Bring out the junior in your golf
When I look back to my junior days, there were a bunch of us around the same age who all progressed at slightly different speeds by the age of 14-15 most were low single figure golfers and a couple down around 1 & 2 Hcp we all had some level of coaching from time to time. Looking back i think the group of juniors at my club were the biggest influences on what my strengths were as a junior some were clear to see. Until the age of about 15 I was about 5’5” and mildly rotund, I couldn’t hit very far in comparison to my friends who grew a lot quicker than me. My biggest strengths were short game and pitching. From 75 yards in I was on a level playing field against junior and adult golfers and without blowing my own trumpet (unlike me I know) I would smash them out the park on most occasions. By the time I was 14 I was in the county set up and started to get coached more in the technical aspects of my game, and guess what…..I got worse. Now I’m not for one second saying the coaching was poor, it wasn’t, it was actually very good but something changed. I no longer improved at the rate I was used to and eventually I gave up golf around the age of 17 and didn’t return to it until I was 20. I came back with a totally different golf game at my disposal, I was 6’ and could finally generate club head speeds like the rest of them. Driving became quickly my biggest asset, iron play was pretty good, short game was okish, putting horrendous (which continued for most of my playing career) and my pitching was average at best! What changed? Well that’s what I found out too late.
Back in my junior days, I was big on practice but the bulk of it wasn’t based around technical practice. My practice was predominantly spent hitting shot after shot trying to do different things with the ball, high low, hook, fade etc and when it came to the short game I did every possible shot. I would throw balls in deep rough, plug lies in bunkers, give myself near impossible shots to try and get up and down and guess what? Yes I was pretty good at getting up and down. I would fail more than getting it right as some shots were near impossible to get close, I wouldn’t give up until I could make the shot. Those practice habits, as I progressed into a more “coached” game of golf into my mid to late teens, stopped and I no longer practiced in the way that helped me become good in the first place.
Putting, chipping and pitching comps were a daily occurrence when we were kids, usually for £1 (back in the early 90’s that was a lot of cash for a 12-year-old). Nearest the pin comps on the range, biggest draw, highest shot, lowest shot the list was endless of what we’d challenge each other to do. None of us would get it right every time, we’d feel the pressure from our friends willing us to hit a poor shot and over time we’d learn to deal with it, and those were the golden performance development opportunities for me, unknown to me at the time.
As we progressed into men’s golf those supposedly silly games stopped. We started doing skills tests that were very ridged, bland and had very little resemblance to the actual game of golf we play on the course, or just a shed load of block practice. We continued to get better but how much better could we have been if we continued the challenge aspects like the junior days throughout our adult golfing life? I’m not sure how far I could have gone, losing 3 years of golf between the age 17-20 would suggest I had missed some pretty important years of development but I’m pretty sure even with those years missed I’d have had a better playing career than I did if I had.
As adults, we don’t like being made to look stupid and we certainly don’t like failing so we tend to set up practice to make it easy, repetitive and lacking any real sort of challenge. When it gets too hard to make a shot or swing change we stop and go to something more comfortable. Quite often we see people taking lessons to get rid of the slice or hooks, we improve the ball flight but when it doesn’t show up straight away on course get frustrated and don’t like going through the learning process and give up on those changes too quickly, only to revert to what they did before. Fast forward a few months along the road of frustration and then book back in and try to fix it once again. The same process begins again and we are in the world of yo yo golfing…… Take lesson……Get better……hit a few bad shots on course……. revert to old habits……. get frustrated……book lesson… …. repeat.
If adult golfers took a little slice of our junior golfer’s attitudes and went through the learning process, thriving on the challenge, using the frustration of failing to learn and getting better because of those failures, sticking to the game plan no matter how hard it seems at the time. The next lesson the golfer books would be to improve a different aspect or continue bedding in the already improved changes. Add in some challenging practice games that reflect “playing” golf and we have a world full of not only improved technical golfers but better performing golfers where it matters…on the course.
Golf is the hardest game in the world to master, we will spend a lot of time being frustrated by this game and at times we will want to chuck the clubs in the garage and never pick them back up (I have done that numerous times) but turn that frustration into determination, form a plan and stick to it through the tough days and I’m pretty sure you’ll develop into the best performing golfer you can be. Practice shouldn’t be boring, practice should be challenging, engaging, provide feedback and guess what? It should also be fun!