Over the past 15 years, I’ve had a front-row seat to elite junior golf. I have watched more than 1,500 rounds of golf and evaluated upward of 10,000 junior golfers. Over that time, I can remember only four truly great rounds of competitive golf in big-time moments. The rest were average, below average, or wildly disappointing for a group of golfers who are very, very good, but not PGA Tour-level great.
The implication is simple; most junior golfers — something like 99.99 percent of them — have no chance of earning a PGA Tour card. I don’t say this to scare you or your loved one; I say this because it’s the truth, and it might motivate Junior. To play on the PGA Tour, you have to be in the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent to have a chance, and even then making millions by playing golf professionally is unlikely. For every Rickie Fowler there’s a Ty Tryon; and then there are thousands more who had professional aspirations that Tyron and Fowler used to whoop up on. And there’s always a constant crop of new, PGA-Tour ready golfers that cycle in every year.
For the ones who are trying to “make it” and believe they have the talent and work ethic, I have compiled a list of tips that can help the best of the best increase their odds of making it to the PGA Tour.
20-Year Life Cycle: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Every sport has a life cycle. For example, gymnastics has a life cycle of approximately seven years; students specialize at about 13 years old, and their careers end when they are about 20 (if they’re lucky). For golfers, that life cycle is closer to 20 years and hopefully longer. That means that an elite golfer who takes up the game at 6 should not expect to become a world-class golfer or touring pro until age 26. This presents a unique problem; a lot happens between the ages of 6 and 26 to a person, including puberty, college, dating, and so much more. Even the most driven person is going to have a problem staying completely focused on one thing for 20 years. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so it’s important that all aspiring golfers take breaks and time away from the game to relax and rejuvenate. Balance is extremely important.
There Is A Formula: It’s Called Hard Work and Planning
As a coach and mentor helping junior golfers and their parents, I always start at the same place; realize that what you want has a simple, straightforward process. You need to set a goal, get the proper support, work way harder than you think you should, and evaluate the results along the way. I believe strongly in this process and have seen great results, even for those who eventually focus on something other than golf. Why do they become successful? Because if a junior learns to set goals, work hard, evaluate, and repeat, it works. The problem is not the process, but sticking to it.
The Secret Sauce: Motivation
Beyond teaching the process I highlighted above, as a player or parent you must also understand that being motivated and staying motivated is a large differentiator in sports, as in life. The story of the kid who plays basketball from the moment he wakes up until the moment he goes to sleep is not an urban myth; it’s a simple fact. Some kids put in a lot more hours, and the success stories generally come from this group.
For PGA Tour players, if you aren’t motivated or built this way, then remember there is a kid out there who is. He or she is out there practicing when you’re texting or hanging at the mall with your friends. And he or she is likely to beat you… and beat you bad.
Parents can lead their kids to the foot of the mountain, but they can’t climb it for them. What motivates your child will change throughout his or her life, and it is your job to help junior find it. For example, when a player is younger, they may enjoy golf because they get an ice cream at the end of every round. Then they might enjoy the ability to beat their peers, and later the ability to earn a college scholarship. None of these motivations are right or wrong. Your job as a parent is to help your child have the motivation to keep following the process of setting goals, getting support, working hard, and evaluating.
Early Specialization May Not Be All It’s Cracked Up To Be
Science suggests that juniors who specialize early are at a greater risk of injury. Dr. Neeru Jayanthi of Loyola University found that early specialization in a single sport is one of the strongest predictors of injury. Athletes in the study who specialized were 70-to-93 percent more likely to be injured than children who played multiple sports. A 2013 American Medical Society for Sports Medicine survey found that 88 percent of college athletes surveyed participated in more than one sport as a child.
Other sports can also help junior golfers develop different skills. For example, playing baseball might help junior golfers fine tune their ambient motor system. Soccer might help golfers improve their cardiovascular system. Tennis might teach them about controlling their emotions. In the future, it is likely that junior golfers will draw on these experiences to help them in their golf careers.
The Canadian Class Of 2009: Who Made It and Who Didn’t
The year 2009 was an awesome one for Canadian amateur golf; Nick Taylor was the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world for approximately 20 weeks and Matt Hill won every competition he played in during his spring semester at NC State, including the NCAA Championships. This was also the year that a gentleman from the University of Louisville named Adam Hadwin turned pro. In 2010, a player from Boise State named Graeme DeLaet turned pro.
At the time, nobody paid much attention to Hadwin or DeLaet. It was all about Taylor and Hill. Fast forward seven years: Hadwin and DeLeat are PGA Tour players and Hadwin is a PGA Tour winner. This goes to show you that early talent is not always the strongest predictor or longevity.
The Best Advice I Ever Heard
The best advice I have heard on this subject comes from Steve Runge, Head Men’s Golf Coach at the University of Central Arkansas. I once asked Runge, a former Ohio State stand-out and a three-time winner on the Nationwide Tour, “Who makes it and who doesn’t?” Without hesitation he responded, “It’s simple. If you’re good enough, you will make it.”