A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Champion
By Mark Guttenberg, PGA
In light of last week’s feel good story of the year concerning the first PGA tour win for former Leesburg, Virginia resident Billy Hurley III, I thought I would share some insights from my experiences with the Hurley family and what I feel was a recipe for raising a champion.
I met the Hurley family in 1992 when I took the Head Professional position at Westpark GC in Leesburg, Va. I had known Bill Hurley, the father, for many years as he started in the golf business as an assistant pro in the late ‘70’s, a few years after my career began. I offered a Junior Golf camp for advanced and beginner golfers and Billy and his brother Danny both signed up for the camp and became students of mine for private lessons for many years to come. Private lessons with Danny were more frequent than Billy but I continued to work with Billy for about 12 years until he met his present teacher/coach Mitch Spearman.
One of the best parts of my job as an instructor is the relationships that I build with the parents of my juniors. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a lot of successful juniors who have gone on to win on many levels of tournament competition and while I may play a part in their development, I’ve often wondered what makes one child more successful than the next.
Billy was self-sufficient growing up and didn’t need a lot of coaching or supervision. He wasn’t really a standout golfer as a high school player, shooting rounds in the mid 70’s. I remember when I put in a call to the Naval Academy golf coach Pat Owen. I suggested he give Billy a chance to play at the Naval Academy where he blossomed into a college All American and winner of many collegiate events and even carded a 61 in the team’s home tournament, the Patriot Classic. I invited Billy to play in a few Pro/Ams and was impressed with the progress he had made at the Naval Academy and began to have a new found respect for his progress.
Billy was and still is a very humble man of few words so I spent a lot of time talking to his dad Bill to really find out how Billy was doing. Between his two boys, we would have very lengthy conversations about their character, work ethic and some of the values he tried to instill in his children. He cared so much as most parents do, about the progress their kids were making but never once tried to tell me how to teach them even though he had a background as a golf professional. When either of his boys were ready for a lesson, Bill would be the one to call and schedule and it always included a very thorough update as to what they had been experiencing. He called things like he saw them and never sugar coated anything but he always allowed me to direct them as I saw fit. He was always interested in my opinion and I told him even back in Billy’s Naval Academy days that I thought he had the game to win on the PGA Tour.
I’ve had a few parent/coach relationships that are also very supportive of their kids but feel the need to take over after the lesson time and reprioritize what their children should focus on. This can be detrimental in the long run because it forces the child to choose between who is right and confusion sets in. Parents have the right to raise their kids as they see fit and they certainly know more about their children than I do. Trust, however, is paramount to success when sending them to an expert in the field.
Giving a child the room to fail and succeed is a necessary part of the learning experience and supporting them no matter what the outcome is most important. Golf is an expensive game and I understand the sacrifices that families have to make to help their children. It’s great to encourage them to work hard and have them honor their commitment to get better. When they don’t perform as you hoped they would, you still have to support them and love them no matter what. In the end it comes down to the child and how he was raised that builds their character and makes them champions. Bill and his wife, Cheryl, were champions as parents and that’s the biggest influence in the raising of a champion golfer. We can’t all be winners on the PGA tour but with the right parenting skills, our young people can be winners in the game of life.