Editor's Note: This is the second story in our "Golf Interrupted" series exploring the unique challenges of the modern golfer. In our first story, Tadd Fujikawa opened up about his decision to come out as the first openly gay professional male golfer. If you have a story that you think is right for "Golf Interrupted," send us a note and your contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are not the typical golf family for our part of Florida. My husband’s car wash has been in and out of bankruptcy. I work for a family construction business that still hasn’t fully recovered from the recession. Which is to say that we’re not parents who write checks without asking questions.
Neither of us are golfers, so when our daughter, Hannah, started playing, we didn’t know what to expect. And it wasn’t like it was that daunting to start. Some lessons split with another girl, some borrowed clubs. When Hannah showed early promise and wanted to try her first tournaments, they were at least close to home. If that were the extent of it, we could have managed.
But golf gets more complicated as your kid progresses. And if they really want to get better, it can get expensive in a hurry. We saw it in those early junior tournaments, the next level up when the kids not only had their own clubs, but sometimes their own mental coach or short game teacher. Full entourages sometimes! You occasionally would see kids show up toting their own TrackMan worth upward of $25,000. I remember one time standing next to a mother who lamented a small fix that her daughter needed to make to her swing. “I could tell her what’s wrong, but she won’t listen to me,” the mother said. “I’ll have to pay her coach a couple of hundred bucks to tell her.”
Hannah knows better. We invested in some clubs and started taking her to different tournaments, but it became apparent we couldn’t afford for her to compete without an ACE Grant from the American Junior Golf Association that covers much of her travel expenses. But even then, the grant only covers the player and not the parent accompanying her. And we’re still left with choices to make. There are tournaments still out of our range that we’re forced to skip. When it’s time to practice, it’s usually just a couple of buckets at the local range. Other kids are custom-fit for clubs every year or so. That’s not in our budget. All in, we probably spent a couple of grand on Hannah’s golf last year, but some of her contemporaries—for travel, fittings, full-time golf academies—are spending north of six figures.
For a time, our daughter progressed rapidly regardless. Consistent scores in the high 60s and low 70s, honors from the local newspaper. We had more trophies than we had space for.
And then, I don’t know, she hit a rut. Maybe she started looking around and seeing the investments other parents were making in their kids’ games. Or maybe it’s when other players her age started receiving interest from colleges. It’s a remarkably stressful time. Some parents even hire a consultant to help them navigate the recruiting process and who talk to coaches on their behalf. Whatever the reason, Hannah’s game went the other way. Sixties and 70s became 80s and 90s. It was as if her dream dwindled, replaced by despair. These were the times when I wish we could have invested in more help, but like I said, we had to make choices.
To say this period was easy would gloss over a lot of heartache. But overall, I’m proud of how Hannah has handled her reality. My husband grew up in Jamaica with very little, and hearing his stories has provided Hannah with enough perspective to help her realize her challenges are small by comparison. Of course she’s still a teenager prone to moments of self pity. She’s missed sleepovers and birthday parties because of golf, and when she’s played poorly she’ll occasionally remark how her “whole life has been a waste.” At the lowest points of her slump, I found myself begging her to quit golf because of the toll it was taking on her psyche.
But for whatever reason, Hannah wouldn’t, mostly because she didn’t want to disappoint herself. If there’s a reason my daughter has navigated her way out of her slump it’s because she had to reach down to somewhere that can’t really be measured. She hasn’t climbed the rankings like some of her peers, but she has persisted and continued to practice, eventually recognizing the type of adversity she’s faced can be an asset.
Now she’s back at the level she once was and recently made a verbal commitment to a great Division I school. The other night she came into my room to read me a text she was sending to a friend who was struggling with her golf game. Hannah’s reply was full of encouragement. She told me it wouldn’t be possible if she hadn’t been through the same type of struggle.
I suppose that’s one great advantage people like us can provide our kids. What we deprive them in terms of private lessons, custom-shafts and mental gurus, we make up for by providing them a foundation in how to work and to never taking anything for granted. They might find themselves lagging behind the competition because of the lack of resources, but for that reason, I like to think they end up being the most resourceful kids of all.
Illustration by Guy Billout