Golf Gets It Right

By Jim McNaney

Despite the fact that I coach and teach golf for a living, I’ve spent the better part of the last 10 years traveling around the country with my oldest daughter as she peruses her dream of playing college softball. Summer after summer we’ve spent “quality time” in hotels washing a team load of uniforms after three to six games throughout the day only to do it all again the next weekend.
Don’t get me wrong… I truly enjoyed watching my daughter grow from that squirt in “coach pitch” jumping for joy as she touched home plate for the first time to the well-trained athlete that dives up the middle at second base and flips the ball out of her glove to start a double play.
Over the years we’ve shared endless car rides across the Iowa plains (I’d like to think I’m very well versed in the music tastes of the next generation). We’ve traveled by plane to visit college campuses and met with coaches from NAIA to NCAA Division I schools. We’ve met great people along the way and she has made life-long friends from all over the country.
The thing is, as we’ve made this journey, I noticed the pressure getting greater each summer. The fun families that we spent time with in the early years became very real competitors… even on the same team. No longer were we all working for the same goal of having the girls compete on a high level and have fun working as a team. Now we were working almost against each other trying to get our kid “seen.”
For what? A scholarship to a major university. Maybe, but as I’ve discovered over the years, those “scholarships” are usually only “partial rides” and are all one-year contracts with the school that can and are adjusted each year. Very few Division I softball programs have more than one or two women that have all of their college paid for, and those are the ones we see on ESPN in May at the National Championships.
So what does any of this have to do with golf? Everything.
In my 25 years in the industry, I ‘ve seen some of the dumbest initiatives to grow the game. I’ve also seen the rise of something that is undoubtedly the best… the PGA Junior League.
The PGA Junior League is a way for kids to get introduced to competitive golf but with the team aspect of all the other youth sports. Players are interchanged throughout the round. They wear team uniforms complete with numbers on the back. It doesn’t matter if your kid is the star of the team or a “role player,” they all are working for the same goal.
I understand golf is not immune to the trappings of every other youth sport. I have seen firsthand parents berating their 10-year-old son for bogeying the last hole, despite the fact that the kid won the event. I know that there are those juniors and parents perusing the same pot of gold of a college scholarship at any number of big time collegiate programs. Yes, I am aware that Jordan Speith and Justin Thomas competed in major events as children.
It just seems that while the other sports have become cutthroat, golf seems to have remembered the gentile nature of the sport.
More and more, as I’ve watched the PGA Junior League grow, I’ve seen the best of golf come out. Kids are taught to help their teammates. They are taught to compete as hard as they can, but they MUST play by the rules of golf. Keep in mind that in baseball/softball the old adage of “if you ain’t cheating’ you ain’t trying” is very real. In golf, they are taught the value of personal responsibility. No one is responsible for your shot but you. But that’s what makes it great. They know others are counting on them to do their best but if someone falls short, the next player has a chance to “pick them up.”
The golf industry has struggled over the last few decades looking for ways to keep the game relevant in the future. Other sports like softball, hockey and AAU basketball have created an industry praying on the hopes and dreams of young athletes (not to mention the vicarious dreams of parents). It would have been very easy for golf, as an industry, to follow the model of the other youth sports. Instead, the powers that be: PGA of America, LPGA and USGA have forged their own path. The goal is to get kids loving the game for a lifetime, not spending all of their childhood jousting at windmills.
By the way… that 10-year-old I mentioned earlier, from what I’ve heard, does not play golf anymore.
So if you are a parent with a child interested in sports, introduce him or her to golf. Get them involved in the PGA Junior League. They will have a game they can enjoy for a lifetime and you will have the best playing partner you could ever ask for.

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