Connect with us

Opinion & Analysis

When Golf Turns Deadly…

Published

on

The story you are about to read is largely fictitious. I say “largely” because it is based on an actual phone call that I received one day from a man that I had never met. The story that follows is based on that same conversation.

I later found out that the scenario that this man described was a product of his imagination, the purpose of which, was to convey in no uncertain terms, his level of desperation. What I would soon learn was that for this man golf was more than just a game. He was euphoric when he played well, but when his game went south it was as if his life was coming to an end. And at that point for him, THE GAME TURNED DEADLY.

Before reading on you should know, that as the saying goes, the man who you will soon meet is not “the sharpest knife in the drawer.” This leads to some humorous moments as he pours his heart out to the operator. That is where our story begins.

I was working as a dispatcher part-time for the local police department. There were three of us, including my supervisor. The phone rang and it was my turn to take the call. “911” I said. “What is your emergency?”

“I’m standing on the edge of a bridge,” the panicked voice began. I wasn’t sure but it sounded like a man on the other end.

“Slow down sir. Which bridge,” I asked in calm voice, remembering my training.

“I’m not going to giveaway my location. You’ll send someone.”

“Sir, we are just trained to ask that question in case there is an emergency,” I countered.

“Would jumping off a bridge qualify as an emergency,” he said sarcastically.

“Yes sir, that certainly would qualify as an emergency.”

“I’ve stood in this exact spot before. This time I’m going to do it,” he said with what sounded like a certain degree of conviction.

“Sir, you are going to do what this time,” I asked?

“I’m going to throw them in,” he replied.

“Are there others with you that are in danger,” I questioned.

“You bet they’re in danger—big time.”

“What do you mean by THEM,“ I asked with some concern?

“I don’t want to talk about them now,” he said. And then adding, “In any case, they’re dead to me.”

I switch my microphone to the off position. My supervisor had, up until that point, been listening only to my side of the conversation.

“Sharon, I’m not sure, but we might have a genuine problem here,” I said. “A distraught man. A possible suicide with hostages. Maybe you should alert the police so they’re ready to move on this quickly,” I added.

She nodded in agreement. I switched my mic back on.

“Sir, I need your help. Who is there with you,” I stated authoritatively. I must have thrown him off balance, because this time he answered.

“You want to know who THEY are,” he said, his voice becoming more animated. “THEY are my golf clubs. And here is is something else. Based on the number of bizarre shots that I hit with them, I’d swear sometimes that they are the spawn of the devil.”

That was the first time in my career that I’d heard that excuse.

“Let me get this right. You’re standing on the edge of a bridge with the river below. You have your golf clubs with you and you are thinking about throwing them over the railing. Do I have that right,” I asked?

“I didn’t tell you there is a river below. How did you know that,” he asked suspiciously?

“Why else would there be a bridge,” I answered?

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I never thought of it that way,” his voice drifting off at the end.

“You said you were getting ready to throw your clubs over the edge of the bridge,” I said.

“Yes, I’m very close,” he said.

There was a long pause as if he were thinking, and then he added, “And I might just join them. “

I switched off my mic again. Sharon was now sitting next to me listening to both sides of the conversation. “What do you think. Do we have a jumper?”

“That’s hard to say exactly,” she said. “And we don’t have a location yet, so it is a moot point,”

“Maybe the he police could determine his location using cell towers,” I suggested.

“That’s a good idea,“ she said. “I’ll get them on the line while you’re talking to him.”

I nodded in agreement. I switched my mic back on just in time to hear him say, “I don’t think you are taking me seriously. I have my golf bag right here. I’m hold it in my arms like a damn’ baby. Me or them?”

I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was becoming more and more agitated. “Don’t jump,” I said emphatically. He was quiet for a moment. I thought now was a good time to ask. “What ‘s your name?”

“Dan” he replied.

“What’s your last name Dan?” I asked.

“I’d rather not say right now,” he replied

“That’s fine, Dan. We’ll do it your way.”

“What should I do next,” he said? “My swing has gone to hell.”

“I can help you. I’m a golf professional,” I said.

“Come on. You’re a switchboard operator,” he said with a measure of doubt in his voice.

“I’m only doing this part-time. I’ve been teaching the game for more than 40 years,” I explained.

“How lucky does that make me,” he said with just the slightest hint of optimism in his voice.

“Dan, I want you to stay in contact with me. Do not hang up. Can you do that for me,” I asked? I sensed that something was missing in his life: maybe a meaningful connection, another person who cared both about him — and, of course, his golf clubs.

“Yes, I can do that,” he replied contritely. “What should I do next,” he asked.

“Dan, I want to ask you a question. Do you believe I can help you,” I asked him point-blank.

“Yes, I think you can help me. But this is serious. Like I told you earlier—my golf game has gone to hell.”

“Yes, so you said. Would you like to hear what I think after listening to you, “ I asked?

“Sure,” he replied.”

“I think you’ve been traumatized, and because of what you’ve experienced, you‘re are not thinking clearly. There is no need for you to jump off the bridge. Now your clubs —that’s a different matter. Of course, that means that unless you quit the game entirely, you’ll have to buy another set to replace them.”

I continued, “Have they been giving you a lot of trouble lately,” I asked?

“They have dragged me through hell and back,” he answered. “Especially the driver. I’ve never driven the ball so poorly.”

“What should I do next, he asked?

“Dan, are you familiar with the phrase from the bible that says, ‘If thy eye offend thee then pluck it out,'” I asked.

“There is nothing wrong with my eyes. I have 20-20 vision,” he answered with obvious pride.

“Dan, you missed the point completely. I’m referring to your driver. I think you would agree that your driver offends you. And so, the bible is suggesting that you should ‘pluck it out,’ which in this case means dispose of it,” I explained this point as if I were his bible-school teacher.

“That wouldn’t bother me one bit,” he replied. “That club has always given me the creeps. Maybe it is possessed.”

“Could be,” I said. “Have you ever seen the head spin around in a circle,” I asked jokingly?

“Yes,” he said excitedly. “There was that one time when it came loose..”

“No, Dan. That wasn’t what I was talking about,” I replied.

“OK. What’s next,” Dan asked?

“You need to show your clubs who’s in charge. The inmates are running the asylum. I want you to take the driver out of your bag.”

“I’ve got it. What’s next?”

“How has the headcover been treating you?”

“Fine, I don’t have a beef with the headcover.”

“OK. Take it off and set it aside,” I said. “Now take the club in your right hand and wrap your fingers tightly around the handle.

“How many knuckles should I see when I grip it?”

“Dan, forget about your knuckles.”

“Where should the “V” of my right hand be pointed?”

“You can forget about that,” I replied.

“OK. Now what?”

“Wait, are you right-handed?”

“Yes.”

“I want you to lift the driver above your head and then smash it down on the pavement as hard as you can. I continued, “And if you see a black puff of smoke as it hits the ground, then it’s absolute proof that the club was possessed.”

“Really?”

“No, I’m kidding you. Go ahead now,” I said with some authority again.

“Really?”

“Just do it,” I said. “You’ll feel better,” I added.

“OK. Here goes. I’m going to put the phone down. Hold on.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” I said. The next second I heard a crashing sound. In a moment, he was back.

“I did it,” he said. “But there wasn’t a puff of black smoke,” he added.

“Dan, we talked about that. “How do you feel?”

“Great,” he said. “Now what.”

“Take the pieces and throw them over the top of the bridge. A sort of burial at sea without all of the pomp and circumstance.”

I could hear him fumbling around in the background. “OK. I did it. What’s next.”

“Well, the rest of the clubs just saw what you did to the driver. They are probably pretty scared thinking they’re next. I’d suggest that you put them in the trunk of your car,” I said.

The phone went quiet for a moment and then he was back. “OK. I put my clubs in the trunk. Now what?”

“Did you have any problems?”

“The 4-iron game me a little trouble. His was sticking up out of the bag. I think he was looking for a way to escape. I slapped him upside the head and he slipped back down into the bag.” he said.

“What did the other clubs do,” I asked.

“They just stood there looking. I think the 4-iron was the ring-leader,” he added.

“You may be right about that, but that’s water under the bridge, I replied.”

“Very funny.”

“Which brings up the subject of the bridge. Which one are you standing on,” I asked.

“The Mendota Bridge,” he said quietly.

“Dan, here’s what I’d like you to do next. I’d like you to climb into your car, put the key in the ignition and start driving. You are only 15 minutes away.”

“Away from where,” he questioned.

“You are 15 minutes away from my home course, which is located on 66th Street and Cedar Avenue next to the airport—Rich Acres.

“I know where it’s located. I played there once a few year ago,” he volunteered as his mood seemed to brighten.

“I done here in five minutes. I’ll meet you there and give you a free lesson. How’s that for a deal,” I asked?

There was quiet on the other end. “Are you still there,” I questioned.

“Yes, I’m here,” he said.

“What’s the problem,” I asked?

“Do you have a driver that I can borrow?”

Your Reaction?
  • 59
  • LEGIT1
  • WOW1
  • LOL21
  • IDHT1
  • FLOP6
  • OB0
  • SHANK18

As a teacher, Rod Lidenberg reached the pinnacle of his career when he was named to GOLF Magazine's "Top 100" Teachers in America. The PGA Master Professional and three-time Minnesota PGA "Teacher of the Year" has over his forty-five year career, worked with a variety of players from beginners to tour professionals. He especially enjoys training elite junior players, many who have gone on to earn scholarships at top colleges around the country, in addition to winning several national amateur championships. Lidenberg maintains an active schedule teaching at Bluff Creek Golf Course Chanhassen, Minnesota, in the summer and The Golf Zone, Chaska, Minnesota, in the winter months. As a player, he competed in two USGA Public Links Championships; the first in Dallas, Texas, and the second in Phoenix, Arizona, where he finished among the top 40. He also entertained thousands of fans playing in a series of three exhibition matches beginning in 1972, at his home course, Edgewood G.C. in Fargo, North Dakota, where he played consecutive years with Doug Sanders, Lee Trevino and Laura Baugh. As an author, he has a number of books in various stages of development, the first of which will be published this fall entitled "I Knew Patty Berg." In Fall 2017, he will be launching a new Phoenix-based instruction business that will feature first-time-ever TREATMENT OF THE YIPS.

Continue Reading
12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. truckee golf

    Oct 5, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    Nice picture of Donner Lake!

  2. Vancouver Mellencamp

    Sep 11, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    No.

  3. ImVinnie

    Sep 11, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Wow…… those were 5 mins I wont get back.

  4. Bishop

    Sep 11, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    So, how’d the lesson go…? Ha ha

  5. Grammar police

    Sep 10, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    I stopped reading at “their”

  6. Al

    Sep 9, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    I no longer carry my beloved driver.
    I just mounted it above the fireplace along with an old musket I bought at a pawn shop.
    My 3-wood is all I carry and I hit it 180 yards, maybe 200 at best, straight and narrow. Sometimes I can squeeze a fade out of it.
    I also reduced my set to a 7-wood and 5-7-9 irons with three wedges and a Bullseye putter. I carry them in a ‘Sunday’ bag along with balls, gloves and tees, the bare minimum. No umbrella so on occasion I play in the rain — wet.
    I walk alone during twilight golf and play 9 holes with two balls. I am a recluse on the golf course, a 9-hdcp playing recluse. Life is good.

    • acemandrake

      Sep 10, 2017 at 9:24 am

      Similar to you, Al: I walk (& carry) 9 holes but with fewer clubs…12° Driver, 5 hybrid, 8, PW, SW, putter.

      “Life is good”

      • Al

        Sep 10, 2017 at 12:41 pm

        Udaman, aceman…. but you are still holding on to the fantasy of the driver whereas I’ve abandoned that dream? Are you thinking about dropping the driver and packing a 3-wood? Otherwise your quiver of clubs are admirable. You are truly a golf philosopher who “knows thyself”.

    • Al

      Sep 10, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      Oh, I failed to mention that my “9-hdcp” is not with only one ball in play…. it’s “best ball”, since I play the 2 balls on each shot. It’s a “mulligan” handicap. LOL

      • Double Mocha Man

        Sep 10, 2017 at 3:12 pm

        I oftentimes play just 9 holes in the morning… going off the back 9 before the crowds have turned. So nobody ahead of me, nobody close behind me. I’ll play 2 or 3 balls for fine-tuning of the ol’ golf swing. But my first ball is the one I score with. But it’s still a “cheat”. Since I generally play alone for these rounds I can’t count the score for my handicap anyway.

        • JimW

          Sep 11, 2017 at 4:31 pm

          And if you play 3 balls for 9 holes that’s like playing 27 holes (3 balls x 9 holes).
          You already know how to walk, it’s scoring with the ball that is the challenge.

  7. Double Mocha Man

    Sep 9, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    That was a long route to the punchline.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Opinion & Analysis

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

Published

on

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.

Your Reaction?
  • 81
  • LEGIT15
  • WOW10
  • LOL2
  • IDHT1
  • FLOP3
  • OB2
  • SHANK16

Continue Reading

Opinion & Analysis

Oh, To Be An (Oregon) Duck

Published

on

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.

Your Reaction?
  • 23
  • LEGIT2
  • WOW3
  • LOL2
  • IDHT1
  • FLOP7
  • OB2
  • SHANK26

Continue Reading

Opinion & Analysis

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

Published

on

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. 

To Learn More

Your Reaction?
  • 29
  • LEGIT21
  • WOW0
  • LOL0
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP1
  • OB0
  • SHANK1

Continue Reading

19th Hole

Trending