His father and mother were All-American swimmers at the University of North Carolina. His sisters swam in college, too.
Luckily for Luke List, though, his grandfather was a scratch golfer who gave him a break from swimming laps at the pool. And the golf course is where the 33-year-old ended up finding his niche.
Oh, List swam some when he was a kid, mostly competing in the 50 and 100 freestyle. He doesn’t remember his best finish but thinks he might have won a local meet here or there. He swam on his high school team for one year, too.
“I could have had talent in it I guess, but I didn't have the passion for the hard work,” List said.
Not like his parents. Mark List and Bonny Brown, were lifelong swimmers and youth coaches who met in Chapel Hill. Their careers were exemplary – and both are still pictured in the Tar Heel swimming media guide some 40 years after they left.
Bonny was a sprinter while Mark swam the backstroke. She was a four-time first-team All-American while he made the first team twice. Bonny also won gold medals at the 1975 Pan American Games and ’77 World University Games. At one time she held the American record in the 100-meter freestyle, too.
The sport continued to be such a big part of their lives that when Mark died in 2015 his memorial service was held at the North Georgia pool where he’d coached and encouraged literally thousands of juniors to enjoy the sport.
Luke, though, didn’t catch the bug. He couldn’t stand the monotony of swimming laps. He wanted to be outside hitting balls.
“I liked the meets,” he said. “I liked the competition, I liked that aspect of it. But there's so much hard work that goes into it and I liked to channel my work into golf at the time.
“It was just too much physical exertion for me.”
Enter Robert Brown, List’s maternal grandfather. He fostered List's love of golf and continues to be one of his biggest supporters.
“He kept it fun and light and just kept the aspect of just progressing naturally and letting me do my own thing,” List said.
“And he knew I was working hard at it. So it was never an issue for, you know, telling me to go practice. I was always out there wanting to be out there practicing.
“He was a great instructor in the beginning of the game.”
So while sisters Sarah and Bekah continued swimming into college, attending UNC and Whitworth College, respectively, List worked on perfecting his swing. He went on to become a four-time All-American at Vanderbilt.
And List is currently in the midst of his most successful season on the PGA TOUR. He ranks 17th in the FedExCup and has earned more than $2.5 million, already a career-high.
He’s threatened to get that breakthrough victory, too, losing in a playoff to Justin Thomas at The Honda Classic in February. List, who ranks third in driving distance on TOUR with an average of 314.9 yards, also tied for third at the RBC Heritage.
So it’s clear he made the right choice.
“To me golf is way more fun,” List said. “So I just didn't have the passion for it. My family was fine with that. They knew it was a good decision in hindsight.
“They all follow me and love that I'm pursuing golf. It was never a forced issue to go into swimming.”
Interestingly, List used to live in Jupiter, Florida and now resides in Seal Beach in California. So he’s not too far from the water – but don’t expect to find him in a pool swimming laps.
“I used to a little bit for training,” List said. “It's good therapy too, and to me it's a little easier on the body than running. So, occasionally but not much.”
The practice range calls instead.