By John Hopkins, First Published in Global Golf Post
I don’t need to be apprehended by a baby-faced policeman to be reminded of how young they all look these days. These old bones deliver daily reminders of the advance of anno Domini. Yet I have been struck by two particular examples of youthful precocity in these past two months.
The first came on a soft Florida evening last month when the induction of Tiger Woods into the World Golf Hall of Fame featured a speech by his daughter, Sam. She delivered it lucidly and with a charm and poise that was striking for the 300 or so gathered to listen and no doubt those who watched the ceremony on television. Why was it striking? Sam Woods is 14 years old.
Here is one story she told: “My dad found himself in a position to make an 18-foot putt to force a U.S. Open playoff (against Angel Cabrera), which he missed by a foot. He then had to rush to the airport, fly from Pittsburgh to Orlando, and drive to the Winnie Palmer Hospital. Within five minutes of walking into the hospital room, still wearing his red golf shirt, on June 18, I was born. He may have lost that day, but he won the greatest gift of all.”
Here is another, talking of her father’s car accident in February 2021 that required him to have multiple surgeries to his right leg and kept him from competing in top-class competition until this month’s Masters: “We didn’t know if you’d come home with two legs or not. Now, not only are you about to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but you’re standing here on your own two feet. This is why you deserve this, because you’re a fighter.”
The emotion of the introduction was felt by everyone in attendance, including Tiger. “Crap, I just lost a bet to (Steve) Stricker that I wouldn’t cry,” he said.
That night in Florida last month, we filed out of the PGA Tour’s headquarters marvelling at how assured Sam Woods had been. “She wrote it herself,” commissioner Jay Monahan said.
Earlier this month came another example of youthful precocity. Anna Davis, a very accomplished left-handed golfer from California, won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur a few days before the Masters. As a golfing achievement, that was impressive for a 16-year-old barely old enough to drive. But so was the composure she displayed in dealing with the after-the-golf shenanigans of interviews and public appearances.
Charlie Woods, Sam’s younger brother and a gifted 13-year-old golfer, is self-assured enough to poke fun at his father in public. Karl Stenson, the 12-year-old son of Henrik, Europe’s captain in the 2023 Ryder Cup, has a sense of humour and self-confidence far in advance of his years.
Consider also tennis star Emma Raducanu, who won the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open and then held most of the United Kingdom spellbound with her easy charm and grace. She was 18 and still at school at the time. Consider Greta Thunberg, who has led the fight for climate change, and at 15 was composed enough to address the 2018 United Nations Climate Action Summit.
Anyone over the age of, say, 40 and certainly 50, could look back at the time when they were 14, 16 or 18 and say with certainty: “I could not have done what Sam Woods or Greta Thunberg did.”
I certainly could not. At that age I was a gawky teenager who was constantly being told not to be so “diffident.” When I was one year older than Thunberg, and two older than Woods, I won a golf competition at school and my housemaster implored me to hold my head up as I walked up to receive my prize in front of 400 schoolmates.
Nowadayschildren are encouraged to be seen and to be heard, to have a voice and to express it.
Why is it that today’s teenagers seem so much more composed than we did at their ages? Sitting with my three partners after a round at our golf club last week, I posed that question. I didn’t want to know how Davis had acquired her sporting ability because that was clearly down to talent, hard work, the high level of instruction now available and to gadgets such as TrackMan, Sportsbox and Swingyde.
I wanted to know how these young people had acquired such poise at so young an age.
Putting down a glass of red wine and squinting slightly into the sun, one of us said: “We were taught that children should be seen but not heard.” It is an instruction generally attributed to the Victorians. I might add that when I was growing up there was a rule in our household, enforced by my mother, that sex, religion and politics should not be discussed at mealtimes. “It’s bad manners,” she would say firmly, brooking no disagreement.
Nowadays children are encouraged to be seen and to be heard, to have a voice and to express it. Mealtimes are often discussion times about issues of the day. Hard to talk to your parents about Boris Johnson’s merits or demerits as a prime minister or Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine or the cost of electricity when you’re at boarding school and away from home for 300 days a year. Nowadays, parents want their offspring at home. Little wonder such schools have fallen out of favour.
Derek Wyatt, 73, is a former Member of Parliament who was chairman of the Parliamentary Internet Group for 13 years and founded the Oxford Internet Institute. He knows an answer if not the answer. “These kids have had a digital upbringing,” he said. “They have been influenced by the influencers. They can look up anything on the internet and copy and learn from it. Life changed when Tim Berners-Lee did the coding for the internet (in the early 1990s). There was a second technological wave with the arrival of Facebook (now Meta) in 2003. Now there is TikTok and Instagram.
“When we were kids, teachers taught us. Now the kids can teach themselves. They can look up a golf backswing, for example, and get 24 examples in minutes. They can connect with everything. It’s instant learning – hence Instagram.”
How many parents have become frustrated at the amount of time their children spend on their devices? How many grandparents, having emailed their children or grandchildren, never get a reply because email is considered out of date. “Got to use Instagram, Grandpa,” they say. Anna Davis, Sam and Charlie Woods, and Karl Stenson demonstrate that confidence and poise are priceless, and not detrimental to golf. Can those of us no longer in, or indeed anywhere near, the full flush of youth be jealous and at the same time admiring? We are, whether we can be or not.
Top: Sam Woods (second from left), with father Tiger, brother Charlie and her father’s girlfriend, Erica Herman, shows “a charm and poise” beyond her 14 years and marks a generational shift foryoungsters, John Hopkins writes.