Pinehurst Golf Academy’s Eric Alpenfels has a few tips for how to best develop your kid’s interest in golf – and avoiding the mistakes of others
Charlie Woods blew up Twitter in December, and it’s likely to happen any time he joins dad Tiger on the course, like he did in the PNC Championship. It’s been fun to watch video clips of Charlie’s smooth swing, especially when side-by-side with his dad, but it also got us to thinking – what’s the best way to handle coaching your kids if they have an interest in golf?
For that, we went to Eric Alpenfels, a Master Golf Professional, a Top 100 Teacher and the Director of the Pinehurst Golf Academy, which every summer runs a series of Parent-Child golf schools. Eric has coached kids for decades, and has a few pointers he holds true when it comes to teaching golf to kids.
BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE, REMEMBER, YOU ARE MOM AND DAD “The most important thing is that the parent realize their role is more as the parent than as the coach. It’s hard to do both. Partner with a coach who can play that role, and then you have the parent, you have the kid, you have the coach, and then what you have is a triangle for success.”
MAKE SURE YOU DON’T HAVE TO START OVER AGAIN IN A FEW YEARS Get the fundamentals right from the very start. That means the proper grip, the correct posture and good alignment. “I had an example recently when a teenager came with a very strong grip. Well, when he was 8-9-10, he could play with it because he didn’t swing very fast, but as he’s gotten bigger and stronger, that grip had to be changed because there was no way he could hit it straight with that grip. And now he’s going through the heartache. Now, he’s done a great, great job fixing it, but it’s taken six months. What else could he have been working on in those six months?”
THAT SAID, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT “Just keep it in the ballpark with a good grip, posture and alignment. Keep it relatively close to neutral. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”
WHAT DO YOU MEAN “BE THE PARENT”? “The parent should make the decisions that are in the best interests of the child. You know your kid, and he or she may not be ready for tournaments until they are more mature. Some kids can compete at 8 or 10. Some can’t. Know your kid. It could be not allowing them to practice for 10 hours a day. Make sure they’re having a good time with it. Drive them to lessons. Be supportive. So often, parents will get caught up in the idea of the kid playing high level golf that they forget, geez, he’s 11.”
OTHER SPORTS ARE OK “You need to have balance. I’ve seen good adult players who specialized only in golf growing up, and once, we were going to go and work on some short pitch shots. I tossed a couple of balls to the player and asked her to toss a few 20 yards or so and we’d use them as targets. She tried to throw one and it hit her foot. I was like, ‘What? Do that again.’ And she did. She said, ‘Yeah, I can’t throw.’ And so, here was this athletic-looking person – and she was athletic, but just with the golf swing. And that was it.”
WHEN COACHING KIDS, FOCUS ON WHERE THE CLUB SHOULD BE “When told where the club should be or what the club should do, kids’ bodies respond really well to that. The adult, where flexibility or past injury come into play, their bodies can’t really respond as easily as a kid can. So, when a parent is looking for a coach, seek a coach who is more focused on what the club is supposed to be doing than the body. The kid’s body will take care of it and respond. Don’t worry about where the arms should be, or the elbow. If kids have an awareness of where the club should be, they’ll do OK.”
DON’T TURN IT INTO A JOB “It’s got to be fun – and fun for the parent and the kid. We see it all the time in our Parent-Child school. Heck, the parents often tear up when talking about it (See video above). Where else can they spend this kind of time, hours of it, away from the cell phone and everything else? I’ve met parents and their kids walking off the 18th green of No. 2, and the dad says, ‘I have no idea what I shot today, but this was the best round of golf I’ve ever had.’ Those moments are priceless.”
STATS AREN’T EVERYTHING. JUST ASK TIGER “Parents will often come up with numbers of, ‘Well, she needs to do this.’ Well, if you’re going to use statistics, you need to know the true numbers and what they mean. Let’s say you have an advanced player, and you think he needs to hit more greens in regulation. Do they really? Tiger tells this story, where somebody said, ‘You’re not hitting enough greens in regulation.’ Tiger said, ‘Some days, I could hit all the greens in regulation, but if I’m going for the center of every green, I could be leaving myself 40-footers on a stimpmeter of 14 with double breaks and I’m putting myself in position to 3-putt a lot more than I do. Now, if I’m going for the pin, and I’m wise for when I’m firing at the hole AND I’m wise about where my misses could go, I might have a chip shot that’s a lot easier than a 60-foot putt.’ Just hitting more greens in regulation doesn’t mean you’ll have a better result. Know what the statistics mean.”
DON’T HAVE DISTANCE YET? DON’T WORRY, JUST GO CHIP AND PUTT “Many kids, they want distance. And we all get why distance matters, but kids grow at different rates. Kids see what their bigger friends can do and want to catch up. But some of that will just come naturally. So let it come, and if the distance isn’t there yet, make up for it somewhere else. Do you do things in his golf swing that would make distance gains now that you may have to adjust later, or do you just go over and work on your pitching and chipping and become really good at your short game?”
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