Henry Do and coach Dave Kendall have established a special bond while molding the 15-year-old Greenhills sophomore into a championship-caliber golfer. Do captured the Randy Wise Junior title last week at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club in Grand Blanc. (Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com)
The top shelf of Dave Kendall’s office is lined with photographs, chronicling years of teaching golf. Three include images of Henry Do, each taken at a different stage of life. The oldest snapshot, taken was Henry was 8, shows a triumphant teacher and student after they had won a local father-son tournament. Each of the pictures on Kendall’s shelf represents a chapter in Do’s story. The plot centers around family as much as it does the game that connects the Greenhills High School sophomore with a long-time instructor he lovingly and respectfully refers to as “Pops.” The student is 15. The teacher is 55. One is beginning his competitive golf career while the other believes his is nearing an end. For now, the teacher has enough left to not only remain one of the state’s top senior division players, but to remain a valuable asset to his gifted pupil. Kendall runs down a list of golfing talents – from driving to iron play to short game and putting. He admits Do has bested him at each, despite being 40 years younger. He pauses in a moment of reflection, wondering what’s left to add to what he has taught Do over the past eight years. “I don’t know why I can be competitive at all with him,” says Kendall, who was ranked as the No. 4 golf instructor in Michigan by Golf Digest in 2007. “But it’s his view that there are things at I am good enough at that he can still learn from. But I know there’s only a small window of our lives when that’s going to be true.” Do began taking lessons from Kendall when he was 7. At first, Kendall worried he was too young. He encouraged Henry’s mother, Stephanie Nguyen, to let Do play golf for fun and to bring him back when he started asking questions about the finer points of the game. Kendall warned that if he started lessons then, there would be a lot of things he would ask Do to do that he wouldn’t want to. “Bring him back when he wants to know,” Kendall told Do’s mother. “He wants to know now,” Nguyen said. “We’ll see,” Kendall said. For the first four years, Nguyen watched each lesson. She took careful notes, listening to each nugget of golf truth so she could remind Henry what to practice when he was away from the range. But she also paid attention to how Kendall dealt with Henry. If she had a question about an aspect of the lessons she didn’t understand, she called Kendall, asking for clarification. He reminded her not to push Do too much, giving Do time to mature in the game. But she knew the relationship Kendall and Do shared was special. “It was just like the bond you would expect to see between a mom, a dad and a son,” Nguyen said. “He just instantly clicked with Dave and worked so well with him. Good day, bad day – it didn’t matter. They always tried to talk about what they needed to.”
Henry Do has shored up his short game and putting over the summer, leading him to a runner-up finish at the Boyne Tournament of Champions before capturing his first AJGA title last week. (Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com)
Almost immediately, Kendall and Do built a comfortable relationship. It wasn’t long before Do trusted Kendall and did everything his coach asked without complaints and practiced into the winter months. Do’s parents had told him if they were going to pay for golf lessons, he must stick with it. All they expected from Do was his best, but they would hold him accountable. He did as asked, following an example he had seen them exhibit in their own lives. “If they work hard, I think I should work hard, too,” Do says. “I guess I just feel like I owe that to them.”
Over time, Do’s parents watched their only child establish a relationship with an adult that had his best interests at heart. Henry’s mother spent three or four years studying Kendall’s mannerisms and the way he interacted not only with Henry, but also with others. She talked to others, asking about what kind of person and parent Kendall was, believing his bond with Henry could be much more than about golf. Last year, she called Kendall and asked him to meet her and her husband, Kevin. Henry was just becoming a teenager. Do’s parents are Vietnamese, as are his grandparents. Henry, they insist, is American and should be raised that way. As much as they wanted their son to grow up understanding and respecting a country he has only visited once, they also wanted him to embrace life as an American. Kevin and Stephanie explained to Kendall that if anything ever happened to them, Henry would need someone to watch over him. Stephanie called the decision to ask Kendall to be her son’s godfather was very difficult and one that came after years of contemplation. “We were questioning ourselves and we would observe Dave’s behavior, his coaching, his teaching,” Nguyen said. “I did a lot of thinking and investigating before I made that decision. But it was one of those difficult decisions I had to make.” After years of soul-searching, they asked Kendall to take on a new title for Henry’s sake, essentially adding their son’s golf coach as a member of their family. “They asked me if I would take that on,” Kendall said. “I said gladly. I’m not his father – only as much as he will allow me to be. But any amount he will allow me to be is my privilege.”
Do began calling Kendall “Pops”. From then on, their relationship extended beyond the golf course. Do befriended Kendall’s sons, who accepted Henry as just another member of the family. It’s a bond Do knows will last well into adulthood. “I think it’s important,” Do says. “I eventually will lose my parents and I’m going to have to find someone else. It’s really important to have someone that’s always going to support me and always be there for me.” Kendall and Do play much of their social golf together, always keeping track of the final result. When Do has the lead, he’s quick to remind Kendall of where things stand. The first time it happened, it caught Kendall off guard. “Hey Pops, I’m two up on you,” Do said. “What is this, the World Championships?” Kendall replied. “Yeah, the World Championships,” Do said. “We’re keeping track.” On many occasions, the two will tie, often because of a memorable shot made by either Do or Kendall. Even in a non-competitive environment, Kendall uses the moment as a learning lesson, reminding Do to remember it in his next tournament.
This summer has provided opportunities. Do recently finished as the runner up to Canadian Tour member and former Michigan golf captain Andy Matthews in the Boyne Tournament of Champions. Do, who captured the lead after tying the tournament record with a second-round 62, led until the final three holes when the pressure got to him down the stretch, enabling Matthews to capture the title.
Last week, he won the Randy Wise Junior Open at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club in Grand Blanc, claiming a championship in only his second American Junior Golf Association event. As was the case in the Boyne championships, Do played well on a big-time course, adding to a summer golf tour that also included an event at Torrey Pines in San Diego.
This week, he will compete in the Michigan Junior Amateur championships at Dearborn Country Club, his last summer event. It’s his last chance to focus on individual achievement before returning to Greenhills for his sophomore year, in which he hopes to make a run at a state championship with his teammates in a sport he believes can take him places. “I feel really lucky to play golf,” Do says. “A lot of kids out there don’t have this opportunity and I feel really lucky.” But as much as he values golf, he treasures his relationship with Kendall. When he gets into trouble in a tournament, he asks himself what Kendall would do in this situation. Likewise, Kendall has taken a piece out of Do’s game, not allowing circumstances or a bad string of shots to get the best of him. He admires the way Do rarely gets rattled, even on days when he struggles to fight through a tough tournament round. “I think I’ve learned from him as much as he’s learned from me,” Kendall says.
Which takes the story back to Kendall’s desk. Next to his computer, which sits in a stall overlooking the driving range at the Kendall Academy at Miles of Golf in Ypsilanti, a framed photo holds a special place. The snapshot is of Do and Kendall taken when Henry was nine. Underneath it, a poem is inscribed.
Friendly Mr. Kendall
By Henry Do
Friendly Mr. Kendall
He always has a smile.
And always makes my day
His voice reverberates
That’s what I appreciate
He always takes opinions
Not just only his way
And today I proudly present Mr. Kendall as #1
For all the great things he has done
It is Kendall’s favorite photo of all – and with good reason. Not just because of who presented the gift to him, but because of the bond the plaque represents.
“I have students that have grown up with me and who are like family to me,” Kendall said. “But none more than Henry.”
This article was provided by Jeff Arnold at annarbor.com