I was Mom on the Bag for my younger son, Rob, for four years on a regular basis. Being a parent caddie was difficult, at least to begin with, for both of us - two Taureans hooking horns and stubbornly inflexible on changing opinions, clubs or courses of action. These are my notes from one of our very early tournaments together:
First drive off the tee goes wayward. I tell him to play a 5 iron and he proceeds to chunk three 3 woods down the fairway. Finally he reaches for the 5 iron and lands a solid approach followed by a great chip. Caddie Dad 1 says how much faster the green is than the practice green. Maybe a good thing we spent all of 2 minutes there. Rob drains an 8 footer for a double bogey.
Par 3 water hole and he takes out a 6 iron. I suggest a 5 and he agrees with me and changes. He puts it in the water. Drop. He takes out the 6 and knocks it over, but into rough and buried deep.
Next hole is reasonable until he lands in thin rough just off the green. I think he has pulled out his putter which would be the logical club (in my mind). Then he chips, or rather blades it, over the green and down the hill on the other side. He should have putted. He should have putted. He should have putted. I shout. He shouts. I’m suddenly one of “those parents” and in that moment feel exhausted and done with it all. Really done. 9 for that hole. Nothing else to say.
Drives are horrible. The next lands under a big tree. Caddie Dad 2 bends some branches back which is probably not legal, but nice nonetheless.
Finally on hole 6 he hits a good drive, hallelujah ! Then three tedious chips up to the green. Really don’t want to be here !! Rob hanging in well mentally, however, which is quite something amidst all this carnage.
Then all goes to hell in a hand basket !
Hole 7. Good drive providing an open, flat path to left edge of huge green; or aggressive shot over 2 bunkers directly to flag? I tell him to play it safely onto the green. He could pretty much take a putter and get it on to the green from where he is. Instead he flies the ball into bunker 1. Then into bunker 2. Then blades it out clear over the green, down the hill and into rough and rocks.
I text my husband : I’m never doing this again. Rob and I are both angry. Both crying. He needs to go back to baseball, I think.
Text from Husband : I told you to just let him play...
Over the years my outlook evolved somewhat and I can walk around the course now - if not in Zen-like detachment - at least in relative peace. For any parent caddie it's a mind-shift really: It's not about you. It's about them. This is driven home by a situation observed, unfortunately, in most junior golf tournaments with parent caddies on the bag: Son hits a terrible shot that lands in a bunker, water, deep rough ...... Daddy caddie, on the verge of a heart attack: Why did you hit it there? Child: I didn't mean to!
Nobody hits a bad shot on purpose.
I probably wasn't a great parent caddie for my son in the early years. I asked Sports and Performance psychologist, and author of The MindSide Manifesto: The Urgency to Create a Competitive Mindset for some advice.
Dr. Bhrett McCabe advocates, among other things, an attitude of gratitude and positive reinforcement. There is little you (as a parent) can do during a tournament except work on cultivating a casual nonchalance attitude and shoot a quiet reminder to the child, when necessary, to breathe and follow their routine to focus on the next shot. Other than that, the parent (as spectator or caddie) should remain emotionally detached regardless of the state of play. This will help the player to learn to help him/herself through failure and disappointment – imperative in junior golf.
So, how can we as parent caddies be more emotionally effective on the bag and calm ourselves down while our child's game is going to hell in a hand-basket?
I put this question to my readers and received the following words of wisdom:
- Maintaining a sense of calm is always going to be a work in progress, but when I start getting frustrated I sometimes start snapping photos of my son and his playing partners to get my mind focused on the fun of it all.
- I never discuss what he is doing wrong on the course. That's a conversation for after the round. On the course it is all about helping him not to get too emotionally high or low so we avoid compounding the problem. We discuss all the time that there will be problems (pro's make mistakes all the time) - it is how you respond to mistakes that counts.
- We adopt a sort of "team" approach in that I am more relaxed and have a different perspective from my husband, the caddie. There will be times during a round that I text him on his Apple watch little reminders to calm down or stay positive. These messages help my husband not to react negatively, but rather refocus our son when the latter hits a bad shot.
- Staying as positive and calm as possible is the most important - even though it is tough sometimes.
- My reactions tend to vary depending on whether my son is making bad decisions and not thinking as opposed to generally just playing badly. If its just not going well I will try to offer gentle encouragement: "this is a character building day; a tough day makes you stronger; Sergio took a 13 at Augusta"....... If my son is making bad decisions and not thinking my response is different because, while positive reinforcement is my most frequent method, certain behaviors must not be reinforced with encouragement. I usually start with a questions such as "What was your thought process on the last shot?" So I can be sure it was error in effort not simply execution. Usually an "I don't know" proves the point. In the moment i will then ask, "Shouldn't you know? Are you engaged in the process? Let's not make that mistake again." With my son, usually no more is needed.
- I am 100 percent nervous for every event my daughter plays. She is 10 and plays with no caddie.
What I have learned from watching her is that she is always doing her best, so even if it looks like the craziest shot - or I watch and think to myself “what I would have suggested” - it’s still her game. They never intentionally go out to scuff a shot, or top an easy approach shot. So I stay calm for her.
Have you ever watch your junior golfer make a beautiful , amazing contact, high trajectory shot, just short of the green into the bunker? I have - and at the end I tell her she had amazing shots. Sometimes things just work out, or they don’t. I read once “be the calm in your child’s game, not the chaos”. It hit home and I always keep this in mind.
We evolve as people and players as we get older. It doesn't matter the game - with experience comes understanding and with understanding comes acceptance. Of ourselves and others.
At the end of the day, it’s just a game – and regardless of the score tell them gently, as the night closes in, that you love them, they did the best they could, and even if they didn’t accomplish all they had planned, you love them anyway.