Golf parents on fringe as game's new hazard Juniors: The success of Tiger Woods and Jenny Chuasiriporn raises the temptation to push too hard.

August 27, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Chuck James saw the scene unfold during this year's North-South Amateur tournament at Pinehurst, N.C. James, who was at the famed resort as head counselor of its Junior Golf Advantage program, saw a player come off the course to the applause of the crowd after shooting a 75.

But James noticed somebody who was not cheering.

"The kid's father is yelling at him, 'I don't believe how bad you played, I wasted all this money and this is all you shoot?' " recalled James, a 21-year-old from Baltimore who plays on the golf team at Hampton University.

It is a scenario that has been played out in other sports for years, from the Little League parents who scream at their kids for taking a called third strike to the monstroustennis fathers who turned million-dollar talents such as Jennifer Capriati and Andrea Jaeger into can't-play-a-lick head cases.

Now introducing the latest phenomenon: the golf parent.

Just as last year's record-settingvictory at the Masters by Tiger Woods triggered an explosion of new young players in the sport, it also brought along the expected baggage -- parents who think their sons, given the opportunity, will be the next Tiger Woods.

Or, as the case with their daughters, the next Jenny Chuasiriporn.

The breakthrough performance this summer by the 21-year-old from Timonium has raised the interest among young girls both locally and nationally. It has also raised the potential for more parents to push their children in a direction they don't want to go.

"The parents just don't understand the fundamentals, and the work it takes to become as good as a Tiger Woods or Jenny Chuasiriporn," said Tim Sanders, the head pro at Forest Park Golf Course. "They just see it as the next step to get a scholarship, like basketball or football."

Sanders has seen his junior golf program more than double in size since Woods won the Masters 16 months ago. Of the 175 kids in the program, Sanders estimates that about 30 percent are girls. Half of them joined since Chuasiriporn's 20-hole playoff loss to Se Ri Pak in the U.S. Women's Open.

Tim McDermott, who runs the junior golf program at Hunt Valley Golf Club in Phoenix, has seen evidence of Chuasiriporn's influence at her home course. The number of players in the three, three-day golf camps the club ran this summer doubled, as did the number of girls in attendance.

And he saw a difference among parents who signed their kids up in the annual Jimmy Flattery Tournament. The tournament is run in four age groups, beginning with 2-year-olds just hitting it off a tee up through 17-year-olds.

"Some of the parents were really into it," said McDermott.

But McDermott didn't see the type of parental influence that brought criticism last year to Earl Woods, Tiger's father. The elder Woods, who used to jingle change in his pocket as his prodigy son practiced putting, now seems more like Mr. Rogers compared to Pak's father.

Joon Chul Pak used to leave Se Ri, then 12, in a local cemetery by herself overnight near their home in South Korea, as a way to toughen her competitive nerves. It didn't seem to affect their relationship. The elder Pak was there to hug his daughter after her Open victory over Chuasiriporn.

"From me, Se Ri got her strength, she learned discipline," Joon Chul Pak said recently. "From her mother, she got grace and wisdom."

It isn't clear what 12-year-old Henry Liaw got from his parents, since neither Nick or Cindy Liaw play golf. But the younger Liaw, who lives with his parents in Rowland Heights, Calif., shot 12-under-par 58 during a junior tournament last month.

Nick Liaw recently told Sports Illustrated that golf is "good for kids because it trains them to be patient and to respect others." The elder Liaw also said: "The green of the grass protects their eyes."

But sometimes it's only green -- as in money -- that the parents are seeing when they send their children off to golf school.

"When our parents were growing up, the expression was that dads were living vicariously through their children," said sports psychologist Rick Wolff, who writes articles on the subject for Sports Illustrated. "In the '90s, the expression as a parent is, 'I'm only trying to offer the opportunity that wasn't offered me.' But you have to ask to what end."

For all the talented and hard-working kids Chuck James has worked with in the three summers he has been a counselor at Pinehurst, he has seen many more who didn't have a chance to make it on the PGA or LPGA Tour. He should know: He was one of them.

"There are 80 million people playing golf and only 200 or so make it out to each tour -- that's the kind of statistic parents should look at," said James, who plans to get his law degree just in case he doesn't make it as a teaching pro. "There are a few kids who are really serious, but there are a lot of kids whose parents are really pushing them. They are going to grow up not liking the game."

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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