Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the June 2017 print issue of Golfweek.
SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Dale Armstrong needed clarity.
After playing college golf at Lipscomb in the mid 1980s, he gave a professional career a whirl for several years. But months after his first child was born, he came to the first stage of 1994 PGA Tour Q-School anxious about his future: Let me know, make it clear.
“It was time to fish or cut bait,” Armstrong said.
That week, Armstrong played some of the worst golf of his career.
Days later he got a call about helping salvage a shut-down Georgia Christian School – the institution where he’d spent his adolescence. His path suddenly was clear.
Dale and wife Vivian would move away from the pro golfer’s life, but the game impacted them in a different way. The couple had four children, and dad would mold his three sons into strong enough players to follow his path as members of the Bisons golf program.
For his devotion to his children and their golfing futures, Dale Armstrong is Golfweek’s 2017 Father of the Year. Even if his golf teachings could confuse his children at times.
“He’d have a new idea, and sometimes almost completely contradict what he said the day before,” middle son Dawson said with a laugh.
But some of Dale’s lessons stuck.
Sons Dowling, Dawson and Davis were taught early to focus on what’s important in golf: You play to learn.
“He made me step back and understand: You practice hard, you play and you learn,” said Davis, a 19-year-old incoming sophomore on Lipscomb’s men’s golf team. “Then you do it again.”
Another reason the lessons seeped in: Dale taught with a mix of affection and bluntness. Dale’s prone to laughter and a gentle soul – he was a minister for nearly two decades – but there’s a passionate competitor in there, too.
Maryalice, Dale’s and Vivian’s 17-year-old daughter, chuckled reminiscing about how she would often cry when she went to the range as dad gave her passionate lessons on why her grip wasn’t correct.
One time Dale was teaching his three sons at Valdosta (Ga.) Country Club. It took them 50 minutes to play one hole, because Dale wasn’t satisfied until his sons hit shots how he was asking.
But the children relished dad’s tough love.
“I enjoyed him being hard. It was a motivating type of teaching,” Davis said. “He’s not going to give up on you.”
Good thing he didn’t, because look how it turned out.
Dawson is a 21-year-old Lipscomb senior-to-be coming off back-to-back Atlantic Sun Conference player of the year honors. Dowling, 22, ends his senior year having been a key member of Lipscomb’s ascension. Davis is just getting started with the Bisons.
The Armstrong family resided in Dasher, Ga., for several years before moving to Brentwood, Tenn., in 2011 – when Dale got a job as senior development counsel at Lipscomb.
Vivian, a realtor with RE/MAX Elite, said she bought into Dale’s dream early on. They want to guide their children while understanding the parents don’t have ultimate control.
“They’ve all got a path,” Dale said. “Our job is to help them to navigate that, and it’ll be greater than anything we could ever put together.”
Whoever’s the true architect, it’s a golfing family well done.
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Golfweek Father of the Year honorees
2017 Dale Armstrong
2016 Johan Immelman
2015 Don Padgett II
2014 Craig Dolch
2013 Jackie Seawell
2012 Jerry Cozby
2011 Cliff Kresge
2010 Tom Nieporte
2009 Peter Compton
2008 Dave Adamonis
2007 Bob Nye
2006 Percy Hall
2005 Merle Marting Sr.
2004 Ken Morton Sr.
2003 Brian Code
2002 Carson Herron
2001 Earl Woods
2000 Fred Klauk
1999 Jay Loar
1998 King Martin
1997 Joe Jemsek
1996 Billy Casper
1995 Digger Smith
1994 Karsten Solheim
1993 Robert Trent Jones
1992 Robert MacNally
1991 Jesse Haddock
1990 Tony Gamez
1989 L.B. Floyd
1988 Jack Nicklaus
1987 Nick Beucher
1986 Laine Rinker
1985 Lacy McCumber
1984 Bill Hayes
1983 Bucky Walters