Junior Golf

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Learning curves

The path to fun and success in junior golf requires passing some checkpoints along the way.

By Al PetersenPublished: June, 2011

Steve Soule (right) works with Jacob Toomey during a junior clinic at Black Gold Golf Club (PHOTO: Eddie Meeks).

Interests at an early age are all over the map, meaning that parents should expect starts and stops, twists and turns and forks in the road when dealing with the curiosity of the month.

If your child wants to give golf a test drive, don’t panic. Help is right around the corner in the forms of instruction, competition and tournaments. But you’ll need a plan to make sure the journey goes smoothly, and there needs to be enough stimulation along the route to ensure that your child stays revved up about the game and the process.

“It’s so important to develop a kid’s passion for the game and create an experience that makes them excited about it,” said Chris Smeal, a PGA Top 50 master junior instructor at Stadium Golf Center in San Diego, which also is the site of his Future Champions Golf Academy and the home base of the Future Champions Tour. “If there’s an interest there, finding a good coach your child can work well with is the best first move. It’s important to learn good basics and fundamentals before embarking on competition.”

Since children learn and develop at different rates, it’s also important for a junior golfer to start at the proper level for their skill set.

“If a kid has a pretty quick understanding of the basics, such as swing plane, timing and club speed, I can tell pretty quickly whether they have what it takes to get things going in the right direction,” said Steve Soule, PGA director of instruction at Black Gold Golf Club’s Golf Academy in Yorba Linda. “We can then start moving them up the ladder and getting them into competitive experiences so they can see what it’s like and if it’s for them, and, if so, develop some of the things they need to work on.”

What junior golfers need to work on if they’re interested in Gold Membership status on the JAGS Tour is their studies. The junior golf tour, which is based in Cypress and in its 11th year of operation, is the only academics-based tour in the United States. Golfers who want to compete on the tour’s highest membership level must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or higher.

But that doesn’t mean JAGS is all work and no play. Tour president Cindy Warren has a simple philosophy when it comes to participation and golf in general.

“Let them go play and have some fun,” Warren said about the advice she would give parents who have children starting in the game. “Let them enjoy the game. You have to love the game before you can compete in the game.”

But make sure it’s the junior golfers who are doing the competing.

“Sometimes parents can get overly competitive and too involved in the teaching, practicing and playing aspects,” Warren said. “The more parents micromanage, the less fun the child has, and the more pressure put on the child, the more they might want to get out of the game.”

Soule agrees, and says parents should only be in the driver’s seat when it comes to dropping off and picking up their children at the course.

“I hope my young students are mature enough to take notes and remain interested because they want to learn,” said Soule, who has beginning, intermediate and advanced classes at Black Gold in addition to being involved with the PGA Tour Academy’s Junior Camps and Nike Junior Golf Camps. “If a parent is at the session, they should be listening but not actively involved.

“I don’t like parents telling their kids what to do while I’m working with them. It confuses the child and cuts their interest level pretty quickly.”

Smeal also said that it’s often counterproductive when parents put too much pressure on their children to succeed. Besides, even if a child doesn’t have the drive or skill level to be the next Rickie Fowler or Paula Creamer, just participating in golf and learning some of the game’s lessons can go a long way toward building a solid foundation on and off the course.

“Golf is such a great game to learn and play regardless of future aspirations,” Smeal said. “There are so many avenues that can be opened up through golf, whether it’s going into the business or just playing and having fun, being outside, getting some exercise and learning to live by the rules. It’s a lifelong game that instills great values, and that’s the most important thing for parents to keep in mind along the way.”


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