Like most golf professionals, I started in a group junior program at my local golf course. This is still the way many young golfers are introduced to the game. As my skills improved, I eventually chose golf as a career and have always remembered the early lessons I was taught as a junior. Now I find myself instructing as many as 750 juniors a year, which includes supervising summer golf camps and a year-round junior academy.
For those aspiring to instruct juniors, let me lay out a few basics that in my 12 years of teaching young golfers have proven invaluable.
For obvious reasons, the first issue addressed is safety.
Secondly, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. What I mean is, stick with the fundamentals - grip, posture, ball position and alignment.
As far as the swing itself, keep it simple. Let them experiment with a lot of trial and error and offer suggestions on technique when they hit a rough patch. A lot of activity keeps them interested.
The next challenge to any instructor is to get students excited about the game and, trickier, to keep them excited. I have found that friendly and sincere encouragement is your best tool here. Above all, stay positive.
With younger students much time is spent dealing with frustration. Most juniors are, by their very nature, too hard on themselves, leading at times to unacceptable behavior - including but not limited to throwing clubs, calling themselves names, etc. I have had significant success with kids by first emphasizing that the game has to be fun and then teaching them to go through a post-shot routine. This teaches them to learn from each shot without letting negativity affect them. Of course, this is an ongoing process, so patience is key.
No doubt kids love the long ball, but I have always preached accuracy over distance and often play chipping and putting games with my students. I encourage small competitions and award a prize, such as a soda or an energy bar, for the most accurate shot. I have found that this improves their score and their enjoyment level faster and better than any other technique. I spend at least a quarter of the lessons on chipping and putting.
Lastly, I am an advocate of on-course learning. The kids love it, and I get the opportunity to instruct on the rules and - something I consider very important - etiquette. As I see them improve their skill level, I urge them to compete and have even caddied for some of my more advanced students.
Junior golf is thriving in California, and it shows us every day that it truly is a lifelong game.