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Growing Up Golf Part 7: The Right Club

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Let’s journey back to my daughter’s third birthday. If you recall in Growing Up Golf Part 2, my wife and I ran into a minor problem with our daughter’s first set of real clubs.

“The day of her third birthday arrived and she opened the clubs and smiled that big smile that all parents love. She pulled the 8 iron out, stood up and attempted her first swing with a real club. The problem is she swung this club like it was a sledge hammer. Now our daughter is far from being a frail little girl. She can pull herself up on monkey bars and hold her own weight on a climbing rope. I was shocked to see that the club was just too heavy. She insisted that she wanted to use it and she’s a “big girl” and wants to use real clubs like Mommy and Daddy. Ok, no worries. I said, “Come on sweet heart, let’s go to the store and pick out one that feels better to you.” But the problem was that the next smaller club was too short for her — one was too short and the other one that fit her perfectly was too heavy. Now what? Well, we kept the club that was the correct length as I saw no benefit to having her use a club that was too short. The putter fit her perfect and wasn’t an issue at all.”

So how do we find the right club for our little golfer? Golf equipment designed for kids has come a long way. Long gone are the days when young golfers had to use adult clubs that had been cut down to size. Most manufacturers create clubs for specific age ranges–typically, 3 to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to 11–as a general guideline. The age ranges are for different club lengths, and the clubs get longer as the age ranges increase. However, height is more important than age, as we discovered with our daughter. With all the different types of clubs to choose from, there are a few things to remember when buying them.

Length

Length is the first consideration. Find a set of clubs that is the right length for your child, but also a set that they can grow with. It is OK for them to choke down or grip down on the club. You just don’t want them to move their hands down the grip too much. The basic rule is this: Choking down more than 1.5 to 2 inches too much. Choking down more than two inches can change children’s whole swing, requiring them to manipulate the swing to get the club around their body. A set of clubs whose length requires them to grip down only one inch allows them to make a normal swing. There will probably be enough length to get a second year out of the set.

Shaft Flex

The main problem with cut-down clubs of yesteryear  is the stiffness of the shafts. When you cut 4 to 5 inches of length off a golf club, it becomes very stiff. Using flex that is too stiff can promote a very low ball flight. Manufacturers are now making shafts that are the right flex for kids’ swing speeds by using light-weight steel and graphite. The shafts on these kid-friendly clubs are so flexible, you can bend them with your hands. So check to make sure that your child’s set of clubs has a nice, flexible shaft.

Weight

If the club is too heavy, the child will struggle to take the club to the top of the backswing. When this happens, it causes a manipulation of the swing that results in inconsistency. A lighter club will help the child get the club in the correct position at the top of the swing, and lead to an easily repeatable swing. Companies are now making clubs with lighter heads and shafts. Weight was the main issue that we ran into with our daughter and her new clubs.

Following those simple guidelines will increase your chances on picking the correct club for your child.  With this all said, I have found a very simple solution to acquiring clubs that will fit your child. You need not look any further than equipment made by U.S. Kids Golf — a company with a fitting system that is based on a color-coded chart that is adjusted every three inches. When you grow out of one color, you move up to the next.

You simply measure your child and choose the appropriate club in the correct color. All the specifications of the clubs are listed in each color zone. If you desire to purchase your clubs elsewhere, this measuring system can be utilized when deciding the correct club length for your son or daughter. As I stated earlier, there are many equipment companies that specialize in kid and junior golf clubs. I am referencing U.S. Kids Golf  due to their simplistic club fitting system.

U.S. Kids Golf believes that having properly-fitted clubs is vital to young players’ development, so they  created the U.S. Kids Golf Trade Up Program. When you’re ready to move up to the next system, simply trade in your out-grown clubs at your participating retailer and receive a discount on your new ones. If you should decide to purchase your clubs form another manufacturer, check to see if they have a “trade up” program. Another benefit to using U.S. Kids Golf is they have developed the “6th Club Free” program to reward their frequent customers:

– Once you have purchased 5 clubs, you have the opportunity to receive a sixth club free.
– The program applies to clubs purchased as a set or individually.
– Free club can be an iron or putter. Other clubs may be available for an additional fee.
– Be sure to keep your UPC code from your packaging along with your purchase receipt.
– This program is open to residents of the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

We have made some changes to my daughter’s set of clubs. She no longer uses the heavier club (If you recall, I allowed her to use it because she was only chipping with it at that stage of her development) and what I have found to be a prefect fit is the U.S. Kids Golf Ultralite series. We were able to give her in longer club without extra added weight and the shaft flex is designed for younger players swing speeds. My daughter’s set includes a 7 iron a pitching wedge and a putter. There is no need to run out and purchase 14 clubs at this time. Your child can play with no more than a few clubs for a good part of the early years. As your child gets older, you can add a club or two. You may decide to graduate them into the five, seven or nine pitching wedge set, sometimes referred to as the odd irons. Most of the golfers I know learned to play using just the odd numbered irons in the set. This is very common and a good way to start. Having fewer clubs in the bag makes decisions a lot easier.

Now that we fit our youngsters, what about our juniors? I can not stress what I am about to say enough. If your child has decided to take golf to a more serious level and is approaching high school probably even earlier…

TAKE THEM TO A PROFESSIONAL PGA CERTIFIED CLUB FITTER!!!!

The benefits of a properly custom-fit set will make a difference at this level.  Now I am in no way saying you need to run out and purchase the most expensive equipment set out there. There are plenty of manufactures that make clubs for all price ranges.  Choose a budget and work from there. Even if you don’t buy new clubs, there are great deals on used clubs. But no matter what you decide on…

HAVE THEM FITTED BY A PROFESSIONAL PGA CERTIFIEDCLUB FITTER!!!!

Gator Golf

I would like to share some observations that I have made while working with my children. My son turned 2 on Jan. 10, and when your family knows that you and your wife are golf fans and are passing that passion on to your children, your kids are bound to receive a few golf toys growing up. One of the gifts he received was a putting game called Gator Golf. You may have seen this game before, it comes with two putters, two balls and a little alligator that you putt the ball through his mouth and it comes out by his tail and is popped back to you like a little catapult. Both my son and daughter love it. And if you have been following my articles than you know I am all about “Golf Association” and this is a great one.

The putters and golf balls are made of plastic. Here lies the problem. My kids have transitioned to using “real” golf clubs even my son now putts with a “real” putter. When they tried to play Gator Golf, we soon realized that the plastic clubs and balls were too light. After using a heavier metal golf club, the plastic ones really threw their swings out of rhythm.  My wife and I replaced the plastic balls with the foam indoor balls they have been practicing with and we gave them their regular putters. Needless to say all, is well in the Gator Golf front. The foam balls were light enough to be popped back and the game works just fine.

So if your children have transitioned to real clubs, there will be no need for any of the plastic toy ones that we all started them out with when they took those first steps towards growing up golf.

Click here for more discussion in the “junior golf” forum.

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Kadin Mahmet has a passion for golf. He has coached at the collegiate level and has worked as an instructor specializing in youth athletics. You can follow Kadin on Twitter @BigKadin. "Like" Growing Up Golf on Facebook @ facebook.com/Growing.Up.Golf for more content.

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Opinion & Analysis

Be Curious, Not Critical, of Tour Player Swings

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After a foul ball by a tour player, the talking heads on TV are often quick to analyze the “problem” with that swing. Fair enough, I suppose. Even the best players are human and our game has more failure than success. But I’d like to offer a different take on swings of the best players in the world.

First, let’s remember how good these guys and gals really are. If you met up with the lowest ranked player on any professional tour at a public course one day, I’ll bet that golfer would be the best golfer most of you have ever played with. You’d be telling your buddies in the 19th hole about him or her for a very long time. These players have reached a level of ball striking most people only dream about. That’s why I’m more curious than critical when it comes to a tour player’s swing. I’m not thinking about what he/she needs to do better; I’m thinking, “How do they do it so well?” In other words, I want to know how they put their successful move together. What part goes with the other parts? How did their pattern evolve? What are the compatible components of their swing?

Let’s use Jim Furyk as an example. Furyk has what we might call an “unconventional” move. It’s also a swing that has won nearly $70 million and shot 58 one day. But I’ll offer him as an example because his swing illustrates the point I’m making. From a double-overlapping grip, Furyk picks the golf club up to what might be the most vertical position one would ever see from a professional. Then in transition, he flattens the club and drops it well behind him. Now the club is so flat and inside, he has to open his body as quickly as he can to keep the club from getting “stuck.” Let’s call it an “up-and-under loop.”

Let’s take Matt Kuchar as a counter example. Kuchar’s signature hands-in, flat and very deep takeaway is pretty much the total opposite of Furyk. But he comes over that takeaway and gets the club back into a great position into impact. We’ll call that an “in-and-over” loop.

Both are two of the best and most consistent golfers in the world. Is one right and the other wrong? Of course not. They do have one thing in common, however, and it’s that they both balanced their golf swing equation.

What would happen if Kuchar did what Furyk does coming down? Well, he wouldn’t be on TV on the weekend. If he did, he’d be hitting drop kicks several inches behind. That doesn’t win The Players Championship. The point is that the Furyk downswing is incompatible with the Kuchar backswing, and vice versa, but I’m guessing they both know that.

How can this help you? My own personal belief and the basis of my teaching is this: your backswing is an option, but your downswing is a requirement. I had one student today dropping the arms and club well inside and another coming over the top, and they both felt better impact at the end of the lesson. I showed them how to balance their equation.

My job is solving swing puzzles, a new one very hour, and I’m glad it is. It would be mind-numbing boredom if I asked every golfer to do the same thing. It’s the teaching professional’s job to solve your puzzle, and I assure you that with the right guidance you can make your golf swing parts match. Are there universal truths, things that every golfer MUST do?  Yes, they are the following:

  1. Square the club face
  2. Come into the ball at a good angle
  3. Swing in the intended direction
  4. Hit the ball in the center of the face (method be damned!)

But here’s the funny part: Let Kuchar or Furyk get off base and watch every swing critic in the world blame some part of the quirkiness of their move that has led to their greatness. When players at their level get off their game, it’s generally due to poor timing or that they lost the sync/rhythm that connected their individual parts. The same holds true for all of us. We have to find the matching parts and the timing to connect them. You might not need new parts.

After all, weren’t those same parts doing the job when you shot your career low round?

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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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