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I’d heard rumors about him, whispers in the locker room, hushed conversations in the 19th Hole Grill. Was he really as good as they said he was? Did he really have that perfect swing? Could he hit 75 balls in a row without a miss? Did he possess the stamina to pound ball after ball in the 90-degree heat?
The answer is a resounding, Yes!
Ty Walker is the 2-year-old son of Brian and Crystal Walker of Brick Landing Plantation. I met him and his parents at the practice area last Thursday.
Wearing a baseball cap, golf shirt, shorts, and black and white golf shoes, Ty was the consummate golfer. He was a little shy at first, but I coaxed him to talk to me and hit some shots to the green.
“What’s you favorite TV show?” I asked.
“The Golf Channel,” he said.
“Who’s your favorite golfer?”
He looked up at the tall man standing next to him and said, “My dad.”
The little lefty put a ball on a tee, lined up, swung and the ball plopped on the green. He hit another and another and another. Ty was now into it in a big way.
His father suggested aiming at a specific flag. Ty looped one up that rolled within 2 feet of the cup!
Once started, Ty did not want to stop. Ball after ball rose up and fell onto the green, with but not a chunk, whiff, dribble or skull. He hit balls from the rough; he hit balls from the bunker with a skill level of a gifted amateur many times his age. I watched him hit 50 golf balls without a miss.
While Ty raced around, lining up and hitting shots, I talked with his mom and dad.
Brian works at the BB&T in Shallotte; Crystal is a fourth-grade teacher at Union Elementary School. His father did not learn to play golf until he was in high school; his first love was baseball and he played in college and now coaches baseball. Crystal does not play the game.
“The golf thing started when Ty was 11 months old,” Brian explained. “He got a plastic set of clubs and started hitting them. He hit and hit and wore out several sets of plastic clubs. Last year he got a set of real metal clubs.”
Unlike most kids, Ty’s favorite TV show is not “Sponge Bob Square Pants” or “Mickey Mouse.”
“He watches Golf Channel every day,” said Crystal. “He sits there and watches golf tournaments and golf shows. That’s what he likes to do.”
Since they live on a golf course, Brian takes his son out to play a few holes later in the evening when the golfers have left the course.
“We don’t really keep score, but he likes to hit the ball off the tee, down the fairway and onto the green. He understands what golf is all about,” Brian said. “We’ll play two or three holes at night. He loves to do that.”
When his dad has time, Ty plays nine holes and has already played 18 holes twice.
“He likes to play, but he gets tired, so nine holes of golf is fine,” Crystal said. “Last September, when he turned 2, we had a golf birthday party for him at the pool complex. We set up a miniature golf course there. He and his friends had a good time. His grandparents got him a little kid’s electric golf cart and he loves to ride around in it in the yard.”
Ty’s interest in golf has been encouraged by Barbara and Bill Kosanke, who live next door to the Walkers. Barbara has been Ty’s nanny since he was a few months old.
“I’d take him for a ride in the golf cart to keep him amused,” Barbara said. “He loved to stop at the driving range and hit a few shots. Now, he gets upset when we have to go home for lunch or a nap. He would stay out there for hours and just hit balls.”
Bill enjoys watching Ty hit golf balls in the backyard.
“He has a perfect swing, and it’s amazing that he has mimicked the golfers on TV, despite the fact that he’s a left-handed golfer. When he hits balls into the woods, he pulls them out with a little ball retriever so he can hit them again.”
“The parents encourage him, but don’t push him to play golf,” Bill explained. “He uses his own grip, has his own style of swing. The kid is a natural.”
This past weekend, my daughter Cora and her husband Bobby Pedrazzi visited us. Cora was a scholarship athlete in gymnastics and Bobby is a PGA pro. Cora owns Core Kids Academy in Richmond, Va., where she teaches physical fitness and gymnastics to children from toddlers to teens.
I asked them about children who start a sport at a very young age. Their sons started golf early.
“It’s fine, especially if the kid is active and fit,” Cora said. “Children need to climb and jump and skip and run. All this builds basic motor skills in kids. If a child develops an interest in a specific sport, encourage him, but don’t try to teach him specific skills when they’re very young.”
“Don’t tell him about swing plane, or shoulder rotation, or hip turn or grip,” Bobby said. “Just let him hit the ball. He’ll build that eye-hand coordination on his own. Too much instruction is not good with a very young child. And don’t force him to play golf. That can become a battle zone.”
I know about that one. I have a good friend who literally hates the game of golf. Her husband plays and so do her sons, but she wants no part of it. Her parents were active members of a club in Massachusetts and they forced her to play golf when she was a child. Her father issued instructions to her, criticized her, critiqued her and hired golf pros to teach her. As soon as she was old enough to say no, she did, and she has not played since.
Jack Davis is a PGA pro who now works as a starter at Brick Landing. He once ran a junior program that had 380 kids in it.
“The worst thing you can do with a young child is to give him a club that is too heavy for him. If he cannot swing the club with his arms, he’ll learn to swing it with his body. With a heavy club, his whole body will sway backwards and then forward when he comes through. The kid will grove the sway and that awful swing will stay with him for his whole life.”
So if you want to encourage your Ty or your Tiger, get light plastic clubs. When he or she can hit those comfortably, buy a light junior set. Cutting down your old clubs is not a good idea because adult clubs are much too heavy for young children.
Don’t force your child, let the child learn to love the game. Make it fun. Don’t keep score, just let the child hit the ball. Kids enjoy just hitting golf balls.
Maybe someday we’ll read about Ty’s exploits on the course. But since neither Crystal or Brian will force the issue, we may hear about him as a baseball player or tennis pro.
Or banker or teacher. Anything’s possible in the future of a 2-year old.
GOLF GAB GROANER
The children’s birthday party was in full swing and everyone was having a grand time. The last event was a marble tournament.
Six-year-old Johnny missed an easy shot and cut loose with a horrible expletive.
“Johnny,” his mother scolded, embarrassed by his son’s behavior. “What do little boys who swear when they’re playing marbles turn into?”
“Golfers,” Johnny replied.