WestchesterCountry Club would seem to be an ideal breeding ground for tour pros. It hastwo 18-hole courses, a nine-hole par-3 layout, a sprawling practice tee, twohuge practice greens and a short-game practice area. There are droves of kidsin the junior program, and virtually all of them have well-heeled parents whofurnish them with the latest equipment, lessons with the club's seveninstructors and funds to compete around the country. A PGA Tour event has beenheld on the grounds every year since 1967.
But only oneperson in the club's 78-year history has had status on the LPGA or PGA tours(Margaret Platt). Then there's Meaghan Francella, who as a kid worked inWestchester's pro shop in exchange for practice privileges, is on the LPGAtour, and two weeks ago she won the MasterCard Classic in a playoff.
Was it a flukethat a former club employee, and not a member, became the first Westchesterproduct to play on tour and win? Not likely. I've long believed that publiccourses, not country clubs, are the best breeding grounds for great golfers.The club atmosphere is too cushy. It doesn't inspire children to toil intenselyenough or to develop the kill-or-be-killed mentality needed to win tourevents.
There are a ton ofpro golfers who were country club kids, including greats Bobby Jones and JackNicklaus. On the other hand, none of the 13 men who've been first in the WorldRanking since its inception in 1986 grew up as club members. The top three inthe current ranking--Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson--are all frommiddle-class families that didn't belong to private clubs.
"Most kidsI've worked with from country clubs don't come to the tee with the hunger mypublic-course kids have," says Tom Patri, who taught at Westchester from1990 to 2001 and has worked with Francella since she was 12. "The publickids seem to want it more, maybe because they realize how hard their parentsstruggle to make ends meet."
To bolster hispoint, Patri tells a story from his tenure at Westchester. "I had one youngpupil, the son of a member, who went through 13 drivers in one year--13! Thekid kept thinking a new club would fix everything, and his parents fueled thefire by paying the bills. Then one summer Meaghan needed a new driver. It tooksome time, but her parents sacrificed and saved the money to get a newTitleist. She was walking on air when she got it."
Rudy Duran, aCalifornian who taught Woods from ages three to 10, has a similar view. Heparticularly recalls an amateur team match, the San Luis Obispo (Calif.) CountyRyder Cup. Between 1993 and '99 the competition pitted teams from the privateSan Luis Obispo Country Club against Chalk Mountain, a municipal course. ChalkMountain won five of the seven matches. "The country clubbers were goodgolfers," says Duran, "but the public-course guys went at it a littleharder and scrapped it up."
I have one concernabout my theory--a personal one. Although I grew up caddying at Westchester,I'm now a member, and I wonder about my two kids. If they get into golf, willplaying at the club hurt their chances of having tour careers? "Ultimately,it comes down to what's inside the individual," says Patri, who grew upplaying at public tracks on Long Island. "But all things being equal, I'lltake the public-course kid's chances any day."
by JIM GORANT
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