Tyler Joiner, 15, seen here teeing off in the Southeast Junior Match Play Championship, where he shot a 72-65 to win the first half of the competition, is part of a golf family, where mom, Christie, and dad, Michael, make sacrifices so their sons, Tyler and Jacob, can compete in junior golf tournaments.
OPELIKA, Ala. — Everybody has a dream, but not many families stuff everything into a 2006 Honda Accord and go chase it.
Here’s hoping the Accord holds up.
The Joiners know they will. There are some close-knit families in sports, but the Joiners are more than par-for-the-course when it comes to sacrifices for their kids, a couple of prodigy golfers from Albany who hope to grow up and play on the PGA Tour.
“We’ve had that dream since we started playing golf,’’ said 15-year-old Tyler Joiner, who started playing golf when he was 5. His brother, Jacob, 16, started carrying an shortened 8-iron when he was a 1-year-old and is one of the top-ranked junior golfers in Georgia, and is ranked 100th in the nation, regardless of age.
It’s been a big week for Tyler in Alabama, where he has already won the best-stroke portion of the Southeast Junior Golf Tour’s Match Play Championship.
Tyler fired a 72 on Monday and a 5-under 67 Tuesday to move ahead of the class in the match play competition. That made him the No. 1 seed, and he won two matches easily on Wednesday and faces two more competitors today. The championship is Friday.
“It’s all coming together right now,’’ Tyler said. “I’m hitting the ball real good.’’
He can thank mom (Christie) and dad (Michael), because they have put their lives on hold for the two boys. It’s tough financially, and it can take its toll.
Christie put more than 30,000 miles on her 2006 Honda traveling to 18 golf tournaments over the last year. She drives better than the boys, who send rockets off the tee.
“We get help from a grant but its tough financially,’’ Christie said. “But we decided it’s their dream and we didn’t want to squash their dream, so we decided to go for it. So many people tell you that you can’t do something, but we felt that if this is what they want to do let’s go ahead and do it.’’
Their home course is Grand Island, where Christie said they couldn’t be treated better. The Joiners had difficulty paying the dues a few years ago, so Grand Island offered to give Christie a job to help pay for the golf.
“We can’t thank the people at Grand Island enough,’’ Christie said. “They have been great to us. They have been so incredibly supportive of the kids.’’
Michael has run his own computer business since 1999, and knows he could make a lot more money with a big corporation. The family lives in a two-bedroom, one bath apartment, but has chosen this road to live on while their two sons grow as golfers.
“I know with my skills and resume I could move to a bigger city and make a six-figure salary,’’ Michael said. “But we have decided to stay here and being self-employed I can have the time to spend with the family when the boys are playing in tournaments.’’
The Joiners play almost all their junior tournaments in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, but Christie and the boys flew to Los Angeles (with the help of a grant) to play in a junior international tournament last year.
“We just look at every tournament and try to decide if we have the money or not,’’ Christie said. “We just pray and leave it up to the Lord.’’
Michael added: “On my salary it is definitely a sacrifice, but the Lord has always provided for us. It seems like the money is always there. There were times when we look at a tournament and say: ‘We’re not going to play in this if we don’t get $200.’ And we would get it. Someone would send us $200.’’
The two boys have improved over the years, and Jacob has already had scholarship offers from Georgia, Georgia Tech, Virginia and others. Both boys are home-schooled and don’t play on a high school golf team, but their reputations on the junior circuit is growing rapidly. Jacob is a rising junior, and Tyler is a rising sophomore.
Tyler won the Match Play Championship, which is for ages 14 through 18, last year just after he turned 14, and wanted to come back and defend his title.
“He was the youngest in the field and ended up winning it,’’ Michael said. “It was quite an accomplishment.’’
The winner gets an invitation to the Southeast Junior Golf Tour’s championship tournament in December. Tyler finished 19th in two of the bigger tournaments this summer and was 21st in a field of 220 in the Future Masters.
Jacob finished fourth in a prestigious AJGA tournament in Tampa, and was third in the Future Masters. He is ranked No. 4 in Georgia in his age group. Both kids did well in the Georgia Junior Tournament this summer at Doublegate, where Jacob was 10th and Tyler was 14th.
This is Tyler’s week.
“I really wanted to play in this,’’ Tyler said of the Match play Championship. “Being the defending champion, it’s kind of cool to come back and try to win it again.’’
Christie said Tyler really wanted this trip.
“We have to make choices about what tournaments they play in,’’ she said. “It kind of depends if they ask and if it is a definite or a please. This one was a yes, a definite and a please. Tyler was really excited to come back again. He was looking forward to it.’’
Tyler has played that way this week.
Jacob is nursing an injury and couldn’t play. He started the golf saga for the family. Michael played golf at Lee County High, where in 1984 Michael and friend asked the football coach if they could have a golf team there. The Trojans formed a golf team that is still in place, and Michael played well enough to get a scholarship offer from Tristate College, a small school in Indiana.
“I decided to join the Marines instead,’’ Michael said. “I got my scholarship in the mail when I was at boot camp, and really thought (at the brutal time) I had made a big mistake.’’
When Jacob was just a 1-year-old toddler, Michael cut down an 8-iron and gave it to his son.
“He would walk around in the backyard swinging that 8-iron,’’ Michael said with a laugh. “They both started playing golf when they were 5 and 7 and after a couple of years they wanted to play other sports, so that’s what they did. They played baseball, football and Tyler played basketball, too. But when they were about 8 and 10 they decided to give up everything and play golf.’’
They have both been young phenoms since.
“I think they are playing well enough now to say the sky’s the limit,’’ Michael said.
The kids believe the dream is closer every day.
“It’s always been a dream,’’ Tyler said. “It’s kind of looking like its possible the last couple of years.’’
The real heroes are mom and dad and the kids know it.
“They have made sacrifices they make for us,’’ Jacob said. “We’re really grateful that they would put everything they want to do to the side so we can have a chance to fulfill our dream.’’