Most 3-year-olds love tigers, but James Grimes III loves Tiger Woods.
The 3-year-old Abita Springs, Louisiana, resident has loved golf since before he could walk. He had a set of plastic golf clubs before he turned 2, and he participated in his first tournament while most children are learning to dress themselves.
“I work with mostly adults and a lot of high school kids,” says golf pro Michael Watts, who instructs James at the Abita Springs Golf Club. “He’s definitely the youngest.”
James took to the game at a mere 15 months old, according to his mother, Nicole Grimes. Her father began playing the sport in his 50s, and James was intrigued by his clubs. So she bought her baby a set of plastic golf clubs, considering them the way a parent would a toy drum kit or a cardboard spaceship: just a little entertainment for James to pass the time.
In little more than a year, James would be competing in his first tournament. Outlets would call him a prodigy. Comparisons to Tiger Woods would be drawn. At the time, though, he was just a toddler with a toy.
“We never even encouraged it, because I never thought he would be playing on a real course, let alone play in a tournament at 3 years old,” says Nicole. “But as he got closer to 2, he started imitating the golfing guys on TV. He would look at them and imitate the swing.”
According to the CDC, imitating adults is a trait that doesn’t generally blossom until a child is 3. But James was imitating golfers–he told me his favorite is Phil Mickelson–and bringing his plastic clubs to restaurants, like some toddlers would stuffed animals. It was time to get the little tyke some lessons.
Cue Michael Watts.
“When I first talked to his mom, she told me the story about him,” Michael says. “She’s not a golfer either, so she didn’t really know what he had. I said to come out, and I’ll look at him for 30 minutes. That was all … After watching him for 10 minutes, that was all I needed to see.”
Now James plays almost every day, even though he’s a regular kid in all other aspects. For example, during my phone call with Nicole, James shouted to his mama that he was hungry for a snack while he watched cartoons. But he practices with Michael about once a week, and tournaments are piling up on his calendar faster than he can get through nine holes. And that’s pretty quick, according to his mother. “Now, on a good drive, he can hit 80,” she says.
Michael credits his skill to a few things: beginning early, innate skill, and a lack of overthinking.
“Thinking gets you in trouble when you play golf,” Michael says. “James looks at it like ‘Here’s the ball, here’s the hole. Let’s get the ball in the hole.’ ”
And James himself? He just likes playing. When asked “Why golf?” his answer is simple (and pretty darn smart, though it might sound like a reason why he doesn’t play football, his other favorite sport). The Saints fan focused on another of his heroes.
“Drew Brees is a quarterback. He plays football. But football players can get hurt!” James says.
Plus, the little man likes golf’s fundamentals. He says chipping and putting are his favorite parts. And he claims he’s in it for the long haul. Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote that 10,000 hours of practice produces experts. James’ll be an expert by 9, at this rate.
His mom made one thing clear.
“As long as he wants to do it, and he’s having fun with it, we’re going to keep doing it,” she says.