North Clayton senior Mariah Stackhouse has signed with Stanford and competed in the U.S. Women’s Open, but is following her family’s guide to staying humble.
Golf was just supposed to be Mariah Stackhouse’s hobby. Her parents, Ken and Sharon, knew golf was a corporate sport where business relationships are created and deals can be swung, in more ways than one. They hoped equipping their oldest child with some golf skills would equip her with a tool for success.
Little did they know Mariah would be breaking records by 13 years old, invited to LPGA Tour events by 16 and featured in The New York Times by 17. Little did they know Mariah would develop so quickly that several publications called her “the next Tiger Woods.”
Little did the Stackhouses know when they introduced young Mariah to golf at 5 they would be faced with raising a child in the crux of the pressure of the spotlight with no manual to guide them.
It turned out they didn’t need one. The Stackhouses developed their parenting approach as Mariah’s notoriety grew and grew — as she became the youngest winner of the Georgia State Women’s Match Play Championship in 2007, or was invited to the LPGA Mojo 6 Tournament in 2010 or qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open last year.
“We just kind of adjust on the fly,” Sharon said.
One firm rule was set in stone early: The Stackhouses shielded her from all the newspaper articles and television appearances she appeared in. They wanted Mariah grounded in her self-awareness, never thinking as highly of herself as those articles declaring her the next Tiger Woods, or so lowly of herself from any negative publicity, however rare it might be.
The swing of emotion — to sway with every flattering or unfavorable word of the press — was the thing to avoid.
That wasn’t hard to enforce. Mariah embraced it early on.
“I enjoy doing interviews. They give me a chance to kind of reflect and think about everything I’ve been doing,” Stackhouse said. “Interviews are a great way of making me humble.”
Indeed, the Stackhouses were concerned the press and accolades might distract from Mariah’s academics. That was their emphasis from the start, for both Mariah, and her younger brother, John, 15, a freshman at North Clayton High School.
No matter what sport their children embraced — they first tried tennis with Mariah, while John plays golf, football and track — the Stackhouses stressed academics.
“We stressed the goal of an athletic scholarship and the academic work that goes into it,” Sharon said. “That, in turn, re-inforced working hard on the golf course.”
Before Mariah entered high school, the family considered enrolling her in one of the top private schools around Atlanta, like Westminster and Woodward Academy, but in the end didn’t see the need.
Mariah said North Clayton provided her with every opportunity she needed or wanted — honors and Advanced Placement courses, the chance to compete in the Georgia High School Association state tournament, which she won as a freshman and sophomore.
“Education is a personal drive,” said Mariah, who choose an athletic scholarship at Standford over Duke. “It didn’t matter where I went to school. It doesn’t matter where you come from.”
No one knew Mariah was headed toward next-big-thing status when she first grabbed a golf club, but Ken made sure his daughter came away encouraged and motivated from every new golf experience.
Case in point: Mariah competed in her first tournament at age 6. She tied for first place with two other girls — the only other two girls in the tournament. Ken pumped up the achievement anyway by pointing out her competitors were both 9-year-olds with far more experience.
That was necessary then for a young girl still new to the sport. It’s not necessary now, not after more than 150 top-10 finishes and 99 tournament wins. Stackhouse has seen the talent she’s up against. She has no illusions about her place in the golf world.
And she has her parents to thank for that.
“I don’t look at myself as being one of the nation’s top golfers,” Stackhouse said. “When you start to see yourself like that, I think it’s a distraction.
“Both my parents have kept me humble. My parents never spoke to me about what you need to be. I was never raised to try to be something I’m not. And I know that there’s so many girls that golf that I can’t stop working.”