When Parker Sexton watched a hobbling Tiger Woods win the 2008 U.S. Open in a playoff over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines, the allure of golf reeled him in.
To that point, Sexton had been a multi-sport athlete who had only casually played golf. But the athleticism that Woods displayed, along with the individualistic nature of the game, appealed to Sexton.
When Sexton won two of the first three tournaments he played at age 12, that gave him a glimpse of perhaps how good he could possibly become.
Sexton, 17, of Germantown, Tenn., is unsure of how his week at the 68th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Colleton River Plantation Club’s Dye Course will play out, but he realizes the result will be his own doing.
"It’s rewarding because it’s all on you, so if you don’t play well you can’t blame anybody,” said Sexton, who posted a 5-over 77 in Monday’s first round of stroke play. "It’s tough, but when you do play well, you know it’s the work you put in and not a product of someone else doing it for you."
Sexton knows from experience.
He returned to competitive play in April following a 16-month recovery from three stress fractures in his lumbar spine, a result of the 6-foot Sexton’s body struggling to keep up with his busy golf schedule.
The first result was a win at a 36-hole United States Junior Golf Tour event at the Links at Galloway in Memphis, Tenn. His second outing was in early June at the AJGA’s Toyota Music City Junior, where he shot his highest competitive score, an 86, during a 67th-place finish.
He bounced back on June 21 to shoot a 5-under 67, his lowest competitive round, in the U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier at Hot Springs Country Club’s Park Course in Hot Springs, Ark.
"When I started hitting balls again in March, I was rusty,” he said. “After the round in Nashville, I was really down. I thought I had lost a year and I couldn’t catch up. So making this tournament means a lot and shows me something."
Results aside, as Sexton went through a grueling four-month process of rehabilitation, he often wondered just how his game would respond when – or if – he returned.
"It was eye-opening,” he said. “It was painful not being able to play, but the time away also gave me time to think. I didn’t even know if I was going to ever play again, and the physical therapy was a really slow process.”
Sexton still experiences discomfort following rounds and he will need to pace himself should his week run the duration of match play.
If anyone in the field knows about the uncertainties of the sports world, it’s Sexton, who considers himself an avid follower of the NBA’s free agency market and contract negotiations.
He comes by his passion naturally, as his father is noted sports agent Jimmy Sexton, whose list of clients includes a roll call of SEC football coaches – Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Will Muschamp, Lane Kiffin and Hugh Freeze – but is not limited to the college ranks. The NFL’s Ndamukong Suh, Jimmy Graham, Julio Jones, Jason Witten and Philip Rivers are also Sexton clients.
“He had Scottie Pippen and represented a lot of those guys,” Sexton said. “Obviously, I wasn’t old enough to remember that, but I started liking the business side of basketball. I love seeing how deals and trades come together.
“It’s interesting to see how players make decisions and why they make them. The whole DeAndre Jordan situation was interesting.”
Sexton followed closely as Jordan, a free agent, announced that he would sign with the Dallas Mavericks before changing his mind and re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers.
“It’s something I hope to get into at some point in my career,” said Sexton, a rising senior at the Memphis University School, who hopes to study sports management in college.
Sexton has gotten used to the unique window into a private industry that his father’s job has created, but he is also appreciative.
“When we’re on trips, he’s on the phone all the time,” he said. “It’s weird because I can't be on the other end of the phone, but I can almost put together what they’re saying because I have heard it so many times.
“The way I explain it … when my friends are in the car, it’s a big deal. I know the stature of these athletes and coaches, but I am so used to seeing those names. When coach Saban calls, my dad leaves it on the car [speaker] phone, so I hear it all. We’re close to a lot of them.”
For now, though, the only negotiating Sexton wants to do is around the difficult Pete Dye layout he’s playing this week.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.