Golf has become a big-time sport driven by not only opportunities for college golf scholarships, but also fame and fortune on the PGA Tour. Although some play for the love of the game, more and more start playing because they or their parents want them to be golf’s next billionaire.
I have watched the mania evolve over last the 25 years: first as a player, then as a junior golf coach, then as a college golf coach, and now as a mentor to some of the best junior golfers in the world. It’s all heady and intoxicating, and it has a huge impact on the relationships between players and their parents and coaches. What I see ranges from healthy and loving to what can best be described as “Crazy Town.”
Crazy Town is a land of delusion, frustration and slow, painful failure. It’s a place where the whole point of the process is missed. For me, golf is not about where a kid places in a tournament or shoots; it’s about teaching young people the habits and skills they need to succeed at everything, not just golf. Nowadays, too many parents and coaches create zero-sum evaluations during a child’s most fragile and important stages of maturation and development. The result is not only athletic failure, but also the erosion of faith in family, coaching, and the process of success.
Here are three key considerations for a parent who wants to avoid crazy town.
1. Do You Know Where You End And Your Child Begins?
The golf belongs to the kid. It‘s your child’s golf endeavor, not “yours” or “ours.” If you hear yourself talking about how “we” played today, what “we” shot, or what “we” won, then you already reside in Crazy Town.
Do you speak about “our” grades at school, “our” piano lessons, or cleaning “our” room? If so, maybe you have lost sight of where you end and where your child begins. Quickly get some separation, distance, and perspective. This is not about you or your family; it’s about your kid.
2. Who Wants This? You or Your Child?
The fact is that golf requires lots of long and lonely hours if your child want to play at the highest level, especially at the beginning when the child needs to invest huge sums of time in creating the proper patterns. The fact is that you can only demand they invest their time for so long. As children mature, they need to be able to explore boundaries and learn to be responsible for themselves. Once you have helped your child understand the investment needed and provided them a safe learning environment, your job is done.
At this point, your child is either going to have ignition and work at their game or not. If they don’t, then I recommend you help your child find another endeavor that does create a spark in them. It might be track and field that ignites the passion to learn and grow. Whatever it is, your job is to help your kid find it… then leave him or her to follow the dream.
3. Have You and Your Junior Learned the 6 C’s?
Dr. Richard Learner is a researcher at Tufts University where he’s the chair of the Institute of Applied Research in Youth Development. He’s known for his theory of relations between life-span human development and social change, and for his research about the relationship between adolescents and their peers, families, schools, and communities. His work centers around children developing what he terms the 5 C’s: Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, and Caring.
Researcher Jean Cote suggests a sixth “C,” specifically for sports: Competition. Together, the research suggests that when students work toward developing these skills, they become more successful human beings. Ask yourself if what you are doing is developing the 6 C’s in your child, because if it is then you and and him or her are likely headed in a good direction.
Remember, introducing sport to your son or daughter is not about the scholarship dollars or potential fame; it’s a way to teach them the skills and habits they need to live enriching and fulfilling lives. Use sport to help your child learn competition, friendship, humility, self-confidence, determination, challenging work, passion, and honesty. Reward them for learning these lessons and remind them, using your own experience, why they are playing sport. Over the long run, I promise you will be happy you did.
The Wedge Guy: The Red Zone
For those of you who are big football fans, we are lost in the off-season, waiting a few more months before we get to watch our favorite pro or college teams duke it out on the gridiron. Living in Texas, of course, football is a very big deal, from the NFL Cowboys and Texans, through our broad college network representing multiple conferences and into the bedrock of Friday nights – high school football, which drives fans and entire towns into a frenzy.
In almost every football conversation on TV, you hear talk about “the red zone”. How a team performs inside the 20-yard line is a real measure of their offensive prowess, and usually a pretty good indicator of their win/loss record, too. It breaks down to what percentage of the time a team scores a touchdown or field goal, and how often they come away empty.
I like to think we golfers have our own “red zone”. It’s that distance from the green where we should be able to go on the offensive and think about pars and birdies, ensure no worse than bogey . . . and rarely put a double or worse on the card. Your own particular set of red zone goals should be based on your handicap. If you are a low single digit, this is your “go zone”, where you feel like you can take it right at the flag and give yourself a decent birdie putt, with bogeys being an unpleasant surprise. For mid-handicap players, it’s where you should feel confident you’ll guarantee a par and rarely make bogey, and for higher handicap players, it’s where you will ensure a bogey at least, give yourself a good chance at par, and maybe even a birdie.
But regardless of your handicap, your own “red zone” should begin when you can put a high loft club in your hands – one with over 40 degrees of loft. Of course, that has changed a lot with the continual strengthening of irons. In my early days that was an eight iron, then it migrated to a nine. But regardless of your handicap or the make and model of irons you play, my contention is that golf is relatively “defensive” with all the other clubs in your bag. With those lower lofted irons, your goal should be to just keep it out of trouble and moving closer to the goal line . . . er, the flag. Even the PGA Tour pros make a very small percentage of their birdies with their middle irons.
When you can put a high loft club in your bag – whether that’s from 150 yards or 105 – that’s when you should feel like you can put your offense into high gear and raise your expectations. It’s no longer about power, because this isn’t about raw distance, but rather distance control and precision. From the red zone, it’s about trusting your technique and your equipment and taking it to the golf course a little bit.
As most of us are in the early stages of the 2021 golf season, one of the best things you can do for your golf improvement is to begin tracking your “red zone” performance. Put the numbers down as to how you are scoring the golf course from your 9-iron range on into the flag. My guess is that you’ll see this is where you can make the most improvement if you’ll give that part of your game some additional time and focus. Any golfer can learn to hit crisp and accurate short range approach shots. And so you should.
Pay attention to your own red zone stats, and work to improve them. I guarantee you that you’ll see your scores come down quickly.
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