As our daughter approached her third birthday, my wife and I thought it was time to move towards purchasing her some real golf clubs. Now when I say clubs, I am referring to an 8 iron and a putter. There really isn’t a need for anything else at this stage of development. So I headed out to our local pro shop and spoke with a PGA Certified Instructor on what he felt would be a good fit. He showed me what they had in stock for children. He asked me how tall she was and I told him 40” and he looked at me and asked me how old she was. I said “She is turning three,” and quickly followed with, “Yeah, I know she’s very tall for her age.” Our daughter falls into the 99 percentile for height. So we picked out an 8 iron and a putter that were the correct length for her height. My wife and I wrapped her new presents and were excited to see her open them.
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.
The numerous attempts to find an iron that wasn’t too heavy for her proved to be an exhausting search. Every club that was the correct length was always too heavy. So I am now in the process of having some weight removed from the head of the club by a local machinist. Prior to that we let her use the club that was too heavy and our daughter would take short back swings and hit chip shots with it. We figured it was better than nothing, and what a perfect way it was for her to develop her short game. She still plays with the plastic clubs with her brother and will take full swings with him. All was not lost. She gets to use her “big girl” clubs and still has fun playing with the plastic ones.
Now that we have our children interested in the game of golf how do we keep them interested in it? That is an excellent question and one of the easiest to answer. Simply by keeping it fun! I know, it sounds so simple right? Before we get started I would like you to take note of the following words and phrases:
Practice, Work, Concentrate, Focus, Pay Attention, Try Harder, More Effort and We didn’t come here to play around.
I know what your thinking, the list seems ridiculous. But time and time again I will be on the range and there is some parent there with their child and this is what I am listening to:
- “You need to practice and work on your swing”
- “Concentrate and focus on what you are doing”
- “Would you pay attention and try harder please”
- “You’re not giving enough effort — we didn’t come here to play around”
If I was that child I couldn’t wait to get off the range and go do something else. Then the parent can’t figure out after a short time why little Johnny or Suzy doesn’t want to continue to play golf. Here is the key word that we as parents need to focus on: PLAY.
There is a reason why I titled this article “Play Time.” I want you to visualize a play ground. Now, if you will picture a golf course or better yet the practice area of a golf course what do you see? Well, at the play ground I see a bunch of fun things to play with or on. What do I see when I look at the practice area? I see a putting green, bunkers, flags, buckets of balls and maybe a rake for the bunkers. So now let’s take a look at it from a child’s perspective. What does the child see when they look at a playground? They see the same thing you did, a bunch of stuff to play with or on. Now what does the child see when they look at the practice area? Guess what? It’s not a putting green, bunkers, flags, buckets of balls or a rake. They see the same thing they saw when they looked at the playground. A bunch of stuff to play with or on.
Now the time has come to take that first visit to the range or short game area. I said to my daughter, “Do you want to go with Daddy and play golf.” I always use the word “play.” I never say, “Lets go work on our game” or “Lets go practice.” To a child, the words work and practice don’t sound like fun at all. Of course she couldn’t wait to get there, even though the course is literally is just a few blocks from the house. But she must have asked me five times, “Are we there yet?” She was more excited than I was.
We pulled up, got out of the car and of course she wanted to carry her bag like a big girl. We headed down to the short game area which consists of a putting green, two bunkers and two flags. It was a perfect set up for her — Not too much going on with other golfers hitting balls like at the range and it’s big enough for her to get a real feel for playing golf. We started off by placing our bags to the side and I explained to her we never put our bags on this smooth grass. “Why not Daddy?” I explained that is called the green and we never want to put our bags on it because it could leave marks or little dents on it. We want to try and keep it as smooth as possible. Kids for the most part have an inquisitive mind. Now I could’ve started off by explaining all that to her before we put our bags down but I want her to ask why. This way she doesn’t feel like I am giving her limitations or bogging her down with rules. Let them reach out for the information — you don’t always have to lay it all out on the table for them.
She took out some colored balls out of her bag and grabbed her putter and proceeded to putt around the green. After a few minutes she realized that if you take the flags out you can putt the balls into the holes. I didn’t take the flags out because I wanted her to feel like she was in control of what we were doing. After all, we were playing. I don’t tell her what toys we are going to play with at home, and I wanted her to feel the same way at the course.
o after playing for about 10 minutes she wanted to try and use her 8 iron. I teed up a ball for her and she hit a chip shot. I teed up another ball and she stopped what she was doing and was just staring at the bunkers. So I was just waiting for the question, “Daddy what’s that sand box doing there?” I smiled holding back the laughter and said those are bunkers. “No, Daddy look, the sand boxes.” I said, “Sweetheart those are not sand boxes they are called bunkers,” and she quickly said, “Can we go in them?” Now, you know I am sitting there thinking I would rather you not go in and get sand all over you and then all over the car, but I said, “Sure, we can go and play in there.” Again I used the word play and I use it as much as I can when we are playing golf.
She played in the bunker for all of 5 minutes and then she pushed the rake a little and realized sand isn’t all that fun without other toys mixed in it. After her trip to the beach she walked back up to the green picked up her bag and started walking around the green along the fringe in a big circle. Her clubs and balls were on the putting green still. I asked her what she was doing and she said she was carrying her bag like they do on TV. A few trips around the green, a few more putts and she was ready to head back home and play something else.
Our trip to the practice area lasted around 45 minutes. In that time she made some putts and took one swing all in about 15 minutes. The rest of the time she played with sand and walked around the green. At no point and time did I say to her that we had to hit balls or work on our putting. The point I am trying to make and this is probably the most important one that I am going to convey to you. When you are taking your child to your practice area you are there for them. When I say this I mean you can’t go expecting to work on your game and you can’t expect them to work on their game the entire time either. You need to let them explore and play in the sand or with the rake. Even if they just want to walk around the green carrying their bag so be it. Remember, this is play time to them and the practice green is just another playground. As long as you allow them to have fun they will want to keep going back.
When you decide to take them to the course the same is going to hold true there as well. You will need to keep in mind that they may only want to play one hole and be distracted by something else. Let’s revisit that playground again. When you watch children playing, ask yourself this, “When was the last time you saw a child play with the same swing the entire time or go down the same slide again and again?” My guess is probably never, because kids have short attention spans. They like variety when it comes to entertainment or playing. This holds true on the course as well.
In my first article a fellow member had posted a comment regarding his son not keeping an interest on the course to keep playing, he said, “I have a 9-year old son who doesn’t want to do much more than chase frogs or drive the cart when I take him out.” He also explained that his son had lessons from certified PGA Professionals. So we are not talking about a little boy who had no exposure to the game and was going out for his first time. The fact is this is pretty normal behavior for kids. I responded to his post with:
“Keep taking him to the course and let him chase frogs if he wants. He will still associate going to the golf course as fun and may eventually want to start playing. This goes without saying of course… no matter what he decides to do, he will always remember spending time with Dad and how much fun it was going to the golf course to chase frogs.”
Sometimes we as parents just have to let our kids chase frogs, play with the sand in the bunkers and so on. As long as we allow them to have fun they will always want to go back.
The keys to keeping your child interested in golf is by allowing them to play and have fun. Even if they are not swinging a club or putting on the green as long as there is an association with golf during the activity you’re doing ok. These activities can be as simple as allowing them to play with the head covers from your clubs. A lot of the covers today are animals and characters you could even put on a little puppet show with them. My daughter loves to color on my golf balls. Let them mark a few for you. My son has an obsession with wanting to go through all the zippered pockets on my bag. So from time to time I will bring my bag into the family room and let him rummage through it. You can color golf balls with any over-the-counter clothing dye. Try coloring some like Easter eggs. All these little activities have nothing to do with swinging a club but all are associated to golf.
So remember it’s “Play Time” and there is no difference between Candy Land and Golf to our children. Keep it fun and allow them to make the decisions just like when they are playing with toys at home. When the time comes to go out on the course they just might chase frogs instead of birdies.
In Growing Up Golf Part 3, I will share with you 25 activities that you can do with your child. I will also give a review of a product that I found while searching for solutions to lighter golf clubs.
The Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips
While there are many golfers who barely know where the practice (I don’t like calling it a “driving”) range is located, there are many who find it a place of adventure, discovery and fun. I’m in the latter group, which could be accented by the fact that I make my living in this industry. But then, I’ve always been a “ball beater,” since I was a kid, but now I approach my practice sessions with more purpose and excitement. There’s no question that practice is the key to improvement in anything, so today’s topic is on making practice as much fun as playing.
As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the range, and always embrace the challenge of learning new ways to make a golf ball do what I would like it to do. So, today I’m sharing my “top 5” tips for making practice fun and productive.
- Have a mission/goal/objective. Whether it is a practice range session or practice time on the course, make sure you have a clearly defined objective…how else will you know how you’re doing? It might be to work on iron trajectory, or finding out why you’ve developed a push with your driver. Could be to learn how to hit a little softer lob shot or a knockdown pitch. But practice with a purpose …always.
- Don’t just “do”…observe. There are two elements of learning something new. The first is to figure out what it is you need to change. Then you work toward that solution. If your practice session is to address that push with the driver, hit a few shots to start out, and rather than try to fix it, make those first few your “lab rats”. Focus on what your swing is doing. Do you feel anything different? Check your alignment carefully, and your ball position. After each shot, step away and process what you think you felt during the swing.
- Make it real. To just rake ball after ball in front of you and pound away is marginally valuable at best. To make practice productive, step away from your hitting station after each shot, rake another ball to the hitting area, then approach the shot as if it was a real one on the course. Pick a target line from behind the ball, meticulously step into your set-up position, take your grip, process your one swing thought and hit it. Then evaluate how you did, based on the shot result and how it felt.
- Challenge yourself. One of my favorite on-course practice games is to spend a few minutes around each green after I’ve played the hole, tossing three balls into various positions in an area off the green. I don’t let myself go to the next tee until I put all three within three feet of the hole. If I don’t, I toss them to another area and do it again. You can do the same thing on the range. Define a challenge and a limited number of shots to achieve it.
- Don’t get in a groove. I was privileged enough to watch Harvey Penick give Tom Kite a golf lesson one day, and was struck by the fact that he would not let Tom hit more than five to six shots in a row with the same club. Tom would hit a few 5-irons, and Mr. Penick would say, “hit the 8”, then “hit the driver.” He changed it up so that Tom would not just find a groove. That paved the way for real learning, Mr. Penick told me.
My “bonus” tip addresses the difference between practicing on the course and keeping a real score. Don’t do both. A practice session is just that. On-course practice is hugely beneficial, and it’s best done by yourself, and at a casual pace. Playing three or four holes in an hour or so, taking time to hit real shots into and around the greens, will do more for your scoring skills than the same amount of range time.
So there you have my five practice tips. I’m sure I could come up with more, but then we always have more time, right?
More from the Wedge Guy
- The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
- The Wedge Guy: Mind the gap
Vincenzi: Fortinet Championship First Round Leader picks
The PGA Tour begins its fall season with a trip to Wine Country as the world of golf patiently awaits the 2023 Ryder Cup which is just a few weeks away. Silverado is a course where plenty of players with varying skill sets can compete, but strong West Coast history tends to be a major factor.
In the past four editions of the Fortinet Championship, there have been six first-round leaders or co-leaders. Of the six, three have started their rounds in the morning wave, and three started in the afternoon. The leading scores have all been between 63 and 65.
As of now, the winds look to be very docile, with speeds of 4-7 MPH throughout the day. I don’t see either the AM or PM wave as having a major advantage.
2023 Fortinet Championship First-Round Leader Picks
Zac Blair +9000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 1.22 p.m PT
A big theme for me this week is targeting players who have had success at both Silverado and the West Coast in general. Blair finished 22nd here last year, and also finished 4th back in 2019. That year, he shot 66 in rounds two and three, showing his ability to go low on this track.
In 2022, Blair gained 3.8 strokes putting and in 2019, he gained 8.6. The 33-year-old seemingly has these greens figured out.
C.T. Pan +9000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 8.23 a.m PT
At the end of the 2023 season, C.T. Pan showed flashes of what made him a good player prior to his injury struggles early in the year. He finished 4th at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, and 3rd at the RBC Canadian Open in June. He also finished 6th at Silverado back in 2021, gaining 4.5 strokes on approach and 6.6 strokes putting.
A few weeks off may have given Pan a chance to reset and focus on the upcoming fall swing, where I believe he’ll play some good golf.
Joel Dahmen +110000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 7:28 a.m PT
After becoming a well-known name in golf due to his affable presence in Netflix’ “Full Swing” documentary, Dahmen had what can only be considered a disappointment of a 2023 season. I believe he’s a better player than he showed last year and is a good candidate for a bounce back fall and 2024.
Dahmen finished in a tie for 10th at the Barracuda Championship in late July, and the course is similar in agronomy and location to what he’ll see this week in Napa. He has some strong history on the West Coast including top-ten finishes at Riviera (5th, 2020), Pebble Beach (6th, 2022), Sherwood (8th, 2020), TPC Summerlin (9th, 2019) and Torrey Pines (9th, 2019).
James Hahn +125000 (Caesars)
First-Round Tee Time: 1:55 p.m PT
James Hahn absolutely loves golf on the West Coast. He’s won at Riviera and has also shown some course form with a 9th place finish at Silverado back in 2020. That week, Hahn gained 4.7 strokes putting, demonstrating his comfort level on these POA putting surfaces.
He finished T6 at the Barracuda back in July, and there’s no doubt that a return to California will be welcome for the 41-year-old.
Peter Malnati +125000 (BetRivers)
First-Round Tee Time: 12.27 p.m PT
Peter Malnati excels at putting on the West Coast. He ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting on POA and has shown in the past he’s capable of going extremely low on any given round due to his ability to catch a hot putter.
His course history isn’t spectacular, but he’s played well enough at Silverado. In his past seven trips to the course, he’s finished in the top-35 four times.
Harry Higgs +150000 (BetRivers)
First-Round Tee Time: 1.55 p.m PT
In what is seemingly becoming a theme in this week’s First-Round Leader column, Harry Higgs is a player that really fell out of form in 2023, but a reset and a trip to a course he’s had success at in the past may spark a resurgence.
Higgs finished 2nd at Silverado in 2020 and wasn’t in particularly great form then either. Success hasn’t come in abundance for the 31-year-old, but three of his top-10 finishes on Tour have come in this area of the country.
Higgs shot an impressive 62 here in round two in 2020, which would certainly be enough to capture the first-round lead this year.
Vincenzi’s Fortinet Championship betting preview: California native ready for breakthrough win in Napa
After a three-week break, the 2022-23 PGA TOUR season kicks off in Napa Valley at the Silverado Resort and Spa to play the Fortinet Championship.
Prior to 2021, the event was called the Safeway Open, but the tournament sponsor changed to Fortinet with contract that will last for three more seasons. Although the name has changed multiple times, Silverado’s North Course has been featured on the PGA TOUR since 1968.
The course is a par 72, measuring at 7,166 yards. Silverado features Poa annua greens that can be tricky, especially as the surface becomes bumpier in the afternoon. The tree-lined fairways aren’t easy to hit, but the rough shouldn’t be exceedingly penal. Shorter hitters are in play on this relatively short course, and accuracy will be at a premium.
There will be a re-routing at Silverado for this year’s Fortinet Championship. Ten holes will be played in a different order. Holes 1-7 and 18 will remain as in year’s past. The new finishing stretch – No. 14 (par 4), No. 15 (par 5), No. 16 (par 4), No. 17 (par 3) and No. 18 (par 5). The new 17th was previously the 11th, which is the signature hole on the course.
The field will consist of 155 players. Being the swing season, the field for this event is usually relatively weak. However, there are some intriguing names in the field including Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, Sahith Theegala, Joel Dahmen, and Kevin Kisner.
- 2022: Max Homa (-22)
- 2021: Max Homa (-19)
- 2020: Stewart Cink (-21)
- 2019: Cameron Champ (-17)
- 2018: Kevin Tway (-14)
- 2017: Brendan Steele -15
- 2016: Brendan Steele -18
Let’s take a look at several key metrics for Silverado to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds.
Strokes Gained: Approach
Historically, one of the North Course’s defenses will be tightly tucked pin placement, so effective shot-shaping and a higher ball flight may be an advantage this week. In order to find success, players need to hit the correct level of the sloping Poa Annua greens.
Strokes Gained: Approach past 24 rounds:
- Chez Reavie (+24.7)
- Sam Ryder (+20.0)
- Mark Hubbard (+17.8)
- Kevin Streelman (+18.3)
- Doug Ghim (+17.1)
Good Drives Gained
Hitting fairways in regulation at Silverado is more difficult than TOUR average, as players have done so in the past at a rate of only 52.2%. While the rough isn’t extremely long here, controlling spin out of the thick grass is much more difficult than doing so from the fairway. In order to find success, players need to hit the correct level of the sloping Poa annua greens.
In 2021, the top eight players on the leaderboard all had a positive week in “Good Drives Gained. The winner, Max Homa was +3.3 in the category and Mito Pereira, who finished third, was +8.3.
In 2022, 12 of the top 13 players on the leaderboard gained in the category including the winner Max Homa (+6.0) and runner up Danny Willet (5.0).
Good Drives Gained past 24 rounds:
- Doug Ghim (+24.4)
- Matt NeSmith (+23.8)
- Russell Knox (+20.6)
- Brice Garnett (+19.9)
- Ryan Armour (+19.8)
Par 4: 400-450
There are six par 4’s at Silverado that are between 400 and 450-yards. It will be important to target players who excel at playing these holes. With the par 5s being fairly short and reachable, the par 4 scoring may prove to be the bigger difference-maker.
Par 4: 400-450 past 24 rounds:
- Beau Hossler (+14.7)
- Max Homa (+12.4)
- Garrick Higgo (+8.5)
- Justin Suh (+8.3)
- Stephan Jaeger (+8.2)
Birdie or Better: Gained
With scores at Silverado potentially approaching the 20 under par range, making plenty of birdies will be a requirement in order to contend this week.
Birdie or Better: Gained in past 24 rounds:
- Nick Hardy (+15.3)
- Scott Piercy (+15.2)
- Ryan Gerard (+14.9)
- Max Homa (+14.0)
- Peter Kuest (+13.5)
Strokes Gained: Putting (Poa Annua)
Poa annua greens on the West Coast can be quite difficult for golfers to adjust to if they don’t have much experience on the surface.
Prior to the 2019 Safeway Open, Phil Mickelson talked about how the type of putting surface is a major factor:
“I think a lot of guys struggle with the Poa annua greens, which is a grass that I grew up playing, so I’m very comfortable on the greens. When you grow up and spend most of your time back east in Florida on the Bermuda, this is a very awkward surface to putt on. The color looks different — it’s hard to sometimes read. But when you’re used to it, I don’t know of much better surfaces than these right here.”
This week it is important to look for the golfers who historically excel on Poa annua.
Total Strokes Gained in category in past 24 rounds:
- Kevin Kisner (+27.7)
- Max Homa (+21.2)
- Peter Malnati (+20.5)
- Justin Suh (+18.5)
- Mackenzie Hughes (+16.0)
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 (25%), Good Drives Gained: (25%), Birdie or Better (20%), Par 4: 400-450 (15%), SG: Putting (Poa annua) (15%).
- Max Homa (+750)
- Doug Ghim (+5000)
- Andrew Putnam (+4000)
- Chez Reavie (+4500)
- Kevin Streelman (+5500)
- Mark Hubbard (+5000)
- Sam Ryder (+7000)
- Brendon Todd (+3500)
- Akshay Bhatia (+6000)
- Cameron Davis (+2200)
2023 Fortinet Championship Picks
Sahith Theegala +2000 (DraftKings):
Sahith Theegala is yet to break out for his maiden PGA Tour victory but is a great candidate for a player who can have a strong fall and take advantage of some weaker fields. The 26-year-old ended his season on a positive note, finishing 13th at the FedEx St. Jude and 15th at the BMW Championship.
I’ve long believed that Theegala’s first win would come on the West Coast. He grew up in California and was a three-time All-American at Pepperdine University, where he became the fifth player to win the Jack Nicklaus Award, Haskins Award and Ben Hogan award all in the same year (2020). Sahith made his PGA Tour debut at Silverado in 2020, where he finished in a tie for 14th. Last year, he finished 6th at the Fortinet Championship.
Theegala is very comfortable playing in California. That is perhaps most noticeable on the putting surface where he gains an average of +0.44 strokes on the field per event on POA, which is more than four times what he gains on Bermudagrass or Bentgrass. The POA greens at Silverado can get especially difficult late in the day, which is a reason why players with a background on them have had so much success at the course. In the past seven years of the event, five winners have come from California.
Theegala is pricey this week and is as close to the top of the odds board as I can remember him being, but that’s the nature of the PGA Tour fall season. It’s hard to find a spot on the schedule that Sahith will have a better chance at winning than this one.
Justin Suh +5000 (PointsBet):
Consistency has been an issue early in the career of Justin Suh, but he’s shown flashes in 2023 of what made him such a highly regarded prospect to begin with. After a few top-10 finishes at the PLAYERS Championship and the Honda Classic, Suh ended the season on a bit of a sour note, failing to finish better than 34th in his last five starts of the season.
Despite the struggles, I’m optimistic about Suh as we begin the fall swing. The 26-year-old made the trip to Crans-Montana, Valais, Switzerland to play in the Omega European Masters, and finished 24th in a decent field. More encouraging than the finish was how Suh hit the ball. He gained 5.24 strokes on approach and hit plenty of fairways.
The 2018 Pac-12 Player of the Year grew up on California golf courses. Suh was a highly decorated amateur golfer with plenty of wins on the West Coast prior to attending USC, where he was one of the best players in the country.
When he’s on, Suh is one of the best putters on Tour, and he should comfortable playing in his home state in search of his first PGA Tour victory.
Akshay Bhatia +5500 (DraftKings):
Akshay Bhatia is still just 21 years old and one of the most tantalizing prospects in the world of golf. The smooth-swinging lefty was able to obtain his first PGA Tour victory at the Barracuda Championship at Tahoe Mountain Club in Truckee, California just a few months ago. The course is just a few hours ride from Silverado and the conditions and course should be very similar.
Bhatia will have no issue making birdies in bunches at Silverado, and the rough shouldn’t be exceedingly penal if he gets loose with his driver.
Bhatia made his debut at Silverado in 2020 at just 18 years old and managed to finish 9th. Since then, he’s gained a great deal of confidence and has refined his game as a professional.
Akshay got engaged this week. He can celebrate with a victory this week at the Fortinet.
Sam Ryder +8000 (FanDuel):
Statistically, Sam Ryder jumps off the page this week. In his past four measured starts, he’s gained 4.2, 5.4, 5.2 and 5.7 strokes on approach and is completely dialed in with his irons. Despite the numbers, he hasn’t managed to crack the top-30 on the leaderboard in that stretch but this is a field that is much weaker than he faced at the end of last season.
In addition to the recent stats, Ryder played some good golf on the West Coast last year. Most notably, he finished 4th at Torrey Pines in a loaded field and also finished 20th at both the Waste Managment Phoenix Open and the Genesis Invitational.
If Ryder continues with his hot approach play, he should be able to contend at Silverado this week.
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