• Bob Doyle, President of Forever Better Golf, Inc.

Learning Golf At An Early Age

There is no doubt that learning golf at an early age, improves the chances that the golfer will excel.

Almost every golfer playing on today’s PGA and LPGA tours started learning golf at early ages. Tiger Woods first showed an interest in golf when he was about six months old. He watched his father hit balls into a net and young Eldrick (Tiger) began emulating his father’s swing. He appeared on the Mike Douglas television show in 1980 at the age of two and amazed the viewers with his already grooved golf swing.

Tiger may be unusual in exactly how young he started, but the theme is very common.

Consider: Arnold Palmer began playing golf at age four with sawed off golf clubs made by his father. Arnie was the son of the greens keeper at the Latrobe Country Club in western PA. His Dad was not a member of the club, but Arnie was allowed to play on limited occasions. Arnold caddied and worked at every job available at Latrobe. He observed, practiced and played on nearby public courses. By the time he was 14, he became a star on the High School Golf team.

Gary Player started playing golf at age 14 at the Virginia Park Golf Club in Johannesburg, South Africa. He often played hooky to practice or play golf, rather than go to school. Young Player would practice bunker shots until he holed out. Often he said the sun had long set and he was still trying to “get down in one from the bunker.”

After the suicide of his father when Ben Hogan was nine years of age, young Ben started to caddy at age 11, at the Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth TX. Byron Nelson also caddied at the same club. Byron, who was the same age as Ben, beat Ben for the caddie championship when both were 13.

Jack Nicklaus, as with Arnold and Tiger, also started playing golf before he was ten. At age ten, he shot a 51 in his first nine hole golf tournament in his home town of Columbus, OH. At age 11, Jack started taking lessons from Jack Grout, Head Professional at Scioto Country Club, also in Columbus. Jack went on to win 73 PGA Tour Events, including 18 professional Major Events.

Marlene Bauer Hagge started playing golf at age three. She joined the LPGA tour at age 16 and is the youngest ever female golfer to win a LPGA event, doing so just 14 days after she turned 18 years of age. Then she won her next LPGA tournament only three months later.

Annika Sorenstam, who may be the best female golfer to ever play the game, preferred tennis as a youngster but she started playing golf at age 12. Annika has now won over 70 tournaments since turning pro in Europe at age 23. She joined the LPGA tour at age 24. Annika shot a 59, the lowest round in LPGA history at the Standard Register Ping Tournament in 2001.

Paula Creamer, whose nickname is the “Pink Panther” because she always wears pink, has a pink head cover for her driver and usually plays a pink ball, started playing golf at age 10. By age 22, she had already won 6 LPGA tournaments. Paula was the third youngest to win a LPGA event, doing so at 18 years and 9 months.

Morgan Pressel also started playing golf at age 8 in Boca Raton, FL. She was the youngest ever lady golfer to win a LPGA Major event. Morgan won the Kraft Nabisco Championship at 18 years and 10 months. Morgan is the fourth youngest to win a LPGA event, just one month later than her peer Paula.

Almost all of the former and today’s great golfers started playing golf at early ages; age two for Tiger, age three for Marlene Bauer and age four for Arnold Palmer. Perhaps none of today’s PGA Tour professional golfers started playing golf beyond the age of 11. They also had the benefit of instruction from accomplished golfers like Tiger’s and Arnie’s Dads or professional and talented instructors like Jack Grout.

What conclusions can be drawn? Most golf impresarios today will say that golf is not a natural sport; that there is no such thing as a “natural golf swing.” The key movements in golf must be learned and the muscles required for these moves must be trained so that “muscle memory” takes over throughout the golf swing. The earlier in life that one trains his or her muscles, the better the chances of a repeatable and consistent golf swing. Does this mean that there is little hope for anyone starting to play golf at ages later than 11 or without professional instruction? Not entirely, but it does require greater dedication and the right kind of practice.

Please allow me to use myself as an example. I did not start playing golf until I was about 30 years of age after I recognized that golf may be useful in business. I can recall taking only one lesson from a pro. Most professionals and instructors will tell you, a single lesson is useless, as was mine. Today (June, 2008) Phil Mickelson is still taking lessons from Butch Harmon. Even Tiger Woods has had a string of talented professional instructors, including the same Butch Harmon, for several years after turning professional. Having a strong desire to succeed or at least play well at golf, I read many books and instructional tips, starting with Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. I watched many videos and DVD’s. And I bought and used many training aids like Greg Norman’s Secret, Bob Koch’s Medicus and Jim Sowerine’s Inside Approach. But I still struggled with the game.

Through all my practice, reading and study of the game, I have concluded that there are two and only two elements of the golf swing that every good golfer exhibits. They are:

  1. A flat left wrist (for the right handed golfer, right wrist for the left-hander).

  2. Seeing the ball at impact.

The first element depends heavily on muscle memory and is only attained after much practice. Seeing the ball at impact is an element that still can be learned at any age. I recognized that even though the Medicus helped with my tempo and swing plane, and the Inside Approach also helped with my swing plane, my head would still bob up and I might not see the ball at impact.

High handicap golfers can often be heard saying words like, “I picked my head up,” or “my head came right up.” Or they might hear the words from pros or playing partners: “You picked your head up.” That is quite natural because every golfer wants to see the flight of a well struck drive or five iron or hybrid. And therein lays the biggest obstacle to seeing the ball at impact. And it happened to me more often than not. It was the instructional technique of Jack Nicklaus’ teaching pro, Jack Grout, which led me to design the PRO-HEAD® trainer.

PRO-HEAD® is a muscle memory and golf swing training aid that restrains the head from bobbing up or down or swaying laterally or back or forth.

Because I figured out PRO-HEAD® so late in life, it was at age 65, with the muscle memory I developed by training with PRO-HEAD®, that I broke 80 for the first time in my life — and I did so several times thereafter.

The earlier in one’s golf career that he or she learns to keep the head from bobbing, or from swaying, or to maintain the spine angle (which is also the result of a steady head), the greater the chances of that person becoming a top notch golfer. The PRO-HEAD® trainer can help golfers of all ages, all sizes and builds, left handed or right-handed, male and female develop the muscle memory needed to see the ball at impact. Golfers can practice their swings, with or without hitting balls, until a steady head and spine angle become learned and memorized by the required muscles.

There is hope for golfers of all ages. But certainly, the younger golfer has the advantage of more practice time, more years to practice and greater flexibility. And the earlier the young golfer starts, along with the proper instruction and training, the greater her or his chances for stardom.

By R. S. (Bob) Doyle, President of Forever Better Golf, Inc.

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