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Want to be an elite junior golfer? Play a shorter and easier home course

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Let’s start with a thought experiment: You’re building a long-term plan with your parents to become a world-class golfer. You create a list. How important is being a member of a nice golf course? Is it worth the money to join somewhere swanky, or will the local muni do?

If you are like most junior golfers I have spoken to, facilities matter, and you want to be a member of that 7400-yard course with perfect greens. Based on this preference, I wanted to look at the data; what type of courses produce PGA Tour players? What can we learn from them? With the help of many of my friends in golf, I started to compile a list of PGA Tour players and their home golf courses when they were between 12-16 years old.

Here is what I came up with

  • Justin Thomas – Harmony Landing: 6,645 (130 course rating)
  • Justin Rose – North Hants: 6,250
  • Brooks Koepka – Bear Lakes: 7,439 (141)
  • Jordan Spieth – Brookhaven: 6,820 (133)
  • Rory McIlroy – Hollywood Golf Club: 6,056
  • Bubba Watson – Tanglewood Golf Club: 6,302 (124)
  • Phil Mickelson – Stardust: 6,550 (126)
  • Zach Johnson – Elmhurst: 6,500 (128)
  • Webb Simpson – Raleigh Golf: 6,869 (135)
  • Bryson DeChambeau – Dragon Fly: 7,273 (135)
  • Ryan Moore – The Classic: 6,903 (134)
  • Tiger Woods – Navy Golf Course: 6,780 (129)
  • Ollie Sciednerjans – Bentwater: 6,741 (142)
  • Xander Schauffele – Bernardo Heights: 6,679 (131)
  • Chez Reavie – Dobson Ranch: 6,630 (121)
  • Patrick Cantlay – Virginia Country Club: 6,633 (130)
  • Jason Dufner – Weston Hills: 7,060 (129)
  • Adam Hadwin – Morgan Creek: 6,948 (136)
  • Emiliano Grillio -Chaco Golf Club: 6,749 (130)
  • Charles Howell III – Augusta Country Club: 7,125 (136)
  • Julian Suri – South Hampton: 7,028 (138)
  • Aaron Wise – Eagle Glen: 6,869 (139)
  • Peter Uihlein – IMG Academy: 6,842 (136)
  • Brandon Stone – Centurion: 6,830 (131)

Starting to notice something? Based on the data of these 24 PGA Tour players, their average home course has a yardage of 6,772 and slope of 132. Wowzers! Can’t believe it? It makes perfect sense: To be competitive in golf, you must shoot under par. Shooting under par, like riding a bike, or walking, or writing, is a skill. It is developed through a combination of repetition and feedback.

Easier golf courses allow players the opportunity to shoot lower scores and build confidence. Over time, these skills become habit. When players enter tournaments, it is more likely they shoot under par. Breaking par at your home golf course is only the first step towards becoming an elite junior golfer. The data suggests that players (both boys and girls) need to average approximately 69 per round to win on the AJGA — on 6,800-yard courses for boys and just under 6,000 yards for girls.

No major championship venue has ever had a junior member go on to win, or even play, the PGA Tour. That’s right: the PGA Tour is not filled with junior members from Augusta National. Why? Because while playing Shinnecock Hills is an absolute treat, the course is extremely difficult, and 74 is a great score. Junior members at such courses create habits of shooting 74, and when they enter tournaments, like the AJGA, in general, they get beat.

So where should you be a member if you are a junior golfer with aspirations of college golf or beyond? Great question. In an ideal world the course would have the following:

  1. Unlimited access to a facility that is approximately 6,700 yards long with a slope of about 130. The goal on this golf course is to break par often and work towards a handicap of +3 by your 18th birthday.
  2. Somewhere with other talented players. Although, it would be great if they are other juniors, more importantly you want players of about the same skill who will offer you a competitive match a couple times a week.

As always, if you have any feedback on this article or a story idea, please feel free to reach out to me! Always love hearing from people and helping them connect with schools that meet their academic, athletic, social and financial needs!

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Brendan is the owner of Golf Placement Services, a boutique business which aims to apply his background in golf and higher education to help educate players, their families and coaches about the process! Website - www.golfplacementservices.com Insta - golf.placement.sevices Twitter @BMRGolf

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Craig

    Oct 6, 2018 at 7:23 am

    I totally agree with this article. I remember watching the doco The Short Game and those kids were playing ridiculously short courses (3000 yrds), but they learned to go low. I compare to my own junior experience playing off the back tees as a 10 year old, breaking 80 was a miracle, let along 70, when you can only drive it 180 yds on a 400 yd hole. Getting close to shooting par was as stressful as shooting 59.

  2. R k

    Sep 18, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    Nicely done. One must walk before run.

  3. Pissant

    Sep 18, 2018 at 1:37 am

    Completely meaningless article

  4. Scheiss

    Sep 18, 2018 at 1:36 am

    That’s HOLYwood, not Hollywood, ya Yankee moron

  5. Ryan

    Sep 17, 2018 at 9:57 pm

    Since when is a 130 ish 6700 ish course easy?

    Also you are averaging a data set with a huge standard deviation… 7400 on the top end and 6000 on the short end that is a +/- of 700 yards for a total difference of 1400 yards! You can’t draw any conclusions from this data.

  6. Timothy Ahline

    Sep 17, 2018 at 4:17 pm

    Zach Johnson grew up playing Elmcrest Country Club in Cedar Rapids Iowa not Elmhurst

  7. Brandon

    Sep 17, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    Webb Simpson didn’t grow up on Raleigh golf.

    • Reid Thompson

      Oct 5, 2018 at 12:29 pm

      Agreed, pretty sure it was Carolina. Which tips out at 6200 ish. Interesting.

  8. John

    Sep 17, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    Cool article. I don’t have personal experience but I’ve been around enough elite players who have and they all agree, it’s a real thing to get to -4 to -7 and feel comfortable, and getting that comfort at a young age cannot hurt. Obviously I think the perfect situation is to grow up on a course with maybe 12 holes are really “getable”, and 6 of them are stout “par” holes.

  9. JS

    Sep 17, 2018 at 10:53 am

    I have two identical players. One plays a longer, harder course where 74 is a great score and once plays a shorter, easier course where 68 is a good score. According to this article, the player on the easier course will be better prepared for Tour by virtue of being accustomed to breaking par. There’s nothing in the article to support that conclusion.

    First, the article doesn’t show what these golfers shot on those courses. For all the reader knows, some of the golfers on the longer, harder courses could have been breaking par and the some of the golfers on the shorter, easier courses were not breaking par.

    Second, the golfers on the longer, harder could have played from a forward tee, which would make the course both shorter and easier.

    Third, perhaps the reason golfers on shorter courses do better is because they have more opportunity to play shots that are important to scoring. For example, perhaps the short course golfers hit approach shots with wedges and short irons, which are more important to scoring due to ability to hit shots close to the flag, whereas the long course golfers hit approach shots with hybrids and long irons, which are less important to scoring due to the difficulty in shots close to the flag (Even the PGA Tour leader in proximity to the hole from 175-200yd averages a 27′ first putt).

    • A. Commoner

      Sep 17, 2018 at 2:15 pm

      JS raises some valid questions. Overall, I just consider such “insightful” writing as confirmation of the old axiom: “paper will hold still for anything.”

    • Jack

      Sep 18, 2018 at 3:11 am

      I think it’s more start from the shorter tees, and get used to scoring well, and slowly move outwards. Rather than start from the blue tees and shoot 80. Go from the red tees and shoot 70 or lower. Then slowly move to the whites.

      Basically what the author is trying to say. Not just play short courses forever. I don’t know why so many are missing his perfectly logical article.

  10. GK

    Sep 17, 2018 at 1:08 am

    I don’t disagree and it’s an interesting theory as I’ve wondered what is important in courses for juniors. In fairness, Shinnecock, like many major championship venues, probably doesn’t have the best junior program that gives a lot of access to aspiring young players. I would imagine many of these courses would have forward tee options that would meet your suggested criteria but the culture of some of these clubs (And a smaller pool of players) may have a bigger role in the lack of players from major championship venues.

    Although no current PGA players, Olympic has had Johnny Miller, Bob Rosburg and Michael Allen who were junior members that played on tour. It is interesting to note that Miler often states that he developed many skills at the nearby San Francisco Club which kind of fits the criteria you advocate although developing future tour players isn’t their MO.

    Finally, although those courses listed aren’t LA North or Oakland Hills, they aren’t exactly push over courses w/ most slopes in the 130s especially for 12-16 year olds. (I guess right balance b/t challenging and not too challenging). I played golf w/ a D1 head coach from an elite university a few years ago and asked a similar question. Although he didn’t specify re: slope/length b/c he wasn’t asked & that he wished that it wasn’t this way, but most of the kids he recruited were members of a private club.

  11. TwoLegsMcManus

    Sep 16, 2018 at 10:29 pm

    Calculating averages is fine – it’s a good skill to have. Drawing conclusions from “average”, however, does not always make sense. Only a small percentage of people, for example, are exactly average height – even fewer are exactly average weight.

    Two of the longest hitters in golf – Keopka and McIlroy – illustrate the problem. Brooks’ course was 7439, Rory’s 6056. That averages to 6747, but that number says nothing about either course. How often did these players actually play their home course? The course where I “keep my (online) handicap is one I haven’t played in years.

    I think an elite junior golfer would be best served playing a variety of courses; long, short, trees, links, high-end, cheap… and vary their choice of tees to create different challenges. Sticking to one course would seem to be key to be that club’s champion, but not necessarily a game that will translate.

  12. Prime21

    Sep 16, 2018 at 9:39 pm

    Andrew Svoboda played out of Winged Foot. Spend a little more time on research prior to making blanket statements, as a writer, that is part of your job.

  13. Matt Ball

    Sep 16, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    Brendan, Meadowbrook CC outside Richmond at about 6,600 yards par 71 produced Lanny and Bobby Watkins and John Rollins. 3 kids in recent years have gone on to division 1 scholarships. This club has no time restrictions for juniors to play even weekends. Course record 59 just shot by one of those scholarship players now on mini tours. Your article I believe is dead on.

    • Point misser

      Sep 17, 2018 at 7:36 pm

      Lanny & Bobby Wadkins. And that kid who shot 59 needs to tuck in his shirt tail and tighten up his act now that he’s a “pro”

      • Point Misser Missed The Point

        Sep 18, 2018 at 5:30 am

        Shut up Point Misser you moron and tuck your tail in between your legs

  14. Peter

    Sep 16, 2018 at 8:52 pm

    I had a 15 year old girl send me her info last week and she listed her eagles. One hole stated she had driver,sw,putt. Maybe that is overdoing it on the shorter, easier home course?

    • Bryan Montgomery

      Sep 16, 2018 at 9:47 pm

      There is a lot that can be learned from shorter courses. Tour players on the LPGA and PGA have amazing short games. If you are use to playing a course that has you playing long and mid irons at all times you are not getting the wedge work that players on the shorter courses are. This article does a great job of scraping the surface of the data that is available. I would not shy away from someone who is playing a shorter course because in my experience it is easier to teach long game management over the touch that is needed in the short game.

    • Looper

      Sep 17, 2018 at 12:01 pm

      Completely agree Peter. What about talent and skill?

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Recently, we covered some of the best fans outfits from the 1991 Masters Tournament won by Ian Woosnam (Patron Fashion at the ’91 Masters). Now, it’s time to look back on what many call the height of all golf fashion: the 1970s.

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1974

Dave Stockton wore a beautiful yellow ensemble, which included matching white belt and shoes. If you’re going to go full yellow – this is the way to do it. Take note, 2006 Hoylake Sergio Garcia.

You don’t need the graphic to recognize the full head of hear belonging to two-time Masters champ Ben Crenshaw. His patterned polo went along very nicely with a pair of matching solid-colored pants.

Tom Weiskopf never won a green jacket, but as far as the Masters is concerned, he could easily go down as one of the best dressed throughout his career. These pants alone belong in the hall of fame.

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Jack Nicklaus is arguably the greatest golfer to ever play the game, and if we only take into account Green Jackets, then he’s number 1. Jack also ranks very high as far as outfits go, and always looked classy while strolling the rolling hills of Augusta, almost always in a signature thin horizontal striped shirt.

1975

Johnny Miller is another man that never won the Masters, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of close calls. He came second in 1975 but his outfit could have been considered the clubhouse leader, thanks to a well-fit solid blue stiff-collar polo that also went well with his flowing blonde locks. Now I know I said I would leave the patrons alone for this, but I have to ask “what the heck is that pink thing on that woman’s head behind Miller on the tee box?” I’m extremely thankful this was broadcast in color.

Thanks to the signature glasses, Hale Irwin is easy to spot, and as mentioned already, green also looks good inside the ropes at Augusta. The long button closure was a telltale sign of the times and few pulled this look off as well as Hale. Also, one more patron to point out: the man in the full yellow pants, jacket, and hat (this is the outfit of the guy she told you not to worry about).

Tom Weiskopf, a towering man from Ohio, made clothing look good. His 1975 final round lilac sweater would have fit very nicely under a green jacket along with the high collar white shirt. This look was as classic then, as it is today.

1976

Raymond Floyd won the green jacket this year and the collar on his shirt could be considered a premonition for the culminating events. Raymond’s pants were also well-tailored to show off his brown and white saddle shoes.

Ben Crenshaw once again made color look good in 1976 with a striped yellow and red shirt to go along with a red belt, and yellow pants. This Texas Longhorn even coordinated his glove for the occasion.

 

*Featured image courtesy of Masters.com, and yes, that’s current ANGC chair and then amateur sensation Fred Ridley strolling the fairway with Jack Nicklaus. 

 

 

 

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