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9 things that prevent top amateurs from realizing their pro golf dreams



I’m sure we all know a top young amateur golfer with aspirations of turning pro. It may be the kid at your local club who hits the ball a country mile and has a short game that would make Seve proud. Or it might be a hot shot you’ve seen at a tournament, and followed his or her progress since they were knee high to a grasshopper.

You’ve watched them win local and even regional tournaments from high school into the top amateur ranks, and think they will be the next Rory McIlroy or Jason Day. So why do so few of these talented amateur golfers actually break through on the world stage? What is it about the transition from top amateur to professional golf that can act as a trap door for some, and a trampoline for others?

To find out, I spoke to Johnny Foster, who runs The Johnny Foster Golf Academy, a top Irish coaching academy targeting elite young players.

“Since 2004, my team and I have had the pleasure of coaching dozens of Ireland’s aspiring elite amateurs and professionals at our academy,” he said. “The walls have become decorated with pictures of players’ trophies and signed memorabilia. But for us, it’s the faces who aren’t there that raise our eyebrows. I often ask myself, ‘Do you remember this guy…where did he go? I was certain he’d make it.’

“On the other hand, I’ve scratched my head many more times when guys who were can’t-miss amateurs have been swallowed by the results-driven, unapologetic world of pro golf, seemingly unable to score as they did as amateurs just months before. Why is that? Did they lose their talent? Do pro golfers play to a smaller hole? I don’t think so. What I do know is that players who have made the successful transition have shared certain qualities.

With help from Foster, I created this list of the 9 things that can prevent top amateurs from realizing their pro golf dreams.


This is the biggest motivating factor in being successful in anything. Something has to drive golfers to want to be the best, and it has to be there at every point in their career. Complacency and lack of belief are desire’s biggest enemies, sapping drive and willpower.


We have all heard it said before: someone has a natural talent, or they were born with a club in their hands. Talent has to be grown and supported, however, for a golfer to reach the highest level. How many talented golfers have we heard of who never made it?


More precisely than just ability, professional golfers need the ability to score. All of the talent in the world doesn’t matter if you cannot simply get the golf ball in the hole. Scrambling, clutch putting and performance under pressure become extremely important when a career is on the line.

Johnny says: There’s only one common denominator among the players who are successful: their score. The top-25 on any given week will represent a variety of club manufacturers, listen to a multitude of coaches and probably be from a range of countries. In fact, on many occasions, the only thing they do have in common is that they have finished at the same score at the week’s end. So as much as myself or any other adviser tells you to “forget about the score and stick to the process,” you better have the potential to score at a tour standard or there’s not much point reading on. Your diet can be pure and you can surround yourself with the latest technology, which will make you feel better, but in my experience the most important number a player can produce is their stroke average in relation to par. If you have the rare ability to manipulate numbers, I’d stick to lowering that if you can, rather than fixating on your angle of attack. If you are an aspiring player, ask yourself, “Is everything I’m currently doing geared to helping me reduce my scoring average?” This is a constant pillar of our philosophy; we tirelessly work with our students to reduce their scoring average in relation to par.

Work Ethic

Along with having natural talent, there is no substitute for hard work and building a good routine. Fitness, practice, media/sponsor commitments, and travel all require hard work and good time management that needs to be engrained. Look at how seriously the modern-day players take their games these days: they train with fitness experts, work on technique with world-class coaches, and engrain their good habits with hundreds of balls almost every day. They say it takes 10,000 hours of focused practice to be world class. You don’t do that without hard work and a solid routine.

Johnny says: Learning a trade or a set of skills is a process that takes time, usually years. So consider this when planning your assault on professional golf; “I’ll give it a go for a year” isn’t really a sound plan. How many surgeons or classic opera singers give it 12 months and eventually become successful? Remember, you’re attempting to reach the 0.01 percent of people in your chosen field. Your apprenticeship will take time, so make the financial and emotional provision for it. You’re attempting to hone a very specific set of skills. From reading grain on greens to working with a professional caddy, allow yourself time to adjust. And be realistic with your deadlines. Look at your rate of progression over the past few years. Fair chance this trend is going to continue. As the saying goes, “An overnight sensation usually takes about 10 years.” The fact is that in all of the wins and trophies achieved by our clients, the vast majority were done so by long-term students who really valued and benefited from a strong player-coach bond.


Being able to multitask, prioritize and make key decisions takes a very driven and focused person. While I don’t have any experience playing golf at an elite level, I do travel a lot in my job and spend a lot of time in airports and hotel rooms. There’s stress involved: delays, missed connections, lost luggage, late nights, preparing for meetings, and a lot of lonely nights sitting on the bed of your hotel room flicking the remote. I have to interact with customers all the time in some mundanely boring meetings, but I need to be focused and at the top of my game for every meeting. Staying focused, patient and realizing that it’s part of the process — there is a routine involved.


This is the most often overlooked quality on this list. Some guys are well suited to the professional golfer’s life, and some aren’t. Frustration, boredom, loneliness, patience and anxiety are all hurdles to overcome. Remember, to get to the level of playing on the tour, one can assume that the golfer has talent and a track record. But to live the life week in, week out and put up with all the distractions and stress is a balance to the rewards on offer. Getting to the PGA Tour is one thing; staying there is just as much of a challenge.

Johnny says: A common thread I see among the players who seem to move seamlessly into the world of professional golf is that they continue to treat it as a game, even though it’s their “job.” It’s a bit of a contradiction this one, but the best seem to retain their sense of humour about events on the golf course and crucially don’t beat themselves up over a bad shot they hit every so often. Ideally, I’d suggest you adopt an attitude that all the hard work you do actually entitles you to the odd mistake, rather than raises the expectations that they shouldn’t happen.

Being professional

This is possibly the most wide ranging and important for those that actually do possess the potential. Do you really understand the meaning of the words “being professional?” The answer isn’t on Google. It covers everything from investing heavily in your future, traveling extensively in a very competitive atmosphere and a love of the routine.

Johnny says: To really encourage the best students to think professionally, one of the many exercises we ask them to do is take 10 minutes to either write down or imagine what being really professional and effective with their time would look like, every day. That includes rest and balance in their life — very important pillars. How close or “congruent” are they in reality with this vision? If there is a gap between their vision and reality, then the size of that gap may just determine if they reach their vision of making it.

A good team

This includes a good manager, coach, fitness instructor, friends and family. Being on the road most weeks is tough on anyone. Emotional support is important, as well as a team that can prepare the player to optimize their performance. It’s also an expensive business playing tournament golf, so having financial backing is important.


In any sport, luck always plays a role: avoidance of injury, being in the right place at the right time, hitting a shot at a key moment, getting a break with a bounce. Many talented players could have gone a lot further with a lucky break. Gary Player’s famous quote, “The more I practice the luckier I get,” has a grain of truth, but Lady Luck certainly helps.

Johnny says: “We have a mantra at our academy: L.U.C.K. stands for Laboring Under Correct Knowledge. In other words, if you work at the right stuff, you’ll be lucky!”

So, you think you have what it takes?

Tour golfers play nearly every week at a different course. They deal with travel, media and sponsor commitments, and compete on courses from the tips with the rough thickened up and the greens shaved. Still, the average weekly winning score is 16-under par. To make the cut is 4-under, which means to get a pay check you cannot afford big mistakes or you are packing up in the parking lot on a Friday night. A lot of poor shots and rounds are induced by fatigue, lack of preparation, low confidence and stress.

And it’s an expensive business. The running costs of playing tournament golf is high. Travel and accommodation, entry fees, and caddie fees will run into tens of thousands of dollars each year. Even as an amateur, competing relies on funding from scholarships, grants and benefactors. Most of these guys will have managers who treat their players like brands, securing sponsorships, managing their time, and deciding where and when to play. But the players need to be returning on the investment, or they find themselves quickly dropped.

The reality is that very few make it to the top tier. A lot drop out along the way to take jobs in the golf industry, or even get so disillusioned they turn their backs on golf, their dreams shattered or reconfigured to reality.

Johnny says: I’ve known several very talented amateur golfers who were unable to make a successful and sustainable transition into the professional ranks. Lack of motivation, money, personality or injury had gotten in the way of their obvious talent. And by the way, it’s tough to make it, but even tougher to stay there. As coaches, we do our very upmost to educate ourselves and really try our best to support and nurture these boys and girls, but ultimately it comes down to them.

Author’s Note: Johnny Foster is an engaging guy, full of enthusiasm and ideas for players attempting to transition into the game. He can be contacted here.

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Mark Donaghy is a writer and author from Northern Ireland, living in the picturesque seaside town of Portstewart. He is married to Christine and they have three boys. Mark is a "golf nut," and is lucky to be a member of a classic links, Portstewart Golf Club. At college he played for the Irish Universities golf team, and today he still deludes himself that he can play to that standard. He recently released Caddy Attitudes: 'Looping' for the Rich and Famous in New York. It recounts the life experiences of two young Irish lads working as caddies at the prestigious Shinnecock Hills course in the Hamptons. Mark has a unique writing style, with humorous observations of golfers and their caddies, navigating both the golf course and their respective attitudes. Toss in the personal experiences of a virtually broke couple of young men trying to make a few bucks and their adventures in a culture and society somewhat unknown to them... and you have Caddy Attitudes. From scintillating sex in a sand trap to the comparison of societal status with caddy shack status, the book will grab the attention of anyone who plays the game. Caddy Attitudes is available on Amazon/Kindle and to date it has had excellent reviews.



  1. James

    Jul 30, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    Money has got to be number one… need money just to practice, Kids that grow up in a County Club family already have 9 out 10 better chance of making it to the Pros. You find the best local muni player in the 14 to 16 year old range, where does he get to hit 200 Pro V1’s for 2 hours to a green from 120 yards on in almost ZERO…the only non-Country club kids who can make it are the ones who get sponsored by someone or group that gets him/her into a club to play and practice. Can a kid make it practicing on Muni greens and playing a 6,400 yard course 4 times a week, with fairways that give you a country club lie about twice in 18 holes???? all 9 things the writer talks about can be present in spades but if there is no money you have ZERO chance…

    • Eric Sidewater

      Mar 20, 2019 at 8:35 pm

      This is fake news. You can make golf as hard or as easy as you want when you’re practicing, which I recommend takes place on the course. If you’re so compelled, work at a place with a range/course part-time so you have free access. Play by yourself with a cart with 3 balls, pick the worst shot of the bunch each time and hit the 3 balls from that spot, essentially
      worst ball.” Then force yourself to play with clubs that are your weakness, take time to print out course maps and diagram exactly where you’re going to aim your shots/misses on tee shots *(noting the distance between hazards (at least 65 yards), the fat part of the greens, and putt from the three toughest spots on each green from varying distances.

  2. michael johnson

    Jul 30, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    i was a very promising amateur once. nothing held me back, i made it on tour on my first attempt by winning on a sponsors excemption and i have won a record number of majors.

  3. ILoveHateGolf

    Jul 29, 2016 at 10:31 pm

    Some of these are pretty appropriate to any field. ‘Write down what it means to be a professional.” I’m adopting that one myself.

    Nice column, Mark.

  4. Square

    Jul 29, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    My freshman year of college, I could shoot 72 on any course and 68 routinely at my home course. One day I played with a mini tour player and played really well on my home course. Shot 68 but it could have been a 66. He shot 61 and couldn’t do anything on the PGA tour or mini tours. Needless to say, 25 years later, I never looked back. He was so talented and I just couldn’t keep up. Best decision I ever made.

  5. Harry

    Jul 29, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    I can name 14 things that kept most of us out of the ranks- driver, 3w, 2i, …….

  6. talljohn777

    Jul 29, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Damn, I was so close on all of those.

  7. LA Billyboy

    Jul 29, 2016 at 11:07 am

    I could never take the travel. Not a life I have ever aspired to or envied. The PGA Tour is essentially a travelling Circus, the players are the performers and animals. I love playing golf too much to ruin it and turn it into a job.

  8. golfraven

    Jul 29, 2016 at 10:59 am

    I agree with all above. Dedication and drive would be biggest factors. The earlier you show the player what the odds are and what they have to face and are against the better. Persistance and discipline will determin if they will be able to fight back from disappointments. A shitty low tour player can still become great PGA player if he does not drop the ball too early.

  9. M SmizWit

    Jul 29, 2016 at 5:52 am

    As if anything useful ever came out of Ireland.

    • Mark Donaghy

      Jul 29, 2016 at 11:09 am

      Outside Guinness, Whiskey, St. Patrick, Oscar Wilde, C.S Lewis, Samuel Beckett, George Best, Liam Neeson, U2, Potato Crisps, the submarine, pneumatic tyres, the portable defilrillator and a bunch of other stuff, you are probably right!

  10. Mat

    Jul 28, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    None of this talks about who can support a guy with hotel money for 6-36 months on the regional tours. There’s little money when you compare it to the travel costs involved. If you have a backer, you have a much, much better chance. If you never have the time or resources to learn to be a touring professional, you’ll end up needing a paycheck. Jobs look very good, and that focus you needed to turn that 70 into a 68 isn’t there. Those “sure fire” guys have to eat.

  11. Rory

    Jul 28, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    Money is a big one….

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: How To Overcome The Mid-Season Golf Blues



Every Year around this time, golfers start getting tentative because they have missed a few too many golf shots and they immediately start to blame the faulty wires on the Pinocchio.

Of course, we are here to tell you that is not the case.

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 FedEx St. Jude Championship: Outright Betting Picks



With the PGA TOUR regular season in the books, it’s time to begin the 2022 FedEx Cup playoffs.

Previously known as the St. Jude Classic and the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, the event will now serve as the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and is named the FedEx St. Jude Championship.

While the name of the event and the spot on the PGA TOUR schedule has changed, the course remains the same. TPC Southwind is located in Memphis, Tennessee and has been a regular TOUR stop since 1989.

TPC Southwind is a Par 70 measuring 7,244 yards. The course features Bermudagrass greens and rough. With 94 bunkers and 10 water hazards, there is potential trouble on almost every hole.

The FedEx St. Jude Championship will play host to the top 125 players in the FedEx Cup standings with the top 65 and ties making it through to the weekend.

FedEx St. Jude Championship Outright Bets

Matt Fitzpatrick (+2200)

Typically, the FedEx Cup playoff events are won by players who have been among the best overall players for that season. Matt Fitzpatrick is having the best season of his career and is undoubtedly one of the most impressive golfers of the year. For the 2022 season, the Englishman ranks third in Strokes Gained: Total, which trails only Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler.

Had it not been for Fitzpatrick’s incredible U.S. Open victory, TPC Southwind would have been a spot that I’ve always thought could be the perfect break through spot for the 27-year-old. Now that he’s won and gotten his first victory in the United States out of the way, it only increases his chances of being able to win a FedEx Cup Playoff event.

Talent was never the concern for Fitzpatrick. The former top ranked amateur in the world exploded onto the professional golf scene at nineteen years old and never looked back. Despite having eight European Tour victories by the time he’d hit his mid-twenties, many people questioned why he couldn’t win on American soil. Now that he’s a U.S. Open champion, there’s reason to believe the floodgates will open.

Fitzpatrick has had plenty of success at TPC Southwind in the past. In three starts at the course, “Fitz” has two top-six finishes including a fourth-place finish in 2019.

His success at the track isn’t all that surprising considering how well his skill set aligns with what’s required to compete at the course. It’s important to hit fairways, which is something he does at a high clip. He also is one of the best in the sport at limiting mistakes and ranks third in the field in Bogey Avoidance.

A FedEx Cup Playoff victory would add to what is already the best season of Fitzpatrick’s career and give him a chance to make a run at a being the FedEx Cup champion.

Will Zalatoris (+2500)

For the past few weeks, we’ve seen Will Zalatoris near the top of the odds board. Despite being one of the most talented players in the field, there was nothing about Detroit Golf Club or Sedgefield Country Club that made me interested in betting him at those spots. The opposite is true about TPC Southwind.

When targeting Will Zalatoris for an outright bet, it’s most prudent to look for spots on the schedule where his immaculate ball striking can set him apart from the rest of them field.  The Rocket Mortgage Classic rewarded driving distance and wedge play. The Wyndham Championship rewarded the best putters and most accurate drivers.

This week, the FedEx St. Jude Championship will favor the best iron players who can ball strike their way to the top of the leaderboard. In the past, Strokes Gained: Putting hasn’t been a strong indicator of who will play well at TPC Southwind; which is great news for Zalatoris, who often struggles with the putter.

As evidenced by his three top-six finishes including two runners-up at major championships in 2022, Zalatoris can absolutely compete in the strongest of fields. In fact, I believe his chances to win in a star-studded event are higher than they are to win a lesser event on TOUR. The 25-year-old is a big game hunter who does his best work when the stakes are high.

The first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs is an excellent time for “Willy Z” to finally break through for his inevitable maiden PGA TOUR victory.

Sungjae Im (+3500)

As frustrating as it was being a Sungjae Im backer on Sunday at the Wyndham Championship, his overall performance and current hot streak can’t be overlooked.

The South Korean has now finished in a share for second place in back-to-back starts. In those two events, Im has gained an average of 8.5 strokes Ball Striking on the field, which includes both Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach. At a course where ball striking is the most important factor, he should be in store for another strong showing.

Im had his best Strokes Gained: Approach day on Sunday at the Wyndham, gaining 2.0 strokes on the field in the fourth round alone. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the putter going and lost 2.2 strokes putting while Tom Kim gained 4.5 on the day. If it weren’t for Kim’s unconscious effort with the putter, there’s a good chance that Sungjae would have notched another PGA TOUR victory.

If the 24-year-old can get the flat stick going this week, we may have back-to-back South Korean winners on the PGA TOUR.

Tyrrell Hatton (+6000)

It appears as if Tyrrell Hatton is trending toward a victory, as he’s playing arguably the best golf of his 2022 season. He finished 11th at the Open Championship and followed it up with an impressive performance at Wyndham, finishing eighth. In addition to his top-10 finish, the Englishman was impressive with his approach playing and gained 5.3 strokes on approach, which was good for sixth in the field.

Hatton got hot in his final round last week, shooting a 64. Oftentimes we see golfers who go low on the previous Sunday carry the momentum into the following tournament. Hatton is a much better player than he’s shown thus far in 2022, and it seems as if he’s found something ahead of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

If he has, TPC Southwind should be a good course for him as he finished in 17th last year and was in contention prior to a fourth round 72 that took him out of the running.

Russell Henley (+6000)

It’s fair to wonder whether Russell Henley can close out a victory on the PGA TOUR after witnessing him blow leads at last season’s Wyndham Championship and this season’s Sony Open. Considering that the FedEx Cup St. Jude Championship will be comprised of a much stronger field than either of those events makes it perfectly reasonable to question it even further. However, at his number, I’m willing to give it one more shot.

Henley is in the best form we’ve seen him in this season. In his past two starts, the 33-year-old has finishes of 10th and fifth and has gained 11 and 9.7 strokes from tee to green in those events. At the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Henley ranked seventh in the field in approach, and at the Wydham Championship, he ranked first.

TPC Southwind is a course that should fit Henley’s game to a tee. With a premium on iron play and hitting greens in regulation, the former Georgia Bulldog is a perfect fit. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a course where he doesn’t have to gain a bunch of strokes with the putter to win.

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Davis Love III was still using a persimmon driver in 1997?!



The revolution of metal drivers was happening quickly in the early-to-mid 1990’s, but Davis Love III was set on sticking with his Cleveland Classic Oil Hardened RC85 persimmon driver. He wasn’t oblivious to the emerging technology, though. He knew exactly what he was doing, and why.

“The Cleveland has been in my bag since 1985,” Love III wrote in his 1997 book, “Every Shot I Take.” “It was given to me by a good friend, Bob Spence. I experiment with metal drivers often; I find – for me, and not necessarily for you – they go marginally longer than my wooden driver, but they don’t give me any shape. I find it more difficult to create shape to my drives off the metal face, which is important to me. …I also love the sound my ball makes as it comes off the persimmon insert of my driver.

“I’m no technophobe,” he added. “My fairway ‘woods’ have metal heads … but when it comes to my old wooden driver, I guess the only thing I can really say is that I enjoy golf more with it, and I think I play better with it…golf is somehow more pleasing to me when played with a driver made of wood.”

Although his book came out in 1997, Love III switched out his persimmon driver for a Titleist 975D titanium driver in the same year.

It was the end of an era.

During Love III’s 12-year-run with the persimmon driver, though, he piled on four wins in the year of 1992, including the Kmart Greater Greensboro Open — now known as the Wyndham Championship.

Love III, who’s captaining the 2022 Presidents Cup United States team next month at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C., is playing in the 2022 Wyndham Championship in nearby Greensboro. In celebration, we took a look back in the archives to see what clubs Love III used for his win in 1992 for an article on We discovered he was using a Cleveland Classic persimmon driver, in addition to a nostalgic equipment setup.

In our latest Two Guys Talking Golf podcast episode, equipment aficionado and co-host Brian Knudson, and myself (GolfWRX tour reporter Andrew Tursky), discuss Love III’s late switch to a metal-made driver, and why he may have stuck with a wooden persimmon driver for so long.

Check out the full podcast below in the SoundCloud embed, or listen on Apple Music here. For more information on Love III’s 1992 setup versus his 2022 WITB, click here.



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