It’s a good idea to spend time, energy and money on young stars with the talent and drive to become world-class golfers, but not at the expense of the other kids in your club’s junior program, Henry Brunton says.
Those 37 kids may not have as much golfing ability, but research shows they, too, enjoy competing and, if given support, will remain keen golfers and draw other people to the sport, he adds.
“They’re the people that will move the needle in golf,” says Brunton, an Ottawa-area native and former Rideau View assistant who is now the Royal Canadian Golf Association national men’s team coach, a successful Toronto-area teaching pro and, since earlier this year, holder of Master Professional status from the Canadian Professional Golfers’ Association.
The final step in obtaining that status was defending a paper entitled “The Development of Expertise for Elite Competitive Golfers and the Related Probability of Advancing to the PGA Tour — Key Information for Athletes, Parents, Coaches, Golf Professionals and Administrators,” which Brunton submitted to the CPGA membership and education committee last June.
Struck by the increasing challenge of managing the expectations of young golfers he works with, and their parents, in a healthy way, Brunton says there’s too often one disparity between a young player’s actual level of performance and where they think they are, and another between where they think they’ll be in 24 to 36 months and the amount of work needed to get there.
Thus, his paper, which can be downloaded from cpga.com (look under “News” from January 2008), begins with an examination of the chances of reaching world-class status and becoming a PGA Tour member.
The numbers are daunting. For example, of 52 different Canadian junior boys’ champions between 1938 and 2000, only Jim Rutledge and the late George Knudson earned PGA Tour cards, and winning a Canadian junior title is itself a rare feat.
Further, Brunton’s paper points out that, since the modern PGA Tour formed in 1968, the only provinces to produce members are British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec, and the only Quebec-born player to make it was Jerry Anderson.
“The Ottawa Valley has a lot of great players, but, if Brad (Fritsch) and Lee (Curry, both on the affiliated Nationwide Tour) make it, they’ll be the first,” Brunton says.
So how can Canada best nurture the next Mike Weir while also looking out for the common amateur golfer?
Drawing on several research sources, including work by Dr. Jean Côté of Queen’s University, Brunton says early specialization in golf can lead to injury, burnout and dropping out of the sport.
It’s better to allow children to try many sports during the “sampling” years (ages 6-12) before narrowing fields of play during the “specializing” years (13-15) and allowing them to make a decision to become an elite golfer at the “investment” stage (16-plus) by devoting large chunks of leisure time to training.
Weir played youth hockey, Brunton notes, while Tiger Woods dabbled in baseball, tennis and other sports before becoming the world’s dominant male golfer.
“Across the board, this is the way that elite golfers or elite athletes develop to the point where we come to know their names,” Brunton says.
A key factor separating “sampling” from “specializing” and “investment” is the amount of “deliberate practice,” which is defined as being engaged in activities specifically designed to improve performance with full concentration.
It increases with age, in contrast to the decline in “deliberate play,” which can be described as neighbourhood play using the general rules of the game without being in an organized league. Think of it as free play, such as pickup basketball, road hockey or skipping over to the golf course to play a few holes after school. Adults are around only to supervise for safety reasons and not to impose rules of competition.
Brunton’s prescription for the game also includes delaying “high-profile, high-pressure” tournaments and tours for juniors until age 13, creating a new junior golf system to accommodate the “sampling, specializing” and “investment” stages, and developing an industry-wide strategy to identify and serve youngsters whose priority is having fun within the sport, perhaps with something akin to “house league” competition.
“If they’re not among the chosen few (who qualify for the PGA Tour),” Brunton says, “all their experience and training in golf will transfer to other parts of life.”
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