ORLANDO — After slicing a tee shot in the right rough on a par 5 (503 yards) hole, Jerrell Parrish surveyed his lie and then opted to go for a Tiger Woods moment.
With the flag pin almost 250 yards away, the 16-year-old Glenn Dale, Md. resident and DeMatha High freshman slipped his Tiger cover off of his new 3-wood, his favorite club; took several practice swings and then launched his second shot toward the green where it came to a rest, 40 feet beyond the pin.
â€œI killed it,â€ Parrish says, flashing an-as-good-as-it-gets-smile. â€œIt was 234 to the front of the green and thatâ€™s how far I can hit it if I miss it. Me and my 3-wood are good friends.
His lone birdie finish on No. 2 hole on the South Course drew applause from the other members of his foursome, their parents and his father, Michael Parrish, at last monthâ€™s International Junior Golf Tourâ€™s (IJGT) Tournament of Champions. The IJGTâ€™s season finale, held at the Grand Cypress Golf Course, featured 200 top junior golfers, competing in five categories. Parrishâ€™s three-day scores of 74, 77 and 75 over the weekend placed him in the top 15 of the 13-15 boys division.
But for his parents, Michael and Serena Parrish, just realizing how much he had improved since his first awkward swings at age 11, and reflecting on the sacrifices heâ€™s made while becoming one of only a handful of African American juniors to compete in IJGT events already placed him No. 1 in their minds.
â€œIâ€™m so very proud of him,â€™â€™ his father says.
Judging by his recent results, Parrish is on course to make his parents prouder. This
past season, he won three IJGT tournaments and finished among the top 5 in six other events. His year-long effort earned him berths on the All IGJT Team and on the 12-member IJGT Team USA, which will face a European junior team in the Euro Cup, a Ryder Cup-like junior competition that will be held in Scotland, July 29- August 1.
â€œWeâ€™re 99% sure that Jerrell will be the first African-American to compete in the Euro Cup,â€™â€™ says Mark Plevyak, an IJGT tournament director. â€œItâ€™s only been held for the last four years, so someone would have remembered if another African American had qualified.â€
His parents were surprised five years ago when Parrish, the last of four children, showed more than a passing interest in golf after a family friend took him to a golf range. Weeks later, he took lessons at the Glenn Dale Golf Course and since then, several teaching pros, including former PGA Tour pro Calvin Peete, have encouraged his non-golf-playing parents to continue to support his passion for the game.
â€œI knew he was serious when he started putting and chipping all over the house, and putting nicks in the walls,â€ his mother says. â€œHe always seemed to have a club in his hand.â€
Parrish was 13 when he traveled to Williamsburg, Va. to compete in his first tournament.
â€œHe didnâ€™t do well, he shot 100 the first day and 99 the next day,â€™â€™ his father says. â€œBut he didnâ€™t give up. In fact, he spent even more time on the golf course. We talked to some people to see what we should do to put him in the best situation to be successful.â€
Besides getting tips and lessons from several top teaching pros, including former touring pro Calvin Peete, Parrishâ€™s father took him to several pro events, including the Presidentâ€™s Cup and the inaugural AT&T Championships held last year at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Though heâ€™s never met Tiger Woods, Parrish got a upclose view of his idol at those events.
â€œI was about five feet away from him, close enough to touch him,â€ Parrish says.
However, his love of golf has caused some headaches and hardships among some African American friends in school and in his community.
â€œWhen he first started playing golf, he didnâ€™t tell any of his friends,â€ Serena says. â€œWhen they found out, he was teased and he was ostracized, especially at school. He never talked about it. He just made friends with those who played golf.â€
His golfing friends and mentors now include Peete, who lives in Ponte Vedre Beach, Fla., but spends time with Jerrell during visits to the Washington, D.C. area. A few days ago, Peete worked with Parrish in Florida to help prepare him for the Bill Dickey Invitational Golf Tournament in Orlando, July 26-27. â€œWeâ€™re going to work on his short game,â€™â€™ Peete says. â€œWeâ€™re also going to emphasize the mental game and help him understand that this has to be something that he really wants. And weâ€™ll talk about discipline. Heâ€™s a good kid, gets a little ahead of himself sometimes, but I slow him down. Heâ€™s got a lot of potential.â€
Parrish enjoys his sessions with Peete, who was considered one of the gameâ€™s most accurate drivers.
â€œHe always hits the ball straight,â€ Parrish says. â€œI once asked him to give me bunker lessons but he said, â€˜I really wasnâ€™t in the bunkers, I was either in the fairway or on the green.â€™ So I said thanks, Mr. Peete.â€
Parrishâ€™s parents hold human resources positions with the federal government. They are struggling financially to keep their son on track in this country club sport. Michael Herndon, a family friend , says heâ€™s collecting funds from friends to help defray the cost of the Scotland trip. The parents must finance their sonâ€™s trip to Scotland, as well as their own.
â€œOne year, we spent about $22,000 and that was when he was just playing local events,â€ Serena says. â€œNow, itâ€™s much more with the lessons, the travel, the practice rounds, the hotels, the rental cars. The IJGT doesnâ€™t pay for the kids going to Scotland, so the parents have to pay for the kids and for themselves. Itâ€™s a lot of money.â€
Says Michael: â€œWeâ€™re seeking ways to get financial support and thatâ€™s been difficult.â€
Michael Parrish says his sonâ€™s status as the African-American junior on the fast track to join Woods on the PGA Tour adds another layer of pressure.
â€œInitially, we put pressure on ourselves because we want him to perform well because he is an African-American,â€™â€™ Michael says. â€œBut weâ€™ve accepted the fact that there arenâ€™t that many playing and he has been able to disregard that.â€
Wayne DeFranesco, a PGA teaching pro at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md., says Parrish, his student for the past year, has the tools needed to become a PGA Tour pro.
â€œHeâ€™s got the physical stature (5-10, 165), heâ€™s a bright kid and a good student,â€ DeFranesco says. â€œHe has a good feel for the game and can shoot good scores in competition.â€
Parrish says heâ€™ll honor his motherâ€™s wishes and complete two years of college before attempting to turn pro. He is, however, in a hurry to get to the top.
â€œWhen I started playing when I was 11, I never thought I would catch up to these guys, but I did and thatâ€™s what makes me feel good,â€™â€™ he says. â€œSometimes they still hit the ball longer than do, but I can lift weights and get bigger. I think I can be a pro. I want to try my best. I do want to make it big one day.