I was fortunate to be raised across the street from a beautiful course in Illinois called Mt. Prospect Golf Club. MPGC had a wonderful junior golf program, and the experience was pivotal in my junior golf experience. To this day, my memories of attending the summer golf camps are still vivid.
The golf bug bit me when I was about 9 years old. I played all the sports: baseball, basketball, soccer and football, but golf stuck in my mind. My Dad played golf early Saturday mornings, and my older brothers played golf, too, so golf was always around in my family.
The first PGA Tour event I attended was the Western Open played at Butler National. I was exposed to the majestic fairways and huge trees, and I distinctly remember seeing what I thought was a giant of a man walking down the middle of the fairway. He looked so calm and cool with his clothes and shoes perfectly pressed and cleaned. At that moment, I knew I wanted golf to be in my future.
Now that I coach junior golfers, my mind frequently returns to the four tenets of junior golf that were taught at the junior golf camps I attended so many years ago at MPGC. They were just as important then as they are now.
No. 1: Keep it FUN
When you’re teaching junior golfers (and I’m talking about junior golfers like you’re going to see in these photos, not high school prodigies), try to create as many fun chipping, pitching, and putting contests as possible.
We had a basement in my childhood house, and me and my brother were always creating fun, miniature putt-putt courses. When I first started teaching junior golfers, I knew this would be a cool way to teach them to putt. Using string, ribbon and electrical wire, I was able to recreate my childhood putt-putt courses on regular putting greens. My students always enjoy the challenge of trying to keep the different colored golf balls inside the strings.
Another thing I remember loving as a kid was loud noises. One day I was thinking, “What causes a really loud noise?” The answer I came up with was metal garbage cans, and I knew chipping a golf ball into a metal garbage would give awesome feedback. That lead to me this awesome drill; just lay a garbage can on its side with the mouth facing the junior and have them hit pitch shots into it.
It’s amazing how much a junior golfer of any age loves smashing a golf ball into a metal garbage can, and how much it makes them focus at the task at hand… a the loud BOOM of success only makes kids want to do it more. What makes this type of practice even better is the it teaches a child to control the club face, ball position, shaft lean, ball flight and swing direction while having a lot a fun in the process.
No. 2: Let Them Play
“Let them play!” was the famous chant from the great movie, Bad News Bears, and it’s great advice for junior golfers. I always encourage junior golfers and their families to get them on the golf course as soon as possible. Even if the junior can’t play a full golf hole, they can play from about 30 yards in front of each green and see how low they can score on a hole or on 9 holes.
There are a ton of benefits to doing this, the first of which is teaching junior golfers how to score. I like to treat each hole as a par-3, and until they start making pars and birdies, there’s no reason to make the course longer. There is a story of Jack Nicklaus’ coach, Jack Grout, making Nicklaus play from the forward tees until he made a certain amount of birdies. This helped him get comfortable scoring and going low.
It’s no secret that most successful junior golfers have the best short games. They are by far the best putters, chippers, sand players and pitchers of the golf ball. That’s why I like to see junior golfers continue to work from the green backward in their development, progressing from 30 yards to 50 and maybe even 100 yards with the goal of making a target score. Eventually, your junior golf will be all the way back to the regulation junior golf course, and when they are, they’ll understand how to score and how to put the ball in the hole in the fewest number of strokes.
No. 3: Keep it Simple
Golf instruction for juniors and adults is completely different. Junior golfers need to learn basics in the golf swing. Balance, a proper grip, the stance, good alignment and the finish position are just some of the basics junior golfers needs to understand.
These fundamentals can seem boring, but there are ways to make them fun. The first place to start is to remember that the less information a junior golfer receives, the better. My favorite lesson is to have a junior learn the finish position in balance. Knowing that, it’s easier for them to learn the full swing. All they have to do is work backward.
Another great way to help them learn the swing is to have them watch professional golf, specifically their favorite PGA Tour or LPGA Tour player. It will have a surprising and important effect on a junior golfer’s swing. Most importantly, let junior golfers develop their swing mechanics at their own pace. Pushing mechanics too early is a recipe from problems.
No. 4: Experiment
I want my junior golfers to be able to hit every level of shot, or at least try. I ask them to get creative and try to hit their shots higher or lower. My favorite drill is taking a chair and having a junior hit a full shot keeping the ball under the chair. This will help them learn how to playing into the wind or hit a shot under a tree on a course.
I also like my junior golfers to learn how to use each of their club in a bunker. You will be amazed at how a junior golfer loves a challenge of trying to get out of a bunker with their 7 iron. You can also teach them how to chip with their fairway wood, which will teach a them touch around the greens. One great drill is putting from super long distances, which will only benefit a junior golfer as he or she gets older. And every once in awhile, an 80-foot putt drops. That look on their face… it’s priceless.