Part 2. The Fairwood Flyers: A Team of Destiny

By: Marcus King

Editor's Note: In this second installment by Marcus King, a PGA professional who's now the general manager of Sand Point Country Club in Seattle, Marcus describes how he helped develop the "Fairwood Flyers" into a rousing success. He also outlines how that initial success led him to a position as a coach on the national U.S. Special Olympics Golf Team that competed in the 2007 Special Olympics World Games. (For the first installment, click on our Writer's Corner tab.)

Jackie and I assembled our Fairwood Flyers team of 10 athletes and our golf professionals as well: head professional Rick Larson and assistant professionals Joey Reibel and Karen Rooth. The Special Olympics golf season - like all sport seasons - are defined precisely. Because of insurance coverage, we had to be careful to meet with the athletes only during the specified season.

We all met together for the first time under the big white tent at Fairwood Country Club in late May. We instantly bonded with pizzas and Pepsi as the binding medium. Laughs were pealing, practical jokes were being played, and forms were flying all during our first hour of getting to know each other. By the end of the day, we had taken our first steps toward becoming a real golf team.

The Special Olympics golf program is divided into levels from 1 to 5:

Level 1: Skills Development
Level 2: Nine Holes Alternate Shot
Level 3: 18 Holes Alternate Shot
Level 4: Individual Nine Holes
Level 5: Individual 18 Holes

All of our golfers were in Level 1 - which consisted of building skills in short putts, long putts, chipping, pitching, irons and woods - so we pointed our efforts at skill development. After examining the existing Special Olympics golf curriculum, I decided to create a new one based on the particular needs with our Fairwood team. Most of our golfers were relatively new to golf, so we had to figure out how we were going to meet the needs of all the athletes at their particular developmental levels.

We decided to start at the hole and move outward, building on success and the length and complexity of the stroke at hand, and then folding it into target focus and orientation. We also adopted a strategy whereby we limited the number of thoughts and concepts we would reinforce with our golfer- athletes; in particular, we made each skill boil down to exactly three bullet points, with each word carefully chosen to be as memorable as possible, as well as easily connected with an image. We even limited the number of syllables so that our athletes could grasp and repeat the concepts readily. For example, chipping was presented as:

Weight left
Ball right
Handle leads

While not perfect instruction, it did establish a good foundation from which to work together.

We also figured out quickly that if our athletes were to excel in the medal counts - not a goal of our program - then we would be heavily focusing on the short game since four of the six scoring categories are short-game oriented. Our ultimate goals were to introduce athletes to the golf and country club atmosphere; to teach sportsmanship, rules and etiquette; to teach stress-management in the face of failure; and to incrementally teach the golf skills so that our athletes would have a firm foundation before heading up the skill levels.

Being a hyper-competitive person, I really had to remind myself constantly that the goal was not necessarily to win, but to be "brave in the attempt" and to help develop skills that will last a long time.

Over the course of the two seasons, our Fairwood Flyers learned the skills, accomplished the goals we had set out for them, and proudly brought home the medals by the wheelbarrow load. My competitive fire rubbed off on them - for better or worse, and they ate up their success like ice cream at a summer camp. Our little team exploded onto the Special Olympics scene at the Regional and State games, and we were a force to be reckoned with our team leading all scorers decked out in their bright red uniform. Our band of "brothers" - a 12-year old boy, three teenage boys, a couple with a new baby, and some 20-somethings - really grasped the whole team concept and were very supportive of each other throughout the season, even though they quickly discovered they were competing against each other, often in the same divisions.

After our last State meet at Walter Hall Golf Course in Everett, Wash., in August 2006, I was asked to apply to serve as an assistant coach for Team USA, probably based on the success of our small but successful program. I applied for the position thinking that there was no chance on Earth I would be selected for such an honor. But after the interviews and receiving the congratulatory call, I welled up with pride in being able to assist Team USA in bringing home the gold from the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai, China.

The Fairwood Flyers was a "team of destiny," and I proudly championed their colors heading into the World Summer Games leading another team of destiny.

PGA member Marcus King lives in North Bend, Wash., and is the proud father of two teenagers. He currently serves as the President of the Western Washington PGA and as a Director on the Pacific Northwest PGA Board. Marcus caddied throughout his childhood at Seattle Golf Club and earned an Evans Scholarship to the University of Washington, where he graduated in 1986 with a degree in Political Science. He has served as a golf professional at Inglewood Golf Club, West Seattle Golf Course, Jefferson Park Golf Course, Jackson Park Golf Course, the TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge, Wolf Creek Resort in Utah, Fairwood Golf & Country Club, and now serves the membership at Sand Point Country Club as the General Manager. Marcus has extensive community outreach experience including the American Cancer Society, Children's Hospital and Medical Center, Metro Citizen's Advisory Board, King County Superior Court Diversion Program, and the PGA's Golf in Schools and Inner City Youth programs. Marcus conducted a highly successful junior golf program at Jackson Park Golf Course and has been a junior golf advocate for over 20 years. His current passion is with the Special Olympics golf program and he recently completed service as the PGA Coach to the United States Special Olympics Golf Team that competed in Shanghai, China for the Special Olympics World Games. He trains the Washington State Special Olympics golf coaches and is currently re-writing the golf instruction manual using a new methodology. During the holidays, Marcus also serves as a volunteer Santa Claus.