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FORE March/April 2013 : Page 50

YOUTH ON COURSE Friendships BY JOSÉ MARTINEZ PHOTOS BY EDDIE HON 8QH[SHFWHG t’s diffi cult to imagine that Dr. Keenan Barber doesn’t see at least a little bit of himself in Quinn Swafford. Sure, there are plenty of differences. Barber is 65 (“ancient” is the word he uses), and a retired cardiologist who’s been playing golf for more than fi ve decades. He lives on the course – literally, his residence is on the grounds of Mission Hills CC in Rancho Mirage – and is going into his seventh year as a board member for the SCGA and SCGA Youth on Course. Swafford, on the other hand, is 13, and has been diagnosed with Aspergers syn-drome for about seven of those years. He’s a Palm Springs native who’s been golfi ng for about two-and-a-half years now, already with an average score in the low eighties, and while he doesn’t quite live at Mission Hills, his favorite course, the one named after Pete Dye, is there. For his part, Barber prefers Mission Hills’ Dinah Shore Tournament Course. But the two do have this in common: Both began golfi ng at the age of 10. Barber was the son of two golfers and as a young boy would create a makeshift golf course in his yard , 50 | FORE Magazine | MARCH/APRIL 2013 SCGA.ORG

SCGA Youth on Course

José Martinez

<br /> Unexpected Friendships<br /> <br /> It’s difficult to imagine that Dr. Keenan Barber doesn’t see at least a little bit of himself in Quinn Swafford.<br /> <br /> Sure, there are plenty of differences. Barber is 65 (“ancient” is the word he uses), and a retired cardiologist who’s been playing golf for more than five decades. He lives on the course – literally, his residence is on the grounds of Mission Hills CC in Rancho Mirage – and is going into his seventh year as a board member for the SCGA and SCGA Youth on Course.<br /> <br /> Swafford, on the other hand, is 13, and has been diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome for about seven of those years. He’s a Palm Springs native who’s been golfing for about two-and-a-half years now, already with an average score in the low eighties, and while he doesn’t quite live at Mission Hills, his favorite course, the one named after Pete Dye, is there.<br /> <br /> For his part, Barber prefers Mission Hills’ Dinah Shore Tournament Course. But the two do have this in common: Both began golfing at the age of 10. Barber was the son of two golfers and as a young boy would create a makeshift golf course in his yard using tin cans. That was enough to tide him over until he started caddying for his dad on real courses – and 55 years later, his explanation of why he loves the game is succinct.<br /> <br /> “I like being outdoors,” said Barber. “I like the challenge of trying to shoot a low score. And I like being with my friends.”<br /> <br /> Barber counts Swafford, whom he met two years ago, among those friends. In 1977, Barber moved from his home state of Illinois to California, where he met Allan Thron, who would later become Swafford’s grandfather. The two have been friends ever since, and their duo has become a sometime-trio in the past couple of years.<br /> <br /> “Quinn and Allan and I would meet up in the afternoon once in a while and play a few holes,” said Barber. “And as Quinn became a better player, I took him to some of the other courses [in the Coachella Valley].”<br /> <br /> He did that with the help of the SCGA Youth on Course Golf Pass, which provides youth with affordable access to golf at more than 120 southland facilities during off-peak hours. How affordable? Green fees don’t go higher than $5, and range fees max out at $2.<br /> <br /> One of the more unique aspects of the Golf Pass is how youngsters become certified for the program: Before any golfing, they have to complete an online curriculum that goes over the Rules of Golf and etiquette, as well as broader decision-making skills. Barber says the whole program is good for Swafford.<br /> <br /> “It gives him an opportunity to focus on something other than school,” said Barber. “It gives him some goals because he would like to become a better player. It offers him an opportunity to develop some social skills, because people whom we play with or whom he meets in golf tournaments, he has to interact with them. When we go to check into a golf course, he has to intro duce himself to whoever’s running the pro shop.”<br /> <br /> In short, it prepares Swafford and his young counterparts for “real-world” golf. And it seems to be working – just ask him.<br /> <br /> “Golf is just like life,” said Swafford. He explained that, at times, he has to work to manage his anger, citing his Aspergers. “It’s just like life because people get really mad, but you’ve got to control yourself on the golf course. It’s a really frustrating game, but your emotions can get in the way of it, so it teaches you how to calm down.”<br /> <br /> If you look hard, you can see that restraint in action – when Swafford misses what should have been an easy putt, his anger is unmistakable. But he takes a few deep breaths and moves on to the next hole.<br /> <br /> “I’ve never seen him throw a club,” said Thron, his grandfather. “Most kids will throw a club – he’s fighting more demons than most kids, and he’s never thrown a club.”<br /> <br /> Swafford considers it in more practical terms.<br /> <br /> “You can’t get angry because that’ll ruin your next shot,” he said. “So you just have to stay calm, be relaxed, and then if you do that and do the right things in your golf swing, hopefully you get a good shot.”<br /> <br /> And have a good time. That’s Barber’s primary concern – he’ll leave the etiquette to Youth on Course and the actual coaching to Thron, who’s an assistant coach at Palm Springs High School, where Swafford is planning on attending next year. When they play, Barber makes sure to tell Swafford every time he does something well, which is often. After the third hole at Dinah Shore, Barber tells the boy he hasn’t seen anyone play that particular hole that well in three years.<br /> <br /> “I think we’ve probably played 10 rounds of golf together, and he’s as much fun to play with as anybody I play with,” said Barber.<br /> <br /> He recalled a past round with Swafford at Indian Canyons in the Coachella Valley.<br /> <br /> “We’re playing the ninth hole, and Quinn’s got a shot over water to get to the green in 2,” said Barber. “And he hit it really hard and really long, but it was so far right it was out in the middle of the lake.” Swafford made an 8 on that hole, but that didn’t deter him from trying the same shot again later in the same round – and the next time, it was successful.<br /> <br /> To hear Barber and Thron tell it, Swafford is a young player with major promise. (Seeing him in action on the course confirms it.) Thron – remember, a coach – says he’s “never coached a young man as strong as he is,” noting that in terms of raw talent at that age level, he doesn’t know many people who match Swafford.<br /> <br /> “Quinn has a lot of things that he has to fight out on the course,” said Thron. “He has to work harder than we do, but he does it. That’s a credit to Quinn.”<br /> <br /> Barber agrees, and stresses that he really doesn’t consider himself a mentor to Swafford – that’s Thron, he insisted. Barber, well – he’s just there to have a good time. And that’s part of the reason he so enjoys the fact that Swafford takes risks – often considerable ones – out on the course.<br /> <br /> “I like it when Quinn plays a par 5 that he has a chance to reach in 2,” said Barber. “He will most often go for it because it’s fun. He realizes the risk involved and he’s, at times, when he had an opportunity to make a 4 or 5, made an 8 or a 9 because he went for it.”<br /> <br /> Swafford’s learned the risk, said Barber, “but he’s also learned the fun of giving it a go, of trying.”<br /> <br /> “And when you’re playing for fun,” he added, “that makes a lot of sense.” Swafford agrees, and says he plays for two reasons:<br /> <br /> “The fun of it, and just seeing what I can make on the golf course,” he said. “If I throw it away, and if I have five holes left, then I’ll just see what I can do there. You can always come back on the next day or on the next hole.

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