Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald and Justin Rose are exceptional golfers and balanced men. Well done to them who form one third of Europe’s Ryder Cup team. Perhaps, though, greater congratulations are due to their parents.
When McIlroy won the US Open in 2011 and the PGA last month, the first person to walk on to the 72nd green to congratulate him was Gerry, his father. When McDowell won the US Open in 2010, Kenny, Graeme’s father, raced on to the putting surface, swept his son up into his arms and said: “You’re some fella. Some fella.”
Both men had reason to be proud of their sons, who understand that being a major champion carries with it sundry requirements. They are role models and good ones, too. Yet, McIlroy and McDowell have every reason to be just as proud of their parents, who gave up a lot to bring their gifted children up correctly. They are role models, too.
So, you are about to start a family, are you? Then some rules need to be set in place. How much to encourage your children at sport and run the risk of being perceived as pushy parents? Annie Rose, and her late husband, Ken, who died in 2002, made a pact. “Ken was a really good tennis player when he was young and he said to me when we got married: ‘If any of our children have a talent then we will go to the end of the earth to nurture it.’ ”
It didn’t take long for them to realise that Justin did have a talent for golf that they had to nurture whilst at the same time giving as much physical and mental support as they could to Margi, their daughter. It was a scenario full of difficulty. How do you give the more talented one what is needed without it creating jealousy from any sibling?
At 14, Justin Rose was playing off plus-3 and as his golf took him more into the public eye, Margi, a gifted ice skater but less so at that than Justin was at golf, might well have felt jealous. “I am pleased for him,” Margi said. “I never felt that Justin received more attention than me. If Justin had been annoying when he came home and boastful then that might have been different but he wasn’t. Justin never thought that anything he did was special.”
There is also the danger of turning childhood into a doleful ritual of practice. “We were doing (with Justin) what we thought was fair and right,” Annie Rose said. “In fact, Ken sat Jus down one day and said: ‘Do you feel you lost your childhood because of golf?’ And Jus replied: ‘No, Dad.’ ”
Luke Donald grew up the youngest of three boys and a girl, and it didn’t take long before it became clear that good as Christian Donald was at golf, Luke was much better. Furthermore, another brother and older sister were not interested in golf at all. How to balance the requirements of these children? Colin Donald, who died late last year, was not a golfer. He held the view that he should pay no more or less attention to Luke’s golf than he did Luke’s education.
“Luke’s dad is different,” Paul Casey noted on the eve of the 2011 Open. “Most golf fathers are dressed in golf gear swinging a club. I never saw Luke’s dad out there with a club in his hand. I don’t know if he even plays. He’d talk about a lot of stuff other than golf. I really liked him.”
Colin Donald once said: “I had a passion that my children should flower as human beings. I was influenced by someone I met when I was 35. He said to me: ‘Colin, you know about arts and music. You read. You’re good at handling your emotions, but you’re imbalanced. You can’t bang a nail into a wall or put a spade in the garden.’ I want my children to be the opposite of that.
“It was our custom always to eat together. No snacking from the fridge and disappearing into their room to watch television. There was no bedroom television or computer. I was much closer to them than most English fathers, I guess. I used to come home and read them Grimm’s Fairy Tales each night. I thought that would bring out some of the breadth of life.”
Next question: How much do you as a parent advise your children? Do you assume complete control until a handover of authority is essential for family harmony Do you leave it all to others? Or do you steer a course between these two extremes?
“The only advice I gave Luke was to do with his relationships with other people,” Colin Donald said. “I have always felt that what we are as human beings is more important than winning major championships.”
Good parenting does not necessarily produce major champions, but it helps. Bad parenting won’t necessarily stop a player from becoming a major champion. As we preen ourselves in the reflected glory of McIlroy, McDowell, Donald and Rose as the Ryder Cup draws near, we should not only thank them. We should also thank their parents.
Reproduced with kind permission of Global Golf Post - Subscribe now for free
IN THE MAY 13, 2013 ISSUE