The summer is quickly closing in, and surely junior golfers across the globe are busy picking out and finalizing their summer schedules. For some, this means hitting the road for tournaments, while others need to budget more wisely — both time and money — and should find competitive local options.
Trying to decide what’s really important for your game and your career can be very difficult. That’s why I’ve developed 4 important questions to ask yourself, or for the parents to ask of their juniors, when formulating a plan of attack.
1. Have you developed ball control?
Prior to any significant tournament play, it is my opinion that juniors should spend several years learning and practicing the motor control patterns of the swing. This skill is called ball control; the ability to deliver the club in a way the player can regulate distance, trajectory and shot shape. This should include hitting countless range balls, putts and chips.
According to the Royal Canadian Golf Association Long Term Development Plan, which is available for download here, players should be hitting upwards of 2,200 practice shots per week by middle adolescence. Their skills should be developed under the watchful eye of a strong technical instructor, and students should be encouraged to develop other skills through participation in a wide variety of sports.
If the junior is discovering golf in their teenage years, parents are wise to still engage in this process; a strong level of ball control is the foundation for scoring. Although it is tempting, taking a short cut will lead to problems later in the development of the player. When in doubt, keep practicing and playing as much as possible.
2. Can you consistently break 75 on your home golf course?
In my opinion, you’re not ready for national tournaments until this happens. Also consider that playing your home golf course is about 2-3 shots easier than playing in a tournament. This means if you shoot 78 on average at your home golf course, you are going to be lucky to break 80 in a national tournament.
My research suggests that in 2016, the average American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) qualifying required a score of 75.4 for boys to earn a spot and 77.6 for girls. Also, breaking par is becoming a common theme in junior golf. My research suggests that last year in the AJGA, boys shot in the 60s over 900 times and girls over 600 times. This means, based on my 2-3 shot rule, these juniors are shooting in the mid-60’s in practice!
If you average 80 or above in national caliber junior golf, my advice is to stay local until your game develops. The local PGA Sections in many regions run great tours, and the Mid Atlantic and The Met Section in New York are two of many great opportunities. It may be more damaging to your career, confidence and bank account to continue playing in national tournaments when you’re playing poorly or your game is simply not ready. Build confidence and round out your game in local tours before you move back up to the big leagues.
3. How do I make the most of my summer?
In my experience, the first and crucial step on the competitive golf ladder is spending considerable time on a home golf course where the junior learns the nuances of the game in a competitive environment. By the summer after their freshman year in high school, the junior should be playing multiple days of 18+ holes where they are ideally playing with others of a similar caliber and set consequences. The more matches that come down to the last hole, the better.
4. Do I need to take the travel money and sink it into a private club membership?
The quality of the golf course is far, far, far less important than the access to the facilities and the opportunity to play with other talented players on a daily basis. The trap of being a member can come when junior does not play enough holes or doesn’t have anyone to compete against.
Golf is about consistency over long durations. Playing nine holes a few times a week is not going to help. Juniors must extend themselves and try as often as possible to play 18. They must also learn to compete, ideally playing for something of consequence. This means responsible gambling; playing for something that they would hate to lose, but nothing ridiculous. A candy bar, or even push ups, can add enough incentive and pressure to win.
Too many juniors, fueled by misinformation, are in a hurry to build their tournament resume. Students who are willing to invest the time to build strong technical skills and then learn all the nuances of golf are going to arrive at tournaments prepared to shoot the scores necessary to earn trophies. Until then practice, compete and stay local.