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Golf’s Young Guns Just DON’T CARE!

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After watching Justin Thomas win the PGA Championship on Sunday, it is 100 percent clear to me that the “young guns” today on Tour just do not care. They don’t care about anything or anyone, and this I tell you is a GOOD thing. So what do I mean? I’m glad you asked. Let me list a few of the things that are different about the PGA Tour’s most talented young guns.

Their Fellow Tour Players

The young guns on the PGA Tour don’t care very much how their fellow players are playing. Not only do they want to beat each other, but they want to do it by as many strokes as possible. They amaze me with how well they can keep the pedal to the metal and go as low as possible. What a refreshing way to play; the goal is to not only win, but to do so in dominant fashion. You gotta love it!

The History of the Game

Records are made to be broken, as they say, but for many years records stayed intact. It always seemed like for some reason they just weren’t broken. Case in point, John Cook won the FedEx Classic years ago and was around 23- or 24-under par for the first three rounds. The record on Tour was 27-under, and he finished around 25-under (and won the event).

Today’s young guns would have tried to get it to 30-under without blinking. I’m not saying Cook didn’t try to do so, but he did fall short on one of the easier courses on Tour at that time. I would bet a ton of money that his record would have been shattered if the same thing happened today.

Par or Bogeys 

I don’t think I ever heard that making par was a bad score; in fact, if you shot even par on Tour each week, you made a nice living and almost won a tournament or two. Nowadays on the PGA Tour, par gets you a weekend off. One of the things I like most about the young players of today is that they try to birdie each hole and rarely worry about an early bogey. Back in the day, you were fighting to get back to par. Now it’s all about going as low as you can go.

Fairways

Fairways hit was once an important category on Tour, and Calvin Peete and Fred Funk hit basically all of them. They had great careers. Now, it’s all about “how far” not “how straight.” The young guns bomb it, go find it, and hit it again. The older guys spent a lot of mental and emotional energy on missing fairways. Today, it’s one less thing to worry about, and I like that.

Social Media

I know that social media was not around years ago, but what a perfect way to learn about the private life of your favorite Tour player. Personally, I love hearing a PGA Tour player’s side of the story. I would have loved to hear the thoughts of Jack, Ben, and Arnie back in the day; wouldn’t you?

So basically, what I’m saying is that the younger players of today just play the game differently than my generation, and I absolutely love it. I love the fact that they are longer, shooting in the 50s more often, decimating par… and essentially cannot be stopped. The entire experience is just more fun to watch.

Thanks to the “young guns” for reinventing the game of golf.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 60 people in the world.

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30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Frankie

    Aug 21, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    The average PGA Tour winner birdies 1 of every 3 holes they play and they average around one bogey per round, this hasn’t changed at all…

    • stephenf

      Aug 22, 2017 at 3:32 am

      Yup. And with all the massive advantages in course conditioning, distance measuring, perfect greens, longer equipment, the all-exempt tour, and several other factors, the average score and typical Vardon Trophy-winning scoring average has gone down…what, a little over a shot in something like 50 years?

  2. Oli

    Aug 21, 2017 at 5:25 am

    Seeing this article get many more shanks is further restoring my faith in humanity.

    What a bizarre, coddling submissive cucked out beta male article. You’re better than this Stickney. Make you articles great again!

  3. Peter S

    Aug 21, 2017 at 12:29 am

    So Brooks hit it 65 yards shorter than his ‘big’ driver Weezel…..probably on a driving range rather than a 30 yard wide fairway!

    Golf on tour is a different game than it was pre Pro V1. The average amateur player hasn’t changed but the dynamics of straight or long in the Pro game are definitely biased towards long now! Doesn’t mean it is better though. All the great courses of the world are functionally irrelevant to the current crop. No strategy, just smash it and chase it.

    You dropped the ball USGA/R&A

  4. Gary Cook

    Aug 20, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    When you and your family are financially secure, it is easy to go for broke and fire at every pin because you are not worried about missing the cut, feeding your family, and paying college tuition for your future kids. This is due to large endorsement contacts and corporate outing paydays the the young “bucks” today earn versus “back then”.

    Nothing against this advantage.

    The PGA pros of “the early days” did not start to win majors until their early thirties, I believe, because by then they had made enough cuts, a few wins, and their family could survive if they missed a few cuts. Financially secure.

    Thoughts?

    • George

      Aug 21, 2017 at 1:00 pm

      Besides a few pro golfers, Most of these guys come from wealthier families. I dont think money has ever been a issue for most of them

  5. Paul K

    Aug 20, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    This is great, everyone clamoring on about how all these guys care about is endorsement this and the new equipment that. First of all, the beloved Arnold Palmer was the first to break into the endorsement game and make big money off of selling his ability to play golf. Regardless of what drives these young guys to play well, they still play well. They are still driven to play better. And can we please stop with the whole “if Jack and Arnie and Lee and Player had this equipment…” my gosh give it a rest. It’s a damn level playing field out there. No matter the shape of the golf course or the equipment available to the players, it’s a level playing field. Whether it’s 1970 or 2017, it’s a level playing field. It’s all relative and today’s top golfers have much greater competition from much earlier on in their careers, much more pressure and scrutiny from the media and fans, and an incredible amount of pressure from the companies who endorse them. It’s an entirely different world and game now, so they have to play it differenty. Jack didn’t have a Morning Drive show dissecting his every move from the previous tournament from Monday-Wednesday on why he didn’t win, or why his swing doesn’t work, or what he needs to changed or where he failed. These guys are under a microscope every step of the way and it’s great to see them take this sport by the balls and succeed.

  6. Weezel

    Aug 20, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    And to everyone hear saying the “equipment” is difference. Let’s all take a look in the mirror and admit that the advances in equipment has benefited us, the regular golfer, more than it has the professionals. I saw Brooks Koepka hit a persimmon driver 305+ the other day. Holding the pros to standards of the past while we reap the new rewards is very hypocritical.

  7. Weezel

    Aug 20, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    This is such a great take and one that has shown to be controversial to a lot of people. I think I bridge that gap between the younger generation and the old school, and this is refreshing to read. Just because things were done one way before doesn’t mean it has to stay like that. We are not destroying the game of golf, rather we are making it our own. Much the same way Jack and Arnie did before. Because players hang out with each other and are friends off the course does not at all mean that they do not care about winning. We all play with our friends every weekend and when there is something on the line, we want to win no matter what. I enjoy golf more when playing with my good friends, having some drinks and blasting some music from the cart. Talking in my swing is the least of my concerns as well. Maybe if we all lightened up a little a show how golf can bring people together we can help spread the goodness of the game. Cheers!

  8. Sam

    Aug 20, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    In a decade we’re going to see the launch monitor generation. I expect to see half the field look like ball striking robots

  9. Patricknorm

    Aug 20, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Tom you nailed it perfectly. I’m a 7.8 index (63 years old) and yesterday I played a scramble tournament with three young guns 23,24, 22 years. ( indexes 2.5, 4.5 and 15.5). We shot 11 under ( par 72) on a very tough course( 132slope) . Two players could bomb their drives 330 when needed. To keep things rational we had to rotate a yellow ball amongst ourselves so that if we lost this ball we had to ante up $20.00. All three of these young players played without fear but they were always wanting to make birdies or eagles.
    The attitude of young people is to emulate the Rickie Fowlers, Rory Mcilroys, Dustin Johnsons, Justin Thomas, Jordan Speiths, etc. Their yardages are very similar off the tee or on approach shots.
    At our course the 18th is an uphill par 4 440 yards. Two of our youngest players bombed their drives over 330 yards. We used gps to verify distances. My drives go about on average 230 yards. I’ve never had an approach that close ever. Like I said, Tom hit the nail squarely in the head. Yes the equipment they used is better than we played with 30 years ago, but long is long.

  10. Peter S

    Aug 20, 2017 at 6:57 am

    So Tom,
    Tell me again how…Bomb it anywhere, chase it and gouge it toward the green is good? Strategy disappears! The equipment fiasco from the USGA has created these types of players! Get them on firm and fast running conditions with wind…and they have no idea how to play! The US Open would have shown that..but then the wind didn’t blow! The average PGA tour event is as boring as ****.

  11. Jacked_Loft

    Aug 20, 2017 at 4:17 am

    It isn’t “not caring”, but more the younger players have been through a more rigorous seeding. Harder competition early on (already from the junior level and then into college) seasons the young players much quicker than previous generations. Don’t believe me? Just check out how many scratch players were in college when Jack was turning pro. The young guns of today have to play more aggressively or they just won’t win. The talent is just that deep today.

  12. Heich

    Aug 20, 2017 at 2:59 am

    I enjoy golf anyway, regardless of when or who or how much. But, yeah these kids seem like they don’t care that much? You think? Well it is easier for them to make good money, and real good money. So that does help to help them relax a bit, that even if they don’t make it into the top 10 or 20 every week to make decent wages like they had to back in the day – they can still make decent money just by showing up, so it may seem like they’re just course-gouging sometimes – but then again, some of them can flat out play and make even more money. And that’s just how it is in society everywhere now, isn’t it? You can be smart and make real stupid money too.

  13. Lou

    Aug 19, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    Can we stop calling them “Young Guns”? Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Dermont Mulroney were Young Guns. The guys on the PGA tour who are under 30 and win a lot (or come kinda close every once in a while, in the case of Dick Fowler) are just, well, guys on the PGA tour who are under 30 and win a lot.

    • HK

      Aug 20, 2017 at 11:22 am

      facts don’t change their ages. they are young no matter the number of wins. you don’t call Kiefer Sutherland a young gun cuz he’s not young any more. pro’ly our ‘young guns’ here don’t even know who KS is… so i have no problem calling young guns young guns.

      • Lou

        Aug 20, 2017 at 8:23 pm

        You realize I was referencing the cinematic masterpiece “Young Guns,” right? I miss 80’s movies.

  14. R

    Aug 19, 2017 at 10:46 pm

    Might be the BIGGEST SHANK EVER.
    Hogan Snead Nelson Casper Player Nicklaus
    Palmer Watson Miller Floyd Wieskoph Watkins
    Tiger Norman Els Couples Pavin Crenshaw Love III
    Seve Phil and on and on. They needed to win
    and made sure they could win.
    Not much money as there is now. Courses were
    Never any where near as in good a shape as now.
    Not to mention the equipment out there now.
    These New young Guys have great talent and are fun to watch. But they have just about everything
    free now. So much money thrown at them.
    And yes they want to beat the pants off of everyone.
    But to say the guys of yesterday didn’t is BS.
    Tiger wanted to beat you by 20 and not just 1.
    I would love to see these guys from yesterday’s respond.

    • Heich

      Aug 20, 2017 at 2:57 am

      Yup. Lee Trevino tells about everything every time he’s on TV these days, especially on the Feherty show, he spills the beans.

  15. Barry

    Aug 19, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    Sure, but Rickie Fowler is great at playing good enough to get on tv, but he’s not a winner like Spieth or Thomas

  16. Rwj

    Aug 19, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    They don’t have to worry about winning to survive. They are clearing millions without winning. Wins are just icing to help pay to keep the models around

  17. iShankEveryArticle

    Aug 19, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    Be careful Tom, don’t want to upset all the old fogies on this website.

    • stephenf

      Aug 22, 2017 at 3:34 am

      Right. Because anybody who comes back with a substantive argument that conclusively disproves this nonsense is an old fogey.

      The problem is this kind of adolescent thinking in the first place. Yes, you.

  18. Tom F. Stickney II

    Aug 19, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    Theses kids rock! I love that they just say you can’t beat me and believe it 100%!

    • Todd

      Aug 19, 2017 at 9:16 pm

      That’s just macho trash talk. What they fear is the golf course and their ability to beat the layout. Every pro is filled with doubts and questions about how to solve the golf course problems.

  19. Brooky

    Aug 19, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    Eh, I’m not buying this. To play any professional sport at an elite level, you have to have a relentless drive to perform your personal best every time you compete. This hasn’t changed. Golfers have always tried card the lowest score possible.

    Sports evolve with time and so does equipment. Young golfers today practice much more than golfers used to and there have been some incredible technological advances in golf equipment over the last couple decades. This is why current players are posting some of the lowest scores ever, not because they “don’t care.”

    • AlphaGolfer

      Aug 19, 2017 at 8:06 pm

      Not only the equipment but also the bio-mechanic sciences that explains the golf swing in factual detail. We have instrumentation not only to measure ball flight but also measure body mechanics for optimal performance. And add to that the mental discipline in sports psychology. There is big $$$£££¥¥¥ for the winners. Just ask Tiger.

  20. rh30

    Aug 19, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    As I’m reading this, Davis Love III is leading the tour event this week. Hmmmm.

  21. Clark G

    Aug 19, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    How about this — the young guns are driven by equipment endorsement incentives and the lower they go the more money they receive from their sponsoring OEM.
    What clubs did they win with is the usual comment here. It’s not the player, it’s the winning clubs that interest the buying fans. Or, what wins on Sunday sells on Monday and that’s proven too.

  22. Andy c

    Aug 19, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    But how do you know they don’t care?…….. it’s just your opinion hashed as fact really isn’t it?

    What a load of old codswallop this article is……

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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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