AHS Golf Coach & Former PGA Caddy Shares Lessons Learned on the Greens
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Tom Maples first took an interest in golf when he was eight years old, putting around with his dad and older brothers. He didn’t start itching to play real golf, however, until he was 12 when he and some of his friends secured junior memberships at the local country club.
“Our mothers would drop us off and we’d stay until dusk,” says Maples, who went on to play all four years on the Huntington North varsity golf team as well as a bit in college.
In 2006, Maples joined the Avon High School golf program, first as the JV coach for four years, then the varsity coach for another four. During that time, a number of talented young men passed through the program, one of whom was Patrick Rodgers, who currently plays on the PGA circuit.
Maples did some caddying for Rodgers during the summertime. After his third year at Stanford, Rodgers turned pro and asked Maples to join him on the PGA tour as his caddy. It was an opportunity Maples couldn’t pass up so from June 2014 until December 2017, Maples traveled the globe with his former student, going as far as Australia, Korea, Malaysia, South America and Central America, not to mention all over the United States. They were gone 28 weeks of the year.
It’s not just about the money, either. If they don’t perform well, they can lose their jobs.
“It’s an incredibly high level of stress, but it’s also an incredible level of competition,” Maples says.
While caddying for Rodgers, a typical Monday consisted of walking the course to check out the conditions.
“I compare it to my basketball coaching days when I used to watch game film and scout the opponent,” Maples says. “The golf course became the opponent.”
If Rodgers was there on Monday, the two would meet for a short practice session. On Tuesday, Maples would get up early to walk nine holes, continuing to acquaint himself with the lay of the land. Mid to late-morning, Rodgers would partake in a practice session. Wednesdays were Pro-Am days where corporate sponsors (amateurs) paired with pros to play a round. Thursday and Friday were game days. If Rodgers played well, they went into the weekend. If not, they packed up and headed to their next stop. The longest stretch of time on the road was six weeks, then home for a week or two and back out for another two to three weeks.
In December 2017, Maples and Rodgers decided to part ways. Though it was an amazing life experience, Maples was happy to get back home to his wife, Katie (the volleyball coach at Avon) and two sons, Pete (3) and Max (1). He appreciates participating in the daily grind of parenting.
“Those boys are our world,” he says.
While on tour, Maples was fascinated to see that the pros were making some of the same mental mistakes his high schoolers did. It was a reminder that we’re all human.
“I watched them struggle to manage an expectation in many of the same ways my kids in Avon do,” Maples says. As a result, he’s more prepared to help his kids power through the mental adversity in order to achieve success on the course.
“I can give them the tools to better their own game in a way I couldn’t prior to this experience,” says Maples, whose favorite part of coaching is working with great kids. “Just getting back around young, naïve minds is so enjoyable.”
He also appreciates that after a bad day on the course, everyone can laugh about it or at the very least, not let it ruin their day. Not so on the PGA tour where lows were extremely low.
“What’s nice is that my students aren’t playing for their livelihood. They’re playing for the love of the game,” says Maples, noting how tough it can be to strike that fine balance between joy and competition. “That’s the thing, though. All these pros are out there because they love the game, too. It’s just that at their level, they’re bound to hate the game at times, too. That ebb and flow can be taxing.”
Maples feels that the most difficult aspect of golf is getting his players to believe in their abilities.
“A lot of kids struggle to believe that they’re as good as they are, and that’s a shame because some of them could go far,” Maples says.
It truly is a mind-over-matter scenario, which was a point that was driven home when Maples was on the PGA tour with Rodgers.
“Patrick is the one guy that made it out there, but I had another handful of kids who had the ability to do the same,” he says. “They just didn’t know it. If I could take anything from the pro game and put it into my kids, it would be that undeniable self-belief.”
Maples enjoys not only the competitive aspect of the sport, having grown up in an athletic family but also the relationships he’s built over time — the type that comes from spending four to five hours a day on the links.
“The game of golf and its ability to form strong relationships never ceases to amaze me,” Maples says. “The people I’ve gotten to know and the experiences I’ve been able to pursue are all unbelievable. There’s no other game like it.”
Though that’s not to say Maples doesn’t like other games. Basketball, in particular, is one of his favorites as he’s a former Avon basketball coach.
“It was interesting,” he says. “When I was on the PGA tour, it wasn’t so much the golf coaching that I missed but being in the gym coaching basketball. That’s where you’re supposed to be in the winter, right? Shooting hoops in the gym.”