Golf's Father/Son Team
by John Bebow
Golf has plenty of father/son teams: Earl and Tiger Woods, Bob and David Duval, Raymond Floyd and sons, the Dave Stocktons, the Davis Loves.
In 1998 a new father/son team burst on the scene in Michigan _ Shawn and John Koch. Shawn had a dominant summer, winning both the Michigan Amateur and the Golf Association of Michigan Championship. And he praised the coaching of his father, John, the pro at Oak Pointe Country Club in Brighton, every step of the way.
"Through the years I've always trusted his judgement," says Shawn, who's now preparing for his final spring season with the East Tennessee State University golf team. "My dad's been really happy for me after this summer. He gets congratulated all the time, and he should. Without him I couldn't have had my success."
What's John's teaching secret? Keep the swing thoughts simple and make sure fun stays at the top of his son's swing.
"We keep it very simple _ slow backswing, keep it on plane, and hit it like hell with the driver," John says. "But most of all I tell him to enjoy the game."
Enjoying the game was easy for the Kochs this summer. Shawn's spectacular season also included qualifying for the U.S. Amateur and a runner-up finish in the prestigious Western Amateur.
"He just had an astonishing year," John says.
While John marvels at Shawn's tournament success, Shawn admires his dad's finesse as a teacher.
"I don't think I'd enjoy the game if my father had pushed me the way Tiger's father has," Shawn says. "And if my dad had been the greatest player in the world like Jack Nicklaus I couldn't have lived up to the reputation. For us, it's just mutual respect. His teaching ability is a gift _ it's just like being able to hit a ball 300 yards."
John's early strategy with Shawn was to let him find his own way around the golf course. By the age of seven Shawn was taking lessons. A year later he was playing in local junior tournaments. By the age of 10 he was competing statewide. By the age of 12 he was beating scratch golfers.
"I played with my dad's peers," Shawn says. "That was another blessing."
But after a mediocre junior college golf season, Shawn was feeling less than completely blessed entering the summer tournament season. He pulled it together through practice and mental discipline.
Technically, he did it with booming, 300-yard drives, excellent control of his irons, and confidence around the greens.
"He spent hours and hours practicing his short game and putting," John says. "He practiced shots you couldn't teach. He could get up and down from anyplace."
Mentally, Shawn managed to mix a relaxed attitude with an old habit of turning one year's loss into the next year's victory.
The Michigan Amateur win came one year after Shawn won medalist honors in the 1997 Amateur at the University of Michigan golf course. But a quick exit in match play that year left him with a bitter taste in his mouth _ a taste he'd had before.
The 1997 Amateur reminded both Shawn and John of four years earlier, when Shawn made a poor showing as a junior in the Class A high school state championship.
"That just destroyed him," John remembers. "He said, 'I'll be back and I'm going to win this thing.' And he did the next year. He had that same feeling after the 1997 Michigan Am."
Despite his big wins last summer, disappointment is still a motivating factor for Shawn as he prepares for 1999
"Losing the Western Amateur was gut-wrenching," he says. "It took me three or four weeks to get over it."
If Shawn can once again turn disappointment into success, the 1998 Western Amateur loss will motivate him to earn a spot on the 1999 Walker Cup team. And, if all goes according to plan, a spot on one of the pro tours will soon follow.
What's Dad's advice as Shawn looks ahead?
"I tell him, 'You're too hard on yourself.'" John says. "I went through that nonsense in the early '60s."
Like Shawn, John once had PGA Tour dreams.
"I come from western Pennsylvania where, if you play golf, you're a sissy," John says. "That's football and coal-mining country. But I was getting pretty good and I finished third in an assistants' championship at Arnold Palmer's country club one year. After that, I wanted to be a pro. I was living in Florida for a while and roomed with Dan Sykes. Now here was a guy who'd finished high on the money list, won something like $55,000 one year, but he was sleeping in his car because he had to pay off his sponsors. I decided then that I didn't feel like owing my life to somebody."
The father and coach says the son has more talent and desire to make it to the PGA Tour.
"I think he has what it takes," John says of his star pupil. "Who knows? But if he keeps his work ethic I know he'll make it. Whatever he pursues, I just hope he enjoys it."
JOHN BEBOW IS MANAGING EDITOR OF MICHIGAN LIVE, A STATEWIDE ONLINE NEWS AND INFORMATION SERVICE. HE CAN BE REACHED VIA E-MAIL AT firstname.lastname@example.org.
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