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The Yip-Proof Grip: Golf’s Holy Grail?

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Once upon a time I knew a professional who, despite being a prodigious ball-striker, never became well known beyond our little neck of the woods. He hit the ball long and straight, nearly every time. These were towering shots, the kind that made you stop on the range and just watch, and they came with almost Moe Norman-like repetitive ease.  Despite his near generational talent, his name never became household, but a breakdown in his machine-like ball-striking wasn’t to blame. It was the smallest, simplest of golf shots that kept that professional from the annals of golfing legends. Short putts, and the affliction known as the yips.

Aaaah, those maddening short putts, and that scourge upon humanity known as the yips.  The yips affect golfers of every ability, professional or amateur, in situations ranging from PGA Tour Events to $2 Nassaus at the local muni. And they’re not just a golfer’s affliction, as the term has become ubiquitous with struggles in baseball, basketball, football, tennis, cricket, and even darts. Don’t know what the yips are? Well, then I advise you, no I implore you, to click back to that What’s in the Bag article you skipped over or something similarly innocuous until the word, thought, and curiosity passes like a lingering black cloud. If you insist on reading on, however, let me just say up front that, remember, I warned you.

The term “yips” was first coined by Tommy Armour to describe a mental block that resulted in his inexplicable ability to make extremely short putts. We’re talking kick-ins here, the type even your most cutthroat opponent would say, “Pick it up.” Since that time, the term’s notoriety has moved beyond just struggles with short putts to describe mental blocks in nearly any aspect of the game, as well as mental blocks athletes experience in many other sports. The unifying theme when it comes to the yips, across disciplines, has come to be recognized as the sudden inability to execute any athletic act that an athlete has already seemingly mastered; an act that would be considered mostly a formality under normal circumstances, yet which suddenly isn’t when confronted with even the slightest bit of pressure.

Now when it comes to professional golf, Tommy Armour was by no means the first, or an anomaly. The yips have either stunted or de-railed the competitive careers of men like Vardon, Hogan, Snead, Watson, Langer, Baker-Finch, O’Meara, Duval, Els, Garcia and innumerable others, like that professional I once knew, whose names never rose to the public awareness specifically because of them. Even the once-perceived untouchable iron-clad psyche of a certain Mr. Woods is now apparently affected, and whispers that they, not a balking back, are keeping him from competing, have become too loud to ignore.

At the amateur level, the picture may be even bleaker. A quick scan of Mr. Google for yips will give you more than 22 million results, highlighted with potential fixes advertised by everyone from the biggest names in the industry to those who range from the obscure to the bizarre. The yips have become such a deep emotional scar among many average golfers that just using the term in an article’s title could, in web terminology, be fairly described as click-bait (gotcha, didn’t I?). One recent study even claims that more than 25 percent of the people who give up golf each year do so because of some form or another of the yips. If this is true, finding a cure might be the most effective thing the PGA and all our allied associations could do to stem the tide of players leaving the game. But is it possible? With all our combined resources, the advances of modern instruction methods, as well as breakthroughs in both science and psychology, can we not discover a means, a mantra, a method, or an indefatigable set of mechanics to defeat this scourge? There must be a yip-proof grip. Well, just maybe, and this is where I come in.

I’ve studied this creature (what it’s often called in baseball), for a long, long, time. I’ve read everything from the Mayo Clinic studies to the studies of Dr. Debbie Crews of the University of Arizona. I’ve talked to PGA Tour Putting Gurus Dave Stockton and Marius Filmalter, Dr. Tom Hanson (a former New York Yankees mental game coach), and countless others who profess to know more than a bit about the condition than the average bear. I’ve investigated the obscure, the bizarre, and the holistic, as well as cutting-edge therapies that have come about as a result of work being done to help the men and women of our armed forces to combat the demons of PTSD. I’ve talked with hypnotists, scientists, therapists, psychologists, and at least a few other ists that I’m sure I can’t remember what their actual practice was. I’ve listened to Shambhala Warriors, EFT practitioners, NLP experts, and other individuals who might most politely be described as eccentric. I’ve read the stories of those who’ve bested the beast, lived to fight another day, and those unfortunate souls who remain lost in the morass. I’ve heard theories, both scientific and sensationalistic, watched transformations, and seen many come back from the precipice, while seeing others driven right to the brink. I’ve rescued badly abused equipment, that which had only recently been hailed a savior, swiftly and suddenly broken or abandoned like a scorned lover. And I’ve seen equipment talked to, cajoled, reasoned with, and whispered to in ways that would best be reserved for an actual lover.

And to what do we see this behavior attributed? The simple act of negotiating a small white ball into an awaiting hole nearly three times its size a mere pace from where we are standing? We’re not talking about putting a square peg in a round hole here; it’s actual child’s play, an act a child would likely find boring after a short while due to its relative simplicity. So what is it about an act that is so simple that it can cause grown men and women to behave in ways more common to nursery school playgrounds, soccer hooligans, and Oakland Raider fans?

Now if you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet a large portion of you are doing so because you’re in danger of becoming one of the 25 percent, and you’re just about to the point where you’re getting irritated because you suspect that I’m teasing you with platitudes and ultimately trying to sell you something. So trust me when I say this; I didn’t bring you here to take advantage of your pain. As someone who’s not only deeply invested in growing this great game, but someone whose also been down that dark and dusty third world road before and found a way back from the wilderness, I wanted to leave the porch lights on for my fellow sufferers so that you can find your way home too. This is where it get’s a bit tricky, though, so stick with me just a moment longer and I promise, as a certain politician did a few years back, to at least give you some directions to that place called hope.

For starters, let me just say that the reality of everything we know appears to be this. There is no pill, no vaccine, no medication, and no magic bullet. We’re not talking about arthritis, diabetes, or high blood-pressure here, disorders with heavily studied and clearly defined and proven treatment strategies. Even the famed Mayo Clinic, who did its level best to categorize the yips as something clinical (Focal Dystonia), ultimately threw their hands up by only going so far as to claim that they may be a form. There is no be-all, end-all, cure-all solution that will end this affliction once and for all for all of us, because there is no singular reason for why you, me, or anyone else ends up in this place. And while that may sound a bit disappointing on the surface, it’s one of the most wonderful aspects of our humanity. We are all very different people. Every golfer’s mind is as different as his or her fingerprints, and histories, backgrounds, genetic make-ups, predispositions, personalities, anxieties, and abilities. Since we are all as varied and individual as the stripes on a Zebra, the paths each of us wanders down to end up having one type of yips or another are innumerable. So are the roads home, because in the end what home looks like, feels like, smells like, and tastes like will be very different at every address.

About a decade ago, Hank Haney (a long-time yips sufferer) wrote a book he titled, “Fix the Yips Forever.” In a follow-up article, he claimed that he had reservations about that title, and while he gave his reasons for those reservations, what he didn’t exactly articulate (but what I sensed in his explanation) was that he wasn’t really so sure there was a forever. Forever is a very long time, and despite the fact that your friend, your neighbor, Bernhard Langer, Sergio Garcia, and even Mr. Woods appear at times to have finally beat them, their Yip-Proof grip on that place is often tenuous at best. Those of you who’ve either dealt with this condition, or know someone who has, likely have heard the saying, “once a yipper, always a yipper” to describe those who’ve found a short-term fix through a grip change, equipment change, or something else, but who have at some point gone back to yipping again once the novelty of the new and improved method has worn off because they, quote, “Haven’t addressed the underlying causes of why they yip in the first place.” And while I believe there is much more truth (and much more to be learned) in that second quote that the first, I also believe that our fixation on finding a fix for the yips is somewhat akin to mankind’s never-ending quest for the Holy Grail. And before you let that discourage you, let me say why that’s actually OK.

No player, of golf or any other sport, has ever found a method, a mind-set, or some form of mechanics that were so fail-safe, so fool-proof, and so indelibly imprinted that it allowed them to go on and dominate their respective sport indefinitely. Even those in golf who’ve appeared to come close — Hogan, Nicklaus, Woods — have suffered more downs than ups and always ultimately came back down to earth at some point after tasting their moments of success. If Ben Hogan really had a “secret,” don’t you think he would have surely used it before his own yips drove him from competition? And if Tiger’s psyche was truly as iron-clad as always claimed, don’t you think he could have used it to win at least one major in the last 9 years despite all his many injuries?

If we found the answer, you see, that quest would end, and along with it so would the hopes for finding ways to improve the person or golfer that we are in ways and in places that we may have initially never considered looking and the benefits and growth we would reap from that quest would never be realized. They say there is often far more to be learned from failure than success. Success is transient in anything, and in no way ever guaranteed. That’s what makes it taste as sweet as it does when we finally do get to sample a little bit of it, that, and the fact that while we at times can delude ourselves into believing that we’ve got it all figured out and it will never again leave us, deep down, we know we really don’t.

So just in case you’ve missed my point here, and think I’m dashing the last of your hopes on the hard rocks of reality, I guess the question of whether or not I, or anyone else can really help you work through or get over any kind of performance mental block, whether you want to call it the yips or something else, begs to be answered. The answer is yes, absolutely. The road to working through those problems, however, getting past that mental block or finally ditching those yips once and for freaking all, almost certainly won’t look the same for you as it will someone else. And what you perceive getting over them to look like, how you envision it, what your expectations are, and what you’re willing to accept, will definitely play the largest role not only in how you get there, but once you’ve decided that you actually are. I can’t make you not feel nervous. At 80 years old, Frank Sinatra, one of the greatest performers of all time, said he still got nervous when he walked out on stage. He still wondered if he’d forget his lines, was still afraid he might not be able to hit his notes once he got out there, and yet he still took those steps. And whether you’re a singer, a golfer, or in any other kind of situation where you want to perform in a specific way under the spotlight, I can promise you that, like Frank said, even the most seasoned of us can feel those butterflies, those nerves, that anxiety, or whatever else you’d like to call it once it becomes important to us. And that really is okay.

In the end, I contend, if you’re still walking out on that stage, still searching, still experimenting, still fighting, still looking for help, and still counting yourself among the rest of us who are still swinging, then to a certain extent you’re already there. And as long as you continue to do so, you’ll find your game again, your guru, your grail, or your yip-proof grip. And while it likely won’t last forever, nothing ever does. So stay in the game, enjoy those ups and downs, the maddening inconsistency of it all, and love the fact that when it comes to golf it very likely isn’t the kill, but the thrill of the chase. And while I’m here to help, whether it’s the chunks or the chili-dips, the skulls and shanks, the hooks and slices, or even that wicked case of the yips, and I can help you cure them all. Whether it be for a day, a week, a month, or even a lifetime, I will consider it my biggest accomplishment if I’ve helped you resolve to stay in the game and never stop chasing.

So here’s to the quest, and to hoping that maybe, just maybe, it’s ultimately a new-found perspective, and the dogged determination to keep on keeping on, that just might turn out to be your yip-proof grip.

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Mike Dowd is the author of Lessons from the Golf Guru: Wit, Wisdom, Mind-Tricks & Mysticism for Golf and Life. He has been Head PGA Professional at Oakdale Golf & CC in Oakdale, California since 2001, and is serving his third term on the NCPGA Board of Directors and Chairs the Growth of the Game Committee. Mike has introduced thousands of people to the game and has coached players that have played golf collegiately at the University of Hawaii, San Francisco, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, University of the Pacific, C.S.U. Sacramento, C.S.U. Stanislaus, C.S.U. Chico, and Missouri Valley State, as men and women on the professional tours. Mike currently lives in Turlock, California with his wife and their two aspiring LPGA stars, where he serves on the Turlock Community Theatre Board, is the past Chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock. In his spare time (what's that?) he enjoys playing golf with his girls, writing, music, fishing and following the foibles of the Sacramento Kings, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Francisco Giants, and, of course, the PGA Tour. You can find Mike at mikedowdgolf.com.

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Mike Dowd

    Oct 22, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    If even bad publicity is good publicity, then I guess I hit it out of the park here. Unfortunately, I’m not at all surprised by the reaction. Forgive me for being a bit manipulative with the title, but it was a bit of an experiment and the majority of the responses to this piece definitely revealed a couple of things. First, those who came looking for and were upset not to find the cure for the yips both missed the point, and proved my point at the same time. Despite the fact that I even had individuals contacting me to proclaim that they in fact knew or had the cure, there is no singular fix that will cure the yips for everyone. Secondly, the vitriol of some of the responses only confirms how deep this wound is for most that suffer from it. I had hoped to provide hope for all those beset with this affliction, because there are innumerable potential cures out there. You just need to keep looking and eventually you will find the one that works for you. But seeing as how that very positive message was met with near universal negativity since I didn’t provide a specific potential fix, I’ll end this with three.

    1. Look at the hole. (As Jordan Spieth does)
    2. Look at spot about two inches in front of the ball. (As Dave Stockton recommends)
    3. Practice under pressure. (I’ll write a whole follow-up article on this soon)

    These are all incredibly basic, and just a starting point, but for those of you who came looking for hope and couldn’t find it somewhere in what I wrote previously I hope they at least give you a starting point. Hoping you find your Holy Grail! – Mike Dowd

    • DrRob1963

      Oct 26, 2017 at 4:38 am

      I like the “swap sides!” idea, as this is a major brain function/orientation change – going from right handed to left (or vice versa) could make a tremendous difference.
      I know a few yippers who struggle only at short range, but are excellent laggers/putters from longer range. A bulls-eye styled blade allows a player to putt either way, and could be ideal for the good long range putter who may want to try left-handed for short putts only, but stay right-handed for the long putts. [I know an Aussie pro on our domestic tour who had a Bulls-eye so he could putt either side!] Of course, any drastic change like this is going to need plenty of practise to become comfortable, but I reckon it could really help some yippers.

    • Golfgirlrobin

      Nov 1, 2017 at 11:39 pm

      Even this response is 3x too long.

      Brevity.

  2. TommyL

    Oct 20, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    Actually for me the article rises above the usual quick tips and offers something far more valuable – a small investment to read article if you’re afflicted! I’ve battled yips for 30 years and still play off <5.
    Best solution I’ve found has been versions of claw grip – unlearning and resculpting stroke. Hours of practicing conventional stroke becomes counter productive, raises expectations before cracking at wrong times!
    Also keep success measure extremely simple- just ask did I execute clawed tempo stroke on each putt – that’s it – results happen, some go in some don’t!

    • Mike Dowd

      Oct 23, 2017 at 7:57 am

      Glad you got something from the article Tommy and that you’ve found something that works for you. Focus on the process, not the consequence. There’s actually a pretty famous case of the chipping yips being cured (Gene Littler) who followed a very similar route to what you are describing so you’re on a good path. Best of luck!

  3. Tom54

    Oct 20, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Waste of time article for sure. I’ve found that the claw grip helps me for two reasons. One the club seems to swing freely back and thru. Second my right arm is in a position I liken to shooting pool if you’ve ever shot pool you know what I mean. For those that haven’t tried this method don’t worry so much as to how weird the grip feels but focus on how easily the right arm swings

  4. Doc

    Oct 20, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    A misleading title followed by an article only worthy of skimming.

  5. Tommy

    Oct 20, 2017 at 4:26 pm

    Embrace what’s being said and this article offers enduring value! I’ve tried mega-loads of superficial tips over 30 years – best for ME relate to variants of claw grips. I’ve managed to stay <5 handicap til now and enjoyed the chase. I also learnt that I couldn’t sheer-hours practice my way out putting yips with my original conventional method – it would always crack when I needed it most – now it’s ‘new’ method, execute ….. and only result is did I execute?! and move on.

  6. Markus Rehnström

    Oct 20, 2017 at 11:57 am

    There is only one cure for YIPS, start putting lefty! (right if you´re a lefty)

  7. Tommy

    Oct 20, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Waste of time. The other day, I hit a shag bag full of ball from 40 yards to 10′, sinking a good number of them. I KNOW how to hit that shot, from every lie. Later on the course, coincidentally, I had four of those very shots….and I dead chunked every one of them. I do the same thing in the sand. Unbelievable…

  8. Steve K

    Oct 19, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    There is no cure for the ‘yips’ because the neuro-muscular system is geared for a full blooded golf swing and the signal from the brain are surging into the arms and hands even while putting. Trying to suppress the brain signals for a piddling putter stroke fails because there is no way to constrain the neural signals.
    Medically, the yips seem to vanish when one of the hands is held at the height of the heart…. ergo the long shafted putter may be the solution.

  9. Milo

    Oct 18, 2017 at 11:58 pm

    I didn’t make it till the end, the yips got me

  10. etc.

    Oct 18, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    Focal Dystonia (aka ‘yips’) = Stage Fright (crouching over a ball on the green)
    Remedy?
    Bravery + a $550 Bettinardi Antidote putter…. believe it suckah !!!!

    • Milo

      Oct 18, 2017 at 11:55 pm

      You know your gonna have the model 2 in your bag

      • etc.

        Oct 19, 2017 at 2:51 pm

        Nope…. I love standing on the green and putting with my Bullseye putter …. while all the losers are buying the newest putters in the futile hope the putter will put the ball in, or even near the hole.
        If you hit the ball consistently on the sweet spot and have correctly read the green you don’t need all those Rube Goldberg contraption putters…. just a piece of brass on the end of a stick.

  11. Double Mocha Man

    Oct 18, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. What a tease. I know, I know, there’s wisdom in the article. But alas, I still have the yips, and 7 fewer minutes in my life.

    • Anthony

      Oct 19, 2017 at 5:14 pm

      You read that in 7 minutes? Your good!!! I fell asleep after 10 lol…

  12. M. Vegas

    Oct 18, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    TF?

  13. Vinnie

    Oct 18, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Wow……….. a lot of words for nothing useful. You must be getting money per word or something.

  14. MB

    Oct 18, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    This post is worthless without pics and diagrammes.

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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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Opinion & Analysis

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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