At some point in the process, all golfers realize that the mental game plays a significant role in shooting lower scores. Those that master the mental game, gain a big advantage over their competition. When we think of the greatest players of all time – Jack, Tiger, Hogan, Sorenstam – we regard them as mentally tough and in control of their emotions. Their success was always foreshadowed by their steely nerves under pressure.
The good news is that the mental game is a skill that can be taught and learned. It’s best to begin with a couple of important definitions.
1. Mental toughness – The ability to perform at your best when it counts the most, even under adverse conditions.
2. Mental skills – Specific actions and thoughts that you can use to reduce interference and help you perform at a consistently high level.
In order to master the mental game, young players need to understand and recognize the difference between the things they control and the things they don’t. When that happens, they can devote time and attention to the parts of their game that will have a positive effect on their score. To help illustrate the difference between the two groups, I hand this list out to our students.
Some or Full Control
- Nutrition and hydration
- Shot selection
- Reaction or response to challenges
- Body language
- What I say
- What I do
- What I think
Limited or No Control
- Homework or test schedule
- Course conditions
- Playing partners
- Tee times
- Pace of play
- Rulings by officials
- Good or bad bounces
- What others say
- What others do
- What others think
- Finish (1 st , 2 nd , etc.) in a tournament
When younger golfers get confused or forget to manage the things they control, they begin to get frustrated and make mistakes. For example, it’s common for junior golfers to allow their confidence to be based upon their most recent results. If they hit a good drive on the previous hole, they’ll be more confident hitting their driver on the current hole. Conversely, if they hit a bad drive on the previous hole, their confidence will be low, and they might choose to hit a different club regardless of strategy or the hole’s length.
A golfer with well-trained mental skills will instead realize that they have control over their reaction to previous shots and might engage in positive self-talk (the best way to maintain confidence) before hitting their next drive.
Another example might be a junior that gets annoyed by the pace of play or the things their playing partners do or say. This typically leads to frustration and a loss of focus and motivation. Players who are better trained might view these distractions as a challenge and will know to increase their concentration and focus more intently on their pre-shot process.
Everyone knows that unexpected stuff happens on the course and in life. Once young players learn where to focus their attention and energy – on the controllables, they can begin to improve their mental skills. Improved mental skills is one of the quickest ways to reduce errors and lower scores.
Almost everyone that plays golf seriously has had a golf lesson or two and those that play competitively, especially junior golfers, likely have trusted coaches that they see on a regular basis. Many players view their time with their coach as critical to their development and success, but still might not understand how to make the best use of this valuable time.
As a coach, I feel an obligation to be prepared for each lesson. That means I review notes from previous lessons, check student stats, and refer to other information to make sure I have a well-thought-out plan. I still solicit input from each student and am ready for the unexpected. If my students are equally prepared, we’re almost guaranteed to have a great session.
Here’s a good framework to help both younger and older golfers get the most from their next golf lesson.
Ball speed and distance dominate golf news headlines and TV coverage. Tune in to any pro event and you don't have to wait long before you'll hear the announcers discussing the mammoth drives of Dustin, Rory, Bubba and all the other really big hitters in the game. Each player's ball speed is displayed on the screen like it's the holy grail. This sends a clear message to players of all ability levels - get fast or get left behind. Younger players know this and talk about their longest drives like a badge of honor, regardless of how it affects their scores.
With all this emphasis on hitting the ball far, there are some things we need to understand about ball speed (the source of these prodigious drives) and its relationship to low scores and playing the game at a high level.
Do Higher Ball Speeds Mean Lower Scores?
In general, yes. More ball speed and distance make the game far easier, especially for younger golfers. Golfers that hit it a long way have several advantages. Here are a few of the most significant.
1. Longer drives make it easier to hit approach shots closer to the flag, thereby having a better chance of making birdies and avoiding three putts.
2. Longer and higher drives give players the ability to carry bunkers and cut the corners on doglegs, setting up even shorter approach shots.
3. Long hitters also are better out of the rough which reduces the penalty for offline shots.
What is a Really Good Ball Speed for a Junior Golfer?
We track ball speed and distance for all of our junior golfers and have noticed a strong correlation between multi-sport athletes and higher ball speeds. Below lists the top 20% in driver ball speed by age.
13-14 years old - 140-148
15-16 years old - 148-155
17-17 years old - 155+
13-14 years old - 126-133
15-16 years old - 133-140
17-18 years old - 140+
Can Players Improve Their Ball Speed?
Yes, without a doubt. Here are some of the best ways to improve ball speed.
1. Improve impact dynamics. Regardless of your club speed, the best way to maximize your ball speed is to hit the ball as close to the center of the face as possible. Ball speed also depends on the club's movement through the ball (angle of attack and club path) and the orientation of the club face at impact (dynamic loft and face angle).
2. Train hard in the gym. For competitive juniors, golf fitness has shifted from a recommendation to an expectation. The gains made in the gym starting with more mobility and stability contribute greatly to a player's ability to generate and control speed.
3. Swing faster. It sounds simple, but it works. Training the body and brain to swing fast produces measurable gains.
4. Get properly fitted. The right clubs can make a big difference in club speed and a golfer's ability to find the center of the face. Poorly fitted clubs on the other hand, can have a negative influence on ball speed.
For players that are looking to increase their ball speed and distance, I would strongly recommend finding an experienced coach who understands the junior development process. For players that already possess faster ball speeds, skill development should become the top priority.
There's no denying that on tour, in college golf, and among junior golfers there is a trend toward faster ball speeds. The standard at all levels has changed and successful coaches and players will adapt to this new style of play.
Although there are differences among the best junior golfers, one thing they almost certainly have in common is that, when compared to their peers, they have more tournament experience. The benefits of tournament play are numerous and include:
Periodization and Timing
We like to use a model and a few simple rules to help parents get a better feel for the frequency in which their child should compete. Most high-level athletes use some form of periodization to peak at the right time and avoid over training. In golf, the model below works well for both juniors starting out and for more experienced golfers.
[Model to be supplied separately]
There are four phases within a cycle and the duration of each phase and the time in between each phase can vary throughout the year. Here’s how the timing might work for a young golfer who plays a two-day tournament on the weekend and has two weeks until his next tournament.
Now that you have a better idea of how to manage a competition cycle, let’s go over the specifics of putting together a tournament schedule.
For younger players, the goal is exposure and experience. At this stage, score is unimportant, so parents can schedule several tournaments in a row even if it’s not possible or practical to play practice rounds at each course. For older, more competitive juniors, parents need to be strategic when selecting tournaments because of their implications to national rankings. Parents should lean toward events on familiar courses, with strong fields, and that will allow adequate preparation including playing at least one practice round.
For both younger and more experienced players, parents need to pay attention to their child’s energy and enthusiasm levels. It’s easy to over schedule your child and lose the benefits that are normally derived from tournament play.
The NTPGA (www.ntpga.com) has a full schedule of nine-hole (prep) and 18-hole (medalist) tournaments. These tournaments are a great starting point for players that need experience on the golf course. The TJGT (www.tjgt.com) is a great regional tour that offers competitive juniors the opportunity to test their skills on championship courses and against strong fields. The most serious juniors can consider playing on a national level. The AJGA (www.ajga.org) offers a full schedule of events throughout the country.
For all but the most gifted athletes, it takes many years to reach a high level of mastery in golf. Because of the challenge, it’s easy to get caught up in the fruitless search for a magic formula that can speed up the process. Although I can safely say that none exist, there are guidelines and preferred paths that golfers can follow to reduce their handicap or scoring average. My good friend Peter Sanders, who started and operates the statistical analysis program, ShotbyShot, has studied the results of players of all ability levels. He also has access to over 350,000 recorded rounds in his database. This data provides valuable insight on the preferred journey to lower scores.
In a recent conversation, Peter and I discussed what it takes to reach certain scoring thresholds. I’ll highlight this information because it begins to unravel the formula that most golfers, especially younger ones, can use to accelerate their improvement.
1. Reduce Scoring Average to 90
Progress is relatively quick at first as new golfers begin learning concepts and start practicing in between rounds. Breaking 100 is the first scoring target for most golfers who play with some regularity. To make the jump from 100 to 90 (bogey golf), golfers must practice and play with greater frequency, and have to increase the number of times they make solid contact. Errors, which are defined as shots that result in an extra stroke or more, must also be reduced. Golfers who average 90, typically do it by hitting half the fairways, hitting slightly more than one-quarter of the greens, and save par about one in five times when they miss the green.
2. Reduce Scoring Average to 80
At this point in the journey for most competitive golfers, progress begin to slow and becomes more dependent on improving specific skills. For example, golfers who are hoping to lower their scoring average to 80, need to hit twice as many greens and save par twice as often when they miss the green as compared to an average 90-golfer. This is the critical point in the journey where a good coach can make a huge difference because better technique is the pathway to enhanced skill. Unlike most adult golfers whose handicaps stall between 12 to 14, competitive junior golfers must find ways to continue to make progress in all areas of the game.
3. Reduce Scoring Average to 75
Only about 10% of all golfers ever get their scoring average down to 75. This is an important milestone for any competitive junior that wants to have success in high school. To get there, it takes hard work, more strategic practice, and a well-rounded game that includes course management knowledge, mental game skills, and at least average club speed. From a statistical standpoint, it’s harder to make significant gains in any one area so slight progress will be required in all aspects of the game (tee shots, approach shots, short game, and putting). At this point in their development, younger golfers benefit from competing frequently. The feedback from tournament play, provides important data and information that both a junior golfer and his or her coach can use to continue to lower scores.
In summary, the information offers a roadmap for accelerated improvement and lower scores, especially for younger golfer who wish to compete in high school and college. It also highlights the areas of the game on which golfers need to focus at various stages of development and the skills that need to improve along the way.
Since the emergence of Covid-19 as a serious threat to our health and way of life, the environment for junior golf has undergone dramatic changes. In the short term, the challenge has been finding places to play and practice. In the long term, courses will reopen, but there will be more significant challenges to overcome. Junior golf tournaments have been cancelled, college golf programs are in jeopardy, and the landscape of competitive athletics is being reevaluated and will, no doubt undergo adjustments in the future.
With all the change and uncertainty, there are some things that remain constant and enduring, and these truths should be the focus of every competitive junior golfer.
Golf is a Lifetime Sport
Among its most appealing attributes, golf is a sport that spans the generations. Those that learn to play it, and play it well, continue playing for decades. Children, parents, and grandparents can compete on the same playing field and enjoy time together. It is well known that the golf course is a place where business associates can spend time together and get to know each other better than in typical business settings. Because of these unique features, golf creates opportunities to socialize and enjoy the company of others – that is something we surely need these days.
Excelling at Golf Offers Many Rewards
Like with many sports, the better you play golf, the more likely you are to enjoy it. Because it is such a difficult sport to master, junior golfers put in many hours of work trying to perfect their skills and learn to perform well under pressure. This desire to excel is an essential part of the whole process, especially for competitive juniors. It provides motivation and focus. I have witnessed the first-hand benefits this effort creates – junior golfers that work hard over an extended period of time develop habits and traits that they can use and profit from for the rest of their lives.
Good Coaching Makes a Difference
Because of new technologies, ample educational programs, and the sharing of information across multiple platforms, advances in coaching have accelerated at a rapid pace in the last few years. Now more than ever, an experienced coach who seeks out and understands the latest information can make a big difference in the progress of a young golfer. The best coaches also serve an equally important role as mentors that help young players navigate through this critical stage of development. If you are fortunate to have a top coach who is invested in your progress, I would strongly suggest you take advantage of his or her expertise and closely follow his or her advice.
Tournaments are the Ultimate Testing Ground
Despite all the changes in the past and those yet to come, one thing has remained the same -- the best players separate themselves on the golf course in competition. The scoring system for golf, created in 1764 at St. Andrews, has stood the test of time. Because of that, previous generations of golfers are connected with the current generation of golfers. Like those before them, today’s junior golfers will be tested on the golf course and will be judged by the scores they produce in tournament play. Tours like the TJGT are adjusting their procedures to keep everyone safe and still offer a full schedule of tournaments. My advice to young golfers who want to improve is to have the desire and courage to compete often knowing that the results and feedback you receive from competitive tournaments provide the best opportunity to improve your game.
By the time you read this article, things will have likely changed since I wrote it. Each day, our lives are being dramatically impacted by our country’s battle with the Covid-19 virus. Businesses have been forced to either close or alter their practices, schools have shifted to online teaching, families are sheltering at home, and competition in the golf world has been put on hold. When things around us are changing this quickly, we need to find our comfort in the things that are consistent and familiar.
For the competitive junior golfer, the one thing that remains the same is the desire to improve. The forced break from competition offers the unique opportunity to take inventory of your game and to focus your efforts on making changes that will have a positive and lasting impact on performance.
You can get started by following the steps I’ve listed below:
In summary, this is undoubtedly a unique and difficult time in our nation’s history and in our own lives. By its very nature, it offers the opportunity for all of us to rise to the challenges that are placed before us and to use the extra time to make a real difference in our lives and the lives of those around us. From a golf standpoint, I can say this with confidence -- the only way to get ahead of the curve is to take actions that “at the time” seem unnecessary.
Properly fit golf club can have a huge influence on the performance of golfers. Fitting junior golfers with the right equipment is difficult because they are in a constant state of flux – working hard to improve their technique, while they are getting bigger and stronger. Pick ingthe right equipment is a challenge for coaches who are trying to balance long-term improvement with short-term performance. Parents also have a difficult choice to make when they’re considering an investment in new equipment knowing that their son or daughter could outgrow the new clubs relatively quickly.
These complications and challenges can be lessened by following the guidelines I have laid out below.
When it’s Time to Get New Clubs for Your Son or Daughter
New clubs support the development of competitive junior golfers and can speed up improvement and make the game more fun. There are three key times for juniors to get new clubs.
All the major manufacturers make quality clubs, but just a few offer a variety of options for younger golfers. When purchasing new clubs, there are important swing characteristics and club specifications that need to be evaluated and taken into consideration when fitting a junior golfer. Here are the essential ones:
When buying new clubs, the desired change to the ball flight should be the number one priority. For example, some players will want more distance while other players might prefer a lower ball flight. For competitive junior golfers, I suggest you follow these basic guidelines:
Playing good golf requires that you do many things well during a round. Playing poor golf is easy to do. Without realizing it, many golfers sabotage their rounds in a variety of ways and junior golfers, in particular, frequently make mistakes that lead to higher scores.
In this article, I took a look at some of the most common errors young golfers make during a round that is almost sure to guarantee a poor performance.
If you watch golf in person or on TV, you can’t help but notice that the best golfers in the world look quite different than the golfers from previous decades. Today’s golfers are strong, fit, and look like superb athletes. Although there’s nothing wrong with looking fit, competitive golfers are generally after something different. They understand that if they move well, are strong, and can swing fast, they’ll play better golf. Today’s game at every level is dominated by the fastest golfers.
It’s not just the pro game that’s changed. Junior golfers today play a much different game than their predecessors did just a few years ago. Now younger players are bombing the ball farther than ever. The challenge for these long hitters is to train their bodies to be able to withstand the rigors of year-round training, practice, and competition.
I’ve seen first-hand what happens when committed juniors with speed ignore or de-emphasize work in the gym. In the last month, we had two high school students test positive for stress fractures and one high school student just return from a stress fracture. In all three cases, the required break from golf is six months without certainty that the fracture will completely heal. Also, in all three cases, the injuries were likely caused by poor physical conditioning.
Now that I’ve piqued your interest as to the importance of fitness for developing juniors, let me describe it’s benefits and the best way to get started.
Benefits of Physical Training
Tips for Getting Started
If you need more convincing as to the value of fitness for today’s competitive golfer, here’s what Tyler Duncan, recent first-time winner of the RSM Classic, said in his interview after the round. When asked how he got his game good enough to win on the PGA Tour, Tyler attributed his success to the “stuff I’ve been doing has paid off.” The follow-up question asked him to clarify and Tyler said, “Training harder in the gym.” Join Tyler and the majority of pros, college players, and competitive juniors by getting started with and sticking to a comprehensive golf fitness program.