It’s not as languid as it looks.
As they putter around the golf green under clear blue skies, players in Dallas International School’s golf program are working much harder than their quiet focus makes it seem.
“Golf is a mental game, and it’s incredibly difficult,” says DIS Athletic Director Jesse Llamas. “But it’s worth the challenge because it helps players develop focus, character and discipline.”
As they work to cultivate the strength of Tiger Woods and the steadiness of Inbee Park, DIS golfers are not only honoring their professional idols, but fostering independence, resilience and better time management—all reasons that DIS parents should consider introducing their children to golf.
Golf has been shown in studies to improve players’ confidence, well-being, self-esteem, longevity and overall physical health.
Launched at DIS as an after-school program during the 2016-2017 school year, golf has also been available as a team sport as of this school year. And in that short time, DIS’s dedicated middle- and high-school players have not only racked up local tournament wins, but started to see golf’s payoffs in their everyday lives.
While most other DIS sports are group ventures (think volleyball, basketball and soccer), golf is essentially a game where it all comes down to the individual.
“You’re not really competing against an opponent,” says Samantha Wong, a DIS freshman who recently won the Dallas Lutheran Invitational Golf Tournament, where her DIS teammate Ellie Brown took second place. “You’re basically competing against yourself and against the hole.”
When they compete in tournaments, the 16 current members of DIS’s golf team are not allowed to do so with their coaches hovering nearby. Alone on the green, without any guidance, they must move the ball forward no matter where it lies, choosing the clubs, strokes, and angles that will best improve their scores.
“Having every shot be all on you like this really teaches you how to take charge,” says Bruce Caplinger, the award-winning, PGA-licensed golf pro who serves as DIS’s head golf coach and who receives help from assistant coach Zak Downes.
Though DIS golfers practice together every week—and though those who play in tournaments do so in groups of four—they are essentially solo warriors. “This makes golf the perfect choice for the many athletes at DIS who don’t necessarily want to play on teams, but who prefer working as individuals,” says Llamas.
Resilience is another skill that DIS golfers are developing on the green.
Whether they’re battling to overcome strong winds or to swat balls out of stubborn sand traps, the frustrations they face are teaching them persistence. Never mind their rival’s scores. Never mind the drizzling rain or the hot sun blazing overhead.
“In golf, you have to shake off every shot,” says Caplinger. “You hit the ball, and whatever happens, you have to let that go. You can’t hold on to negative thoughts because that’s going to impede you going forward.”
Developing this type of mental toughness is helping the members of DIS’s golf team in their lives off of the course.
“If I don’t do well on a school test, it doesn’t bother me as much as it would if golf hadn’t taught me resilience,” says Samantha Wong, whose sister Claire is also on the DIS team. “I just learn what I did wrong, dig in harder, and work to make it right.”
While many schools only offer golf programs in the springtime, DIS lets its students play in the fall—honoring these players’ requests to spend as much time as possible on the course.
While DIS golfers officially meet twice a week (from 3:15 to 4:45 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, alternating their sessions between Sherrill Park and the Practice Tee), many of these young athletes devote their spare time to playing on their own.
“The time crunch really teaches them to get organized and balance their extracurricular activities and schoolwork,” says Llamas.
Consider seventh grader Andrew Petruzzelli, who claimed first place at the recent 2018 Parish Invitational Golf Tournament (his second straight win for the DIS team, and his 62nd win in his lifetime). Since he picked up his first club at age two, Andrew has devoted every spare moment to perfecting his game. Tuesdays and Fridays, he wakes at 5 a.m. to work with a trainer. Six hours a week during the school year and 30 hours a week during the summer, he hones his skills in hopes of becoming a professional golfer one day.
Whether they want to throw themselves full-throttle into the golf team—or just putt around after school —DIS students are encouraged to try their hand at golf. “We welcome players of all levels,” says Caplinger, who notes that his after-school players and team members usually practice together as a group.
Caplinger says college scholarships abound for high school golf players, and that many of these—especially grants for girls—are currently going unclaimed.
In addition to giving students the edge in their college applications, golf has countless benefits that are backed by scientific research. A 2016 study by the World Golf Foundation found that playing regularly can help improve mental health, prevent chronic illness and boost physical fitness (on average, golfers walk eight miles and burn 500 calories while playing 18 full holes of golf).
A landmark Swedish study conducted in 2009 found that golfers live five years longer than non-golfers, regardless of their age, gender or socioeconomic status.
“Our student players are limitless in their potential,” says Caplinger. “And golf is helping them to embrace that potential in full.”