I Listen to Everyday Golfers
For Randy Sparks, moments of pride come often.
For Sparks, director of instruction at Purestrike Golf Academy in Destin, Fla., those moments don’t come through personal accomplishments, he never aspired to compete on the Tour or collect trophies.
He appreciates the little things.
“We deal with a lot of snowbirds down here and the proudest moments come when you see the expression on their faces when they hit a drive 20 yards farther than they’ve ever hit it,” Sparks said. “A gentleman that was 60 or 70 years old came out for lessons because he was going to play for a tournament at a local club. He came out for a lesson, participated in the tournament and had his first hole-in-one.
“When I’ve had kids for five or eight years and they develop into outstanding young men and women and are able to go and sign scholarships for golf. They have the chance to go to schools they never would have been able to go to.
Those are pretty special moments.” “For little tykes, a proud moment is when parents call and ask if little Johnny can come out tomorrow and practice more because he’s having so much fun. Those are special moments.”
Another proud moment came for Sparks when one of his, Brandon Jowers of Columbia University, returned to Sparks hometown of Chicago and won with a 54 hole score of 8-under par. Brandon defeated the field by 10 shots. Brandon went on to win multiple times at the college level and still holds many of the schools scoring records.
Mostly, Sparks, 62, spends his days on the lesson tee.
His favorite free-time activity? Resting and reading.
His passion for golf? Well, that’s developed over the years.
Sparks grew up playing multiple sports, including baseball, basketball and football. Golf, it was just a “passing fancy.” His love for the sport developed with age up until 1991 – his point of no return. Sparks was hooked. “In 1991, I was introduced to a few things and that’s where my hunger, my passion and my desire to learn more and more about the golf swing became enhanced tremendously,” Sparks said. “I was very much intrigued by the scientific and technology element of the game. From that time on, and probably for the rest of my life, it’s something where I’m always, digging, searching, always trying to enhance and understand more about the golf swing.”
Sparks spent time in several professions before becoming a full-time golf coach, spending time with a manufacturing firm and even developing and manufacturing golf products.
But becoming a teacher was a natural step for Sparks, a minister’s son.
“My passion for teaching comes from my background,” Sparks said. “In watching and observing my dad was the same thing – my dad was always one that would sacrifice himself for the good of the people around him. I think we are creatures of the environment in which we are raised. My dad, being a minister, was also a teacher. Ever since I came out of the womb, he instilled that.”
Married for 41 years, Sparks and his wife, Sheryl, have no children of their own. The professional swing coach looks to his junior students to help fill that void.
Evelyn Pacheco, Madison’s mother, has seen Sparks’ teaching abilities firsthand. Pacheco has been making the sacrifice of an hour-long drive for her daughter to see Sparks. “We live in Pensacola and he’s in Destin so it’s not easy for us to go down there, but we do it because my daughter is such an introvert that he gets her,” Pacheco said. “He talks to her and understands like no other coach can.
“Kids feel like they can talk to him – there are some things you can’t talk to your parents about, but they tell him. These are his kids.”
While his forte may be teaching juniors, Sparks has coached many adults. That includes Larry Benton, 68, who has had his fair share of instructors since he picked up golf in 1969.
“I’ve taken lessons from several people – a lot of club pros and one guy that was on the Tour for a while – but I’d put Randy up against any of them,” Benton said. “There are a lot of people that are very smart, but have trouble getting their point across. As a teacher, you have to know your stuff and communicate to get it across, and that’s exactly what he does.”
His point – while it may involve some use of technology – is old school.
Sparks uses teaching tools such as iPhone apps, body vests and video technology, but the core of his instruction relies on five things: steady head, weight forward, flat left wrist, sweet spot path and clubface control.
Sparks authored, along with Medicus Golf, a book detailing his philosophy, “PureStrike: The 5 Simple Keys to Consistency.” “I believe what Winston Churchill said about technology. Churchill said, ‘Science should be on tap, but not on top,’” Sparks said. “Basically what he was talking about it at some point technology is good to be used, but at some point it should be there in a way that it enhances the artistry of the coach that is coaching and the player that is playing.”
That artistry comes in several forms to Sparks.
It could be in the 70-year-old man regaining his love for golf, or in a 7-year-old first learning it.