By the time Joey Sindelar was 12, he probably had played more golf than most will play in a lifetime.
Instead of growing up with a basketball hoop on the garage, Sindelar had a putting green in his front yard, a golf course in the back, and a father intent on making little Joey a golfer.
"When I came along, it was clear to my dad that, with him at 5 foot 10 inches and my mom at 4-11, I wasn't going to be a basketball player, or even a football player, if the genes came up true," Sindelar said from his home in Horseheads, N.Y. "So he said, 'Let's try to make this guy a golfer.' "
Sindelar, 30, is a golfer all right.
With 2 official-money tournaments remaining, besides the season-ending Nabisco Golf Championships, he is the leading money winner on the PGA Tour at $706,636. If he doesn't make a dime the rest of the year, he will finish in the top five.
"When the paper comes out each week with the official earnings, Sue (his wife) and I just shake our heads," Sindelar said.
"On one hand, I thought that I could do it and I'm thrilled to death that I have done it. But on the other hand, it's like nothing is any different, I'm just doing what I thought I could do. It's not really very real, and it isn't over yet either."
Sindelar began playing golf when he was 5. His father, Joe, remains his only instructor.
"Every summer, from April 15 till Nov. 15, I bet I didn't miss 2 days practicing," Sindelar said. "And I'm not talking about going out for an hour, I mean all day every day.
"We lived in two houses. In the first house, the whole front yard was a putting green. And the second house ended up on the second tee of the golf course, which of course was dad's dream. I'm not saying Dad moved there solely because of my career, but that was 85 or 90% of it."
All this emphasis on golf worried Sindelar's relatives, who were concerned that little Joey wasn't experiencing a normal childhood. But it didn't worry Joey.
"I didn't know what a normal kid was supposed to do, except, sometimes I would see my friends going out to play baseball when I had to play golf," Sindelar said.
"Dad's deal with me was this: 'You can get a job in the summer and save up a little bit of money, but I believe if you work hard on your golf and you can earn a scholarship to college and go free, then that will be worth more than you could ever save by having a job.'
"That was the immediate goal, but then, of course if the logical progression allowed me to go on to the tour, then it was to play pro golf."
Sindelar said that sometimes, he wanted to play baseball or other sports instead of golf, but he never asked. The satisfaction of beating other kids and relatively good adults was exciting, and kept him interested.
"So, it wasn't completely Dad pushing," he said. "I really did enjoy what I was doing most of the time.
"But there were times when I would have liked to back off. But when he pushed me that extra 20-25% to continue, that's probably the 20-25% that allowed me to go from just a good college player to a pro."
Joe Sindelar also rewarded Joey monetarily.
"Because golf kept Joey from earning money through summer jobs, I made it so he could earn a quarter or 50 cents each time out, according to his ability," the elder Sindelar said, also from Horseheads, in western New York. "It was his choice to be out there all day, but I made it interesting."
Sindelar also said that if his son had a talent, his role as a father was to guide him and give him every chance to develop that talent as best he could. Looking back now, though, he wouldn't have started him quite so young.
"I just thought if you put all your eggs in one basket and devote your time to it, that's the best way," he said. "I saw his potential right away and thought if he could earn a college scholarship, it would be a feather in his cap and he would enjoy that the rest of his life."
Sindelar is enjoying it. He accepted a scholarship to Ohio State, graduating with a degree in education in 1981. There, he won 10 collegiate titles, was a 3-time All-American and was named Ohio State athlete of the year.
In his first year on the tour, 1984, he finished as second-highest rookie. In his second year, he won twice and finished 12th on the money list, and his third year he finished 14th. Last season he finished 40th, but still won $235,033.
But Sindelar knew he wasn't striking the ball as well as he had in high school and college, and one day he and his dad compared a picture of his swing with that of a high school picture, and found his form had changed drastically--his swing was a foot higher at the top, more vertical, not on a low swing plane like it was previously.
"We tried to change it, but that's a major change and I was having success," Sindelar said. "Finally, after shooting 81-79 in last year's PGA in Palm Beach, Dad and I went to the range and spent 4 solid days hitting balls. We didn't care where the balls went, we just worked on lowering my swing back to what it used to be. Nothing new."