Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Great Advice For Teaching Kids Golf

I've been running a segment this summer on Tuesday nights called "Lessons From A Pro", in which PGA golf teaching professionals from around East Texas offer their insight into different aspects of the game. We've had some really good tips that I know have helped my game. But, this past week, Darrell Chase, who is the head golf pro at Peach Tree/Oak Hurst Golf Club just South of Tyler, gave wonderful ideas on how to teach your kids the game of golf. I can't wait to put the ideas into practice with my 7-year-old son.

Darrell has actually published an article on this subject, and gave me a copy of it. I'm including it here. I think you'll get a lot out of his ideas.

Coaching Your Children
By Darrell Chase

Playing golf with your children can be one of the most positive things that a family can do together. Learning the game of golf, not how to play, but the game, will teach children about honesty, integrity, and accountability; all attributes that will make them better citizens in the future.

Introducing golf to your child is easily done just by exposing them to the game. Go ahead and pay for the extra seat in a cart and take them with you. Most children relish the idea of "hanging out" with their parents and their parent's friends. It makes them feel older and accepted. When they tell you that they would like to try it, then you have the opportunity to hook them, but just like an elusive fish, you have to be patient.

Teaching the golf swing to children is easy. Kids have no pre-conceived ideas of how the swing works. The adults that we teach have to be deprogrammed and reprogrammed in order for them to improve. With children, all we have to do is show them. Kids learn by watching. Keep it simple. Don't get too technical until they are older and they have been playing for a while. To teach a beginning child to hit a golf ball, let them know that there are only three things that they need to do. First, they have to make a full shoulder turn. Have them turn their back to the target or turn their lead shoulder to the ball. Second, they have to set their hands at the top of the swing. Have them get a 90 degree angle between the shaft and their forearm. If they are too young to understand what a 90 degree angle is, tell them to make the capital letter "L" with their golf club and their forearm. Third and finally, have them turn through into a balanced follow-through position (one foot, one toe, belt buckle and chest at the target, club over their lead shoulder). Teaching balance is the most important thing you can do for your child's golfing career. I ask my juniors to hold their balanced follow-through until the ball stops moving. I also ask them to pay attention to how long the Pros on TV watch their shots in the balanced follow-through position. Let them tee up balls at first, lowering the teeing height as they get the hang of it. As they improve, keep lowering the teeing height until they can be weaned of the tee and they can hit the ball off of the grass.

Bad news: The full swing is the easy part. Short game and putting are where success (lower scores and self-satisfaction) is found. The short game is a great opportunity to teach kids that golf is not about how far, but how close. [Dads, please reread the last sentence]. Young children will not be able to hit the ball as far as their parents do until they get bigger and stronger, but let them know that there is no reason that with practice, they can chip, pitch, and putt as well or better than you can. It takes touch, not strength, for the short game. Teach them the low, bump and run, chip shot. This is the most accurate and most forgiving of all short game shots. Teach them that the high, pitch shot is necessary only when the ball has to travel farther in the air than on the ground, such as over a bunker or a creek. Stress to them that this is the most difficult and unforgiving shot in golf. Don't let them make this their favorite shot. Emotionally, this is the most satisfying shot in the world, pulled off successfully, but if you live by the sword, you die by the sword. The low shot is much more accurate and forgiving.

Start all children off with a putter. Teach them that the object of the game is to get the ball into the hole with the fewest strokes possible. Putting may be the most difficult sill for a beginner to grasp and distance control seems to be the hardest part. Spend time with them on the putting green putting a ball to you, trying to get it close enough that you don't have to take a step to retrieve the ball. Vary the distance of the putts and soon enough they will get the hang of it. Have your children make lots of two and three foot putts. Hearing the ball rattle in the cup breeds confidence and success. Putt-Putt is another good place to emphasize how important putting is. Most kids would prefer to spend their practice time on the driving range banging balls, but it's an improved short game that will lower their scores. Do your best to have them spend as much time chipping and putting as they do on the full swing.

When your children enter the twilight zone (teenage years), chances are your advice is not well taken. This is where you pass them on to your local PGA or LPGA teaching professional. It's not worth the frustration to either side of this battle.

I have many parents tell me that they wished that their child had devoted their time to golf instead of baseball or basketball or some other sport. I disagree with them. Sports like that are for youngsters and this is the only time in their life that they can do it. I ask the parents to keep their kids exposed to golf so that they will still have all of the good fundamentals intact when they start playing again. They will have the rest of their life to play golf.

Take your children to the course with you, teach them about the rules and etiquette of the game, be patient with them, and finally, practice what you preach. The time you invest with your children will be rewarded many times over.

Darrell Chase is the head Golf Professional at Peach Tree/Oak Hurst Golf Club, a 36 hole public facility in Tyler. Darrell has been awarded the 2000 Junior Golf Leader of the Northern Texas PGA. He hosts a couple of free summer golf camps in the area, Camp Darrell at Peach Tree/Oak Hurst, and the City of Tyler golf camp with the Tyler Parks & Recreation Department.

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