The Real Story Being The Golf Story
By Charlotte, mother of SBGA longtime student
Our son, Will, shot a HOLE-IN-ONE last month – into the wind on a 220-yard, par 3 hole at Montgomery Country Club! As excited as we were to hear the news, that’s not the real story. The real story is how the game of golf, and the people who play it, helped Will to grow into the wonderful young man he is today.
Will's powerful swing
Will’s powerful swing
Will had a rough start. Problems at birth required a two-week stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. On his last day there the hospital audiologist told us Will likely could not hear. We brought him home not sure of what to expect. It turned out he wasn’t deaf, but he could hear only muffled sounds, not words. What followed were ten years of serious ear infections, numerous perforated eardrums, and three surgeries. Frequent asthma attacks only made things worse.
A child who can’t hear well usually struggles with speaking and being understood, school, social situations, and even the balance required to walk. Before Will’s hearing was finally corrected, he encountered all of those issues. Our sweet, affectionate, enthusiastic little boy quickly grew frustrated and angry with the difficulties associated with his poor hearing. He struggled in school. When his friends (who were usually extraordinarily patient) whispered strategic plans to go left during a game of Capture the Flag, Will sometimes went right, or didn’t know which way to go at all. If someone laughed at his mistake, Will all too often came home sobbing and humiliated. More and more he refused to go out and play.
Will has loved sports since he was a toddler. Nothing made him happier than playing ball with his dad and brother. Later, he reveled in watching the big leagues on TV. When he was old enough we signed him up for team sports. He had natural ability but his small stature and difficulty hearing his coaches from the sidelines did not bode well for his sports career.
My husband loves to golf. When Will was two or three, Pat started taking him to the golf course. Will had a cheap set of plastic clubs at first, but he loved imitating Pat and the others on the driving range. Soon he began using his first set of real clubs, a US Kids starter kit. I must admit, I was often a bit nervous about my small boy hitting balls on the driving range, a fear heightened by the fact that more than once he hit an errant ball that nearly beaned the person next to him.
When Will was about seven years old, Pat took him to hit balls at Blue Mash Golf Course. That day there happened to be an Australian golf pro on the driving range. He watched Will for a while and then came over to talk to Pat. “Your son has a natural golf swing. Make sure you nurture it. Give him a chance to develop what he was born with.” We never saw that man again, but we are grateful that he took the time to say what he did. It changed everything.
Pat took Will to see our friend, Steve Bosdosh, one of the most highly respected golf coaches in our area. We were skeptical about the Australian’s assessment of Will’s swing, but Steve concurred
Coach Steve talking to Will
Coach Steve talking to Will
with the pro. He encouraged Pat to begin entering Will in local kid’s tournaments so that he could get comfortable with both the game and the competition. Steve helped us to prepare for the possibility of Will playing college golf even back then, and we are so glad we took his advice. Will usually finished tournaments in the middle, or even the bottom of the pack, but that never dampened his enthusiasm. He woke up every tournament-Saturday just as eager to play again. In golf, it doesn’t matter how well you hear.
Golf began to change our son. His angry tantrums began to turn into opportunities to learn self-control and perseverance. Frustrated meltdowns about missed putts or errant tee shots at first led to thrown clubs and tearful sit-downs. Pat often had to remind him, “Will, you have six more holes. You can’t sit down and cry because this one didn’t go well. You have to learn from it and move on.” Those life lessons began to spill over into schoolwork and social situations. My son, who had always been fearful of speaking to adults, began to confidently call the golf course to set his own tee times. It might not seem like much, but it really was a huge milestone.
Golf etiquette also served our son. Players learn early that it is not acceptable to demean another player. No matter what, players remove their hats, shake hands, look each other in the eye, and say, “thank you” at the end of every game. I have spoken to other golf moms whose children had experienced taunting and even abuse in other sports. On the golf course, Will, like the others, was always treated with respect because that is an important part of the game.
Occasionally I have seen a player roll his eyes as they watched Will approaching the first tee. Will is the exact opposite of the quintessential tall, lanky golfer. Our son is quite short and well, “stocky”. I know that more than one opponent has looked at him and figured beating him would be easy. However, those eye rolls usually turned into raised eyebrows the moment Will hit his tee shot long and in the fairway. Not only was Will treated with respect, he quickly earned it. Will began to find his place.
Will with his winner's plaque
Will with his winner’s plaque
In eighth grade we asked if Will could play on the high school Varsity golf team. At that point he had several years of tournament experience behind him and he had consistently begun moving up the leaderboards. The golf coach turned out to be Debbie Bosdosh, Steve’s wife. She let Will try out with the other players and then gave him a place on the team. When it came time for the first tournament, Debbie announced that Will would play in the second spot. I quickly heard through the grapevine that some of the older players were not okay with that decision. Apparently they thought Will, the eighth grader, was just there to fill space at the bottom of the roster. I called Debbie and told her we completely understood if she felt that Will was unfairly taking the spot of an older Varsity player. Debbie, who used to be a cop, answered me, “Absolutely not. I told those players that if they want Will’s spot they had to beat him. Only one player could. Will earned his spot. He’s going to play.”
With Debbie as his coach, and Steve giving him necessary lessons, Will helped the team to win the league’s golf championship four years in a row. Will eventually won both the Most Valuable Player and Player of the Year awards. He not only earned his top spot, he also learned that he could play with “the big boys.” Those high school varsity players, now young college men, quickly learned to accept Will’s abilities. It didn’t take long for them to become friends.
It hasn’t all been easy. Even a player gifted with Will’s natural golf swing has to work hard. After a disastrous junior regional tournament at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, Maryland, a man I didn’t know came over to talk to me. “Your son is easily one of the best players out here, but he can’t putt. If you want to help your son get someone to fix his putting.” Back we went to see Steve Bosdosh. Steve took a look at Will’s scorecards where I had recorded every tournament putt for two days. Then he took Will to the putting green and watched. Steve was honest. “Will, your swing is near perfect, and your putting stroke worked for you when you were younger, but you’ll never play college golf if you putt that way now. We can fix it, but it will probably take a year of practice. It’s up to you.” Will told Steve he would do whatever Steve said, and they began to get to work. Will was true to his word. Every day, on his own, he practiced what Steve gave him to do. A year later he was moving up the leaderboard again. His handicap dropped to 0.3. Then, one day, he won!
Will loves golf. He loves the courses, he loves the people, and he loves the industry. He found a job at a country club and by all accounts was a valued employee. He caddied for many of the players there. Last year he was recruited for the college golf team at California University of Pennsylvania and now gets playing time as a freshman. He studies Professional Golf Management there, one of only 16 such programs in the country.
Will pays attention to the PGA players and seeks to emulate the ones he respects. When he was in sixth grade he met Tom Watson, who asked him how he was doing in school.
Will pictured front left with his winning high school varsity team.
Will pictured front left with his winning high school varsity team
Will sheepishly told him he was getting a D in history. Watson looked him in the eye and told him school was more important than golf for him right now, and Will listened. That year he won the school’s Young Historian award and finished with an A in history.
Will’s sister, Valerie, has Down Syndrome. Will helped his dad, Pat, coach her Special Olympics golf team. One day Will told me that he had heard Jordan Spieth talk about his sister, who has autism. Will told me never to worry about Valerie. “I’ll take care of her the way Jordan Spieth takes care of his sister, Mom. I promise.” I have no doubts that he will be true to his word.
At the end of the summer Will played in the Bobby Bowers golf tournament. He made the cut easily on the first day, which was stroke play. On the second day he found himself five holes down in match play. He didn’t give up in frustration though, like he once might have. He kept going and worked himself back to one hole up. Then he lost a hole. His chip shot on 18 lipped out of the hole, but his opponent’s putt was good. Will lost, but I didn’t care. He didn’t give up. I was keenly aware of how far he had come, not only in golf, but also in life. Will has had to work hard, and he has met some important people along the way who have helped him grow – Steve and Debbie Bosdosh, an anonymous Australian golf pro, the paraplegic golfer Will caddied for who shared his own story of never giving up, the varsity golf team who moved aside to make a place for Will, Chris and Meg Gusti, amateur champs who helped Will keep moving ahead, the friends and parents he has met through tournament play, and even pro golfers Tom Watson and Jordan Spieth.
A hole-in-one is a terrific achievement, but it’s never the real story. At least it’s not Will’s story. The real story is about a little boy who could barely hear, and who was sorely fearful of the world around him. That little boy discovered he had a gift, and the people around him helped him to nurture it until he grew into a young man ready to take his place in the world. Golf played a big part but so did the people who play it. For that we are grateful to the game!