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Building a Local PGA Tour Champion One Shot at a Time

Building a Local PGA Tour Champion One Shot at a Time

by Mark Guttenberg

In light of this year’s feel-good story of the year in professional golf—the first PGA tour victory for Leesburg native and Naval Academy graduate Billy Hurley III—I wanted to share some insights on what I feel was a recipe for raising a champion.

I met the Hurley family in 1992 when I was head professional at Westpark Golf Club in Leesburg. I’d known Bill Hurley, the father, for many years because he started in the golf business as an assistant pro in the late ‘70’s, a few years after my career began.

I offered a junior golf camp for advanced and beginner golfers and Billy and his brother, Danny, both signed up and became students for private lessons over many years. lessons with Danny were more frequent than Billy, but I continued to work with Billy for about 12 years until he met his present teacher/coach Mitch Spearman.

One of the best parts of my job is the relationships I build with parents of my juniors. I’ve had a number of successful juniors who have gone on to win on many levels of the game. And while I may play some part in their development, I’ve often wondered what makes one child more successful than the next.

Billy was self-sufficient growing up and didn’t need much coaching or supervision. He wasn’t really a standout high school golfer, shooting rounds in the mid-70s. Still, I put in a call to Pat Owen, the Naval Academy golf coach, and suggested he give Billy a chance to play at Annapolis. 

That’s where he blossomed into an All American and winner of many collegiate events. He once carded a 61 in one home tournament, the Patriot Classic. I also invited Billy to play in a few pro/ams and was impressed with the progress he’d made at the Naval Academy and began to have a new-found respect for his ever-improving game. 

Billy was, and still is, a humble man of few words so I spent a lot of time talking to his late father to really find out how Billy and Danny were doing. We would have very lengthy conversations about their character, work ethic and some of the values he tried to instill. He cared so much, as most parents do, about the progress their kids were making but never once tried to tell me how to teach them, even though he had a background as a golf professional. 

When either boy was ready for a lesson, Bill would call and our conversation always included a thorough update as to what they’d been experiencing. He never sugar-coated anything, but always allowed me to direct them as I saw fit. He was always interested in my opinion and I told him back in Billy’s Naval Academy days that I thought he had the game to win on the PGA Tour. 

I’ve had several relationships with parents who also were supportive of their kids but felt the need to take over after the lesson and re-prioritize what their children should focus on. This can be detrimental in the long run because it forces the child to choose between who is right. And confusion can set in.

Parents have the right to raise their kids as they see fit and they certainly know more about their children than I do. Trust, however, is paramount to success when sending them to an expert in the field. 

Giving a child the room to fail and succeed is a necessary part of the learning experience and supporting them no matter what is most important. Golf is expensive and I understand the sacrifices families make to help their children.

It’s great to encourage them to work hard and have them honor their commitment to get better. When they don’t perform as you hoped, you still have to support them and love them no matter what.

In the end, it comes down to the child and how he was raised that builds their character and makes them champions. Bill Hurley and his wife, Cheryl, were champions as parents, the most important factor in the raising of a champion golfer. We can’t all be winners on the PGA Tour, but with the right parenting skills, our young people can be winners in the game of life.  

Mark Guttenberg lives in Aldie and he and his teaching pro wife, Leslie, are on most lists as two of the finest golf instructors in the country. Mark runs the Raspberry Falls golf school at Bull Run Golf Club in Haymarket. This story was adapted from a Facebook post with the writer’s permission. 

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