How to Develop Your Junior into a Tournament Golfer
03 Dec 2018
by Brendan Ryan of Golf Placement Services

- Flagstick.com photo
- Flagstick.com photo

If you ask me, this whole golf thing should be fun. Beautiful locations, great people and some competition seems like a great recipe. However, somewhere along the way, the whole thing started to become a little less fun and a lot more stressful with kids playing for scholarships and being defined by the game. In this article, I will discuss why and how the process got hijacked and ways you can make golf more fun while ensuring you have the best opportunity to play college golf!

“It starts at home,” suggests Rudy Gonzalez, who is both an elite junior golf instructor and Texas A&M International head men’s and women’s coach. “I’ve never met any kid that wants to purposely blow a lead or score poorly. The constant discussions and emphasis of the importance of performing well and that superior performance can lead to some recruitment by schools is evident, and kids know this already. The more parents bring it up, the more they clog the mind of their child, which ultimately is the root cause of poor play.”

Stages of Development

The problem of stress in junior golf involves several factors, however one of the most important is the lack of information on how to properly develop a junior golfer into a tournament player who might have the chance to play in college. Most available information suggests a combination of a good instructor and lots of golf tournaments. In my opinion, this is incomplete. Proper development involves the following three stages:

1. Ball Control is the ability to deliver the club in a way that can manipulate the variables of distance, trajectory and curve. Club delivery is based on the ability of the player to move his or her body in certain dynamic ways. Careful development of skill in this area is critical to long-term development and players are wise to spend considerable time and resources on this step.

2. Learning to Compete is about the player taking his or her ball control to the golf course and learning to play the game. In an ideal situation, the player has access to a membership and is spending considerable time playing rounds of 18 holes or matches against players with similar skill. Players will also benefit from the opportunity to play against top local amateurs or college players, especially as they start to break 80. Until a player can break 74 at his or her home course, I would recommend not playing a tournament schedule beyond 4-6 regional events (if at all). Instead, the player should be at the local course honing his or her skills in daily matches.

3. Compete-to-Win Stage: Once a player can break 74 at his or her home golf course a lot, he or she is ready for tournament golf. At this point I would suggest 8-14 events per year in which the junior should have a goal of winning at least one time and achieving an overall scoring average of 76 or better. Achieving this goal, along with solid academics, will likely mean the player can compete in college.

The Challenge Point Framework

Another key to creating the proper environment for juniors is understanding the challenge point framework, which is about matching skill with the appropriate level of challenge. When done properly, the junior’s technical and physical skills, as well as motivation, are matched with a certain challenge. For example, a 14-year-old boy who is a late physical developer with strong technical skills and many years of golf experience might play 18 holes from 6,200 yards with a goal of hitting 12 greens and shooting 75. Likewise, a 14-year boy who is an earlier developer with the same skills might try the same challenge for 7,000 yards.

Since golf is not linear, players will never be only in one stage of development, however it is very important that golfers take time to develop skills in the first two stages.

Keeping it in Perspective

According to Tim Sherdy, elite junior golf instructor and 2017 PGA Section Teacher of the Year, “The key to success is a combination of arduous work, personal reflection, sound advice and time. This is the same in every profession so, if we get young people to understand these skills and they fail at becoming a PGA Tour Player, then it is time well spent. They can use the exact same skills to chase their next passion!”

Parents and junior golfers should also be aware of what the 2002 Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman calls “anchoring.” Anchoring is the cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on one piece of information offered when making decisions. Anchoring happens all the time in junior golf as many players consistently are comparing scores, rankings and college commitments. Excessive use of the anchoring heuristic is toxic. Players are on their own individual journey to acquire their own skills, experiences and friendships and there is no perfect combination. Winning an AJGA or the U.S. Junior may get you into college (maybe even with a nice scholarship), but it does not mean that you will be a PGA Tour player.

Likewise, not winning an AJGA or U.S. Junior does not prevent you from becoming a successful PGA Tour Player. Success is not checking boxes; there is no formula for success which involves X school + Y talents + Z friends. Young people need to earn a great education but also cultivate skills, on and off the golf course, in areas like leadership, constructive use of time, boundaries and expectations, social competency and overall positive identity. To do this, they need to have a safe environment where they feel they can explore different opportunities without threat of judgement!

Key Takeaways

So, what can you do? Here are some key takeaways:

1. Each junior is on his or her own personal development path. Nurture their talents and create opportunities for them to build other skills. For example, if your young person is an early developer, challenge them to play without their woods or with every other club.

2. Life is about more than golf. Make sure your junior has a good balance of things in their life which includes some hobbies and challenges outside of golf.

3. Some days your young adult may want to just hang out. Remember that down time is healthy and playing 18 holes, especially in the summer heat, makes you tired. A couple days of lying around the house a month is not only healthy but necessary.

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