Is my child good enough to play in tournaments?” That’s a very common question that I get on a weekly basis. I usually follow the parent’s question with one of my own: “What does your child want to do?” And that means making golf goals that are realistic for everyone.
It is very important to talk with your child first and get their perspective on things. Supporting how he or she feels is the number one priority. Pushing your child to be in a situation he is not ready or not willing to be in can result in both a negative outcome and an unreliable relationship between you and your child. She looks to you for support and guidance first. In order for children to feel ready and comfortable to play, they need to understand some basics of course management, setting their personal par, and keeping statistics to monitor in real time their weak-nesses and tendencies.
With so many development tours designed for the youth, there are plenty of options to introduce and expose your child to the tournament world. It’s a different experience than just playing with their friends or family. Pressure mounts and with pressure, any flaw in the mechanics or planning will be exaggerated.
THE VALUE OF STATS
To start recognizing the strengths and weaknesses, teach them to keep statistics. You can start off with simple categories such as fairways hit, total putts, and how many left and right shots. This will give you some idea on direction control, putting priority, and diving accuracy. From there you can evolve as they do. With my higher-level students in high school and college we break down a round of golf into as many as 50 categories. We then monitor them in a graphing program like Excel and start showing graphs based on percentages and averages. This makes it very easy for them to then utilize their practice time according to their weaknesses. It will also show them that when they track and apply, results happen, both good and bad. I am a little old school in my approach and prefer to keep things by hand and input them manually, but today there are plenty of programs that do most of the work for you using GPS and club attachments. So, all you do is play a round of golf and the application or program will produce all those statistics for you. It is much easier, but to me less involved for the student. Do it the old way!
Once you get your statistics leveled out, next comes course management. In my academy I teach students to play the hole from the pin position back to the tee — to think about the entire hole and where to they want to be at any given time. Using the statistics that showed their strengths, they then can plan around those strengths. Nothing irks me more than when I see one of my students just grab a club and swing without any planning or thought. I have seen some interesting choices, and most high scores are made because of mental mistakes. Start keeping track of mental or physical mistakes. If the mistake costs you a stroke, then that mistake needs to be addressed.
Most golfers make more mental mis-takes than physical ones. You can play a solid round of golf with just a 6 iron. It will force you to think and limit your damages by utilizing that club’s full potential. Most young golfers need only five or six clubs max. They can actually play better with fewer clubs as it will limit a lot of the guesswork — and you will start to feel more confident in them.
Course management is an art form, and 90 percent of juniors have hardly any such skills. Before the start of a tournament, far too often I see parents with their child on the driving range, hitting 200 balls and working on swing mechanics — tiring the child out and confusing them rather than discussing a game plan. Most damage is caused by the parents who quite honestly can’t play golf themselves or understand what it takes to play good golf. Please seek the help of a reputable PGA instructor, and trust in what they do.
Finally, after all the statistic-taking and working on course management, comes the par system. To me par is the worst enemy. I am not a huge fan of par, but do understand we need it for handicapping purposes. Personally I feel the handicap system is flawed, but the “pope of slope” Dean Knuth did his best in preserving a way to handicap our golfers to have a good, competitive match between them. In reality we are asking our golfers to bowl a perfect score of 300. If your standard in bowling was 300 every game, and you kept bowling a 150, you would think you are horrible. In all reality 150 is a respectable score. In golf, don’t even look at the course par, rating, or slope. Start to set you own personal par. Juniors and parents need to realize they have their own person par in them. When they first start maybe it will be double par. If they come to a par 5, play their par as a 10. It takes a lot of pressure off of them, and they now realize they can take shorter controlled shots instead of swinging a longer, harder club, which it easier to miss. When you swing a club that is easier to miss and has a bigger discrepancy, the result includes producing higher scores while decreasing confidence — and the understanding of scoring.
I hope you have enjoyed this series on the introduction and guidance of junior golfers. The things that I mentioned in all of the articles have been based on what I have seen and experienced over the years. Good junior programs exist in most cities, so I encourage you to contact them. Seek an academy with a big base, open approaches, and one that creates a community. Communities support each other, and it is important to involve your student in both academy classes, development tournaments, and if need be private classes. Feel free to contact me or my staff and we can also help you find a good academy in your city. I hope you have gained a little more insight to junior development.
Tony Brooks is a PGA Master Professional and owner of Lion Golf Academy in Diamond Bar, California. Reach him at www.liongolfacademy.com. Explore Tony’s “Teach Them Young” series here.