If you’re not following Hal Sutton on Twitter, change that now.
Fantastic anecdotes from his playing career and time spent with greats like Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan fill his feed. The 14-time PGA Tour winner opened Hal Sutton Golf in Houston on Aug. 1, about a driver and a 5-iron away from Champions Golf Club, home of the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open. (There’s a great story on his Twitter feed about mentor Jack Burke, too.)
Sutton works with a number of up-and-coming junior players as well as long-time low-handicappers still looking for an edge.
A recent series of tweets regarding the relationship between a young Hal and his father focused on the important topic of how players perceive their parents’ love when it comes to performance.
Golfweek recently caught up with Sutton, a father of four, to talk more about his insights on guiding young athletes. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
I grew up with a dad that pushed and pushed and pushed and, you know, I wanted to please him more than anything else in the world. No matter how well I did he seemed to raise the bar on me all the time, so that we never quite got to when I thought hey dad, you’re finally pleased with me.
That caused me to tweet “Is your love for your athlete performance-based?” And then I followed that up in the same paragraph, “It’s your athlete’s perception of what your love is that is important.” Most parents miss that. I followed it up with, “Y’all missed the point. The point is how do they perceive what you’re doing?”
One day I said to my dad, you know you never really told me that you loved me. This was after I’m a bunch older. He said, “I gave up all my hobbies; I gave up all my friends; I gave up everything I did to help make what you wanted possible and you question whether I loved you?” That’s pretty profound. But see, sometimes the kid’s perception is what’s really important.
If I could’ve conveyed that to my dad, and he could’ve conveyed that to me at an earlier age, it would’ve been more powerful for our relationship. I kept my dad at arm’s length for a long time because I didn’t want to know what he thought. I knew that even though I was doing pretty well, it probably wasn’t what he wanted me to do.
We lost some time in our relationship. I later tweeted out that at 87 and 62, I know my dad loves me, but why wait that long?
I’ve got a picture up of my dad in the main room in here. It’s me holding the Wannamaker Trophy right after I won. I make the kids look at it with the parents and I say OK, if you all didn’t know who won this tournament you couldn’t tell by the smiles on those faces could you?
I’ve heard kids say, this is their life. It is your life, but your parents have to be heavily involved. You can’t financially support yourself. There are so many things that you need your parents for, and they’ve invested in your life, both financially and lovingly and every other way. So my dad was victorious that day too.
I tell every kid that there needs to be celebration. You know my dad never really let me celebrate, he was moving into the next one. We work hard to win, and we win very little because golf, if you’re not Tiger Woods, most people don’t win all the time. … Spend 24 hours patting each other on the back and saying job well done. And then, after that, form some new goals because I’m sure this victory just changed your goal outlook.
Tiger was constantly changing his goals, based on what he had just done. You can’t stay on course because things happen in your life, and that changes the course. Parents are really good at seeing that.
Here is the 6 iron that created the “Be the Right Club Today” moment!! pic.twitter.com/HNhZ84MGvF
— Hal Sutton (@halsuttongolf) April 18, 2020
Most dad don’t let you rest. As soon you’ve accomplished something, OK onward, onward, onward. Most kids are the exact opposite. OK, we did it, let’s rest. The people that make it the farthest aren’t resting much.
What I needed more than anything else was to know that I was loved regardless of how poorly I played. That’s one of the things I feel like is really important. We need to be supportive as parents. We need to be loving as parents. We need to know, as parents, they’re going to have some bad rounds. That child, that student-athlete, they need to know that I expect you have a bad day every now and then, and I want you to know that regardless of it, I love you. We’re still going to be fine.
The thing that I remember most about growing up was when I was in the midst of a round, and it wasn’t going exactly as I wanted, I thought immediately about how I was disappointing my dad. Sometimes it caused me to focus harder on the round. But, you know, the disappointment that I was going to deliver by poor play was weighing too heavy on me.
Let me tell you what happens when it gets that way. You get to where you don’t want to take any risk. What you don’t want to do is to put enough pressure on your child to perform well that they’re not willing to take some gambles – a calculated risk, if you will.
If, all of a sudden, you’re just playing conservatively all the time to keep from paying bad, you will never become the best version of you that you can become.
There were times that I have seen parents embarrass kids by either raking them over the coals in front of other people, or what they have to say to someone else and it’s within an earshot of the child. And that hurts. Those kids don’t forget those things. So how do you tell them that they don’t mean it? And, you know, that they’re just letting off some steam. Those are some comments that my mother would make to me. He loves you. He loves you. That’s what the other parent ends up telling the child because they’re questioning it. All I can say to a child like that is play whatever you’re playing because you love it, not because you’re trying to please somebody else.
My nephew was recruited by USC and Baylor. It came down to those two, to play football and baseball for them. He’s a quarterback and a short stop, one of the better ones in the country. He asked me to come up to Baylor to go on the recruiting trip to him. We walked out and I said “Hey Blake, I just want to say one thing to you. I know you’re good. And I know you’re going to continue to develop but here’s the truth. Every day is not going to be a good day. And in the sport you chose, they boo you when you have a bad day. And guess what? Those are the days that you need the people that love you to tell you, ‘Hey, we still love you.’ I said if you go all the way to USC, it’s going to be harder for us to do that. That’s me talking to blood about what I think. We need to make these athletes feel loved.
We need to help them understand that your performance on the golf course doesn’t really totally say who you are as a person. I would say probably in my 50s is when I began to start to understand that. I started having all sorts of physical problems, replacing the hips and everything else and couldn’t play golf the way I used to be able to play it. I found myself down all the time because so much of my identity came from golf. All of a sudden, I’m going wait a minute, am I worthless now? No, I’m not worthless.
A story has been on my mind with money doing what it’s done so I thought I would tell it. It’s about Byron Nelson. I had worked with him some my senior year in college and my first year on tour 1982. I won the last event of the year Disney and he invited me to Dallas.
— Hal Sutton (@halsuttongolf) August 25, 2020