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Opinion & Analysis

PGA Tour Players With Surprisingly Average Clubs



I’m just as guilty as the rest of you guys. All those WITB posts come up each week at the tournaments and I comb through looking at all the eye candy. Those prototype driving irons, custom weld-neck putters, and exotic stamped wedges get all the heart-eye emojis flowing, don’t they? What I find most interesting is not the Porsches, however, but the Pintos.

These guys play golf for a living. Dropping $5,000 on a custom putter means nothing to them in the long run. Just shaving one stroke off their week’s showing can net 10 times that much or more in some cases. But if and when you find something that suits you perfectly, smart people don’t mess with it.

Steve Stricker’s Putter

I know Steve was sporting a Cameron at the PGA Championship last week, but he’s done that before on some rare occasions and went back to old reliable. This “jalopy” is one of my favorites for two reasons:

  1. I’m on a bit of a putting kick at the moment
  2. Steve Stricker is widely regarded as one of the best putters on tour.

The longtime Titleist-staffer could probably have any Scotty Cameron he wanted, but he’s rocking the old-school, Odyssey White Hot #2 with loads of lead tape on the bottom. You can currently pick up one of these bad boys for under $50 easily on the used market, but can you roll it like Steve? Doubtful. Dude is fourth on tour (FOURTH!) in total putting and makes over 90 percent of his putts (452 for 500) inside 10 feet. That’s insane. See Stricker’s Full WITB.

Hideki Matsuyama’s Driver

Man, that thing is roached. If I showed up to my local course with that bad boy, it’d probably draw quite the reaction. I could probably hear everyone thinking, “Oh, I got this dude, no problem.” If I could rock it half as good as Hideki (he’s 22nd on tour in driving distance at 304.3 yards and 11th in strokes gained off the tee), I’d be laughing all the way to the bank, too… even if I did pause long enough for a cigarette at the top of my backswing… See Matsuyama’s Full WITB.

Henrik Stenson’s 3 wood

Ah, the Callaway Diablo Octane…released in late 2010. By tour standards, it belongs in the Smithsonian at this point. If it helps you win the Open Championship, an Olympic silver medal, and become the European Tour player of the year all in the same year, though, it stays in the bag until you feel compelled to change it. Period. See Stenson’s Full WITB.

Most of Padraig Harrington’s Bag

The 3-time major winner has quite the quiver doesn’t he? At least in this 2016 version.  He features a mostly Wilson Staff bag, including a putter that can currently be had for 100 bones brand new. Sprinkle in a TaylorMade AeroBurner driver and Ping Eye 2 Gorge wedge and you may not have a masterpiece in the eyes of a lot of GolfWRXers, but if it pays the bills, who cares? See Harrington’s Full WITB.

What are your favorite WITBs? Any long-standing clubs in your bag that you never see yourself parting with? Comment below, but the first person who says, “It’s not the arrow” loses 1,000 points.

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Peter Schmitt does not profess to be a PGA professional or to be certified at...well...anything much in golf. Just another lifelong golfer with a passion for the game trying to get better every day, the definition of which changes relatively frequently. Peter is a former Marine and a full-time mechanical engineer (outside of the golf industry). He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife and two young kids. Follow Peter on twitter and Instagram using the links below.

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  1. Peter Schmitt

    Aug 21, 2017 at 11:32 am

    As if on cue, Henrik rides the mighty Diablo 3 wood to victory at the Wyndham the same week this gets posted. The best part? He didn’t even carry a driver. Boom!

  2. Indian

    Aug 21, 2017 at 3:31 am

    It’s not the arrow it’s the….oh, whoops.

  3. TG

    Aug 19, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    They don’t pay for clubs though so why would they “drop” 5000 on a putter…

  4. Ryan

    Aug 19, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    Adam Scott’s irons are still pretty old. Titleist 680 MB’s from 2005. If his lofts are standard, it’s even crazier. PW at 48*!! That’s pretty awesome to me

  5. Jesper Pickering

    Aug 19, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    Sometimes the pure joy of a shiny new toy is all it takes for me to buy new gear. Will it perform better? Properly not, just like my new pair of jeans aren’t better than the old ones. BUT they look and feel danm good…until a cooler pair is on display in the shop window ????

  6. Mark

    Aug 19, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Sold a Scottsdale answer years ago for $1,900. Read here recently that they now bring $120. I have one in the garage. And what about the Wilson 8802, armour img5, geo low of nicklaus, faldos taylomade viii?

  7. BIG STU

    Aug 19, 2017 at 2:21 am

    I have been saying it for years and most folks do not listen. BTW the model of Odyssey Stricker uses is a copy of a old Ping Zing 2. What would surprise most is the age of the equipment used on the Champion’s Tour. I have always been of the addage of using what works no matter the age or brand

  8. Elf

    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:48 pm

    Cool aicle. I’ve often assumed Odyssey (etc) replaced inserts for the pros though they tell we mortals it isn’t possible for them to do. Stricker’s insert looks way too clean (compared to the rest of the club) to be original IMO.

  9. rex235

    Aug 18, 2017 at 10:46 pm

    Bobby Nichols won the Dow Jones Open ($60K) with a $5 putter.
    Never saw anything in Bob Charles bag other than a Bullseye.
    Bullseyes have won Majors in 5 different decades. Even Nicklaus used one for a US Open win.
    Nicklaus’ 3 wood was in his bag for 30+years.
    Oldest club in my bag? -27 years 19 Degree Taylor Made Tour Cleek II.
    Strickers putter epitomizes the adage “If it ain’t broke….”

  10. Dude

    Aug 18, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    What about Rory McIlroy’s Nike irons. H he should go back to them since he won with them.

  11. Iman

    Aug 18, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    Don’t forget Adam Scott with his 690.MB iron set. By tour standards, it belongs to his grand-grandfather.

  12. Walt

    Aug 18, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Looking more closely at the sole of the White Hot and that’s gotta be lead tape plastered to the sole.
    Also, the plastic face insert of his old putter has got to be slightly worn on the sweet spot making it slightly concave-ish and cups the ball, ya think?

    • Todd

      Aug 19, 2017 at 8:41 pm

      FYI lead is about 50% heavier than stainless steel, so 2 strips of lead is equal to 3 strips of equivalent steel. So next time you see lead tape you will know.

  13. Walt

    Aug 18, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    Real golfers don’t change their equipment when the OEMs bring out their ‘new’ models. It’s because they don’t find fault in their equipment. The challenge is within their body, mind and the golf course. That’s how real golf is played.

    • Caddy

      Aug 18, 2017 at 5:59 pm

      Nailed it.

      • Walt

        Aug 18, 2017 at 6:16 pm

        And if a golfer continuously doubts his equipment they cannot swing with confidence.
        I’ve golfed with people who cursed their equipment when they screw up and when it’s obvious the problem is within themselves. They refuse to see it or admit it.
        Such people can never be wrong because in their minds they are perfect and successful men. They cannot face their failure and direct their anger against their clubs to hide from their incompetence.
        I jokingly told one such golfer that he’s not good enough to blame his clubs, and he got very angry at me. Never again because these types are dangerous.

        • Vic

          Aug 18, 2017 at 10:50 pm

          This is GolfWRX for c’sake man not psych 101.

          • Walt

            Aug 19, 2017 at 1:01 pm

            Just sharing my experiences and my conclusions about some bad golfers and their club hate. I love my clubs because they behave exactly as I expect them to perform. What’s your problem?

  14. Ben Jones

    Aug 18, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Still going back to the Bullseye to fix my putting woes.

    • Walt

      Aug 19, 2017 at 1:03 pm

      Bullseye is a pure putter uncompensated for an inconsistent putting stroke and bad impact. It’s a test of your putting stroke control. All the other fancy putters are intended for golfers who want their putter to do the putting for them.

  15. peter collins

    Aug 18, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    I am after a Odyssey Black Series i #7 Putter (2008)
    I tried the club pro’s and putted the best i have for a long time.
    Has a forum member got one for sale, or know where i can get one from please.

  16. Don

    Aug 18, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Corey Pavin still uses a bronze bull’s eye. Makes Strick’s Odyssey just a youngster. Love to know Corey’s putting average. He’s one of the shortest drivers on tour and can still compete.

    • Peter Schmitt

      Aug 18, 2017 at 2:45 pm

      Oh man. I used to idolize Corey Pavin back in the day. I thought I was so cool when I bought a set of Cleveland VAS irons!

      • Dave C

        Aug 18, 2017 at 10:58 pm

        Did those not look like hossle rocket makers?

  17. Ben Jones

    Aug 18, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    Lee Trevino winning the 74 PGA with a 15 year-old blade putter he found in some lady’s attic. Priceless! Just love the old clubs that keep us going. I still game a Fast 10 3-wood. Its the shaft and the pure looking head. Old Adams stuff is great.

  18. George Walker

    Aug 18, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    Where is Brandt Snedeker’s putter? I have one similar to his and I believe it’s my last.

    • Peter Schmitt

      Aug 18, 2017 at 2:47 pm

      Sned’s and G-Mac’s putters were both on my short list. Ultimately I went with Steve’s because he’s just such a good putter. But yeah, those are both worthy contenders…

    • Rossie

      Aug 19, 2017 at 1:57 am

      Don’t forget Ryan Palmer either. He gamed an old Odyssey dual force rossie ii up until recent. He also still uses ap2 710’s.

  19. TeeBone

    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    As long as Tour players are paid to play equipment, we’ll never know what they would use if they were free to choose whatever they feel is best. But at the end of the day, “it ain’t the clubs”.

  20. Rogerinnz

    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    Nothing wrong with a Great Odyssey Putter.
    Just bought a set of Eye 2 irons this week.
    Flashy vs Functional.
    I recall a Futura thrown into a pond… not an Odyssey…

  21. larrybud

    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    There’s just very little wiggle room for technological enhancements. Drivers are maxed at .860 COR, and balls are maxed (which is why pga driving average hasn’t moved in a dozen years).

    That’s why we see pretty new colors and other things such as adjustable clubs (which IS a great innovation, but mostly for fitters rather than any real improvements which will make a player shoot a lower score.

    In a way, club fitting has hurt the new market. Once you get fitted for a driver, there’s really no reason to get a new one unless the club wears out or your swing changes significantly enough warrant a new fitting. The marketing hype of “longer off the tee” is just that.

  22. OhioGolfDude

    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:44 am

    Fun article Peter! Don’t forget the history of Brandt Snedeker’s bag. Not sure what he’s gaming now, but I know last year at the AT&T Classic Pebble Beach he still had the old TM SuperFast in the bag along with a really old Odyssey Rossie. As for Hideki’s driver, yeah it’s pretty baked but definitely still a viable option. A lot of Cally staffers used the GBB until Epic came out. It only takes a quick view of the WITB section to see some older hangovers, like former Nike staffer Kyle Stanley sticking with an old Covert 5 wood in an otherwise all Titleist setup.

  23. Jim McIntosh

    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:16 am

    I feel really good if I have the newest clubs in my WITB and everybody else has old junk. I want the latest in technology to help my game because I don’t have time to practice hours per day. If it’s new it’s improved and I want the best in my bag. Besides I can sell my old stuff easily for new clubs.

  24. Steven Crowder

    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:03 am

    Nothing wrong with the Aeroburner driver. It’s only 2 years old. I like it better than my 2017 M2.

  25. xjohnx

    Aug 18, 2017 at 10:27 am

    Definitely looks like the entire bottom of Hideki’s GBB was colored with a Sharpie. Wondering if that was something Srixon recommended or demanded or if he’s just expressing himself through art.

  26. Johnnylongballz

    Aug 18, 2017 at 10:13 am

    When I find the putter that I make 492 out of 500 from inside 5 feet I will never change putters again. Until then ……. well, you know.

  27. Holly Sonders

    Aug 18, 2017 at 9:44 am

    Exactly when has a tour pro ever paid $5k for a custom putter?

    • Peter Schmitt

      Aug 18, 2017 at 10:41 am

      5k was a purposely outlandish number. I wasn’t trying to say that they DO spend that much. Frankly I have no idea how much they spend and I don’t need to. I’m saying that even if they DID spend a stupid amount of dough on a club that takes one or two strokes off their rounds, it’s still a big time net positive for them. When guys stick with clubs that are over ~3 years old or so (normal for us but ancient for a tour pro), there’s a reason…

      • Barry

        Aug 19, 2017 at 9:59 am

        What the heck is wrong with you? Would you ever say something like that in real life?

        • Steven Crowder

          Aug 19, 2017 at 2:18 pm

          I would. Don’t know about the other guy.

        • Bester

          Aug 19, 2017 at 4:29 pm

          Golf aint real life it’s better.

    • Jim McIntosh

      Aug 20, 2017 at 1:48 pm

      Can you see your feet when you are putting?

  28. JayG

    Aug 18, 2017 at 9:40 am


    • ActualFacts

      Aug 18, 2017 at 10:33 am

      Exactly!!! Step down to the developmental professional golf tours and I’m sure you’ll see a lot more “surprisingly average” bags. The OEMs gear their marketing strategies towards folks like us (WRX’ers) who crave the latest and greatest by keeping their endorsees fitted and filmed with all of the new-new. Those same your pros could go out with equipment that’s 20 years old and perform just as well. It’s not the equipment. Those guys and gals really are that good.

    • Bester

      Aug 19, 2017 at 4:28 pm

      My clubs I bought last year are broke now cause they don’t hit the ball straight and far anymore. Whats the matter with those useless clubs.

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Opinion & Analysis

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



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



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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Opinion & Analysis

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



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 (

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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