A Fathers Voice

By Randall MellJune 17, 2009, 4:00 pm
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2009 U.S. OpenFARMINGDALE, N.Y. ' The fundamentals of golf begin with the grip.
 
Thats why its fitting the U.S. Open traditionally ends on Fathers Day.
 
The hold a father has on his sons game can be more integral to a professional golfers success than the way the players hands meet the club.
 
You can ask three of the greatest players who ever lived.
 
Tiger and Earl Woods
Tiger and Earl Woods hug after one of Tiger's victories. (Getty Images)
Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were in the fundamentally sound hold of three strong fathers who carefully shaped the paths their lives took.
 
Earl Woods, Charlie Nicklaus and Deke Palmer were giant figures in their sons lives.
 
Though they have all left this world, their voices still resonate in their sons heads.
 
After a practice round Tuesday at the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, Woods was asked how often his fathers words come back to him.
 
Probably every time I play, he said.
 
Woods said his pops words were especially strong as he rebuilt his left knee and his game following reconstructive knee surgery after he won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines last summer.
 
I always think about Dad, and especially when I take the time off and I come back and I start playing again, Woods said. All my practice sessions, Ill go back to my old fundamentals I learned from Dad. Some of the thoughts Ive had over the years all go back to his original teachings. So pretty much every time I play, I always think about Dad.
 
Palmer won four green jackets, claimed two claret jugs from the British Open and a U.S. Open trophy, but the prize he pursued hardest couldnt be displayed on his mantel.
 
Palmer played for his fathers approval.
 
I really burned inside to earn a simple compliment from my father, he wrote in A Golfers Life, his autobiography. That compliment never came, which probably explains why I tried all the harder to please him.
 
Palmer cried when he felt he finally won the great prize, when his father wrapped an arm around him after he won the U.S. Amateur in 1954.
 
He was the man I most admired in the world, Palmer wrote. He was the man whose hard rules and painful lessons had made me everything Id become, everything I stood for and was.
 
Nicklaus counted his fathers approval as vital, too. He said even as an adult, he rarely made a decision without consulting his father, who owned several pharmacies in the Columbus, Ohio area. Nicklaus started playing golf with his father when he was 9.
 
He had been so much more than a father; my guide, my companion, my mentor, my supporter, my defender, but always most of all, my closest and surest friend, Nicklaus wrote in his book, Jack Nicklaus, My Story.
 
Deborah Graham, a sports psychologist who works with golfers and specializes in family matters, says parents leave their voices in their childrens heads.
 
In fact, she believes we integrate their voices in the way we learn to talk to ourselves.
 
For the fortunate, its empowering language: I can do this, I will do this.
 
For some, its a curse: Why cant I do this, Im such an idiot.
 
When Graham works with tour pros, she hears the echoes from childhood. Mothers, of course, can have even greater impacts than fathers.
 
A lot of the confidence in ourselves, the way we motivate ourselves, weve learned based on how our parents related to us, she said. We learn to look at ourselves, relate to ourselves and even talk to ourselves the way our parents talked to us. What a parent says to a child during impressionable moments, thats imprinted. That stays with us.
 
Earl Woods gave his son many gifts, but the greatest may be the voice he left in Tigers head.
 
Earl left a tough, confident, determined and yet loving voice.
 
When Woods played at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot three years ago, his first tournament appearance after his father died of prostate cancer, he was asked what his fathers special quality was as a coach.
 
Love, Woods said. Thats basically it. The love we shared for one another and the respect we shared was something thats pretty special. To have my dad in my life and have him be that supportive and nurturing, its pretty cool.
 
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