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What I learned losing $63,700 playing professional golf

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Josh Thompson

It was the spring of 2007. After two years of college, I said goodbye to my golf scholarship and my great group of teammates. I was ready to chase my dream of playing golf on the PGA Tour.

I didn’t know what my future held, but I knew that in order to succeed I’d have to fully commit myself to golf with 100 percent focus.

I moved to Tampa from Indianapolis to start preparing for the upcoming 2008 season. During the day, I worked on my golf game and at night I worked at a restaurant bussing tables to save up extra money on the side. I grew up cleaning toilets and scrubbing floors in my family’s janitorial business, so working a side job was nothing new to me, but I did have some financial help from family and friends for my first full year on the Hooters Tour. I knew playing golf professionally wasn’t cheap, but little did I know at the time how quickly things add up, even for someone as tight with money as myself.

At the time, a membership on the Hooters Tour cost around $2,000 and the entry fee for each event was around $1,100. That was only to gain entry into the one event and compete against 155 other players for a $200,000 purse, with around $34,000 going to the winner. A typical week would cost me about $1,800. If there was host-housing for the week, it was cheaper — about $1,300. Host-housing is when a family offers its home to a golfer for the week and lets you stay in an extra room. I’ve met a lot of great people through hosting, many of whom I still stay in touch with and call friends to this day.

After shooting 68 and not qualifying for the Nationwide Tour stop in Atlanta — yes, 68’s get you a one-way ticket out of town for Monday qualifiers — I headed up to Greenville, N.C. for the Touchstone Energy Open on the Hooters Tour.

Overall, I felt like my game was going in the right direction in my first year as a professional. I started off the week well with a pair of 68’s in the first two rounds. I had just made my first cut as a pro, and after a one-under par 71 on Saturday I was tied for the lead going into the last day. The forecast didn’t look great for Sunday — cold, rain and some light hail. It seemed Mother Nature didn’t want the final round to be played, and it looked as though it would be canceled numerous times.

Driving to the course, the thought crept into my head that if today’s round was cancelled, I would split the $33,500 first-place check. I immediately stopped myself from thinking about that. You don’t play for second place or hope for a particular outcome. You go out there to win no matter the situation. “Don’t worry about the weather or the outcome, focus on what you can control,” I told myself. “The shot in front of you is all that matters.”

Ten hours and multiple rain delays later, I was standing in the fairway, in the rain, on the 71st hole. I was around 270 yards from the green, faced with a decision to lay up or go for the green — birdie to take the lead going into the last, or make a safe par and likely put myself into a playoff that likely wouldn’t happen because of darkness. I remembered what I said to myself in the car on the way to the golf course, so I pulled out the driver and hit it off the deck. The ball finished up by the green. After hitting the pitch shot to 10 feet, I cleared off the hail on the green that was in my line and rolled in the putt.

I now had a one-shot lead with one hole to play. After hitting the ball in the middle of the green and two-putting on the par-3 last hole, I realized I had won the golf tournament. I couldn’t believe it! Winning at the age of 21 was the jump-start to the season I was gunning for and the ideal start to my professional golfing career. Little did I know at the time that there were going to be many peaks and valleys in the years to come. This win would be the climax.

Coming off the win my confidence was high and my bank account benefited from the $33,500 check I just deposited. The remaining part of the year was a bit of a struggle. Mixed into my schedule were Hooters Tour events, Monday qualifiers, state opens and Q-School at the end of the season.

Come August, four months after my win, I had racked up 10 consecutive missed cuts and other near misses at Monday qualifiers. Not only that, a cyst on my left wrist started to grow throughout the season and wasn’t going away. Instead of playing in Q-School, I decided it would be best to have surgery to remove the cyst to alleviate the pain. I wasn’t worried. I was only 21 and it was just one surgery, so no big deal. The surgery would open the floodgates for many more off seasons spent rehabbing, however, opposed to improving my game and getting better.

After recovering from surgery, I spent the remaining part of the off season in Tampa. Even though I had struggled in the tournaments after my win, I had a positive outlook on the upcoming season. Following the surgery, I made another big decision to switch golf coaches. After spending nine years with the same instructor, it was a difficult decision to make. During this transition I decided that my entire game needed to change to reach the level where I wanted to be as a professional golfer. The goal was to have my golf swing revolve around my short game technique and have that technique be the central part that drove lower scores. I learned that you have to be willing to risk everything in order to reach the top. To me, it’s the same reason Tiger and Hogan always strived for perfection. They wanted more out of their game, even after being on top and considered the absolute best.

I was excited about the next season with the plan I had laid out and was anxious to get things going. The results on the golf course were up and down — not alarming considering some of the changes I was making, but the results needed to get better. There were many properly executed shots and rounds played, but then the exact opposite littered with “what-were-you-thinking” moments.

Once the 2009 season wrapped up, I was looking forward to the three-month offseason where I could continue working on the changes in my game and building a solid foundation for the future. About midway through the offseason that winter, things were moving in the right direction with my game. I felt as though 2010 was going to be the year to regain my form and make some real headway. At the time, I was working at a golf course in Tampa — not the best of gigs, but it had its perks.

One day while working in the bag room, things came crashing down, literally. A golf bag fell from the top stand of the bag rack, which was about head high, and I tried saving the bag from an awkward angle with my right arm. The bag made it out unscaved but my shoulder didn’t: a torn labrum that would require surgery. Another offseason and another surgery — not exactly what I had drawn up. Looking back on the situation, saving that 30-handicapper’s bag with iron headcovers and four dozen golf balls from falling wasn’t the best idea. Sometimes, it’s best to just cut your losses, especially if it means hurting yourself. This wasn’t exactly the best timing either, as funds were getting low.

After going through with the surgery, I had a short amount of time to get my game back into shape before the season. With the unlikely change of events, I decided to change up my schedule for the summer. I was still going to play in the state opens and Monday qualifiers, but this year I was going to take my game northwest to the plains and compete on the Dakotas Tour. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. “Sometimes you have to change things up to get different results,” I told myself. “Maybe the trip out west is what you need.”

I had heard nice things about the Dakotas Tour, and you were able to play a lot of tournament rounds in a short amount of time. The events started in Iowa and then we ventured into the Dakotas. The travel was all by vehicle from one small town to the next, trying to squeeze in as many tournaments as possible. Sometimes you’d finish playing in a tournament one day and drive through the night to tee it up in another tournament the next day. The yardage books that the proshops carried were often times my best friend. I never played the courses before, so I needed all the information I could get. The yardage books helped, no doubt, but my results were more or less the same as the past season; signs of good play devoid by head-shaking shots.

My last stop on the tour was in Rapid City, which is in western South Dakota. After the completion of my round, I decided to start the 16-hour drive back to Indianapolis where my parents live. The plan was to find a hotel about halfway, somewhere around Omaha, Neb. That didn’t happen because of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the Iowa State Fair. All the hotel rooms were booked everywhere I drove. I had been up since 4:30 a.m. CST and it was 1 a.m. CST the next day. I decided to finally pull off in a hotel parking lot and try to catch some sleep in the back of my two-door Honda Civic.

It couldn’t be that bad… it was only the middle of the hottest summer in quite some time.

I finally fell asleep, and about two hours later my car started shaking. I didn’t know what was happening, but in my sea of sweat I thought someone was trying to break into my car. It turned out to be a couple making out on my hood. Out of the hundred vehicles in this parking lot, they choose mine to bump and grind on. The show they were putting on was cheap entertainment, but at this point I was too tired to even reach up to the steering wheel and honk the horn to get them to leave. Instead, I laid back down and tried to fall back to sleep.

That summer concluded with a few more near misses at Monday qualifiers and another trip down to Florida for the winter. My game was really starting to take shape with the changes I had made… until I hurt myself again. Shortly before I was scheduled to leave town, I was hitting balls when my club struck something under the ground. It stopped my club dead in its tracks, which had never happened before. Pain shot up my left wrist, and the result was a torn TFCC (Triangular Fibrocartiliage Complex). I tried playing through it for the next month, but the pain was just too much to stand. A third surgery in three years was in my future.

Another stint of physical therapy and practice would get my form back to a decent level, but the problem is that “decent” doesn’t cut it when you’re trying to play golf for a living. The commercials are telling the truth — these guys are good. After three surgeries, multiple missed cuts and several near misses, I decided I had enough. I put away the clubs and stopped chasing the dream.

I had no regrets and didn’t second guess myself, but what was next? When your identity is built around being a golfer, and it’s all you’ve know and all you’ve done, what do you do?

I started to reflect on what I learned and where to go from there. I took some time to see old friends and share my experiences with others. By talking out loud and telling my story, I started looking at the bigger picture. I started asking more questions about the game of golf and what can be learned from it. After spending time thinking, I decided to go back to school and finish my degree. I realized that there’s more to my life than just golf. I took what I had learned and put it on paper. You’d be surprised what people will say when they see things like, “professional golfer” on a resume. It catches them off guard — in a good way.

Since junior golf, I had a clear picture of how everything was going to pan out on my way to being a PGA Tour player. Some said that leaving college after two years to turn professional was a bad decision.

They’d say, “What if golf doesn’t work out?”

What I ultimately learned was that when some dreams end, it’s only an opportunity for new ones. It wasn’t long after graduating that I started a job at a digital marketing agency in New York City. That was hard even for me to believe.

I still love golf and follow it closely week to week — I like to see how my friends are playing on the various tours. I find myself constantly looking back at my experiences and none of them are negative. I’m at peace with the rewards the game have given me, which are much more valuable than the $63,700 my time on tour cost me. You just can’t put a price on what professional golf taught me.

The thing that keeps popping into my mind these days is to always do what feels right. As long as you’re 100 percent committed, you give yourself the best opportunity to not only succeed, but to be at peace with your decision. You only get one chance a lot of times, so don’t do it like someone else. Go your own way and don’t doubt your path.

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Josh is a retired professional golfer who won the Hooters Tour Touchstone Energy Open at age 21. He has played competitive golf all across the U.S. and holds four courses records. He now has his amateur status back, and works at a digital marketing agency in NYC. Josh is also the Co-Founder of My Golf Tutor, an online golf instructional website.

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32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Dan Diel

    May 29, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    My son is giving pro golf a try for the second time! He has some sponsor money, which will help! Tough out there on the mini tours but life time dreams are within his grasp! Thanks for the great read!

  2. derek

    Jan 1, 2015 at 1:06 am

    Thanks, sorry bout all the injuries.
    What was your take on what the good players were doing that helped them the most make cuts ($)? was it the best putters, longest hitters, ball striking, wedge play, short game, course management? a combo of two?
    Curios as to what sticks out at in your mind at that high level of competition. TIA
    Derek

  3. azorean

    Dec 31, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    You at least chased your dreams and for this I admire you. I’m sure you are a better person because of this.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Mike

    Dec 31, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Great story. Do you have a communication degree? I was wondering why you selected digital marketing as a career and considering your invaluable experience as a pro golfer, whether or not you work on online marketing campaigns for golf companies?

  5. moses

    Dec 31, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Nice read. Thanks for sharing. This just goes to show how much talent there is out there and how hard it is to make it to the big show.

  6. warrenpeace

    Dec 31, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    nice article….it really tells it like it is, and not as glamorous as people think.
    When you play amateur events you now give the younger and older hot shots a chance to say they beat a tour winner if they can!! I wonder if the wannabes gun for you now that you are an am again?

  7. Gary

    Dec 31, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Great story. Bummer about the bad breaks but kudos on keeping up a good attitude.

  8. 3rdgroove

    Dec 31, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Great write up! Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sure when you have a corporate golf day you’ll be everybody’s favorite team partner 🙂

  9. LY

    Dec 31, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Great story. I would love to see more articles like this. Maybe some articles from PGA tour caddies on what that experience is like.

  10. Geoffrey Holland

    Dec 31, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    “signs of good play devoid by head-shaking shots.”

    Incorrect use of devoid.

    Aside from that, an interesting look at how tough it really is to be a successful pro golfer.

  11. Kelly

    Dec 31, 2014 at 12:32 am

    Great article! Did you win the Hooters Tour event at Brook Valley CC?

  12. mark d

    Dec 30, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Terrific article, thank you for letting us all see a bit of what the grind is like. And, congratulations on your career. Best of luck!

  13. J

    Dec 30, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Great and inspiring story. It also underscores how great Tiger and many other pros are who never had the pleasure of coming through the minor ranks.

  14. Jafar

    Dec 30, 2014 at 9:34 am

    If you could do it again, would you have finished college first before trying to go pro?

    Would that have lessened the weekly stress any, knowing you had other opportunities in life, and every golf shot wasnt a make or break for you?

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Josh

      Dec 31, 2014 at 10:47 am

      Hi Jafar — thanks for the question. Looking back on it I would still have left college early. I didn’t look at it that I didn’t have other opportunities in life since I didn’t finish school. I was still very young in age and knew I could always go back to finish school. Thanks again for the question.

  15. Brad Ingarfield

    Dec 30, 2014 at 8:37 am

    great story. Thanks for sharing. – Brad Ingarfield

  16. Cody

    Dec 30, 2014 at 8:31 am

    This article is too negative for me, but it was an interesting read.

  17. bradford

    Dec 30, 2014 at 8:05 am

    Congrats on the WIN! I’d love to check “Win a professional golf tournament” off the life-list. Cool that you did it so early. Nice article.

  18. charles

    Dec 30, 2014 at 2:37 am

    one of the best things ive ever read!

  19. Jesse graham

    Dec 30, 2014 at 1:49 am

    Awesome article, i wish people that were not or did not know all the hard times mini tour players go theough just to chase their dream. Most people just think its all just easy big $$$. My old golf coach who was a damn good golfer used to say he was “the Canadian Tours leading money spender”

  20. Timbleking

    Dec 30, 2014 at 1:28 am

    By far the best article I’ve ever read on there. Thanks for sharing, Josh.

  21. damian s

    Dec 29, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I wholeheartedly agree with the last paragraph. And it is with that attitude I will be commencing a business in the new year full of hope, belief and passion.
    Thanks for sharing your story!

  22. Justin O'Neil

    Dec 29, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. I can understand the disappointment that comes from injury having had two knee surgeries while still in high school.

    I am curious about your time on the Dakota Tour and the yardage books you used there. My dad made yardage books for quite a few courses in that area in the early 90’s and I am curious if any of his books may have still been in use when you played? His name is Jack O’Neil and he specifically marked off books for the courses played on that tour as well as the course for the Quad Cities Classic and John Deere tournament.

    • Josh

      Dec 31, 2014 at 10:49 am

      Hi Justin — thanks for the question. Not sure who made the books I used on the Dakotas Tour. They could have been the books your Dad made, but not sure though.

  23. Golfwrxer

    Dec 29, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    I played on the mini tours for a year. I kept hitting my approaches so pure they’d literally get stuck in the flag so I’d have to take drops. Then I realigned my trag and kept landing the ball on top of the pin. More unplayables.

  24. 3putts

    Dec 29, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Good article. I played a year on the mini tour for a season 5 years ago and it was an amazing experience that has been best enjoyed a couple years down the road when the pressure of week to week high stress has passed. I would relate it to a girlfriend that you really loved but it just wasn’t working out. Still think about the what if’s but knowing at your core that I just wasn’t going to last. Haha. There was a lot of guys I ran into that were just burnt out and had drinking habits to accompany the lifestyle. ‘Happy hour’ drunk was a term I heard one guy nearing 40 labeled himself. Too long out there and no real shot at moving to the PGA tour can take its tole. Maybe it’s better we both moved on to something else. You play much anymore and is it the same for you now that’s there’s nothing on the line?

    • Josh

      Dec 31, 2014 at 10:52 am

      Hi 3putts — thanks for the question. I don’t play as much now that I live in NYC, but did play occasionally for fun while finishing school in Indianapolis on the weekends with my friends.

  25. Tom

    Dec 29, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Great read! Where were you in Tampa? This is my hometown.

    • Josh

      Dec 31, 2014 at 10:55 am

      Hi Tom — thanks for your question. When I was in the Tampa Bay area I lived in the Clearwater area, but was in Tampa often working with my coach (Rich Abele). Check him out if you need some help with your game, great person and instructor.

  26. Jeff B

    Dec 29, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    very good story. Pleasure reading

  27. Neige

    Dec 29, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    What a great story. Thanks for sharing. Good luck!

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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Opinion & Analysis

Oh, To Be An (Oregon) Duck

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A few weeks ago I flew into Eugene, Oregon on a mission. I’d come to work with one my students who is a member of the Duck’s varsity golf team. I had never been further south than Seattle or further north than Monterey, so this part of the world was new to me.

What I did know was that the Bandon Dunes area had become a destination for some of the greatest golf in the world, rivaling other famed resorts around the country. The resort is just outside the quaint town of Bandon, which is a good two-hour drive from Eugene. The resort’s four courses — Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, and Old McDonald — each have their own personality, but at the same time they have one thing in common: the four architects that designed them took full advantage of the natural topography, deftly weaving holes in and out along the Oregon coastline.

I was looking forward to playing two of the courses before leaving: Pacific Dunes and Old McDonald. You may find this hard to believe, but those two rounds would be my first and second of the year after a busy summer season on the lesson tee. And for that very reason, I had no expectations other than to make a few pars and enjoy the scenery.

After retrieving my luggage from the turnstile, I made my way toward the exit with luggage in tow. My rental car was just across the street in an open-air lot and as I pushed through the airport doors, I was greeted by a gust of wind and a spray of rain. “Welcome to Eugene,” I thought to myself.

The sudden burst reminded me of playing in Scotland, where the rain gives way to sun only on occasion. I surmised that the weather in the Eugene would be similar. “Don’t forget your rain suit,” a fellow professional reminded me when I told him about my trip. As it turned out, that was good advice. He had been there before around the same time of year. “You’ll be lucky if you get one good day out of three,” he said.

As I drove through the area to my hotel, what struck me the most were the large hills that commanded the landscape and the thick white clouds that seemed to cling to them like giant cotton balls.  I found a comfortable hotel just outside Eugene in the small but quaint town of Cottage Grove. In charitable terms, you could characterize my hotel as “a tribute to the past.”

I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning, dressed and made my way downstairs to the lobby. The rain had continued through the night and as I prepared to leave the hotel,  it started to come down even harder. I stood in the lobby, waiting, while listening to the rain drops pounding on the roof,  a steady beat at first, then rising and falling like a conga drum.

I’d agreed to meet my student at 10 a.m. for a practice session and then he was slated to play nine holes with the team later in the afternoon. Based on the weather, I was concerned that the day might be a total rain-out. What I didn’t know at the time was that the school has a portable canopy that allowed the team, rain or shine, to practice on natural grass. I ran to my car ducking rain drops. The forecast called for a chance of sun in the afternoon. And this time the weather man was  right.

That afternoon I was invited to watch my student and the rest of Casey Martin’s boys play a quick nine holes at Eugene Country Club, the team’s home course. The layout is one of the most unusual that I’ve ever seen with giant trees bordering every fairway. The tips seemed to stretch up and up into the sky, piecing the low-hanging clouds above, as if they were marshmallows on a stick.

The Ducks have fielded a strong team the past two years, winning the NCAA Division 1 Championship in 2016 and then finishing second this year. A good deal of credit for that accomplishment goes to Casey Martin, who has coached the Ducks since 2006. For those who are too young to remember, Casey Martian was a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford University. He later competed on the Nike Tour. Casey earned his PGA Tour card in 1999 by finishing 14th on the Nike Tour, but his earnings through the 2000 season were not enough for him to retain his card, relegating him to once again to playing on the development tour. He played sporadically up through 2006. The following year, Casey assumed the job of Head Coach, which brought him back to his native Eugene.

In earlier years, Martin’s play career as a professional was hindered by the fact that he could not play 18 holes without a golf cart due to a birth defect in his right leg. The PGA Tour Board ruled against his use of a cart, maintaining that the physical act of walking was considered an integral part of the competition. Believing that he was in the right, Casey filed a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. His case made its way to the Supreme Court where he won. As for his competitive record, by his own admonition, he is disappointed that he didn’t play better as a professional. A primary focus of his coaching then, as he conceded, is to teach his players not to make the same mistakes he did in his own career. What struck me as unique was the passion and intensity with which he coached. I would venture that it’s the same level of intensity that he brought to the golf course when he competed.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a closed-door, defensive-team practice at Duke University with Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) on the floor. He had divided the team into two groups with one at either end of the court competing against each other. His legs straddled the center line as if he were Colossus with his head swiveling back and forth as if on a stick. The impression was that he saw everything and be never missed anything. And then when he saw a player make a mistake, he would blow his whistle sharply. The players would immediately stop moving as if they were frozen in place. And then, in peg-leg style, he would hobble across the floor favoring one leg over the other. He was clearly in need of a hip replacement at the time.

I’ve had both of my hips replaced, so I could easily imagine the pain that he was experiencing as he peg-legged it from the center of the court to either end. I suspected that he had decided that surgery would have to wait. The season was just a few weeks away, and given that his team was largely composed of freshman, he could not afford to miss a day. Casey Martin doesn’t blow a whistle, nor does he run a defense practice, but as he climbs out of his cart, deftly working his way to a vantage point where he can see his players from every angle, I’m reminded of the halting walk of Coach K.

There is something else that these two man share in common — an intense desire to win. They settle for nothing less than great. And when you look into their eyes, you can see that there is an intensity that burns from within that is vastly different from the man on the street.

As you might remember, I was scheduled to play a round on Pacific Dunes and another on Old McDonald. The two courses are both spectacular layouts with ocean views. And the weather… I drew two perfect days, defying the odds my friend had laid down. It was sunny and 65 degrees with just a hint of wind. How did I play? Let’s just say that I made a few pars. What I found was that striking the ball well is no guarantee that you will score low on these courses. The green complexes are diabolical. The best advice I can give you is to throw you scorecard away. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

The next morning, I was on an early morning flight back to Minneapolis only to discover that we were experiencing Indian Summer with temperatures 20 degrees warmer than usual. But as Minnesotans, we all know what is waiting for us just around the corner.

I’ll leave you with this thought. After watching Casey Martin and the players on his team play and practice, I’m sure of one thing. And that’s when next year’s NCAA Championship comes around, Casey Martin will have all of his Ducks in a row.

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The Kids Are Alright: Spike in Junior Golf Participation a Good Sign for Game’s Future

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This week, eight 10-player All-Star teams representing regions from across the country will converge upon Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., to compete in the 6th PGA Junior League Championship.

The teams – New Hampshire (Northeast), California (West), Georgia (Southeast), Ohio (Mideast), Illinois (Midwest), New Jersey (Mid-Atlantic), Arkansas (Mississippi Valley), and Texas (Southwest) – will be divided into two divisions where they will face off in round-robin, 9-hole matches using a two-person, scramble format of play. Teams are captained by PGA/LPGA Professionals.

Since the PGA of America launched PGA Junior League in 2012, participation has skyrocketed from about 1,800 players the first year to a record-setting 42,000 boys and girls age 13 and under participating on 3,400 teams across the country this year.

“Junior golf is a key priority of the PGA of America and we recognize that increasing youth participation in the game is essential to the future of our industry and sport,” said Suzy Whaley, PGA of America Vice President and PGA Director of Instruction at Suzy Whaley Golf in Connecticut.

“PGA Jr. League is a fun and welcoming opportunity for boys and girls of all backgrounds and skill levels to learn, play, and love golf under the expert instruction and guidance of PGA and LPGA Professionals. It’s team-oriented and kids wear numbered jerseys. It’s transforming traditional junior golf and the numbers prove it.”

Whaley believes the team concept and scramble format are major factors in PGA Jr. League’s rapid growth over the last five years. In fact, she says, the program is re-shaping the golf industry’s view of the way junior golf is typically learned and played.

“Other youth sports have been utilizing the team format for years and it’s a natural fit for golf,” said Whaley, who has taken three teams to the Jr. League Championships. “The scramble format provides for a low-pressure environment. We’ve created a team atmosphere that has broad appeal. Parents and kids enjoy being a part of the community that PGA/LPGA Professional Captains create. In this team setting, older, more experienced players mentor the younger, beginner golfers. There’s no pressure on any one player, and it’s great to see kids pull for one another versus the individual focus generally associated with golf.”

“It is a program that creates a family-centered atmosphere that encourages mom, dad, brothers, sisters, and grandparents to become involved, as well. During PGA Jr. League matches, the parents are part of the match keeping score, posting photos on social media and encouraging all players. PGA Jr. League grows lifetime interest in the game across multiple generations.”

Matthew Doyle of the Connecticut team gathers for a photo with team captain, Suzy Whaley during session three for the 2016 PGA jr. League Golf Championship presented by National Rental Car held at Grayhawk Golf Club on November 20, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Traci Edwards/PGA of America)

Fourteen-year-old Cullen Laberge from Farmington, Conn., is a student in the Suzy Whaley Golf program and has competed at the PGA Jr. League Championships for Team Connecticut. Laberge has been playing for four years and says his Jr. League experience really sparked his interest in the game and his desire to become a better player and ultimately a golf teacher one day.

“It has taught me so much about golf, while keeping it fun and interesting,” Laberge said. “The thing I enjoy the most is playing competitive golf without the stress that tournament golf can sometimes bring. No matter age or skill level, Jr. League keeps it fun and no matter how a player is playing there is another player to pick them up. That national championship was the best experience of my life. It was like I was playing on the PGA Tour. I loved the amazing competition; those players were good.”

And it’s not just golf’s executives and Jr. League participants who have taken notice of the program’s growth and the ultimate importance that growth represents for the future of the game. PGA and LPGA professionals including Rory McIlroy, Ricky Fowler, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie have all joined as ambassadors for the program.

“I want to do everything I can to be a positive influence on kids who are interested in the game and serving as an ambassador for PGA Jr. League is a great fit,” said Wie. “There are so many lessons that kids can learn and that adults can reinforce through the game of golf – good sportsmanship, honesty, integrity, work ethic. Golf can help you learn how to react when things don’t go your way which I think is a really important skill to have in life.”

“Golf can definitely mirror life. You can work incredibly hard and still fall short, but how do you bounce back? How do you overcome a mistake or a bad break and still succeed? It’s important for kids to grow up with a good work ethic and the right attitude to face challenges. Golf is a great game to teach those lessons.”

Copyright Picture : Mark Pain / IMG (www.markpain.com)

Wie says the more inclusive and welcoming the golf community in general can be, the better.

“Especially as a young female, I have experienced plenty of times where I did not feel welcome or felt like I had to prove myself more than the guys did,” Wie said. “Golf is a game that should be available to everyone and I think it’s important to make it accessible to kids whether they are a future tour pro or a future 20-handicapper.”

The folks over at the USGA know a thing or two about growing the game and making it more accessible and they should, they’ve been doing it since the association’s founding in 1894.

The inaugural three USGA championships – the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1895 – did not have age limits, each simply aiming to identify the champion golfer. In 1948, the USGA held the first United States Junior Amateur solely open to players under the age of 18 and just one year later the association conducted the first United States Girls’ Junior Championship.

In addition to helping fund The First Tee, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, and the Drive, Chip and Putt Championships, the USGA recently introduced its “For the Good of the Game” grant program to promote a more welcoming and accessible game at the local level with millions of dollars offered to local communities to build programs.

“The greatest misperception is accessibility,” says Beth Major, Director of Community Outreach at the USGA. “Two-thirds of all golf courses in America are open to the public. Kids and parents still believe it is a country club sport and we need to change that.”

Founded in 2013 as a joint initiative between the USGA, the Masters Tournament, and the PGA of America, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a free nationwide junior golf competition for boys and girls ages 7-15 aimed at growing the game. Participants who advance through local, sub-regional and regional qualifying earn a place in the National Finals, which is conducted the Sunday before The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Drive, Chip and Putt qualifying is offered in all 50 states and participation in the event has increased each year.

“We have a great partnership with our friends at the PGA of America and the Masters Tournament,” Major said. “Our leaders realized that by pooling our resources at the national level while activating at the local level, we could quickly scale the program and get more kids involved.”

“Going into our sixth year, it is amazing to see how far the program has grown and the entry point we’ve created together to keep our youth engaged. We look forward to continuing to evolve the program to welcome more youth to the sport.”

The USGA, in partnership with the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, and the PGA TOUR, founded The First Tee in 1997 specifically to answer the call for diversity and inclusion. The program has welcomed millions of new players to the game in the past 20 years by focusing not only on teaching golf skills but life and social skills such as etiquette, honesty, respect, confidence and responsibility.

Founded in 1989, the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program is aimed at girls ages 6-17 and has played a critical role in not only welcoming girls and women to the game, but perhaps equally importantly keeping them in the game.

“Statistics continually show us that the social aspects of the game drive girls and women to play golf,” Major said. “That sense of camaraderie and building friends greatly outweighs their need to compete at the entry level. LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, quite simply, has made it fun and cool for girls to play – and play together. And the results are astounding. We have traced more than 100 girls who started in an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program that played in a USGA championship last year. They have not only introduced the game to girls and young women, they kept them in the game, and that is very exciting and inspiring.”

One company is tackling growth of the game from another angle – the equipment side.

Since its very beginning back in 1997, U.S. Kids Golf has been focused on its mission, “To help kids have fun learning the lifelong game of golf and to encourage family interaction that builds lasting memories.

To that end, the company began developing youth clubs starting out with just three sizes and one product line initially.

“Over time, through watching youth golfers, we came to realize that we were not serving them as well as we would like,” said Dan Van Horn, U.S. Kids Golf founder. “Looking at how the best players in the world – LPGA and PGA Tour – are fit for clubs, we discovered the proportion of their drive length to height was from 60-70 percent. From that we created what we term the ‘2/3 solution.’ Simply put, for every 3 inches a player grows, we offer a set that has a driver that is 2 inches longer.”

Importantly, it is not just the length of the clubs that increase as the player grows but also the overall club weight, grip size and shaft stiffness. At the same time, the loft on woods decreases providing additional distance.

“One of the key benefits of correctly fit clubs that are lightweight is the ability for players to learn a correct and powerful swing at a young age,” Van Horn said. “Clubs that are too long and/or heavy slows the golf swing itself and creates bad habits that are difficult to change later in life.”

Beyond the importance of young golfers needing properly fit equipment, Van Horn believes strongly in the need for juniors to compete in tournament play to facilitate aspirational goals and to measure progress. Going hand in hand with this is proper instruction from coaches who understand how young players learn and develop.

“After a few years of producing equipment, we realized more needed to be done to serve our market so we formed a nonprofit foundation,” Van Horn said. “Immediately we created our World Championship in 2000 so that young golfers would have an aspirational goal, much like the Little League World Series is to baseball players. We also realized that golf professionals and coaches lacked an organized incentive-based learning program to truly engage players in the game so we created one that same year.”

A longtime proponent of having players play from appropriate yardages, U.S. Kids Golf developed the Longleaf Tee System which uses a mathematical formula to “scale” any golf course for up to eight different tee locations per hole so all players have options based upon how far they carry the ball with a driver. Yardages start at 3,200 yards for 18 holes and increase up to Tour distances of 7,400 yards.

“What we need is a focus by all golf facilities and coaches to provide quality, enjoyable experiences to our youth,” Van Horn said. “This means incorporating game-based learning with a measurable, learning program so that players and their parents know how they are progressing. And, of course, shorter tees need to be available so we can get kids on a ‘field’ that fits them like other sports. There’s no question it can be done.”

The National Golf Foundation’s annual report for 2016 revealed that participation in junior golf programs remained steady at 2.9 million likely due in part to the success of the programs mentioned above and others just like them. Importantly, the number of female junior golfers has increased to a third of all participants and the number of non-Caucasion players has risen to a quarter, four times what it was a couple of decades ago.

While time will ultimately judge whether these programs and offerings serve not only to retain current players but continue to attract new ones, the state of junior golf in the country appears strong and on the right track for now. 

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