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Junior Mark Slawter Keeping the Dream Alive I

n my day to day operations as sole operator of SSTCG, I spend a lot of time speaking with junior golfers and parents of junior golfers. Certainly, I can relate to these young golfers who spend practically all of their free time at the golf course working on their games. My childhood was no differ- ent. While all of my buddies were at the pool, I was hitting balls, chipping, putting, and playing 36 holes until my parents finally picked me up at dark. I didn’t really have anybody to do it with, and neither do many of the kids I meet today. I also couldn’t really tell you what drew me to the game of golf back then, and neither can these junior golfers today. The fact is, the game consumes us and we can’t get enough.

When I was nine years old, I played in my first golf tournament. I won a trophy taller than me along with a 4-pack of orange Aviator’s (sweet!!!!). I was so excited I could hardly stand it! I came home that day and told my dad I was going to play on the PGA tour one day and I meant it. Yes, I was nine and I didn’t know much about how the world worked, but I truly believed that I would play golf on the PGA tour. In a weird kind of way I felt like it was my destiny…….. A couple of years later I was with my mom at a junior tournament in the Raleigh, NC area. It was a pretty big tournament with well over 100 kids playing. The local news station came to the course to do a story. We all thought we were big shots as these TV cameras followed us around the course filming us playing golf. Later that night, we were watching the news eagerly awaiting the story. The clip finally came, but the message it sent is one I will never, ever forget…..

Here was the basic message of the news story:

“Today dozens of kids from across the state battled Wake Forest Country Club in hopes of becoming the North State Junior champion. Many of these kids have aspirations of playing the PGA tour someday, but the odds aren’t with them. In fact, research shows there is a good chance none of these kids will ever play a PGA tour event.”

The minute I heard that message a little piece of doubt crept in my mind about my PGA Tour dreams. I was only 12 years old, but I never could shake that message. As hard as I tried to ignore it, I was devastating. A big piece of so called “reality” had just slapped me across the face. Well, many years later I did play in a PGA tour event! No, I never was able to gain PGA tour status, but I did play in several tour events and a couple of US Open’s. Furthermore, a bunch of my buddies from junior golf, college golf, and professional golf were able to gain PGA tour status. Many of them still have their cards today. Unfortunately, I routinely encounter situations where the parents of a young golfer think his/her dream of playing college golf (and beyond) is a pipe dream and destructive to their future. It really ticks me off anyone would instill such nonsense in a young person’s head. If the kid loves golf, and is willing to work at it every day, allow them the chance to see where they can go with it. I am pretty sure there are a lot worse places for a young person to spend time than at the golf course.

And besides, it is my opinion that most junior golfers can find college golf opportunities that fit their academic goals. If you sit down and look at all of the college golf programs across the country, it’s mind blowing. I have worked with several families that thought it was a stretch to find the mix of golf and academics they were searching for. A few months later, they were

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surprised to find all of the options they had available to them. My advice to the parents of junior golfers would be this:

Before you decide college golf is a stretch and not possible, look around a little. Start with a list of 20 schools that fit your academic goals, and inves- tigate their golf programs. There very well may be a couple of opportuni- ties for your son/daughter to get the education you want with the college golf experience they want.

From there, who knows where golf will lead. The good thing is they get to keep the dream alive. Whether they end up playing the tour or go on to be successful in another walk of life, the people they meet and the relationships they make through the game of golf can only benefit them. I know they have enriched my life.

Good luck to all junior golfers in 2013!

Mark Slawter is the Founder of Straight Shot to College Golf, a service that assists juniors in their quest to play college golf. Slawter played collegiately for North Carolina State University where he was named an All- American in 1994. He was also a three time All-ACC selection and played professionally for six years.

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