Golf is forever battling its moniker as the ‘old man’s game’.
Getting junior players into golf at club level is one thing, but encouraging them to stick with it into adulthood is entirely another.
While both the men’s and women’s professional fields currently showcase an abundance of talent, bereft of the one-man or one-woman dominance of years past, the technical and repetitive side of junior coaching is holding back the sport’s popularity with youngsters.
Oli Tucker, resident PGA professional at Horton Park Golf Club, is recognised by US Kids Golf as one of the top junior coaches in the country, largely due to his unique coaching style, and he is setting a precedent for young players to view the game differently.
Oli explains how his sporting background has helped him tailor his coaching for juniors.
“When I first looked into what was going on in junior golf it seemed very boring and very technical”, he says.
“Looking at other sports like football, sessions would be very loud, very energetic and it was only golf that were doing it quite old school – it was slow and there was a lot of focus around gripping the club which didn’t really need to happen.
“Coming from outside of golf I was lucky enough not to follow that mould and I could do my own thing and make it a bit more interesting and based around movement skills. This also helps to get juniors better prepared for whatever sport they want to take up.”
With golf’s technical side the subject of much debate, Oli feels it is important for the young juniors to let that side go, and focus on their coordination by creating challenges or games.
“A lot can be done in golf to increase its playability”, he notes.
“The excitement factor of making the hole bigger has been talked about and a lot of clubs believe it’s the right thing to do – unfortunately no one is doing anything about it.
“Similarly with shorter tee boxes – the current junior tees are not short enough when they can only hit the ball a certain distance. The same problem arises for the seniors off the back tees.”
For Oli, juniors can benefit from having the freedom to play and work out their own swing and style.
Certainly, with the wide and wonderful variety of golf swings in the professional game – Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson’s techniques spring to mind – there is no correct blueprint to sit down and replicate.
With this in mind, Oli explains that parents can quite easily prove a barrier in their child’s development.
“Often parents need to let the kids play – let them get on with it! There is so much going on in kids’ heads already so it’s best to keep these thoughts limited.
“If we’re working with an elite junior, they will only have one or maybe two things to work on at a time concerning either their swing or pre-shot routine.
“What is so frustrating is seeing parents translate lessons from their own game onto their child’s technique – it can be incredibly confusing.”
There is truth in the consensus that the game of golf is stubborn in keeping its traditional ways.
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Certainly, when it comes to encouraging juniors into the game, there must be a considered move away from the technical and towards pure enjoyment.
If moving tee boxes and creating different hole sizes can help this, why not try it?
Oli Tucker is a resident professional at Horton Park GC
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