INTERVIEW BY DAVID GOULD
The opportunities to get started in golf are more readily available now than ever before. Most kids who are drawn to the sport will enter a junior program during their pre-adolescent years, when their body is showing athleticism but they’ve still got more flexibility than strength. Before long they’ll understand whether they enjoy golf as a recreation or feel serious about becoming a competitive player.
Golf Channel Academy (GCA) has a number of coaches with particular expertise in junior golf development. They’ve helped hundreds of juniors earn college scholarships and play highly competitive golf on the amateur and professional levels. Two of the very best are Kevin Weeks (pictured above) and Ralph Landrum, both of whom have been recognized as U.S. Kids Golf Master Kids Teachers. This is the highest honor an instructor can receive from the equipment manufacturer, the world’s leading provider of golf equipment for young adults. Their views on a range of junior-related topics are presented here.
GCA: If a child is showing interest in golf and wants to give it a try, how do you recommend parents start them out?
Kevin Weeks: Word of mouth should help you find a professional in your area who is known for starting kids out in a fun, no-pressure environment. The entry-level program that we offer encourages parents to be present and observe how we do things. This way a parent can pick up the language we use and be able to reinforce the message. However the parents do need to let the instructor “read” the kid—this will give mom or dad a helpful perspective on their child as a golfer.
Ralph Landrum: If the parents are golfers, and they have an 8-year-old who shows interest, they should just a play a bunch of golf with their kid. You can’t over-coach them—that’s counter-productive. Expect that they will play a couple of holes then skip a hole or two, which is fine. Once they’re closer to middle school, it would be great if they could play some golf with friends and peers. Then you can turn to a golf instruction program that is low-pressure, that teaches in groups and keeps it fun. From there you go to private coaching.
GCA: Let’s say the child is becoming serious—they aspire to play at the high school or college level. What kind of tournaments should they play? Who should they play with? How do you develop their skills without jeopardizing their confidence?
Kevin Weeks: With regards to competitive tournaments, they can and should include some events where the junior is clearly one of the best players in the field, and also a few events where they need to play very well or they’re just going to get run over.
Ralph Landrum: I would concur with the need to dial it up and down, regarding level of competition. I would lean toward more success early, if you can make that happen. And then, yes, an experience where their eyes are opened wide to where they stand would be good. A junior whose fared well in tournaments and then gets beat up a bit may hit the reset button and say, “Okay, now the chase is on.”
GCA: What should parents look for when researching summer camps for their child? What are the signs of a high-quality camp?
Kevin Weeks: The idea is to have a good time, make some new friends and improve your golf skills. You’ll probably find that some of the colleges in your area that have golf programs will run a good summer camp for juniors. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the camps run by colleges are there for the purposes of recruiting. Rarely does a college coach find a young player at their summer camp who goes on to play for that school.
Ralph Landrum: My sense is that you can rely on word of mouth plus online reviews to find a summer program that your child will enjoy and get a lot out of. It’s also worth looking for a program that is in a growth mode. People are coming back and telling their friends, so now instead of one peewee camp on the schedule there are three of them. That’s happening at our facility in Lexington, Kentucky.