When you're young and starting out in the game, that's when you tend to lay the foundations for your golfing journey that lies ahead. So, whether you have lofty ambitions of making it on tour or you just enjoy trying to beat your friends, it's important to get off on the right foot. As part of our Game.Improved series, Nick Dougherty imparts some of his wisdom on one of Golf Monthly's younger readers that will help encourage juniors of all levels...
For junior golfers looking to get better without making the game feel like hard work, it’s vital to retain the ‘fun’ element. That’s what’s going to ensure kids carry on playing into adulthood. Falling into the pitfall of going to the range and hitting golf balls mindlessly is only going to sap the joy out of the sport for aspiring youngsters.
As Nick says, “practice sucks,” so in order to make practice enjoyable for kids while still encouraging improvement, here’s what he suggests.
“The best thing to do and the way to get the most out of it is to make it more performance oriented, which is what most practice isn’t. The thing most amateur golfers are guilty of is the way they go about practising, and I’ve been a culprit of this too.
“So, if we can practise in a fun way and create a challenge, it might shift the experience of playing on the course from being terrifying to being like, this is fun, this is a challenge.”
What also helps is giving juniors the tools to perform at their best and feel like they are emulating their heroes. And whether that's Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Charley Hull or Brooke Henderson, TaylorMade are up there with the best in the business at offering everything a junior golfer could wish for to feel like a superstar in waiting.
From bags all the way down to custom shafts and a range of grip options, the TaylorMade Junior Spec equipment (opens in new tab) is every bit as impressive as the gear on offer for the best male and female golfers in the world.
Simple shot selection
Nick quickly identified the talent Josh possesses. It will undoubtedly stand him in great stead moving forward should he choose to pursue golf as a potential career. However, such natural ability can also pose its own problems, which is why Nick was keen to provide some golf strategy advice for juniors. Josh drives the ball superbly, but Nick also noticed he has a tendency to overcomplicate the game in other areas.
“Playing off nine is immense already at this age,” Nick said. “He’s going to get naturally bigger and stronger so the rest of it should take care of itself. For him it’s more about selection of shots.
“This is helpful for juniors in particular. When you get to a level where you start to spin the golf ball it becomes something that is very addictive. It feels good and it’s a testament to quality of strike and Josh has that. But sometimes it will lead him to play a more challenging shot than the one he needs to. The name of the game is how many shots does it take, not how pretty did they look.”
To work on that, Nick set up a simple landing spot drill and instilled a basic concept for Josh to follow in future that would see him landing the ball on the same part of the green no matter what. That will allow Josh and anyone else following this advice to use the flag location to determine the shot required.
If the pin is a few yards from the landing spot, using a lob wedge to get the ball landing soft would probably be advisable. If it’s towards the back of the green, something like an 8-iron would likely work better.
With Josh’s technique, Nick predicts he will have an electric short game in no time if he sticks to this philosophy, and would recommend it to juniors and golfers of all levels.
Add an element of pressure
It’s never too early to get kids used to competing under a little pressure, especially if they harbour ambitions of climbing the ranks to reach their potential. It doesn’t have to be extreme or near impossible to achieve, but giving them targets when practising or playing is a great way to prepare juniors for what’s to come.
Whether it's trying to shoot your lowest ever score or taking on a friend in a challenge match at the range or on the course, these are the sorts of things that will nurture development. It's something some of the best players in the world still do to seek out every ounce of performance.
“Practice should be conscious, you should be engaged with it. If I take any amateur in the world and put them on the first tee at Wentworth during the BMW PGA to hit that tee shot, those feelings, how those arms feel, how they feel inside will feel completely different to hitting a hundred balls at the range.
“You’d almost be bored at the range and sometimes it might not even be good because you’re not focused. You’re supposed to practise to prepare for playing, but if it’s got no relation to the golf course, it’s not doing you any good.
“Actually, you might even start to doubt yourself. ‘I’ve spent all that time and it doesn’t work,’ is what you might say to a coach or wherever your information comes from. And that’s probably not fair. It’s more likely you’re just not mentally in a space where you can recreate it.
“Adding some pressure will get you used to playing under a bit of pressure, and that means when you step on the first tee there is a bit of a comfort in that it isn’t that different. Sure, it’s a little different, just like if I put someone in a position to win on tour or tee it up at The Masters or The Open. That would be terrifying and feel uncomfortable but you get used to it the more you put yourself in that position in practice.”
A lifelong golf fan, Andy graduated in 2019 with a degree in Sports Journalism and got his first role in the industry as the Instruction Editor for National Club Golfer. From there, he went on to enjoy a spell freelancing for Stats Perform producing football reports, and then for RacingNews365 covering Formula 1. However, he couldn't turn down the opportunity to get back into the sport he grew up watching and playing and now covers a mixture of equipment, instruction and news for Golf Monthly's website and print title.
Andy took up the game at the age of seven and even harboured ambitions of a career in the professional ranks for a spell. That didn’t pan out, but he still enjoys his weekend golf at Royal Troon and holds a scratch handicap. As a side note, he's made five holes-in-one and could quite possibly be Retief Goosen’s biggest fan.
As well as the above, some of Andy's work has featured on websites such as goal.com, dailyrecord.co.uk, and theopen.com.
What's in Andy's bag?
Driver: Callaway Mavrik Sub-Zero (9°)
3-wood: TaylorMade M1 (15°)
Driving iron: Titleist U500 (17°)
Irons: Callaway Apex Pro '19 (4-PW)
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM9 (50°, 54° and 58°)
Putter: Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport 2.5
Ball: Titleist Pro V1
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