

Click here to listen on iTunes!

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club

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Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own. 

Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.

All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.

A view from the ninth fairway

Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.

Trees, or no trees?

The 18th tee

The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.

The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.

Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.

A good variety

Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16.  What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14.  These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set.  The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.

A view of the ninth fairway from across the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.

Green complexes are…complex

The green on the 18th hole

Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world.  They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.

The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.

Ari’s last word

All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.

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Courses

Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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19th Hole

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