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Are We Destroying Young Golfers?

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For parents and coaches alike, the logic versus the reality of junior golf development can often be two totally different things. With dropout rates so high in sports, the messages in this article need to be spread if we are to encourage lifelong participation in sport.  Specifically, I will highlight three vital points that I believe all parents and coaches involved in youth golf need to understand.

No. 1: Early Specialization

Logic: “The more he or she plays one sport, the better he or she will get.”

Reality: Research shows that early specialization is one of the most cited reasons for dropouts in sport. Below are some key reasons why.

  • Early Success: If a young child is only playing one sport, and playing it quite a lot, I would expect them to get better quickly and potentially become the best in the class. The reality of this, however, is that they can often then struggle with the psychological pressures that accompany this success, consequently leading to frustration and falling out of love with the game.
  • High Expectations: High expectations are heavily linked with early success, as the expectations of a child, parents, family, and friends become very high. The issue here is that when a child reaches a natural performance plateau and other children catch up, the child then faces pressure. The question becomes, “You were the best two years ago. Why are you not the best now?”Child I love Golf
  • Performance Anxiety: As a child specializes in one sport, the level of competition and also the number of competitions played will inevitably increase. The issue here is that the motivation to play can change. Children often switch from playing sports to have fun with their friends to trying to make Daddy happy by playing well and winning.
  • Injuries: A child has a child’s body, meaning it can be sensitive to overexertion and repeated exercise.
  • Isolation: Being away from friends (as you are always at the golf club) can cause children to pay a huge social price. Children need time for Lego and Pokémon with friends and should not be at the golf course for 10 hours every day.
  • Burnout: Too much of one thing and a child will burn out. There simply becomes a time when enough is enough.

The underlying issue with the above is that the motivations of a child can change from starting the game and loving it (intrinsic motivation). The game becomes more than just fun, and too many things outside of a child’s love become important (extrinsic motivation). Ultimately, maintaining a child’s intrinsic motivation is crucial for long-term participation, so why would we harm this? The tweet below from Dr. Martin Toms at the University of Birmingham sums it up perfectly.

“If your child could only study one subject at school, you’d worry about their development and the missed opportunities for them to learn new skills. So why for some sports/coaches is early specialization perceived as acceptable?”

But Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy played loads when they were kids, right? Yes, I get that, but understand that they are the ultimate outliers. For the one or two children that followed what Rory and Tiger did and made it to the PGA Tour, there are thousands of young golfers who quit the game from the burnout that can be caused by early specialization. There are also hundreds of people who came to golf later in life — Nick Faldo being the best example, not starting the game until 13 years of age — and became highly successful.

Further Reading: Do a quick google search on Oscar Sharpe Golf. Unfortunately, Oscar no longer plays competitive golf and is a great example of how early success may not always result in long-term success.

No. 2: Instruction

Childs Brain (3)

Logic: “I see what’s wrong. If I tell him/her this, I’m sure they will get better.”

Reality: A young child cannot mentally process overloads of information. Also, is golf really fun for children when someone is standing there telling you what to do, shot after shot? And when did a young child ever want to listen to Mom or Dad? What top athlete ever thanked their parents for coaching them?

My thoughts on youth golf instruction are three-fold:

  1. Children do need golf instruction, but it must be carefully delivered at the right times. Leave it to a coach you trust.
  2. Growth spurts can affect coordination in such a way that any previous technical work can become worthless.
  3. Developing psychological tools/traits is more advantageous than technical work, as these skills will stay with a child forever.

No. 3: The Car Ride Home

Logic: “My child needs me to honestly evaluate their play so they will be more motivated to play better next time.”

Reality: Children know full well if they have performed their best, and I would urge parents and coaches to use some of the following phrases instead of criticizing:

  • “I love watching you play.”
  • “How did you feel about today’s game?”
  • “What do think you can improve for next time?”
  • “So, what do you fancy for tea tonight?” (remember, I’m from the UK).

Child under pressureIt can seem logical that being more critical with a child will not do any harm, and instead help them improve… but research has shown that consistent criticism can totally disengage a child. They become less focused on playing and enjoying their sport, and more focused about not being criticized on the car ride home.

The Answer

The truth is that junior sports development is highly complex and we as coaches cannot provide ONE answer to help your child succeed in his or her sport. What we can do, however, is draw upon the research and use this to guide our actions.

Here are three additional tips to pass on to fellow parents. Or better yet, pass on this article!

  • Take Care with Early Specialization: Success too early, injuries, and burnout can cause many long-term problems with children, starting with a loss of passion for a sport or skill they have. If your child has a passion for golf, that’s great. And if they are good, that’s also great. Manage their expectations while helping them strike the correct balance between their passion for golf and other activities.
  • Coaches: Remember that an overload of instruction is not good for a fully grown adult, so it’s certainly not good for a child. Parents need to remember that their primary responsibility is to be a parent, not a coach.
  • Parents: On the car ride home, put yourself in the shoes of your child before offering any criticism or feedback. You may unintentionally pushing your child away from the game they love and put pressure on them that can lead to failure.

References: Understanding dropout and prolonged engagement in adolescent competitive sport (Jessica Fraser Thomas, Jean Cote, Janice Deaking).

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Thomas is an Advanced UKPGA Professional and Director of the Future Elite (FUEL) Junior Golf Programme. Thomas is a big believer in evidence based coaching and has enjoyed numerous worldwide coaching experiences. His main aim to introduce and help more golfers enjoy the game, by creating unique environments that best facilitate improvement.

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Rano

    Aug 18, 2017 at 4:14 am

    “What top athlete ever thanked their parents for coaching them?”

    Tiger Woods? The Williams sisters? Andy Murray? Jamie Murray?

  2. www.youtube.com

    Jul 29, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Along with books, many games use colour in part to
    make them appealing to young children while teaching
    them about colour.

  3. matt_bear

    Jul 29, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    When i was in middle school during the early/mid 90’s golf and tennis were laughed at. Kids who played it got picked on. Big difference from today.

    There’s a ton of money and fame out there right now. Life changing amounts of money. All the high school and college kids today were born right as the Tiger era begin, because the Tiger era brought all the money, fame, and hype. Parents are “investing” in their kids because it’s a lotto ticket for a chance to get pulled out of the low/middle class and into elite status. The reality is that it’s a cut throat world, and you realize that as you get older.

    It’s also “funny” how teens who play high level sports are getting bigger/faster/muscular. They 16-17 year olds out there looking like ripped 28 year old competitive body builders. It happened with football and basketball first (because there was greater amounts of money and fame), but it’s now tricking over to tennis and golf. Just makes you go “hmm”…

  4. CM

    Jul 28, 2017 at 9:57 am

    Thank you for the article. As a former college athlete and the father of four multi-sport athletes, I feel like I have seen some of the best and worst of youth sports. First, I think its really a positive if kids can play at least 1 individual sport and 1 team sport. They learn responsibility to team as well as themselves. Second, no matter how much crazy parents want/need their children to excel at a sport; kids aren’t going to excel unless they are practicing/playing on their own, when no one is watching. In otherwords, are they having fun playing the sport. Personally, we are having a lot of fun as a family playing this great game together.

  5. John

    Jul 28, 2017 at 9:06 am

    I have been a high school golf coach and run a junior golf program in a summer. I’m 55 and have been playing since I was ten. I played a scruffy 9 hole muni from the time we got out of school until school started again (3 months). Our parents would drop 10-12 of us off everyday and we would play 27 a day Monday-Friday. We all became pretty good players (single digits) and three became head professionals at our area clubs. But basically we played 3 months of golf then moved on to the next sport when school started.

    Today the burnout factor is real. One player I watched was bigger than the other kids from the ages of 12-15. So he it the ball farther and was shooting mid 70s because of his length and wining area tournaments. Because he was “the best” he was pushed to hit balls all winter, play numerous tournaments (when he just wanted to play with his friends at his home course), and take lessons. Another boy was not very big and shot a lot of low to mid 80s from 12-15 and became frustrated he could never beat “the best” – but after golf season he went on t play hockey. A funny thing happened on the way to HS graduation. “The best” kept shooting his 73-77s, but the others kept growing and they hit it as far and also shot 73-77 as their distance improved. The “other boy” won the HS championship his senior year and went on to have an excellent college career at a D-3 school and still plays competitively today in his mid 20s. But “the best” didn’t like that he wasn’t the best any more and went to school for one semester to play golf but dropped out and has not played since. This is a true story and I have seen it over and over, again and again.

  6. M S m i z z l e

    Jul 28, 2017 at 8:20 am

    Peds at an early age to hit the ball farther is destroying young golfers…..
    Appears to have taken out a few older ones too

  7. Matt

    Jul 28, 2017 at 5:47 am

    The support for young athletes now seems pretty amazing compared to a couple decades ago when I competed as a young guy. The question I’ve never figured out an answer to, is how big a factor specialisation plays toward kids chances of maintaining interest in the long term.

  8. Patrick

    Jul 27, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    My oldest son played in the NHL and is still playing professionally in Europe. I got him into golf to get him out of rinks and the rat race associated with hockey. This article is spot on and I wanted him to play at least a couple of sports for variety and, a different set of friends. Golf’s community is far more relaxed and ethical. Plus, you get out doors and walk a ton.
    I wanted a sport that we could play together along with his siblings for a long time. Unfortunately, he hardly plays because of travel and time. I’m holding on that when things settle down in his life we’ll be able to get together often in the summer.

  9. Brian

    Jul 27, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    I think specialization hurts athletes in the long run, unless they’re specializing in a sport that already requires almost all levels of athleticism, like basketball (Speed, agility, strength, power, coordination, endurance, etc). There are athletic traits that carry over between sports that are better developed from other sports. Golfers, baseball players…they’ll benefit by playing other sports that help them build skills that golf alone will not.

    • DP

      Jul 28, 2017 at 2:25 am

      You’re so completely wrong about basketball in relation to other athletic activities no wonder people misunderstand golf just as much. Different skill sets mean different results – therefore different sports and different kinds of coordination. The funniest thing is watching a basketball player try to play soccer, and vice versa. So basketball is a very specialist sport, just as golf or soccer is, and therefore your example fails pretty badly. Even baseball……. the best golfers in baseball are pitchers, not batters. Figure that into your equation. Nobody will ever want to get coached by you, that’s for sure.

      • MJ

        Jul 28, 2017 at 7:09 am

        DP you are a spank for the last sentence. Troll.

        • Peddler

          Jul 28, 2017 at 11:46 am

          Is he a spank or troll? Make up your mind. Or did you sign off your name as a Troll? lmao

      • Brian

        Jul 28, 2017 at 1:13 pm

        You completely lost the entire point in my post. Nowhere did I state that in order to be good at golf, you should play basketball. Of course you need to work the most on the sport in which you wish to excel, but you’re going to develop other athletic talents that your chosen sport along might not teach. Pitchers are better golfers because they only play one out of every 5 games and have much more time to play golf than position players. Position players also don’t want to ruin their baseball swing by playing a lot of golf.

        A soccer player WHO ALSO PLAYS BASKETBALL is going to develop skills that he won’t by playing soccer along.

        Reading comprehension…

        • We

          Jul 28, 2017 at 1:37 pm

          Then you need to learn to express yourself and write properly. Don’t put it on others for not understanding what you so miserably fail to explain in the first place. And fix your typos before you hit the Post Comment button. Immature buffoon that youse are

  10. Brad T

    Jul 27, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    As a 30 yr old looking back at my early athletic days i couldnt agree more. I would be thinking of the car ride home during the game. You dont have to overspend and re mortgage the farm, if your kids good enough they’ll find him.

    • GK

      Jul 27, 2017 at 3:18 pm

      Exactly, college scouts are really good at spotting raw potential. Mostly they are looking at raw size, speed, and power over skill level. Superior athletics can be molded into what they want. But undersized kids and kids with overdeveloped skill stands right out as ‘peaked already, pass’.

  11. GK

    Jul 27, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    Save your time and money on this ‘travel ball’ special sports scam. Most of the young ‘prodigies’ are simply kids whose hormones kicked in early making them more mature. When the other kids catch up many find out they weren’t that special and quit. You have ‘coaches’ making a living off of parents whose money would have been better saved for college rather than shooting for an athletic scholarship.

  12. jkumpire

    Jul 27, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    After being involved in sports for over 50 years I have to make a few comments.

    BC is both right and wrong, but sadly his takedown of the article is incorrect. Some kids do quite well concentrating on one sport. On the high school level, especially if they get proper rest, time off from the sport for conditioning and rest, and have other healthy activities they do so they have a balance in life, they can be very successful in their chosen sport.

    However, recent data shows pretty clearly that over-specialization in one sport is not good for almost everyone. There are more injuries from overuse than ever before, especially when kids do not take time off to rest their bodies or do activities/conditioning/other sports that strengthen other parts or even sides of the body than are heavily used in their chosen sport. Maybe not so much in golf, but in many other sports college coaches and recruiters shy away from athletes who specialize in only one sport. They want to see athletes, not just specialists, and that means succeeding in other sports than their chosen one.

    The issue of burnout is becoming a problem , especially in children of middle-school and early high school age. When they play a sport from a very young age, by the time they are in later middle of early high school (i.e. 8-9 grade) many, many kids quit because of burnout. They want to do something else and have more time for other things in their high school years. Part of the problem is that more and more high school sports programs demand more and more time spent on one sport because of the pressure of winning is getting too important, forgetting that the end of HS athletics is not winning, but the physical, mental, and social growth of the participants so they become excellent, well-rounded adults who function well in society.

    The things the author talks about are pretty much not in dispute, unless you are one who is able to handle the sacrifices of concentrating on one sport and has a support group to help you, Specialization, especially at a young age is not a good idea. and parents (or more often than not THE parent) these days need to understand how to treat kids, and coaches, and in some sports officials in such a way as to make the sports experience fun and part of their healthy growth and development.

    Golf is a tough sport to play competitively, we all know that. It is not really a team sport and it takes a lot of time and effort to play well. And like all sports very, very few people even make it to college to play (like 2.3% of all HS athletes in all sports play in college at any level), and the percentage of college athletes who become professionals is microscopically small.

    The author correctly speaks about how to make the sport or sports a kid plays a great experience for the rest their lives, not just until they are 13, 18, and out of Daddy’s house, or 21-22.

  13. Lloyd

    Jul 27, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Children should learn to run and jump and generally use their bodies before they specialize so they can have an all-round athletic body and participate in many sports. Parents should put a priority on academics, not athletics in today’s world. Earning a living in sports is like winning the big lottery; the odds are stacked against your child. If athletics is all you can offer your child, you are a failure as a parent.

  14. OL

    Jul 27, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Key word: Outliers. THAT’s the reality, actually. It’s just a matter of percentages. If you had 1 million people who wanted to get into a space of 100,000, you’ll always have 900,000 who can’t get in. That’s life. There’ll always be ones who are successful and those who aren’t. All this explanation in this article is just a load of hogwash and psychobabble. If your kid is one of those 900,000, oh well. That’s just how reality is. That’s why the ones who are successful and stay successful all the way through are seen to be amazing. But it’s not. What this article needs to look at is the same statistical analysis in sports like Gymnastics and what it takes to be on the Olympics teams, and how many get left behind and don’t make it in that career. Where do all the kids go, who don’t make it?

    • Biddles

      Aug 4, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      “All this explanation in this article is just a load of hogwash and psychobabble.”

      You ENTIRELY missed the point of the article. Gosh, may as well have thrown in some snowflake references for good measure.

      “What this article needs to look at is the same statistical analysis in sports like Gymnastics and what it takes to be on the Olympics teams, and how many get left behind and don’t make it in that career.”

      Not once did the article mention making golf a career. It didn’t mention scholarships. It didn’t mention money.

      The point of the article is in the very FIRST paragraph: “to encourage lifelong participation in sport.”

      The article is about not burning out young golfers so they can continue to enjoy the sport throughout their lives.

  15. BC

    Jul 27, 2017 at 7:50 am

    This is your typical modern “guilt” article. You writers are bored and frustrated with the lack of news in the golf world, so you write puff pieces like this to try and stir the pot. All of the “feel” good crybabies talking about equal rights for everything in this world. Makes me sick. Kids that play high school level sports are mostly “average” at best right now. Everything is watered down because everyone is supposed to feel like a big important champion. When my son gets cut from the golf team (which is very likely) I will tell him to not be surprised. This is a solo sport and it’s his own fault. Sounds harsh right? Truth is, he just picked up a club and starting taking it serious this summer. He is not prepared to play at a varsity level. (even a watered down version of varsity) He does not have interest in any other sports. He also started playing to be a companion on the course with me. (Not to “please” daddy… but to learn a sport that will allow him to gain a common ground in business, and pleasure.) I’m so tired of writers that were probably picked on in the past, having the outlet to vent and try to teach others how we are supposed to raise our kids. If parents would pull their kids faces out of the iPhones and social media garbage and take the time to drive them to the sports that are out there… the 3 sport kids would return. Parents are using their lack of time and energy as an excuse to keep the kids in a one sport program. Financially and availability is the biggest burdens. It’s the path of least resistance. DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA how much money is involved if you have three kids that play three sports (travel and high school???) My kids stupid PUBLIC high school makes them pay to play!!!!!!! So let’s multiple the 3 kids and 3 sports times two! How much time and money is left???? Seriously… this article is clearly written by some bleeding heart, Prius driver that thinks the world should just be so equal and fair. Stop putting ideas into peoples heads to make them feel guilty for doing the best they can.

    • Jebaited

      Jul 27, 2017 at 8:29 am

      Are you okay?

    • Judge Smeills

      Jul 27, 2017 at 3:16 pm

      you sounds like your having a heart attack, you don’t have to read the whole article if you don’t like it.

    • PXG PRO

      Jul 27, 2017 at 4:26 pm

      Wow. That is really some harsh stuff you laid out there. I hope you never have to coach a team or are disappointed when your kid isn’t a PGA pro in exactly 18 years from birth.

    • Prime21

      Jul 27, 2017 at 9:11 pm

      Couldn’t agree more, well said! I’m sure many will find your comments harsh & throw some personal attacks your way, but I, for one, never find it wrong to call a spade a spade. For those who are going to throw shade at BC, do we not agree that everyone is entitled to their opinion? Call him an angry hater, call him whatever makes you feel better about standing up for your belief, but realize that you calling him out is NO DIFFERENT than him calling the author of this article out.

      • Biddles

        Aug 4, 2017 at 2:26 pm

        “Call him an angry hater, call him whatever makes you feel better about standing up for your belief, but realize that you calling him out is NO DIFFERENT than him calling the author of this article out.”

        Well, no, not exactly. Not at all.

        He wrote an idiotic missive based purely on his anecdotal experience, attacking an author who made very good points that are borne out by real world data.

        Those two things are very different.

        There’s so many statements that are just plain stupid in his rant, he should be roundly criticized. And that’s ignoring the ridiculous tone he took.

        For example…

        “Kids that play high school level sports are mostly “average” at best right now. Everything is watered down because everyone is supposed to feel like a big important champion.”

        Yeah, most kids are mostly “average.” That’s how AVERAGE works. Gosh, what a genius statement! Most kids 50 years ago were “average” as well.

        Now, back in the real world, youth sports are probably more elite than ever. Sure, some communities cater to losers more with participation trophies and things like that, but that whole phenomenon is way overstated. It just doesn’t happen nearly as much as conservative snowflakes like BC would have you think. It’s just that the mere thought of congratulating kids for trying triggers him, becoming the very snowflake that he no doubt rants and raves about all the time.

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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: The easiest-to-learn golf basic

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My golf learning began with this simple fact – if you don’t have a fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, it is practically impossible for your body to execute a fundamentally sound golf swing. I’m still a big believer that the golf swing is much easier to execute if you begin with the proper hold on the club.

As you might imagine, I come into contact with hundreds of golfers of all skill levels. And it is very rare to see a good player with a bad hold on the golf club. There are some exceptions, for sure, but they are very few and very far between, and they typically have beat so many balls with their poor grip that they’ve found a way to work around it.

The reality of biophysics is that the body moves only in certain ways – and the particulars of the way you hold the golf club can totally prevent a sound swing motion that allows the club to release properly through the impact zone. The wonderful thing is that anyone can learn how to put a fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, and you can practice it anywhere your hands are not otherwise engaged, like watching TV or just sitting and relaxing.

Whether you prefer an overlap, interlock or full-finger (not baseball!) grip on the club, the same fundamentals apply.  Here are the major grip faults I see most often, in the order of the frequency:

Mis-aligned hands

By this I mean that the palms of the two hands are not parallel to each other. Too many golfers have a weak left hand and strong right, or vice versa. The easiest way to learn how to hold the club with your palms aligned properly is to grip a plain wooden ruler or yardstick. It forces the hands to align properly and shows you how that feels. If you grip and re-grip a yardstick several times, then grip a club, you’ll see that the learning curve is almost immediate.

The position of the grip in the upper/left hand

I also observe many golfers who have the butt of the grip too far into the heel pad of the upper hand (the left hand for right-handed players). It’s amazing how much easier it is to release the club through the ball if even 1/4-1/2″ of the butt is beyond the left heel pad. Try this yourself to see what I mean.  Swing the club freely with just your left hand and notice the difference in its release from when you hold it at the end of the grip, versus gripping down even a half inch.

To help you really understand how this works, go to the range and hit shots with your five-iron gripped down a full inch to make the club the same length as your seven-iron. You will probably see an amazing shot shape difference, and likely not see as much distance loss as you would expect.

Too much lower (right) hand on the club

It seems like almost all golfers of 8-10 handicap or higher have the club too far into the palm of the lower hand, because that feels “good” if you are trying to control the path of the clubhead to the ball. But the golf swing is not an effort to hit at the ball – it is a swing of the club. The proper hold on the club has the grip underneath the pad at the base of the fingers. This will likely feel “weak” to you — like you cannot control the club like that. EXACTLY. You should not be trying to control the club with your lower/master hand.

Gripping too tightly

Nearly all golfers hold the club too tightly, which tenses up the forearms and prevents a proper release of the club through impact. In order for the club to move back and through properly, you must feel that the club is controlled by the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the middle two fingers of the lower hand. If you engage your thumbs and forefingers in “holding” the club, the result will almost always be a grip that is too tight. Try this for yourself. Hold the club in your upper hand only, and squeeze firmly with just the last three fingers, with the forefinger and thumb off the club entirely. You have good control, but your forearms are not tense. Then begin to squeeze down with your thumb and forefinger and observe the tensing of the entire forearm. This is the way we are made, so the key to preventing tenseness in the arms is to hold the club very lightly with the “pinchers” — the thumbs and forefingers.

So, those are what I believe are the four fundamentals of a good grip. Anyone can learn them in their home or office very quickly. There is no easier way to improve your ball striking consistency and add distance than giving more attention to the way you hold the golf club.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open betting preview

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As the Florida swing comes to an end, the PGA Tour makes its way to Houston to play the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course.

This will be the fourth year that Memorial Park Golf Course will serve as the tournament host. The event did not take place in 2023, but the course hosted the event in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Memorial Park is a par-70 layout measuring 7,432 yards and features Bermudagrass greens. Historically, the main defense for the course has been thick rough along the fairways and tightly mown runoff areas around the greens. Memorial Park has a unique setup that features three Par 5’s and five Par 3’s.

The field will consist of 132 players, with the top 65 and ties making the cut. There are some big names making the trip to Houston, including Scottie Scheffler, Wyndham Clark, Tony Finau, Will Zalatoris and Sahith Theegala.

Past Winners at Memorial Park

  • 2022: Tony Finau (-16)
  • 2021: Jason Kokrak (-10)
  • 2020: Carlos Ortiz (-13)

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value). 

Key Stats For Memorial Park

Let’s take a look at several metrics for Memorial Park to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds:

Strokes Gained: Approach

Memorial Park is a pretty tough golf course. Golfers are penalized for missing greens and face some difficult up and downs to save par. Approach will be key.

Total Strokes Gained: Approach per round in past 24 rounds:

  1. Tom Hoge (+1.30)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+1.26)
  3. Keith Mitchell (+0.97) 
  4. Tony Finau (+0.92)
  5. Jake Knapp (+0.84)

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee

Memorial Park is a long golf course with rough that can be penal. Therefore, a combination of distance and accuracy is the best metric.

Total Strokes Gained: Off the Tee per round in past 24 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+0.94)
  2. Kevin Dougherty (+0.93)
  3. Cameron Champ (+0.86)
  4. Rafael Campos (+0.84)
  5. Si Woo Kim (+0.70)

Strokes Gained Putting: Bermudagrass + Fast

The Bermudagrass greens played fairly fast the past few years in Houston. Jason Kokrak gained 8.7 strokes putting on his way to victory in 2021 and Tony Finau gained in 7.8 in 2022.

Total Strokes Gained Putting (Bermudagrass) per round past 24 rounds (min. 8 rounds):

  1. Adam Svensson (+1.27)
  2. Harry Hall (+1.01)
  3. Martin Trainer (+0.94)
  4. Taylor Montgomery (+0.88)
  5. S.H. Kim (+0.86)

Strokes Gained: Around the Green

With firm and undulating putting surfaces, holding the green on approach shots may prove to be a challenge. Memorial Park has many tightly mowed runoff areas, so golfers will have challenging up-and-down’s around the greens. Carlos Ortiz gained 5.7 strokes around the green on the way to victory in 2020.

Total Strokes Gained: Around the Green per round in past 24 rounds:

  1. Mackenzie Hughes (+0.76)
  2. S.H. Kim (+0.68)
  3. Scottie Scheffler (+0.64)
  4. Jorge Campillo (+0.62)
  5. Jason Day (+0.60)

Strokes Gained: Long and Difficult

Memorial Park is a long and difficult golf course. This statistic will incorporate players who’ve had success on these types of tracks in the past. 

Total Strokes Gained: Long and Difficult in past 24 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.45)
  2. Ben Griffin (+1.75)
  3. Will Zalatoris (+1.73)
  4. Ben Taylor (+1.53)
  5. Tony Finau (+1.42)

Course History

Here are the players who have performed the most consistently at Memorial Park. 

Strokes Gained Total at Memorial Park past 12 rounds:

  1. Tyson Alexander (+3.65)
  2. Ben Taylor (+3.40)
  3. Tony Finau (+2.37)
  4. Joel Dahmen (+2.25)
  5. Patton Kizzire (+2.16)

Statistical Model

Below, I’ve reported overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed.

These rankings are comprised of SG: App (24%) SG: OTT (24%); SG: Putting Bermudagrass/Fast (13%); SG: Long and Difficult (13%); SG: ARG (13%) and Course History (13%)

  1. Scottie Scheffler
  2. Wyndham Clark
  3. Tony Finau
  4. Joel Dahmen
  5. Stephan Jaeger 
  6. Aaron Rai
  7. Sahith Theegala
  8. Keith Mitchell 
  9. Jhonnatan Vegas
  10. Jason Day
  11. Kurt Kitayama
  12. Alex Noren
  13. Will Zalatoris
  14. Si Woo Kim
  15. Adam Long

2024 Texas Children’s Houston Open Picks

Will Zalatoris +2000 (Caesars)

Scottie Scheffler will undoubtedly be difficult to beat this week, so I’m starting my card with someone who I believe has the talent to beat him if he doesn’t have his best stuff.

Will Zalatoris missed the cut at the PLAYERS, but still managed to gain strokes on approach while doing so. In an unpredictable event with extreme variance, I don’t believe it would be wise to discount Zalatoris based on that performance. Prior to The PLAYERS, the 27-year-old finished T13, T2 and T4 in his previous three starts.

Zalatoris plays his best golf on long and difficult golf courses. In his past 24 rounds, he ranks 3rd in the category, but the eye test also tells a similar story. He’s contended at major championships and elevated events in the best of fields with tough scoring conditions.  The Texas resident should be a perfect fit at Memorial Park Golf Club.

Alex Noren +4500 (FanDuel)

Alex Noren has been quietly playing some of his best golf of the last half decade this season. The 41-year-old is coming off back-to-back top-20 finishes in Florida including a T9 at The PLAYERS in his most recent start.

In his past 24 rounds, Noren ranks 21st in the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, 30th in Strokes Gained: Around the Green, 25th in Strokes Gained: Total on long and difficult courses and 21st in Strokes Gained: Putting on fast Bermudagrass greens.

In addition to his strong recent play, the Swede also has played well at Memorial Park. In 2022, Noren finished T4 at the event, gaining 2.2 strokes off the tee and 7.0 strokes on approach for the week. In his two starts at the course, he’s gained an average of .6 strokes per round on the field, indicating he is comfortable on these greens.

Noren has been due for a win for what feels like an eternity, but Memorial Park may be the course that suits him well enough for him to finally get his elusive first PGA Tour victory.

Mackenzie Hughes +8000 (FanDuel)

Mackenzie Hughes found himself deep into contention at last week’s Valspar Championship before faltering late and finishing in a tie for 3rd place. While he would have loved to win the event, it’s hard to see the performance as anything other than an overwhelming positive sign for the Canadian.

Hughes has played great golf at Memorial Park in the past. He finished T7 in 2020, T29 in 2021 and T16 in 2022. The course fit seems to be quite strong for Hughes. He’s added distance off the tee in the past year or and ranks 8th in the field for apex height, which will be a key factor when hitting into Memorial Park’s elevated greens with steep run-off areas.

In his past 24 rounds, Hughes is the best player in the field in Strokes Gained: Around the Greens. The ability to scramble at this course will be extremely important. I believe Hughes can build off of his strong finish last week and contend once again to cement himself as a President’s Cup consideration.

Akshay Bhatia +8000 (FanDuel)

Akshay Bhatia played well last week at the Valspar and seemed to be in total control of his golf ball. He finished in a tie for 17th and shot an impressive -3 on a difficult Sunday. After struggling Thursday, Akshay shot 68-70-68 in his next three rounds.

Thus far, Bhatia has played better at easier courses, but his success at Copperhead may be due to his game maturing. The 22-year-old has enormous potential and the raw talent to be one of the best players in the world when he figures it all out.

Bhatia is a high upside play with superstar qualities and may just take the leap forward to the next stage of his career in the coming months.

Cameron Champ +12000 (FanDuel)

Cameron Champ is a player I often target in the outright betting market due to his “boom-or-bust” nature. It’s hard to think of a player in recent history with three PGA Tour wins who’s been as inconsistent as Champ has over the course of his career.

Despite the erratic play, Cam Champ simply knows how to win. He’s won in 2018, 2019 and 2021, so I feel he’s due for a win at some point this season. The former Texas A&M product should be comfortable in Texas and last week he showed us that his game is in a pretty decent spot.

Over his past 24 rounds, Champ ranks 3rd in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and 30th in Strokes Gained: Total on long and difficult courses. Given his ability to spike at any given time, Memorial Park is a good golf course to target Champ on at triple digit odds.

Robert MacIntyre +12000 (FanDuel)

The challenge this week is finding players who can possibly beat Scottie Scheffler while also not dumping an enormous amount of money into an event that has a player at the top that looks extremely dangerous. Enter McIntyre, who’s another boom-or-bust type player who has the ceiling to compete with anyone when his game is clicking on all cylinders.

In his past 24 rounds, MacIntyre ranks 16th in the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, 17th in Strokes Gained: Around the Green and 10th in Strokes Gained: Total on long and difficult courses.

MacIntyre’s PGA Tour season has gotten off to a slow start, but he finished T6 in Mexico, which is a course where players will hit driver on the majority of their tee shots, which is what we will see at Memorial Park. Texas can also get quite windy, which should suit MacIntyre. Last July, the Scot went toe to toe with Rory McIlroy at the Scottish Open before a narrow defeat. It would take a similar heroic effort to compete with Scheffler this year in Houston.

Ryan Moore +15000 (FanDuel)

Ryan Moore’s iron play has been absolutely unconscious over his past few starts. At The PLAYERS Championship in a loaded field, he gained 6.1 strokes on approach and last week at Copperhead, he gained 9.0 strokes on approach.

It’s been a rough handful of years on Tour for the 41-year-old, but he is still a five-time winner on the PGA Tour who’s young enough for a career resurgence. Moore has chronic deterioration in a costovertebral joint that connects the rib to the spine, but has been getting more consistent of late, which is hopefully a sign that he is getting healthy.

Veterans have been contending in 2024 and I believe taking a flier on a proven Tour play who’s shown signs of life is a wise move at Memorial Park.

 

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Opinion & Analysis

Ryan: Why the race to get better at golf might be doing more harm than good

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B.F. Skinner was one of the most important psychologists of the 20th century, developing the foundation of the development of reinforcement, and in doing so, creating the concept of behaviorism. In simple terms, this means that we are conditioned by our habits. In practical terms, it explains the divide between the few and far between elite instructors and college coaches.

To understand the application, let’s quickly review one of B.F. Skinner’s most important experiments; superstitions in the formation of behavior by pigeons. In this experiment, food was dispensed to pigeons at random intervals. Soon, according to Skinner, the pigeons began to associate whatever action they were doing at the time of the food being dispensed. According to Skinner, this conditioned that response and soon, they simply haphazardly repeated the action, failing to distinguish between cause and correlation (and in the meantime, looking really funny!).

Now, this is simply the best way to describe the actions of most every women’s college golf coach and too many instructors in America. They see something work, get positive feedback and then become conditioned to give the feedback, more and more, regardless of if it works (this is also why tips from your buddies never work!).

Go to a college event, particularly a women’s one, and you will see coaches running all over the place. Like the pigeons in the experiment, they have been conditioned into a codependent relationship with their players in which they believe their words and actions, can transform a round of golf. It is simply hilarious while being equally perturbing

In junior golf, it’s everywhere. Junior golf academies make a living selling parents that a hysterical coach and over-coaching are essential ingredients in your child’s success.

Let’s be clear, no one of any intellect has any real interest in golf — because it’s not that interesting. The people left, including most coaches and instructors, carve out a small fiefdom, usually on the corner of the range, where they use the illusion of competency to pray on people. In simple terms, they baffle people with the bullshit of pseudo-science that they can make you better, after just one more lesson.

The reality is that life is an impromptu game. The world of golf, business, and school have a message that the goal is being right. This, of course, is bad advice, being right in your own mind is easy, trying to push your ideas on others is hard. As a result, it is not surprising that the divorce rate among golf professionals and their instructors is 100 percent. The transfer rate among college players continues to soar, and too many courses have a guy peddling nefarious science to good people. In fact, we do at my course!

The question is, what impact does all this have on college-age and younger kids? At this point, we honestly don’t know. However, I am going to go out on a limb and say it isn’t good.

Soren Kierkegaard once quipped “I saw it for what it is, and I laughed.” The actions of most coaches and instructors in America are laughable. The problem is that I am not laughing because they are doing damage to kids, as well as driving good people away from this game.

The fact is that golfers don’t need more tips, secrets, or lessons. They need to be presented with a better understanding of the key elements of golf. With this understanding, they can then start to frame which information makes sense and what doesn’t. This will emancipate them and allow them to take charge of their own development.

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