Sunday, December 28, 2014

Thoughts on 'The Short Game'

Recently, I watched the entire 1st season of the reality TV show The Short Game on the Esquire Network.  You can watch the entire season at:

The Short Game is similar to other Esquire Network TV Show smash hit, Friday Night Tykes.  Here The Short Game follows around 8 golfers that play in US Junior Kids events and their families and how they approach the child's game as they all try to get to the Mid Pines Golf Club in Pinehurst for the world championship.

The first few episodes were brutal to watch, to the point where I said on my Twitter feed that 'I think I may vomit.'  To some of the parents' credit, it got much better as the episodes went along as some of the parents took a much better turn in how they handled and coached their child.  And there were some parents that from start to finish I thought were downright excellent in how they handled their child.  It was good to see the real strength of the game of golf shining thru unlike Friday Night Tykes where some of the coaches were trying to get players to deliberately injure other kids.  By the end of The Short Game, I thought most of the parents were doing a good job with their children.

But, there are still some problems with some parents and part of the issue is that many of these parents never grew up playing junior golf.  I did.  In fact, I had played with and watched some junior golfers turn into PGA Tour winners (i.e. Tom Scherrer, David Branshaw, Dudley Hart, etc).  And I've seen golfers that were far more talented than some of those guys as juniors and accomplished nowhere near as much.  With that, I would like to give some of my thoughts and advice on how to deal with young, junior golfers:

1. Golf is Golf

One common mistake I see is that parents want to give 'tough coaching' because that is what they were taught when they played their sports like football, basketball, hockey, etc.  So they try to emulate the coaching they received in those sports.

The issue is that those sports are vastly different in nature than golf.  Those sports are high energy sports.  Teams that are less talented can win by out-hustling the other team.  They clearly play better when their energy levels are higher and are running hard, jumping higher and being more physical.  So when a coach yells at a player, it is done to essentially get that player to play with more energy.

Golf just simply doesn't work that way.

It is a low energy sport where having high energy can work against the golfer.  It's not that I would be against 'tough coaching' in golf, but it has to be done in a different manner than other sports because the very nature of golf is so different.

2.  You're still a caddie

There's an old saying about a caddie's job that even Tour caddies that I have talked to say it's important to keep this in mind.  The caddie has '3 jobs':

1.  Show up
2.  Keep up
3.  Shut up

Obviously, these caddies are also the child's parent.  But, the game of golf and being a caddie is not one that is conducive to 'helicopter parenting.'

One of the greatest parts of the game of golf is that the golfer is the SOLE decider in what they want to do.  As a child, this is incredibly liberating because you have been raised your entire life up until this point as to where you are going to go, when you're going to do it and how you're going to do it.  Now with golf, you can choose what you want to do.  By taking that away from a child on the golf course you not only take away that fun experience of being the final decider, but they don't learn properly as to what decision to make.  In fact...they may rebel against the parent just to spite them.

It's much like allowing your kid to touch a hot stove.  You can tell them not to do it because it's going to hurt them.  But, they won't really learn that the hot stove hurts until they touch it for themselves.  You can tell your child to not try a shot because it won't work out...but they won't really learn until they try that shot and it doesn't work out.

But for the sake of your own sanity...don't be there to remind them that you were right after they end up in trouble.  Nobody likes a person that is always there to tell you 'I told you so.'

3. Golf is a game of fearlessness

What is so hard about the game of golf is that you can only be 1 dimple off or 1 degree off and that can be the difference between a good shot and a terrible shot.  And when you hit bad shots, there is a tendency to dwell on those more than the great shots.

It also doesn't help that we often hear that 'What separates Tour players from the rest is that they hit better bad shots than other golfers.'  This is actually not a very truthful statements.  I think in the end it is true when you compile all of the bad shots.  But, Tour players hit horrific shots as I see it all of the time.  I've seen bladed bunker shots, popped up 3-woods, snap hooks, shanks, etc.

The other thing that doesn't help is in other sports the coaches preach minimizing mistakes.  A sport like football is a good example because often times games are lost by a busted assignment or a dumb play.  But again, that's a sport that revolves around split second decision making and golf is not a split second decision making sport.

Instead, this is a game about hitting good shots.  And usually the player that has more good shots scores the best score.

Golfers are going to hit bad shots.  You're not raising robots out there.  It will happen.

The key is to get your child to recover from that bad shot.  They may go out and hit a great shot to make up for that bad tee shot and make that par.  If they don't make up for it on that hole, then they can always make up for it later on by hitting great shots on the upcoming holes and making birdies and eagles.

Golfers that divide their attention between the fear of hitting a bad shot and trying to hit a good shot...end up hitting bad shots too frequently.  Golfers that focus on hitting a good shot and what they need to do to hit a good shot and that is their SOLE FOCUS...end up hitting great shots.  And they keep their composure on the course and enjoy the game much more.

Having a child do mountain climbers after hitting a bad shot just *enforces* fear.  They are now going to divide their attention between the punishment of hitting a bad shot and trying to hit a good shot.  You really want the *sole focus* to be entirely on hitting a good shot and what needs to be done.

Obviously, you don't want to play dumb golf.  Any dummy can jump off a cliff and will fail.  But, if the golfer has that shot with their 'average swing at the ball', then they MUST take that shot.  And they simply cannot care if they happen to fail because they have great shots left in them to recover from that failure.

Remember this...nobody remembers the golfer that layed up when they could have gone for it and hit the green and 2-putted for par.  But, they do remember the golfer that hit lots of great shots and the golfer that recovered from a poor shot.

4.  Never mention the money you spent on your child.

Any money that you have spent on your child for golf is *your* decision.  One way or the other, *you* were the one that got your child into the game and *you* are the one that could have persuaded your child to not play the game.  I knew junior golfers whose parents did not want them playing golf and they found odd jobs and paid for their equipment and golf for themselves.  I don't have a problem with a child that has the latest and greatest equipment, but parents should realize that *they* were the ones that decided to get them this equipment and the child shouldn't be held to that every time something doesn't go right.

It also only adds to pressure and that sense that you're going to hate them if they don't perform well and you'll only love them when they perform well.

Even if you TELL THEM that you love them, when you start mentioning how much money you spent on them for golf...the child starts to equate their performance with how much their parents will love them.

5.  Don't be afraid to make your child earn things.

One of the characteristics I saw from the juniors that ended up with successful careers in golf and those that were more talented junior golfers that didn't accomplish great things is that the former had parents that made them earn their equipment, their money to play in junior tournaments, their golf club membership, etc.  And the latter golfers were usually given all of those things just by asking.

Again, I have no problem with a child that has the latest and greatest equipment and is playing in all of the great events, has the best instructors that money can buy and is a member at a prestigious country club.  But, the best tact that works for kids is that they earn those privileges.

They should have good grades in school.  They should do their chores around the house.  They should take great care of their equipment.  They should put the time in practice.  They should be good to their siblings.  They should keep their composure on the golf course.  If they do that, then they have earned those things.  If they haven't, then giving them those things will not teach them how the world works.

6.  Yup, plenty of life lessons in the game of golf.  Now we just need to teach 'em.

I hear this about all sports about how they teach kids life lessons.  However, I rarely ever see coaches and parents go over with children the life lesson that the game presents.

Off the top of my head, some of the great life lessons that golf teaches are:

- Having faith in yourself.
- Being fearless without being stupid.
- Decision making and when to take risks.
- Being accountable for your decisions.
- Integrity.
- Etiquette and being courteous to others.
- Work ethic.

But, you HAVE to actually discuss certain situations that happen on the golf course and relate that to a possible real-life scenario.  Otherwise, those life lessons that occur go to waste as a teaching experience.

7.  Don't be afraid to get involved in others sports.

One of the things I've been reading is how the mind works when it comes to skill acquisition and learning.  Doing repetitive exercises fails to stimulate the brain after a while and can end up being *counterproductive*.  This is why hitting golf ball after golf ball on the range tends to not work very well.

But, the same applies to focusing on one sport.  The brain fails to be stimulated after a while if you're doing the same type of movements.  There are also a lot of other benefits to playing other sports as well.  Nicklaus played football and basketball in high school.  Dustin Johnson played basketball.  Tiger loved to run and bike around Southern California.  Matt Kuchar played tennis.

8.  Making Pinehurst is not even a blip on the screen.

When it comes to getting a scholarship or putting your golfer on the path to becoming a Tour player, making it to Pinehurst or winning an event at an early age doesn't mean jack squat other than it should be a good and fun experience.

I knew a golfer that started playing when he was 2 years old and was considered a prodigy.  By the time he was 7 years old he was beating kids 10-13 like a drum.  But, by the time he was a senior in high school he was the 3rd man on his team.  He couldn't figure out how to improve and the others golfers started to get bigger and more mature and started to routinely beat him in tournaments.

I can't imagine there being a college golf coach that would care if a golfer won the US Junior Kids at Pinehurst.  And as far as the PGA Tour goes, it has zero impact.

So, if your child does not go to Pinehurst because they are not good enough it doesn't mean that in the future they will not get that scholarship or eventually become a PGA Tour player.  In fact, you would be stunned how quickly some kids grow in this game.  A child could not be good enough to make Pinehurst and then 2 years later be the best player in the world at their age.  I've seen it happen.

9.  Don't make junior golf the be all, end all because the careers in golf aren't that great.

The junior golf world is filled with talented golfers that go onto play college golf and can't make it on Tour and end up with a college degree working 70 hours a week and making $25k a year at a golf course.

They are filled with talented golfers that go onto play college golf and can't make it on Tour and become golf instructors into what is now a HEAVILY over-saturated instruction market where golf courses do not pay the instructors for teaching there and the instructors have to pay a fee to use the range and compete with other instructors in a shrinking market of golfers willing to take lessons.

They are filled with talented golfers that go onto play college golf and can't make it on Tour and start to work at courses that close down and leave them without a job.

If all they know and care to know is about golf, even if they get a college degree, they are likely to find themselves in the golf industry which at this point...isn't a pretty place to work at these days.

10. Get them to love the game of golf and everything that comes with it.

If I had a child that was good at golf, the big fear for me would be:

Do they truly love the game or do they play the game because they love being successful and the rewards that success brings?

The successful golfers that become Tour players usually love the game.  They love the good times and love the game so much that it gets them thru the bad times.  Make no mistake about it, there will be bad times.  Every single player has had those bad times where they get so bad that they wonder if they still want to play the game.

If your child really loves success and the rewards that come with it, they'll struggle to make it thru those bad times.

11.  Tell them you love them no matter what happens before each round.

If you need this explained, then your child shouldn't be playing in golf tournaments.



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