Out of the rough: After early challenge, Sisk family bonds through golf

Despite putting golf on the back burner early on, Parker (left) and Cameron began adding to their trophy case in 2007-08. (Photo courtesy of the Sisk family)

PHOENIX – Mike Sisk calls his twin sons miracle babies. He and his wife, Kirsten, yearn to spend every possible moment watching their twin Pac-12 golfers, so when Arizona State’s Cameron Sisk and USC’s Parker Sisk tee it up in competition, chances are high that both parents are in close proximity. On the rare occasions when their sons compete in the same tournament, as happened earlier this season at the Southwestern Intercollegiate, the parents face a quandary: Who watches whom?

Parker played in the first tee time each day at North Ranch Country Club, accompanied by both parents until Cameron started his round. Mike and Kirsten then separated, each pairing off with a twin in the family’s version of a field trip buddy system, with both parents reuniting after Parker’s round to watch Cameron finish.

“I think they might’ve spent the most time at that golf course out of anyone – coaches, players, other spectators,” said Parker, the older of the two by one minute, who added, “They are huge supporters of me and Cameron.”

Cameron finished in a tie for second, trailing only his teammate David Puig as the Sun Devils took home the team crown. Competing as an individual, Parker tied for 48th in one of three events in which both USC and ASU are scheduled to compete in.

Mike and Kirsten have traveled to Hawaii, Cabo and other resort destinations, but not to relax on the beach with umbrella drinks in their hands. Any time they take off is spent watching their children wherever they are competing.

“Some of these courses that they play you’re hitting over canyons,” Kirsten said. “The courses are very challenging, and so I’m always trying to put myself in the right spot so I can see that ball.”

When Cameron (left) and Parker compete in the same tournament, as they did in the 2019 California Amateur at Monterey Peninsula, Mike and Kirsten must split up to watch the two play. (Photo courtesy of the Sisk family)

There have been many memorable walks. As Cameron, who currently ranks 28th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, winds down his collegiate career, the family has ventured far and wide to make sure they don’t miss a shot of his or Parker’s. It hasn’t been easy. Mike is a retired firefighter. Kirsten is a mortgage broker who works extra-long hours to help support the family’s “golfcations.”

“She’s gonna probably work until she’s about 80 so she can have every opportunity to watch us while we’re still in college, which is awesome,” an appreciative Parker said. “Our whole life they’ve killed themselves to give us every opportunity and make sure we can go to whatever tournament we wanted to. They’ve done a ton of flying, so the Southwest miles are going through the roof.”

Kirsten and Mike struggle to find the words to explain what watching their sons compete – and the game of golf – means to the family because of the struggle they endured to become one. Kirsten became pregnant with the twins using in-vitro fertilization.

“They’ve just been my biggest accomplishment,” said Kirsten, who choked up as she spoke about watching her sons compete. “When you go through that much to get them to where they are, you kind of want to enjoy the fruits of your labor and be there to support them and enjoy watching them play and be in their element.”

Mike and Kirsten decided to join Steele Canyon Golf Club in 2003 as he dreamed of having a golf family. But they never forced the boys into golf. Every so often, Parker and Cameron would accompany Mike for a practice session and take hacks at range balls, showcasing natural swings that would later be fine-tuned. Still, they would often spurn time at the course with their father in favor of playing team sports with neighborhood friends.

The Sisks travel all over as Cameron and Parker compete. When Cameron (second from left) competed in the Houston Open in November, the family accompanied him to the event, his first at the pro level. (Photo courtesy of the Sisk family)

“We were going to be the golfing family,” said Mike, recalling his original plan for the boys’ youth sports endeavors before U-6 soccer, Little League baseball and Pop Warner football disrupted his plans.

As soon as the twins turned 5, Mike said, he could not get them to the golf course “because they were just having too much fun catching, throwing, hitting, running and kicking the soccer ball.”

Anything Cameron and Parker could try, they did, even briefly riding dirt bikes.

“I could get them to the golf course about every couple of months to hit a bucket of balls, but they were just way too interested in all of the other sports,” said Mike, a near-scratch golfer. “I didn’t force them. I was going to let them make their own decision.”

Periodically, the Sisk twins competed in junior golf events. Over time, they came to see the value of their well-rounded athletic experience as competitors bowed out due to burnout. Once their focus shifted to the links, Mike said they showed plenty of aptitude. When the twins expressed a desire to play travel baseball, Mike responded with a challenge. He told them he’d sign them up if they could break 80 for 18 holes from the red tees – the forward-most playing position at Steele Canyon. They both did with relative ease.

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“It was obviously really easy – coming from someone like me now,” Cameron said, referring to those sub-80 scores achieved over weeks rather than years. “But at the time it was kind of a feat to achieve.”

Parker was the first to meet Mike’s challenge and the first to break 70, further fueling Cameron.

“I’m a really competitive guy so especially with my brother seeing him do both of those things I was happy for him but I was also like ‘I gotta get going, too,’” Cameron said. “But I wouldn’t say it created my work ethic to get to where I’m at now. I’ve always had a very tunnel-vision type mentality and my drive and focus is pretty intense. I have a way of manifesting things and making them happen.”

As their golf careers have progressed, some of the best golf moments for Parker and Cameron have come with their father on the course guiding them. When Parker won the 2019 San Diego City Amateur as a student at San Jose State, where he began his collegiate career, he carded just one bogey in 36 holes with his father caddying. When Cameron made the quarterfinals in the 2020 U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes, Mike was by his side.

“When you get through the match play there’s less and less people there,” Cameron said of the U.S. Amateur. “It’s just me and pops on the course and really no one else is there. We’re on a historical golf course just walking around competing. It’s pretty surreal and you have to really take a step back and really appreciate where you are at times. That was definitely a week I’ll remember for a while.”

As his sons’ course management skills have improved, Mike said his role as a caddy has evolved.

“I give them the information, but they’re pretty much making the decision now,” Mike said. “I used to make the decision which made them better and helped them score. … Now I just tell them, ‘Look at your lie, here’s what the wind is doing,’ and then they pretty much pull the clubs.”

During the pandemic, it was his sons’ turn to be at his side and provide support. With Mike battling cancer, Cameron came home from ASU whenever he could. Parker, who was facing extremely stringent COVID-19 travel policies at San Jose State, chose to return to the family’s San Diego home and be there for his father.

“He’s my guy with the heart of a lion,” Mike told Cronkite News. “Parker’s got this monster heart. He’s always thinking of other people.”

Cameron (left) and Parker started grabbing Snoopy clubs as early as 14 months into their lives, but eventually spurned range sessions with their father for team sports with their friends. (Photo courtesy of the Sisk family)

After Mike’s cancer went into remission in January 2021, Parker entered the transfer portal and wound up with the USC Trojans, the school he grew up dreaming of playing for – and a direct competitor to Cameron at ASU. With both of the two in the Pac-12, events with both the Trojans and Sun Devils competing make the Team Sisk travel schedule slightly easier.

When he’s not caddying for either of the two, Mike quietly observes his sons during collegiate rounds. Trusting the staying power of previous conversations and experiences, he says the decision-making of both golfers is something at which they excel. Kirsten’s on-course duties involve walking ahead of the group and utilizing her signature binoculars to help track down any potential errant drives at the sparsely-attended events. When she’s not helping her boys and their playing competitors find golf balls in bad positions, her motherly instincts give her a feel for what’s coming.

Cameron is honing his game in preparation to turn pro in June. “If we give him any sort of comfort, if we give him any better feel for the course, he can be more relaxed because he knows I’m out there 250 yards looking at the ball with my binoculars,” Kirsten said.

At Arizona State, Cameron’s career has been full of success. The 2020 Third Team All-American holds the all-time Sun Devil freshman scoring record, supplanting program legends like reigning U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm and six-time major champion Phil Mickelson. In his first tournament as a sophomore, he won the Maui Jim Invitational, his second of three collegiate titles thus far.

During a visit home over spring break, Kirsten heard the familiar sound of a TV coming from Cameron’s room. Inside, she found the Sun Devil star sprawled on his bed, asleep with the remote in his hand, glasses on his face and the Golf Channel on the screen.

“He lives it, breathes it, eats it and sleeps it,” Kirsten said. “You can’t force someone to be that passionate about a sport.”

Golf has strengthened the Sisk family bond, which started when the twins were born on their father’s 46th birthday and was cemented during the pandemic. As the brothers continue on with their careers, Mike’s dream has come full circle.

“It’s the best,” Mike said. “We’re living large being able to watch our kids play golf, which I think is the toughest sport in the world but the best sport in the world.”

Kirsten agreed. “We’re a really close family and I really have golf to thank for that,” she said. “This sport became a way – without us even realizing it – to keep us really close as a family.”

Gabe Swartz gAYb swahrts
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Gabe Swartz expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. Swartz, a past president of the Walter Cronkite Sports Network who writes for Devils Digest, is working for the Phoenix sports bureau.