Karl Vilips: Lessons Learned From a Golf Phenom

Paul Vilips isn’t the sort of person you actually interview. Rather, you make the suggestion of a question and you brace yourself for whatever direction his precise memory and unrelenting candor might lead you. The father of Karl Vilips, arguably the best 15-year-old golfer in the nation according to both Golfweek and the World Amateur Golf Ranking, can talk about his son at length, and he isn’t shy about poking holes into the sophisticated and sometimes over-coached world of junior golf he’s witnessed first hand.

Although the American Junior Golfing Association was conceived in the mid-1970s and the first credible golfing academies were erected a decade later from an idea championed by David Leadbetter, there were actually very few organized initiatives around 10 years ago when Paul was first showing 4 ½ year-old Karl how to hold a golf club.

“Nowadays, things are much more detailed and outlined for parents,” says James Hong, director of junior golf programs at Harbor Links Golf Course in Port Washington, N.Y. “There’s a lot more information that’s available. We hear all about these advancements in golf instruction over the last 10 years. But in my opinion, the biggest advancements I’ve noticed have all happened in junior golf. If you were trying to raise a junior 10 years ago, or even five years ago, you were stepping around land mines, hoping you were making educated decisions.”

In addition to the 38 Australian tournaments he won before the age of 12, Karl won four Junior World Championships in the United States.

Back then, U.S. Kids Golf was barely in its infancy. The organization most directly associated with helping families introduce young kids into golf ran its first tournament only a handful of years before Karl hit his first golf shot. As for Perth, Australia, where Karl was raised, hardly any thought at all was given to the notion of growing the game.

That was just one of many complications Paul had to be concerned about, but it was the least distressing. By the time Karl Vilips was born, Paul’s father had passed and his mother was suffering from dementia. As for Karl’s mother, she returned to her home in Indonesia after a custody battle when Karl was just 15 months old, leaving Paul to raise an infant alone with only the help of a popular parenting book to guide him.

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