The decision to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not automatic for Joe Parkinson, but after some consideration, he made the choice to put down the golf clubs and leave his home in Utah to share his beliefs with the people in Florida.
Currently a sophomore on the Brigham Young University golf team, Parkinson credits the man who served as his mission president in Tampa, Florida, for a final confirmation that he had made the correct decision. That confirmation came before the Lone Peak High graduate ever set foot in the Missionary Training Center and prior to meeting President Summerhays.
To a golfer like Parkinson, the chance to serve in a mission presided over by Bruce Summerhays, a highly successful professional on the Champions (Senior) PGA Tour, was a special opportunity and a source of inspiration. It has also given the Cougar golfer another resource as he pursues a career on the links.
“About a month before I opened my mission call, I remember reading an article on President Summerhays about how he was on the Senior PGA Tour for 16 years and how he was giving up golf to become a mission president,” Parkinson said. “As soon as I opened up my mission call (to serve under the direction of Summerhays in Tampa), it was kind of special to me because, for a while, I wasn’t sure if I was going to serve a mission or not, just because I was so into golf. I felt like I could go straight to college and then turn pro. As soon as I opened my mission call, I knew – if he can give up golf to serve the Lord for three years, there’s no doubt that I can give up golf for two years.”
Parkinson served those two years with Summerhays, and the two of them did not play golf together even once.
“I never got the chance to play golf with President Summerhays while I was on my mission,” Parkinson said. “We’ve played a couple of times since I’ve been home. I still keep in contact with him and his wife and I’m sure this summer we’ll play a couple of times.”
In fact, Parkinson did not play a single round of golf during his two years in Florida, and he says that Summerhays also did not play much while serving as the mission president.
“He only played a handful of times,” Parkinson said. “He only ended up playing when some missionaries had someone they were teaching that wanted to play golf. President Summerhays would go play golf with them and teach a lesson out on the golf course.”
For Parkinson and Summerhays, the language of golf provided a common bond between them when they got together to talk about missionary work.
“It was actually really cool,” Parkinson said. “In all of our one-on-one interviews, we would always relate things to golf, how we could work and learn from it. It was really cool to be able to relate like that and to be able to apply it to the missionary work. I thought that was very special.”
President Bruce Summerhays
Bruce Summerhays was a golf pro for much of his life, but his greatest success in competitive tournaments came on the Senior Tour.
“He might have played in a few tournaments (when he was younger), but from what I understand, his application got lost, and so he just said I’ll have to find something else,” said Carrie Roberts, Summerhays’ daughter, who is the head women’s golf coach at BYU. “He was the assistant pro at the Olympic Club and then he was at Stanford as head coach and then he came to Heber as the Wasatch Mountain head pro. Then, when he turned 50, he decided to play in some tournaments. He toured on the senior series, and he played in a few tournaments. He played well enough and he qualified and kept his card for 17, 18 years.”
Summerhays won three championships during those 17 years and compiled more than nine million dollars in career earnings. But he is more than an outstanding golfer. His desire to give of himself made him a great leader of young men, including Parkinson. The relationships he made while serving as a mission president carry on after his return home to Utah, including the bond between a pair of golfers from different generations.
“He’s so loving. The first time he meets you he’ll give you a hug,” Roberts said. “One of his missionaries was quoted as saying, ‘You just had to exist for President Summerhays to love you.’ That was kind of a cool thing to hear.
“He’s got a great sense of humor. He’s very understanding but he also knows the rules. He’d give you the shirt off his back. A caddy from the Tour knocked on our door one time. He didn’t know my dad too much, but obviously knew him because he was on the Tour. He said, ‘Hey Bruce, I need some money, I need some help.’ Dad gave him a few hundred bucks and didn’t ask for an explanation and didn’t ask for the money back. That’s just the kind of man he is. He’d give anybody anything.”
Since returning home from his service in Florida, Summerhays has continued to serve as an adviser and friend to Parkinson, who hopes to eventually play on the PGA Tour.
“I just know that when he (Joe) came back he still talked to my dad quite a bit,” Roberts said. “He even snap-chatted him, which is kind of funny. I know that when he came back, he was trying to decide if he was going to redshirt or not, and he called my dad for advice, which is pretty cool. Joe came to the airport when my dad came back, so obviously he’s been a big influence in his life.”
Growing Up With Golf
It’s no surprise that golf would make a difference in Parkinson’s life, even as a missionary. He grew up on the golf course and learned to love the game as a small child in Texas.
In that regard, he has a lot in common with Roberts and the eight Summerhays kids (plus a number of cousins), who spent a lot of time during their youth cleaning up range balls at Wasatch Mountain, where Bruce was the golf pro.
Before the Parkinson family moved to Alpine, Utah, when Joe was 8, they lived in a golfing community in Texas. His father, Dan Parkinson, was a BYU golfer in 1972, but after serving his mission, he decided to focus his energies in the classroom in preparation for medical school and a career as an orthopedic surgeon. But that didn’t keep him or his family away from the game.
“When I was little, we lived on a golf course in Texas,” Joe said. “At that time, we owned a golf cart because we lived on the golf course, and I was home-schooled. My sister and I were home-taught every day for about an hour to two hours in our home.
“Afterwards she and I would jump on the golf cart and go to the golf course the whole day. She’s only a year and a half older than me and everyone would see these little guys that were ages five and six playing golf and driving around in a golf cart. My dad would join us sometimes.”
As his siblings made their way to Utah – Parkinson had a sister who played tennis and another who competed in gymnastics at BYU, and a third sister played golf at Utah Valley University – Joe’s parents made the decision to move to the state as well. Parkinson played his high school golf at Lone Peak and capped his prep career by winning the 2010 Utah State Amateur championship. A few months later, he was on his way to Florida.
“I worked very hard at golf, and when I got out on my mission, I tried to apply my hard-working skills at golf to my mission,” Parkinson said. “When you’re at the golf course, you’re always practice, putting, hitting golf balls, playing. I tried to apply that to the mission, like how I practice ways to proselyte. I tried to apply it to my mission, to be just as hard a worker in the mission field.”
Those characteristics, honed on the golf course, were certainly noticed by his mission president, and have continued on in what Roberts has seen as she watches Parkinson compete with the BYU men’s team.
“The one thing he (Summerhays) would tell you about Joe is that he is very disciplined and goal-oriented, a very hard worker. They love Joe,” Roberts said. “They thought he was just great. That’s what we’ve seen too. He very disciplined and he’s a great player, a great guy.”
Back at BYU
Parkinson arrived home Aug. 26, 2012, and started school at BYU two days later. Having made the decision to get right back into golf and skip red-shirting that first year, he endured the trials of finding his game again after a two-year hiatus.
“That whole fall semester, it was definitely a grind for me,” he said. “I wasn’t hitting the ball good. I shot high 80′s, a couple of scores in the 90′s. It was hard for me to get back in the game, but after being home for about a month and a half, I started to get things back in line and get things going, shooting under par again.”
After using the lessons of golf to help him succeed as a missionary, Parkinson now turned to the lessons learned from his mission to help him adjust on the golf course.
“Something that helped me out a lot was, on the mission I learned so much patience and I was able to apply that when I got back with golf, just because it was so frustrating that I couldn’t get things back the way they were before,” Parkinson said. “I had that patience that I learned from my mission and just kept telling myself that it was going to come along, and it turned out that it came along by the end of the fall. I didn’t play in any tournaments during the fall, but I played in all of the tournaments during the winter semester.”
As a freshman, Parkinson earned three Top 5 finishes during the winter and spring season and set himself up nicely heading into this, his sophomore campaign. That’s when things really took off and with a stroke average under 70 per round, he was named the West Coast Conference player of the month in both September and October.
“I hit the ball good and my short game was really good, which was really the part that helped me,” he said. “I had a lot of key shots and putts that I made that were really key for me and my team. The first tournament, my goal was to finish in the Top 10 and I finished second, and my confidence just took off from there. I just carried it on over to the next tournament and then the next tournament. Then, the fourth tournament, I won my first collegiate tournament, which was really cool.”
That fourth tournament of the fall season was the Pacific Invitational, where Parkinson finished 13 under par and tied his career-best single-round score at 65 in both the first and second rounds. He finished no worse than seventh in any of the fall events.
As the Cougars head into this week’s West Coast Conference Championships at the Gold Mountain Golf Club in Bremerton, Wash., Parkinson is one of the golfers expected to challenge for the conference title and BYU should be in the hunt for team honors.
Parkinson says that his ability to keep the ball in good positions is the key to his success on the golf course.
“My strength has been my woods – my long irons and woods,” Parkinson said. “I hit those very well, and I give myself a lot of eagle opportunities on par fives. I usually don’t miss the fairway that much. Those are just huge strengths that I have, taking advantage of woods that I hit. I’m able to hit them very straight and maneuver them.”
A Future in Golf
Presently, Parkinson is doing all that he can to be part of championship teams at BYU. Longer term, however, he desires to win on the PGA Tour. He knows that a sustained effort will be the key to bringing his game to that level.
“Right now, at the collegiate level is one thing, but in order to make it at the professional level, you’ve got to keep improving in everything – just being more consistent and making sure when you miss a shot, it’s not that big of a miss,” he said. “You have to have a better short game. I mean short game is one of the most important things in golf. It’s also just improving in everything, especially mentally. If you can’t mentally handle it in college golf, you won’t be able to handle it in professional golf. Just being mentally strong is something that’s very important.”
At some point, perhaps during the championship portion of the current college golf season, Parkinson will be standing over a putt, knowing that a lot is riding on his ability to execute in a clutch situation. What goes through his mind in that situation?
“When there’s a putt tha
t I’ve got to make, I only think of one thing,” Parkinson said. “I never think of speed or ‘I have to make this.’ There is one thought that goes through my mind, and the one thought is just hit the putt solid. I never worry about my stroke, I just tell myself to just hit the ball solid with the putter, just make solid contact with it. That’s something that’s always helped me out.”
And when he needs advice about the game or about life, Parkinson can turn to a father who knows the game well and also to a former mission president and good friend who has been in that very situation more than once.
Parkinson and BYU won the school’s first West Coast Conference team title with a four-stroke margin of victory over Santa Clara in the three-day conference tournament last week. The sophomore shot the low round for the Cougars on both Monday (70) and Wednesday (72) at the WCC Golf Championships in Bremerton, Wash. Only a rough second-round Tuesday (78) kept him out of a higher individual finish, as he concluded the week in a tie for 13th. With the WCC title in hand, BYU moves on to the NCAA Western Regionals May 15-17 at a site yet to be announced.