The Dynamic of Sibling Golf

Negotiating the Ups and Downs of Sibling Competition

The world is filled with brother and sister teams that remain intimate and close through all of life. However, somewhere back at or near the beginning of each human life, there is a struggle for supremacy, whether it involves food or attention. Everything that is born on land and sea is in competition. For some, it can be a matter of life and death. For others, it can be bragging rights at Thanksgiving. One’s sibling can be a joy or terror while playing the same game, a case of gentle ribbing or a squash under whichever one has the superior thumb.

There are currently three sets of sisters who have won tournaments on the LPGA Tour. They come out of the Korda, Sorenstam and Jutanugarn families. The men have examples, too, such as the Koepkas. One can only imagine how that goes. All these families are competitive, but they probably express their place in the pecking order differently, if not comfortably resigned to it already.

In some cases, there are age differences big enough for one to succeed first, requiring the other to chase after. In some families, sibling quality has a certain degree of parity. My impression is that between Jessica and Nelly Korda, there aren’t many apologies necessary. Both have established themselves as winners, and now that Nelly is coming of age on tour, she may outgrow the younger sibling thing. Likewise, both Jutanugarns have done well, with many tournaments left to play. However, if Charlotta Sorenstam has severe sibling envy, and intends to change it, she’s got a big job ahead of her.
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What does a sibling, especially a younger one, do when his or her brother or sister is a titanic champion, and virtually untouchable in terms of career stats. It’s bad enough when a sibling dismisses what a brother or sister does because he or she either doesn’t know, care, have any knowledge of or respect for it. But what is it like for two professional golfers to sit down together, and hear “well, how was your year?” when one of them dominated the world. What competitive golfer would have the inner morale to be Tiger Wood’s little brother? Sibling relationships  are way different than those of being a parent or grandparent. That kind of playing relationship has a warm fuzzy quality that is rare for most sibling teams to accomplish.

In my own youth, if I beat my sibling at something, just about anything, we would never play that sport again. Golf was the lone exception, as the one time I managed a better score, my in-family opponent should have been in a hospital getting his back checked. It was a cheap way to claim victory, so cheap that I’ve never brought it up again until now. So many dynamics are at work, including how comfortable one is sitting in the proverbial back seat, parental reactions to the accomplishments of children, and a sibling’s success in other fields. It is not uncommon for the lesser player in various sports to become a member of the stronger one’s support team, or a leader in his or her business interests.

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In my own way of looking at things, the worst of all is stepping up to the first tee of a final round or playoff, tied with a sibling who virtually always beats you. That’s a sibling dynamic worth analyzing, whether to keep butting one’s head into the impenetrable wall of another’s superiority, or call it off and go become a famous physicist or painter.

Whatever one’s decision, it’s time for Thanksgiving, and here’s a holiday wish for anyone about to get the lesser sibling treatment. Our inability to break 80 is a terrible burden to bear in search of a good meal and family company. Well, at least Tiger and Annika probably won’t be there – we’ll get through it.


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