Focus on Junior Golfers
I had a great time yesterday afternoon with the son of one of my friends from the club. I never had kids, so I totally missed what my father cherished most: Time teaching his boys about golf, shooting/hunting/fishing, and just about life. So I'm always thrilled when a youngster asks for my help.

We have a group of 13-to-15-year-olds at our club that have really taken to the game. They are out most afternoons after school and on the course all the time. My request to give Zane some time ended up being extended to three of his buddies as well, so it was a little overwhelming, but also fun to see these four get after it.

The first challenge with these kids is to get them to quit trying to hit the ball so dang hard. They swing from their toes on every shot, whether it's a driver or sand wedge. And they think they hit the ball much further with each club than they do. So my first advice is to just s-l-o-w... d-o-w-n. Take your time — be relaxed and loose. The game is ONLY about scoring. No one cares how you do it, or how far you hit an 8-iron or driver.

It worked out great the first hole, as I got Zane to just slow it down and hit it easy... and he outdrove his buddy Jack, who they all think is "long." Hmmm. From there, I got him to just smooth a 4-iron down the fairway (it's a par 5), then he relaxed a sand wedge up to about 15-18 feet. When he drained the putt for a very rare birdie, my point was made very clearly. He went on to par the next two holes, following my advice, but faltered with a pulled approach into the water on 17. He kind of "gunched up" 18 by getting into the woods and continuing to try "hero" shots, rather than pitch to the fairway and go on, but he seemed to learn a lot about just playing the game.

We did spend some extra time around the 14th green (our second hole), showing them that the sand wedge is generally not the best choice around the greens, but to learn how to look at all their options. I showed them how to hit a long chip shot with a pitching wedge, 8-iron and even a hybrid – things they hadn't ever dreamed of. "Learn how to score," I told them. No one cares how you do it.

My first and last advice to these guys was to quit watching the PGA Tour and start watching the LPGA. I'm always preaching that all of us can learn a lot more about the game by watching the ladies, as their timing and kinetic sequencing is dang near perfect. On that subject, I was visiting with former LPGA player Kelli Kuehne a while back and she shared some interesting data from Trackman. According to Kelli, in research they've done, the average clubhead speed for an LPGA player is 95 mph, and that's the same as the average club 5-handicap player. Pretty interesting. And I don't doubt it a bit.

So, I'm making a commitment to give these kids what they want from me in the way of time and attention and see if I can't help at least a few of them really learn how to play the game, instead of just smashing the ball as hard as they can.
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[ comments ]
Torleif Sorenson says:
Terry, thanks for an outstanding column!

I just wish that somebody had helped me like this when I was a kid! I had to figure out at age 31 that I didn't need to swing out of my shoes in order to get distance and accuracy. Also, minus 50,000 points to the high school golf coach to essentially taught me a slice grip - it screwed me up for the next 14 years. He should have stuck to math.

I also offer here a hat-tip to every PGA of America teaching professional who gave me a few five-minute lessons along the way, helping to improve my game one step at a time.
Anti-Mulligan says:
Great article, the unfortunate part is that most often after a round people gather and talk about that one big drive or great iron shot on a par three. No one talks about that wonferdul hybrid bump and run from off the green to a foot. Until that macho mentality changes, the focus will stay where it is. No one remembers the million 9i they left short on a 150 yd hole, they only remember the one time they flew the green from 140 with a 9i when it was downhill, down wind and 90+ degrees. Its the mentality of the game and the amatuer who isn't looking to get better.
mjaber says:
You know what would get more kids playing golf younger? Lower cost "kids" sets. I have an almost 3 year old daughter and last weekend, on our way back to the car from the zoo, she stopped, looked out at the golf course and said, in her cutest little pathetic voice, "I want to golf with daddy." The problem is, just getting her a club isn't going to cut it. She wants to have what daddy has. A bag, with a few clubs and a putter. The lowest I've been able to find is almost $100!!!! Are you kidding me? Even for slightly older kids, who might actually be going to play shorter courses their as much as a full starter set for an adult, and they don't have half the number of clubs. I've looked at used sites, craigslist, I'm trying to win one on ebay, and I stop weekly at the local Play It Again sports, but it's crazy. It shouldn't be this hard, or this expensive.
Anti-Mulligan says:
Mjaber - that is the truth. I am waiting for my toddler to turn three to start him off but you are right, the kids sets are super expensive. What a joke!
onedollarwed says:
Well, you have to face it, the traditional golf course is very long - especially to a kid. Plus, it's fun to swing really hard. I would say that the main reason kids, and adults play golf is to hit it really far. Of course they're not going to understand why playing differently could help.
If they're playing with a decent golfer, all they know is: "Wow Dad, you hit it really far! I wish I could do that!" And it appears that Dad is swinging really hard. In truth, we are swinging "fast" because our grooved swings lets us get the club on the ball squarely. We are applying a ton of force to the ball; we are crushing it. That's what they want to do.

If little kids started playing on mini courses - 20 to 50 yd holes, then hitting long wouldn't even be an issue, and scoring might actually matter to them. My kids have made a mini course in our yard, with tuna cans. We use plastic ball (there are some really good ones out there), and they use one club - a $15 Golfer's Warehouse 9-iron.

What got you hooked?
redvines13 says:
I'm 14, and from experience playing on the MN state junior tour, the kids that hit 280+ with a driver (and these are 13-15 year olds here) are the ones that get the "Wow"s. To this date though, the more "creative" players (the ones that know to hit every kind of shot, draws, fades, punches and can chip with hybrids, etc.) always win, even when they can hit more 220-230 like me. Things like this are what everyone should work on once they can hit straight and consistent. Good job, Terry!

First round of the MN Golf Season tomorrow! WOO!
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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