My prodigy, my daughter
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Carly Ray Goldstein greets everyone with a hug. The range picker. The course owner. A reporter she’s never met. Smile wide, arms wider, sun-kissed, the picture of optimism.
Life is good. She’s young, pretty, a straight-A student and one of the best golfers her age anywhere. At 14, she’s already won more than 65 junior tournaments, including the prestigious Future Collegians World Tour Under-14 National Championship last May. In January, she defeated the University of Florida’s Marika Lendl to reach the quarterfinals of the prestigious Doherty Cup, where she is the youngest player in its 77-year history to reach match play. Duke, Florida and UCLA have sent letters of introduction. She counts LPGA star Natalie Gulbis among her friends. Carly’s tight draw, which can reach 240 yards with a driver, so impressed Jack Nicklaus at a recent function that the legend gave her an impromptu 15-minute private lesson. And for much of this charmed existence, she has her father and coach, Barry, to thank.
Barry Goldstein greets everyone with a big smile. Life is also good for Barry. A youthful 46, he’s a ringer for a Rocky-era Sly Stallone – the counterman at the pizza shop yells, “Yo, Adrian!” when Barry strides in. A teaching pro at Inverrary GC in Lauderhill, Fla., he’s made several appearances on Golf Channel and regularly contributes to Golf Tips magazine. He recently signed a deal to be a spokesman for a training aid. Most important, he is Carly’s father and coach. Each title alone would make a man proud. To be both is almost tempting fate.
Life is good for the Goldsteins, especially around the golf course, where much of their time is spent, where they call themselves Team Carly. Away from the fairways it’s more complicated.
• • •
The Goldstein family wasn’t always golf-centric. Barry’s parents, Roy and Annette Goldstein moved from Binghamton, N.Y., to South Florida to start a real-estate business when Barry was 17. A talented baseball and hockey player, Barry stayed behind to finish his senior year of high school, living with family friends, but got serious about golf when he joined his parents in Boca Raton, Fla., to attend Florida Atlantic University.
“After college, golf became everything,” Barry says.
He won several local amateur tournaments but frequent, humbling encounters with future PGA Tour winner Chris Couch grounded any pro golf ambitions. Barry earned a real-estate license. Still, he spent more time practicing his game than his profession. Real estate, he says, “wasn’t something that stoked me up.”
Within a few years, Barry was married and, to his surprise, teaching golf. Driving by Jimmy Ballard’s headquarters one day, Barry pulled over on a whim and talked his way into an apprenticeship with the famous instructor. He spent a year working for Ballard, teaching schools, then lessons, before embarking on his own as a golf teacher.
Barry’s business grew, and so did his family. Daughter Aubrey was born in February 1994, followed 12 months later by Carly. Unlike Tiger Woods, Carly never appeared on “The Mike Douglas Show” as a toddler, but she did show unusually early interest in golf thanks to Barry’s garage practice center. “My wife would put the high chair by the door and Carly would eat and watch me hit balls into a net, or putt,” he recalls. “By the time she was 1, she’d walk around the house with a cut-off club saying, ‘Golf! Golf!’ ”
Later, Carly curled up next to Barry on a living room couch in the family’s comfortable Spanish-style home in Coral Springs. Asked how she became attracted to the game, she echoed her father’s story.
“I can still remember being 6 months old, sitting in my high chair, and watching my dad while I was eating my Spaghetti-O’s or whatever, just mesmerized watching him putt or hit balls into the net,” says Carly. Experts might pooh-pooh the idea of explicit memories of such an early age; regardless, Carly believes it.
Goldstein also emphasized golf’s natural beauty to his daughters. His younger girl picked up on the cues.
“I just loved golf ever since I was little – seeing the alligators, watching the water,” she said.
Barry had separately used the same examples. Such unwitting reiterations occur often. The pair is together pretty much every day during summers, which is when Golfweek visited, and their thoughts and speech often intertwine. Barry also tends to ask leading questions that begin with “Would you say…?”, “Do you think…?”, or “Do you feel like…?” His prompting is gentle, undemanding and possibly subconscious. Though she sometimes wouldn’t say, doesn’t think, doesn’t feel like, Carly mostly agrees.
Starting in 1999, Barry moved the family to Binghamton for eight months annually, returning to Florida to live with his parents during the winter golf high season. Binghamton was a safe, slower-paced hometown, and Barry’s teaching business thrived. Through the PGA Tour’s Binghamton event, the B.C. Open, he wound up working with Tour pro Mike Standly and as a result made his first Golf Channel appearance.
The Goldsteins’ nine-year marriage, however, was unraveling, and the couple divorced in 2000.
“We just grew apart,” Barry says. “It was tough on her having kids a year apart. I didn’t do all the diapering. Out of 100 divorces, we’re probably like 99 of them.”
Less conventional was the divorce’s aftermath. The settlement had the girls living with Barry for the four months he was in Florida and with their mother the rest of the year. This arrangement lasted only until July 23, 2002, the day that Barry and Carly separately described as the happiest of their lives. According to Barry, frustrated by a lack of maternal focus Aubrey had come around to Carly’s view that she wanted to live with her father full-time. Their mother didn’t object. The sisters watched Barry tape a Golf Channel segment from the control room then flew back north to Binghamton together.
“I think my ex-wife was having a hard time being a mom and having her own life at the same time,” says Barry. (Golfweek was unable to contact Goldstein’s ex-wife.)
The family’s relationship with the mother eventually shrunk to nothing. Their last contact with her was Thanksgiving, 2006, a 15-minute meeting at a Jamba Juice.
“We made it pretty clear that we didn’t want her in our lives anymore,” says Carly. “When I tell people I don’t talk to my mother anymore everybody says, ‘That’s so sad,’ but it’s not to me. I can see for someone who wants to be on both ends. I’m glad it worked out the way it did.”
• • •
When the girls reached middle-school age, Barry decided to live full-time in South Florida. Switching schools during the year would be too difficult, and Barry’s parents and older brother, Allyn, were around to help.
By this time, Barry had become serious with a new girlfriend, a paralegal named Brenda who would live with the Goldsteins for four years. This relationship eventually foundered, Barry admits, in part because of Carly’s golf. Brenda took great pride in Carly’s accomplishments, he says, as well as his own, but couldn’t understand the necessary commitment on the part of a pre-teen athlete – from after-school to sundown practicing, all day on weekends, 22 or so days a month. (Barry enforces occasional breaks from the game.) Ultimately, she found golf’s presence in family life overwhelming.
“Parents of kids who are not outstanding at something might think, ‘Geez, he couldn’t make time for his girlfriend?’ ” says Barry. “It wasn’t like that. It’s just when your kid is outstanding at something, it’s hard to give 1,000 percent of yourself to somebody else.”
Carly and Aubrey were calling Brenda “Mom” by the time of the breakup, which Barry believes was harder on his daughters than his divorce, as they were now old enough to fully grasp the situation. Barry emphasizes that he doesn’t coddle his children. A solo interview with Carly proves the point. Yes, she may spell out “C” on the table in Skittles after dinner and sometimes sit on her father’s lap in public, but she is far from naïve or oblivious.
“They kind of broke up because of my golf,” Carly says. “She loved my golf and was really supportive. But she was, like, ‘Do we have to talk about it at dinner?’ It wasn’t completely because of that, but sometimes I felt bad about it. We loved her like a mom. She was like our mom.”
Barry continues to date but hasn’t since introduced his daughters to any of his girlfriends. He has qualms about the absence of a mother figure, but no regrets. His girls are “a little toughened up” while still characteristically teenage girlish. Barry asks Carly where she gets her soft side. Carly shrugs. “I watch a lot of TV and read fashion magazines and stuff,” she says. “Dad gets mad when I put on makeup.”
“I don’t think that’s her thing right now,” Barry replies. “You like to hang out with boys. But are you looking to date anyone right now?”
“Not right now,” Carly answers.
“It’s just not your thing,” says Barry.
“I mean, I like boys, but I don’t have time for anything serious,” she says. “I’m just 13.”
• • •
Roy and Annette Goldstein now live with their son in Coral Springs, so Carly and Aubrey share a pink-painted bedroom. Aubrey appears once during Golfweek’s three-day visit, coming downstairs in the early afternoon giving the clear impression that she’d only just awoken – likely, Barry says, from a late-night instant-messaging with friends. She shuffles over to offer a limp handshake, gives a half-smile through her new braces that suggests profiling her family is a singularly lame endeavor, and wordlessly wanders off.
“If you hung out with Carly all day, you’d say, ‘Wow, this kid is special,’ ” Barry had said previously. “If you hung out with Aubrey all day, you’d say, ‘OK, I’ve got one more hour before her parents get home.”
Barry adds that, in this, Aubrey is a typical teenager, just as he was. He repeatedly emphasizes that he loves his children equally but knows Carly’s golf makes equality elsewhere impossible. He coached Aubrey’s softball team for a time, but her grandparents and uncle now take her to most activities.
“They’ve made it where Carly and I are free to pursue her golf and Aubrey’s time isn’t getting ripped off,” says Barry. “We do a lot of social stuff together. But she’s not with me doing what we love together 100 hours a week. I can’t be as close with her.”
“We used to be the Three Musketeers,” Carly says. “But when we moved down here [full-time], my sister got a little more drama-queen, teenager-ish. We still love each other. We used to be best friends, and now we’re just friends. With my dad and her, they’re not as close anymore, either. Her friends are it. She’ll be with her friends for four days. Then she comes home and be, like, ‘What’s up, guys?’ And then leave again after five minutes.”
Carly has her own circle of friends, who understand that she can’t go out the night before an early tee time. But both she and Barry say they are each other’s best friends and don’t expect that ever to change.
• • •
Team Carly’s ultimate goal is a successful LPGA career. By chance and then by design, Carly and Barry have received counsel and encouragement from Natalie Gulbis and her father, John, who coached her to the tour.
Though the details have grown fuzzy with age, Carly met Gulbis at an LPGA event seven years ago, when Gulbis plucked tiny Carly out of the crowd during a pro-am round or a marketing event to either read or stroke a putt. (It was holed, everyone agrees.) The two became pen pals; the pro even made a surprise call-in to Golf Channel during a “Golf Academy Live” instructional segment with the Goldsteins and has posted congratulatory messages on her Web site after Carly’s victories.
“Her and her dad asked me and my dad a lot of questions,” Gulbis recalls. “What we liked about them was they had a genuine interest in how we had made it, and what we had done. You could see right away that they were interested in advice that they could use for the long haul.”
Gulbis, an only child from a working-class family, isn’t worried about Carly’s single-minded focus on a pro golf career. “With the talent that she has, you don’t want anything else,” says Gulbis. “You get immersed in wanting to do everything you can to get to your goal.” She did not know Barry is raising Carly by himself (“I don’t know anything about her personally,” she says) but is likewise undaunted by potential pitfalls of the dual father/coach role. She noted that her father helped keep the functions distinct by strictly enforcing a “no golf-talk” rule after practice.
“My mom had been working all day, and here we were on the golf course, so we had no right to bring anything there into the home,” she says. “That separation was the key to our success.”
(Barry says he tries to do likewise: “Once we’re home and shut the door, I try to go back to being just her dad – I’d be lying if I said I was 100 percent perfect at that.”)
Gublis describes herself as a stubborn youth, noting that she and her father had “more than plenty” of on-course conflicts. “I was competitive and hard-headed, so of course we had issues with golf, but we had similar goals,” she says. “I think that’s why I’m 25 now and my dad is 60, and we get along absolutely great.”
This brought to mind Carly’s words about golf-related squabbles with her father. They’re rare and small, she noted.
“When we fight, it’s because I think I did this, and he thinks I did that,” she says. “He says, ‘Oh, you’ve got into the teenage thing.’ He doesn’t like when I give him anything. He wants me to be, like, ‘Yes, sir!’ ”
The well-known instructor Jim McLean works nearby in Miami. He knows Barry a little and Carly only by reputation but is familiar with the complexities of their situation. Both of McLean’s sons earned college golf scholarships. Despite his success with juniors, however, neither was his student or even got a formal lesson.
“It’s a very fine line between being Dad and Coach,” says McLean. “When we went out to play and I started teaching them, it would ruin the day…. There have been a number of times on the course where I’m working on their grip or something, and they’ve said, ‘Let’s go in.’ Or, ‘This isn’t fun.’ Or, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ ”
His own parenting, coupled with dealings with top juniors and their parents, has led him to conclude that, parent or otherwise, teaching girl golfers is fraught with pitfalls.
“Girls let people be in charge a lot more easily; you have to be very aware of that both as a father and a teacher,” McLean says. “It’s easier to coach them, and it’s easier to screw them up coaching them. Girls will do exactly what the teacher tells them, which is very dangerous. My opinion, you have to be more careful in a father-daughter relationship than a father-son one. Dad is pretty much idolized by the daughter. She’s going to do what he says. At some age [children] push back; girls will push back, but it’s generally much later.”
• • •
Barry isn’t in a financial position to let someone else teach Carly even if he were inclined to do so, which he is not. “This might sound bad coming from a golf instructor, but I think the most important thing is what goes on inside a golfer’s head,” he said. “The reason Carly’s a champion is that her head’s in a great place. We have a fun life, and it’s always up.”
Self-employed, he makes $70,000-$80,000 in a good year, working about 50 hours a week in high season and half that in summer to focus on Carly’s young career. He drives a 10-year-old Jeep Grand Cherokee and spends around $10,000 a year on Carly’s tournaments – this after paying $4,000 for family health insurance and incidentals like Aubrey’s braces, which set him back another $6,300. Barry has no credit-card debt but also no retirement savings. Though Annette Goldstein cooks for the family a few nights a week, eating out at places like Boston Market is another major expense.
“People think I have a glamorous job,” he says. “What about skin cancer? What if I broke my arm? It’s a very unglamorous job when you’re in the teeth of it.”
Every now and then Barry gets down about things – financial worries, sick relatives or the girls’ squabbling – but these moods are fleeting and kept inside.
“I’m a lucky guy,” he says. “Everything I’ve ever really wanted has happened.”
Here as elsewhere, Carly shares her father’s brightness.
“Everybody tells me I’m really confident in what I do, but I’m just really optimistic things are going to work out the way I want them to,” she says. “I never have doubts about being out there [on the LPGA]. It’s all going to pay off, all the parties I wanted to go to on Saturday night but didn’t because I had an early tee time. I’m pretty confident everything’s going to pay off in the long run.”
Time will tell. Barry and Carly’s positive outlook isn’t Pollyannaish. Yes, Carly shot a career low-tying 68 on a 6,300-yard course at the Dixie Amateur, where she was the youngest player in the field. But over four rounds Carly’s long-hitting neighbor in Coral Springs, Alexis “Lexi” Thompson – two months older than Carly and the reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion – beat her by 26 strokes. There are prodigies, and then there are prodigies.
“My daughter knows she’s not as good as Lexi or Michelle Wie at her age,” says Barry. “That’s clear.”
As the Wie example reminds, there are no certainties. Team Carly seems to grasp that being well ahead of the curve at 13 is useful but not necessarily prophetic. That the pair’s commitment has consequences not only for themselves – who have made these choices – but also for others, like Aubrey, who have not.
If there are any cautionary flags to be raised, it’s hard not to conclude that given the circumstances and the goals they’re mostly unavoidable. To the best of his ability, Barry tries to separate his dual roles: Proud, nurturing, authority-figure single dad who makes sure his daughter sees the sights when they travel to tournaments, not just the practice tee. Tough, nurturing, critical-eyed coach who can spot the flaws and keep his charge motivated. And based on the evidence, he has succeeded at each beyond what might be reasonably expected. Carly’s golf results speak for themselves, and she’s a polite, friendly, self-assured teenager.
“Be honest, Champ,” says Barry. “Do you feel like you’ve been sprinkled with magic dust?”
Carly looks a little sheepish. Clearly, Dad has asked this before. Then she nods along.
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