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By Anne Marie Goslak

It is sometimes hard to understand the natural progression of junior golfers. Too often, a parent will say, "Johnny is not scoring half as well as he used to. When he was 14, he was shooting in the low 70s, winning every tournament he played. Now he's shooting 75s and has not won in over a year!"

The parents often expect improvement to be linear, from "Good" to "Great," to "Amazing." But competitive golf does not work that way. Consider the following scenario.

At the age of 13, Johnny signs up for a local golf tournament. He is paired with players whose interest level ranges from "My entire life is golf!" to "I play four different sports and piano too. Golf is just one of many things I like to do right now."

Because the talent pool is mixed, Johnny rises to the top and wins often. In reality, he is one of only three kids in the field who focus 85% of their life exclusively on golf. The rest of the field does not have the same level of interest.

When setting up the golf course for this local event, the staff is told, "We have a junior tournament today. Make sure the pin placements are easy so the kids play fast."

Johnny wins the tournament, shooting a 71. That's a terrific score for a 13 year old! His parents boast that, based on his score, Johnny could easily beat many of the current college players already! The parents don't realize that there is a massive difference between the way the course is set up for juniors versus collegiate players.

Fast forward three years. Johnny is now 16 years old and playing in national tournaments. The talent pool has changed quite a bit since he was little. The kids with marginal commitment have moved on to other hobbies. Higher entry fees scare away those who simply can't afford it. The kids who are left are the ones who focus on golf 85-95% of the time. Johnny is giving 80% focus. The other 20%, he spends with his friends and new girlfriend.

This time, the staff is told to set the pins in harder locations and let the rough grow long. The goal of this tournament is to weed out lesser players and help identify a champion.

When Johnny plays that same golf course, he finds it to be harder this time. He shoots 75 and finishes in the middle of the pack.

His parents see his scoring average going in the wrong direction. They jump to the wrong conclusion. "My kid is not getting any better. In fact, he's getting worse. Time to switch coaches." The coach change only makes things worse, so they jump to another coach and then another one. It's a terrible cycle that happens at every level of golf.

The issue has very little to do with his coach. It has everything to do with Johnny's ability to evolve and develop skills that he will need at this new level of golf. Too often, Johnny is mistaken as to what it takes to get to the next level.

When his coach was trying to get him to learn how to hit a 200 yard shot with enough spin to hold a green, Johnny decided it was better to focus on hitting longer tee shots. When the coach attempted to teach him a more advanced way of assessing a course during the practice round, Johnny was more concerned with ball striking. When Johnny's coach asked him to spend the winter months reading the latest books about the mental game, Johnny just skimmed the books, then went snowboarding with friends.

If he is going to evolve as a player, Johnny needs to ask himself some hard questions:

  1. What do the others do that I don't do as well?
  2. How hard are they working compared to me?
  3. How open are they to their coach's suggestions, compared to me?
  4. Am I doing everything within my power to achieve my goals?"

Improvement is not linear and it sure isn't guaranteed. It's a jagged line, which zigs and zags. If Johnny wants to find his way back to the winner's circle, it is going to take a little honesty and a LOT of hard work. But if he wants it bad enough, he will find a way. The good ones always do.

-Anne Marie Goslak