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Ever since I started to play at the age of five, golf has assumed a central role in my life. Not only have I competed for as long as I can remember but it has also become my career. In my various roles at Golf Monthly, I have travelled the world treading the fairways, interviewing top players and reviewing the latest gear. The opportunities offered to me by the game have gone far beyond what I, or, for that matter my parents, could have ever expected.
When I became a father for the first time in 2013 I began to consider if, how and when I might start to introduce the game to my own children. How do I foster a genuine interest without going too far and turning it into a chore?
The first thing to say is that my son is sports-mad. If it involves kicking, chasing or whacking a ball, he’s usually on board. Having only previously taken him to the driving range, a year ago I joined my local golf club and took advantage of the free membership on offer to him. I then signed him up for weekend coaching, joining a group of other juniors at the club. This was the first big step and since then we have gone on to play 9-holes together on a semi-regular basis. He has completed his first 18-hole round and now has a handicap.
Below are six biggest lessons I’ve learned from turning an admittedly sports-mad child into a fledgling golfer.
1 Get A Trolley
It was a piece of advice I received from a friend of mine and it has been an absolute game-changer. Prior to getting a trolley, golf on the course was as much a test of patience and stamina as anything (neither of which anyone in our family has in abundance). With the right sized bag that sits on a small trolley, he can wheel his own clubs around with minimal faffing. Of all the lessons I’ve learned over the last few years, this would probably be the most important. The purchase of a simple, compact push trolley has unlocked the true experience of playing the game on the course.
2 Get Some Coaching
I’ve played golf for 35 years, worked with some of the best coaches and players in the game and competed at a low single-figure standard. And yet, my son hardly listens to a single word of instruction that comes from my mouth. As demoralising as this is, I think it’s fairly common. We’ve had regular group junior coaching for a year or so now and clearly something is going in because the quality of his golf is undoubtedly improving. It’s a cliche but making it fun and doing it with other children seems to have made a real impact.
3 Pressure Putt, Putt
In every golfer’s journey, there comes a point when shooting a good score (whatever that might be) becomes more important than just hitting good shots. When this happens, there’s nothing more demoralising than reaching the green in a good number and then putting your way into double digits.
We are very lucky in that the layout of our local clubs sees the putting green right next to the car park, the clubhouse and the first tee. This means that whenever we’re at the club it is very easy to kill a few minutes with some time on the putting green. Instead of focussing on technique, I’ve taken the approach of challenging him to games (one of which we call 'Pressure Putt, Putt'... for some unknown reason). This makes it fun and crucially, gets him to focus on speed and break in a way that’s otherwise easy to forget. We’ve got a long way to go on this front but the progress within a year is striking.
4 Lightweight Gear
In the same way that equipment advances have made the game easier for amateur golfers, the same must be true for kids. I remember growing up using an assortment of different clubs of varying lengths and levels of forgiveness. Now the best golf club sets for kids category features some fantastic options from the main golf brands as well as the likes of US Kids Golf. We have used TaylorMade Phenom clubs and are now onto PING Prodi G (where you receive a one-time club adjustment so the original investment lasts longer). Not only do they look very cool but the technology at work within these lightweight clubs really helps with both the flight and the distance. In short, it means you get maximum value from your ball-striking. In my experience, the encouragement gained from a high-flying drive is far more tangible than any cheerleading words from a parent.
5 Pick Your Battles
From walking along the line of a putt to using a lofted wedge from just off the green, there are a multitude of interventions you could make during a game. I’ve had some rounds where I’ve felt that all I’d done was interfere. Trust me, that’s no fun for anyone. Choosing what to let slip is a skill I’m yet to fully master but I can clearly see the value in choosing my battles. Just getting through a few holes, especially in the early stages, is a big effort and a great achievement (this is something I need to keep reminding myself).
6 Added Extras
Anything you can do to make the whole experience more enjoyable is probably worth it. My son and I have developed something of an unwritten contract that after we’ve finished playing, we’ll head into the clubhouse for a drink, a packet of crisps and to watch whatever sport is on the TV. Honestly, there are moments when I question which part he enjoys most. The good thing is that he is now used to being around the club, he recognises some of the faces he sees, they recognise him and he isn’t intimidated by the environment.
I’ll finish by saying that my intention here isn’t to develop the next Tiger Woods. Instead, I just want to provide my son with the opportunity to enjoy the game. What I know for sure is that it’s not going to happen on its own, I need to encourage him but don’t want to overwhelm him. Herein lies the parental dilemma. So far so good, he’s enjoying golf, albeit not as much as some of the other sports he plays, but he is developing an understanding for how to play and what to do. If we can keep it ticking over, he might end up with a life-skill that he’ll value for years to come.
In his current role, Neil is responsible for testing drivers and golf balls. Having been a part of the Golf Monthly team for over 15 years and playing off a handicap of 3, he has the experience to compare performance between models, brands and generations. For 2022 he thinks the main trend in drivers is: "In a word, consistency. Whilst all the brands are talking about ball speed (and the new drivers are certainly long), my biggest finding has been how much more consistent the ball flights are. Mishits don't seem to be causing the same level of drop-off or increase in the spin numbers. This means that more shots seem to be flying the way you want them to!" As far as golf balls are concerned the biggest development is in the, "three piece, non-Tour, urethane-covered section. For regular golfers, these models offer superb performance at both ends of the bag without denting your wallet quite as much as the premium Tour-played options."
Originally working with the best coaches in the UK to produce instruction content, he is now the brand's Digital Editor and covers everything from Tour player interviews to gear reviews. In his time at Golf Monthly, he has covered equipment launches that date back well over a decade. He clearly remembers the launch of the Callaway and Nike square drivers as well as the white TaylorMade driver families, such as the RocketBallz! If you take a look at the Golf Monthly YouTube channel, you'll see his equipment videos dating back over a decade! He has also conducted 'What's In The Bag' interviews with many of the game's best players like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. Over the years, Neil has tested a vast array of products in each category and at drastically different price-points.
Neil is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade Stealth Plus Fairway Wood: Titleist TSi2 Hybrid: Titleist TS3 Irons (4-9): Mizuno JPX 919 Forged Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 46˚, 50˚, 54˚, 60˚ Putter: Odyssey Triple Track Ten Ball: Titleist Pro V1X
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