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Grooming for Greatness

Written by Andrew Penner

It’s Monday evening at the Collicut Siding Golf Club and hundreds of wide-eyed kids – many just three and four years old – are jostling around, wielding tiny clubs, and swatting awkwardly at practice balls. Whiffs, spin-o-rama swings, and Happy Gilmore-like techniques abound. Dozens of instructors, volunteers, and parents are helping the pint-sized golfers with their grip, stance, and swing. For many of these happy little tykes, the moment marks the start of their journey to competitive golf.

With over 1,000 kids enrolled, the junior golf program at Collicut Siding (located approximately twenty minutes north of Calgary in Crossfield) is the largest of its kind in Canada. It’s a wildly successful program – the brainchild of General Manager/Head Golf Professional, Lyndon King – and, deservedly, has been been the talk of the town for a number of years. (It started in 2009 with 56 kids!)

While many of the youngsters participating in the program will never reach the competitive ranks, some of them, most certainly, will. Some – thanks, in large part, to the support of their parents, coaches, teachers, friends, and so forth – will continue to expand their skills and grow in their passion for the game. They will get bigger, stronger, longer, and excel in competition. They will travel to tournaments, hoist trophies, feel the lows of defeat, and experience the highs of victory.

While there will be many commonalities in terms of how some of these junior golfers will “climb the ladder” to their lofty achievements, the specific road they take will be their own. There will be many factors, many unique circumstances, and many “intangibles” that will fuel their journey.

In other words, the recipe – for your child and millions of other young golfers out there, each with their own personality, their own skill set, their own DNA – for competitive success has many ingredients. And, without a doubt, it can be a difficult road to navigate.

Thankfully, there are many helpful resources (including, of course, some amazing junior golf programs at the local courses!) that parents can tap into. And these can make all the difference.

Parents can also go a long way by listening to the counsel, the professional wisdom, from some of the top junior coaches and instructors in the game. They understand “the system,” they’ve seen many kids succeed, and have a keen understanding of the pitfalls to avoid. We asked five of the top professionals in the coaching game to offer their top tips for training junior golfers. And here are some of those “nuggets” that, hopefully, will turn to “gold” for your aspiring young golfer!

Derek Ingram, BSC, ChPC

Team Canada Olympic Coach

  1. Play other sports. Do not specialize too early! Why put all your eggs in the golf basket too early and rob yourself of developing skills, habits, and abilities that can make you a MUCH better athlete? Never mind the fun you will miss!
  2. Make it fun. Laugh and joke around. Be creative and make mistakes. Then learn and repeat. If it’s not fun juniors will never fall in love with the game and put in the necessary time.
  3. Don’t over compete at a young age. Play, practice, train, and compete but don’t compete so much that the other stuff can’t happen. Golf Canada’s Long-Term Player Development Guide is a great resource that outlines all of this and much, much more.
  4. Find a good facility that is both close and available. Access trumps quality! There is some solid research that the top players do NOT grow up playing and practicing at the best, most pristine facilities. Bad lies and variable turf conditions actually help develop players.
  5. Find a coach. Someone who has time for you, is willing to learn with you, and genuinely cares about you and your game. In most cases, this should not be a parent.

Ryan Anderson

Head Teaching Professional, Glencoe Golf & Country Club

2016 & 2017 Alberta PGA Teacher of the Year-round

  1. As important as fun is, safety is paramount. Above all else, parents want their children to be safe. Safe in terms of the dangers of a golf club and ball, but also in terms of respect, etiquette, and trust.
  2. Fun and Games. A successful junior golf program is built around fun. If you start with “fun” and build your learning around it, you’ll have juniors wanting more. Games are a great mechanism to engage kids and a lot of learning can be disguised in them.
  3. Whenever possible, take advantage of the course for teaching and coaching. Juniors learn faster when it is in a real setting. A good rule of thumb when on the course is to start your junior from a spot on the hole where they can hit two perfect shots and end up on or near the putting green.
  4. Give them the right equipment. Junior clubs come in all sizes and flexes. Clubs that are too long and heavy hinder development.
  5. Start Position/Speed with Balance/Finish Position. Establishing a good setup position allows for the best swings to happen. Working on speed with juniors allows them to hit the ball further. More speed with perfect contact equals more distance and I’ve never met a golfer that doesn’t want to hit it farther! Finishing every swing in a balanced finish position shows they are in command of their swings and can replicate the movement.

John Deneer

Class A Teaching Professional

Junior Development Coordinator, Bearspaw CC

Nominee for 2017 Alberta Junior Golf Leader Award

  1. The most important factor for juniors looking to compete and be successful is a deep love of the game. This includes casual golf, grueling practice, great rounds, poor rounds, intense competition, and even simply being at the golf course.
  2. Having a strong support system is crucial. Parents, coaches, staff at the local golf club, friends – they all play a vital role.
  3. There must be good balance between playing vs practicing. Practice is necessary to achieve swing goals, ball flight goals, and short game consistency. But practice cannot replace time on the course. Playing develops course management skills, the ability to deal with adversity, and simply enjoying the game.
  4. Short and long-term goals must be set and the junior must show a commitment in terms of doing everything possible to achieve set goals. Goals can be breaking a scoring barrier, tournament results, attaining a university golf scholarship, and playing professionally.
  5. Fitness, nutrition, and sports psychology are all crucial for juniors who want to excel in competitive golf. They must be assessed, improved, and evaluated frequently. If you fail to do what your competitors are doing you will be passed and left behind. You MUST look at additional ways to improve your golf game away from the golf course.

Derek Baker

Academy Director, Derek Baker Golf Academy (Edmonton CC & Windermere Golf & CC)

2016 & 2017 Nominee for the PGA of Alberta Junior Leader of the Year Award

  1. Do not specialize in golf early on. If a junior specializes in golf too early there are many factors that can drive them out of the game before they see long-term success. Burnout and an inability to deal with adversity are often the consequences. Many of the best golfers were athletes first and golfers second. Don’t even think about specializing until they are in their teens.
  2. Use performance games instead of traditional practice. Traditional practice – hitting shots on the driving range until your hands bleed! – does not mimic playing the game. Performance games are practice but in a game format. They resemble what you’d encounter during play. A very simple example is having a “Canadian Open” where students count their total strokes in a chipping and putting course.
  3. Get students on the golf course early and often. Golf is comprised of many different individual skills and playing puts all of them into context.
  4. Make practice challenging. It’s easy to fall into the trap of making things too easy in hopes they will have fun and want to come back. Make it way too hard or way too easy and you’ll have an uninterested junior. There is a lot of research to support the idea that the best learning happens when a person is faced with a challenge that is just beyond their current skill set.
  5. Failing is an essential part of development. The best lessons are learned from experience…and this includes failing. Let them hit driver when they shouldn’t. Let them hit a flop when they should pitch, and so forth. Failures are not a reason to criticize performance or decisions, they are a way to motivate and improve.

Tips for Parents on the Competitive Junior Golf Pathway

Bill Murchison

Golf Professional

Golf Canada Calgary Centre

  1. Be unconditionally supportive. Regardless of how well your child plays, you need to stay positive! Showing negative emotion – either on the course or on the way home from a tournament round – can be extremely deflating to your child. Push performance when things are going well, as opposed to when they are not.
  2. Help with the goal setting process. If both the athlete and the parent commit to setting simple goals, such as “do your best and have fun,” you are well on your way.
  3. Monitor the level of passion and don’t push too hard. If they are not interested in practicing or playing on their own, pushing them too hard can easily backfire. Until they are in the “train to compete” stage, it really shouldn’t feel like work for them.
  4. Become as educated and well-informed as you can. Golf Canada’s Long Term Player Development Guide is a must read. The more you understand the process and key elements in the journey, the more likely you’ll be effective in your critical role as a parent. Alberta Golf’s website also has some great information under the “develop” tab.
  5. Work with or retain the right coach. If college golf or elite junior golf is part of your child’s goals, you will need the knowledge of a coach (as opposed to a swing instructor) sooner than you think. A coach who is regularly on the course watching and getting to know your child’s game is critical. Of the 550, or so, Alberta PGA members, less than 30 are trained and certified in coaching. Do your homework and obtain a certified coach.
  6. Be prepared for considerable costs. As your child enters the “learn to compete” phase, expenses can skyrocket. Alberta’s top junior players can expect an all-in budget for golf between $15,000 and $40,000. Some tournaments, like some of the larger events in the US, are not “musts.” However, having proper equipment that fits definitely is. Buying equipment they will “grow into” is not a good idea. You might get two years out of clubs, but for a growing athlete, one is more likely.
  7. Know where to play. For kids under 12, the Maple Leaf Junior Tour (MJT) mini-series and Canadian Junior Golf Association (CJGA) Linkster series are the best. The Alberta Bantam is an absolute must for players 14 and under. For the 13-16 age group, the McLennan Ross Tour is by far the best value. CJGA and MJT Junior events provide good multi-day competition for mid-level players. Once you are achieving success locally, follow the Golf Canada Order of Merit based on point value and work to get into American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) events.
  8. Learn the merit system – Once the doors open up to nationally ranked events, getting good advice on your athlete’s schedule is critical. Staying on top of how Alberta Golf and Golf Canada rank players is critical. The Golf Canada order of merit is a great starting point to see where a college oriented player should be playing. Top colleges will primarily look at Junior Golf Scoreboard and AJGA results. Your best opportunity for college coach viewing/scouting is at the Canadian Junior Championship or AJGA events.

Grooming for Greatness

This article was originally published in the 2018 edition of The Alberta Golfer Magazine. To view the full magazine, click here.

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