If you are a Mormon missionary and a scratch golfer with potential for a professional career, do you tee it up on a few of your preparation days when serving your two-year LDS Church mission?
That was the dilemma former Utah State Amateur champion Joe Parkinson found himself in a few times on his LDS mission to Tampa Bay, Fla.
The conditions were perfect. His mission included the golf course-dotted geography of sun-drenched Florida. It’s the same area where Tiger Woods has his home, and not too far away there’s the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass as well as PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra.
His mission president? His ecclesiastical leader was Bruce Summerhays, former 16-year Champions Tour player with $9 million in earnings, the builder of the Homestead Golf Course in Midway. President Summerhays could have picked up the phone and arranged Parkinson a tee time almost anywhere in mission boundaries.
So, did Elder Parkinson ever go golfing on his mission?
“I didn’t even touch a golf club,” he said. “There were times I could have, but we had baptisms instead.”
Task management. Priorities.
Parkinson returned from his mission this past fall, too late to be a factor on BYU’s golf team where he planned to play before he left for mission service. In addition to winning the Utah State Amateur in 2010, I watched Parkinson dominate the Vernal Open that summer. He also competed in the 2010 Junior PGA Championship, finishing ninth.
In short, he’s a player.
A straight, long hitter off the tee box, Parkinson is a solid iron player and putter, too. He found out firsthand what a two-year absence from the game can do when he returned from Florida last fall. The day after he returned, he picked up his clubs and played a round.
The big challenge was his tee shots. His driver abandoned him. He sprayed tee shots all over the course and began shooting scores in the 90s.
“I had no idea where the ball was going. No clue. I was guessing with my driver every time I got up to hit it, and that’s no way to be,” Parkinson said.
“The first few months were pretty rough, but it’s coming back. I played the day after I got home and shot a 75, but then the next 10 rounds I scored in the 80s and a couple in the 90s.
“I was able to fix my swing, make some changes, and I picked it right up from there. Before my mission I was always straight off the tee, but when I got home I couldn’t tell you where it was going, right or left. I’d hit them in the hazard and out of bounds almost every other tee.”
But he figured it out.
Now, Parkinson's picked up 10 yards on his tee shots and he’s hitting it straighter. His father wanted to sell his clubs and have him get new ones with the latest technology when he returned, “but those were the same clubs I won the state am with and I didn’t want to get rid of them,” Parkinson said.
So, what advice would Parkinson give to those who take a long hiatus from the game?
“Patience. Just have patience. It is something I learned on my mission. It is key.
“When I came home and started shooting in the 90s, I hadn’t done that in years. But I stayed patient and then starting shooting rounds in the 60s, and my confidence just took off. That week I shot 64, 70, 67, 68 and a 74, and it felt like I was right back in it. It was October and I’d been home about a month.”
This past week Parkinson fired rounds of 72-76 (par 73) at the St. George Golf Club Amateur. His two-over par 148 was one shot out of winnings. The week before, Parkinson fired rounds of 71 and 73 at the Coral Canyon Amateur in Washington for an even-par 36-hole score. Teammate All-American Zac Blair won both events.
Patience. Then comes confidence, the most valuable elixir in all sports.
Because he’s such a good guy, dedicated and patient, it is easy to pull for Parkinson to find that confidence ring all great players experience.
There’s no better example of how valuable that element is than Johnny Miller, father of one of Parkinson’s college coaches, Todd Miller.
A whole generation may not remember Johnny back in 1974 when he won eight PGA Tour events. For an encore in 1975, he won his first two tournaments by a combined 49 under par.
Miller found that elixir and rode it to the Hall of Fame.
After he won the Phoenix Open he told a reporter, “I’m hitting the ball so well, it’s almost a joke.” A fellow tour player heard that quote and said, “Miller is playing so well he makes the rest of us look like monkeys.”
After another low round in the 60s that year, Miller explained he was standing in the fairway 190 yards from the hole with a five-iron in his hand and was actually thinking about holing out the approach shot.
Confidence. It’s a product of practice and patience.
These are favors Parkinson has earned by keeping to tasks at hand and making priorities.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.