Is your child the next golf prodigy?
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
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