Is your child the next golf prodigy?

Inside Golf - - Junior instruction - Mark vic­torsen

SO you have a lit­tle one who has taken an in­ter­est in the game you love. Where do you turn when that child shows a real tal­ent? What plan do you put in place to al­low that child to blos­som as so many young Aussie golfers have in the past?

Over the last 30 years I have been for­tu­nate as a PGA Mem­ber to have had the plea­sure of help­ing many young golfers. The ones who have suc­ceeded have been very de­ter­mined, fo­cused in­di­vid­u­als. My old friend Dar­ryl van der Velde— who coached Castle­ford Rugby League Club in Eng­land—once told me when we were dis­cussing ath­letic abil­ity “You can’t put in what God left out!” That may be the case, but with a holis­tic view on train­ing, the young ath­lete can max­imise that tal­ent.

From my ex­pe­ri­ence there are a num­ber of boxes that need to be ticked to al­low for a solid foun­da­tion for the fu­ture. Here’s my 10-point plan for suc­cess:

1. The child must have a demon­strated love of the game and a will­ing­ness to prac­tise and learn

I have never seen a cham­pion golfer be any­thing other than dead keen to prac­tise — ir­re­spec­tive of the weather. Prac­tice needs to be both fun and have a pur­pose, so set­ting goals and do­ing com­pet­i­tive drills ei­ther on their own or with their mates is vi­tal.

I of­ten chal­lenge my young ath­letes with the ques­tion “How ef­fec­tive was that prac­tice ses­sion?” Driv­ing ranges are full of golfers who are NOT IM­PROV­ING ONE BIT! The young golfer needs to look at their game in de­tail and de­ter­mine where a weak­ness ex­ists and set a pro­gram with their PGA Coach to bring that area of the game up to scratch, but not ne­glect­ing the other facets at the same time.

Prac­tice time needs to be bud­geted with the most time spent on the weak­est el­e­ments. If the stu­dent is hit­ting the ball re­ally well, grind­ing balls on the range should be kept to a min­i­mum with lots of time spent on short game, putting and time on the course.

2. The child needs to have a fierce

com­pet­i­tive streak

Ian Baker-Finch is a great ex­am­ple of a golfer who was per­haps not the most tal­ented ju­nior but had an un­be­liev­able self-be­lief and de­sire to reach the top. While we were mates grow­ing up he was so pos­i­tive he was go­ing to get to the top. (Re­mem­ber he won many tour­na­ments all over the world, in­clud­ing the Bri­tish Open be­fore fa­mously los­ing his game). Peter Se­nior is an­other player that comes to mind when I think of that com­pet­i­tive mind­set needed to get the most out of your game.

3. The young golfer needs to de­velop into a strong ath­lete

Some folks are just plain lucky to pos­sess a very ath­letic frame to start with. If not, don’t think it’s im­pos­si­ble to get stronger. The world’s best golfers are now very fit, strong and flex­i­ble and all have a plan to de­velop phys­i­cally as much as tech­ni­cally. Golf is now a power game and if you can’t “Bomb It off the tee” you are at a dis­ad­van­tage.

4. Play and learn to win at each level

Too of­ten play­ers who are on the way up make the mis­take of en­ter­ing them­selves in wrong events and try­ing to “Punch above their weight”. Learn­ing to win is so im­por­tant and whilst we want the ath­lete to be chal­lenged they must de­velop a cul­ture of win­ning. They won’t do that hav­ing un­re­al­is­tic goals. I see golfers turn­ing pro when they strug­gle to make State Teams. Win the club cham­pi­onship, rep for the State, Rep for Aus­tralia then you are a chance of mak­ing a ca­reer as a player.

5. A PGA coach needs to be in­volved to keep the player on track tech­ni­cally

Golf is a very tech­ni­cal game and it’s vi­tal that the player has solid ba­sics. If you stray away from the fun­da­men­tals, you’d bet­ter be a freak ath­lete or the other play­ers are go­ing to beat you when the pres­sure is on. Our Aus­tralian PGA Mem­bers pro­vide more world-class golfers per capita than any other coun­try in the world, so align the ath­lete with a coach who is go­ing to help that player de­velop skills and a de­cent un­der­stand­ing of what’s re­quired to reach their goals.

6. The player has to play the right cour­ses to build their course man­age­ment skills

As the player de­vel­ops, I think it’s im­por­tant to ex­pose the player to the many types of cour­ses that our game gives us. Think of the four Ma­jors and how dif­fer­ent gen­er­ally those cour­ses are. Au­gusta is noth­ing like St. An­drews! Luck­ily in Aus­tralia we have such a di­verse range of cour­ses that most of our up-and-com­ing play­ers can get ex­pe­ri­ence to al­low them to win all over the world. Noth­ing beats ex­pe­ri­ence gained on a windy day on a links course or a sum­mer day in Mel­bourne with those northerly winds turn­ing the greens from putting sur­faces to the grass equiv­a­lent of a slip­pery dip!

7. A sports phys­io­ther­a­pist and strength coach on board to su­per­vise the golfer’s de­vel­op­ment through those im­por­tant grow­ing years

As a coach I’m in­ter­ested in not only the tech­ni­cal de­vel­op­ment of the player but recog­nise the role that is played by other health pro­fes­sion­als in get­ting the best out­come for the ath­lete. We are very for­tu­nate to have the likes of An­drew Grigg, Michael Dal­gleish and Ram­say Mc­Mas­ter to help as­sess young ath­letes, do mus­culo/skele­tal screen­ings etc. Through these tests the physio can de­ter­mine if an ath­lete has any phys­i­cal is­sues that are go­ing to present a prob­lem to tech­ni­cal de­vel­op­ment.

The other is­sue is these young ath­letes are go­ing through rapid change phys­i­cally. In­juries can also oc­cur when an ath­lete has a weak­ness and prac­tises hard when their body is not up to the pun­ish­ment in­volved in long prac­tice ses­sions. Given that the player has the OK from the physio, a strength pro­gram needs to be put in place to en­sure the ath­lete is as strong as they can be. World-class Aussie strength train­ers like Richard Niziel­ski can help a PGA mem­ber like me get the most dis­tance out of a player. Look at the tour play­ers now and most look like they could go away with the Olympic Track Team! A bit dif­fer­ent to 40 years ago when Jack Nick­laus had the nick­name “Fat Jack”.

8. Par­ents who sup­port the child’s golf with­out be­ing over­bear­ing

I think that par­ents have a very im­por­tant role to play in the golf de­vel­op­ment of their young­ster. Par­ents who push too hard can some­times turn a kid off golf. Get­ting the ath­lete to the course and putting in the time drop­ping them off for prac­tice, get­ting to the physio, trad­ing week­ends to watch and sup­port at tour­na­ments is the main role for par­ents. The par­ent and coach should work as a team, be­ing on the “same page” with what is try­ing to be achieved by the stu­dent. Golf can help the young ath­lete learn some great life skills and I must say most kids at golf are well be­haved. The dis­ci­pline re­quired to play golf sorts out most of the wheat from the chaff.

9. Be a mem­ber of a club with a good

Ju­nior De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram

You need to in­ves­ti­gate the club that is go­ing to of­fer the best im­prove­ment for the ath­lete.

At my club, Pa­cific Golf Club in Bris­bane, I have de­vel­oped coach­ing pro­grams put in place by a very ac­tive Ju­nior Club. We run begin­ner clin­ics, mid­week squad, de­vel­op­ment squad, three dif­fer­ent elite squads as well as in­di­vid­ual in­struc­tion. On the same day we can have be­gin­ners train­ing fol­lowed by a group with two or three state reps in it.

What has hap­pened through this process is that we have a very strong team cul­ture in place at Pa­cific. All our squad play­ers are iden­ti­fied by their squad shirts and the mem­ber­ship is very proud of the suc­cess gained by our ju­niors. Our ju­nior club has its own com­mit­tee, made up of par­ents and grand­par­ents of our ju­niors and what a great help they are to both the kids and me as coach. Even though golf is an in­di­vid­ual sport it doesn’t mean that a team-like environment is not pos­si­ble. The more the mer­rier as the kids push each other along, im­prov­ing while still hav­ing a great time.

10. The ath­lete must have an un­der­stand­ing of how dif­fi­cult the game is. Use the in­ter­net!

“Golf is a sim­ple game, it’s just hard to play!”. — Arnold Vic­torsen, Aust. PGA Mem­ber 63 years. There is noth­ing more com­mon than a frus­trated ju­nior golfer. They all as­sume that the good play­ers never hit a bad shot, duff a chip, three putt, etc. The in­ter­net is a tool that I use of­ten to show to the ju­niors the PGA Tour sta­tis­tics that il­lus­trate just how un­suc­cess­ful the best in the busi­ness re­ally are. The TOUR av­er­age for Greens in Reg­u­la­tion, for ex­am­ple, is less than 70%, so “why do you think you have to hit it per­fectly?” I try to im­press on the kids that the quicker they ac­cept that golf is not a game of per­fect the quicker they will im­prove.

The one thing these stats high­light is that the best play­ers pos­sess a won­der­ful abil­ity to res­cue their ball from all sorts of hor­ri­ble places and put a de­cent score on the board.

Tiger Woods dur­ing his hey­day said lit­tle about the men­tal side of golf other than his ‘abil­ity to re­call past suc­cess’ and his abil­ity to ‘let go of fail­ure’ were his two big­gest strengths in golf. The bet­ter the golfer gets the more the men­tal side has an ef­fect on per­for­mance. Sta­tis­tics play a vi­tal role in let­ting the golfer know their strengths and weak­nesses and all up-and-com­ing play­ers can learn a lot about how the game is con­structed by look­ing at the TOUR stats, then com­par­ing with their own.

Up-and-com­ing ju­nior prodi­gies—like 9-yearold Karl Vilips—re­quire a solid foun­da­tion if they are to suc­ceed in the game

A group of Pa­cific Golf Club’s ju­niors – in­clud­ing a num­ber of Qld State Reps — at the Ladies Masters 2010

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