Whether you survey the crowds at the 2016 AT&T Byron Nelson Golf Tournament, or the practice tee of your local golf course, you’ll likely see the same thing: kids who think golf is cool. Today, an estimated 3.1 million youth, age 6 to 17 years old, play the game; many with dreams of one day turning pro.
We caught up with some of our favorite PGA players at the 2016 AT&T Byron Nelson Golf Tournament at the TPC Four Seasons in Irving, Texas, this week to get their advice for these young hopefuls. They all delivered great insights—for kids, parents—or anyone, any age, who loves (and sometimes hates) this amazingly addictive game.
Mark Wilson: Be Individual. Go Back to the Basics. Be Okay with Being By Yourself.
Although we see the pros surrounded by people, learning to become a great golfer means spending time alone.
“You’ve got to learn to be alright being by yourself. With golf, it’s an individual sport, and you get better on your own. A teacher can tell you so much, but you have to spend a lot of quiet hours figuring things out on your own,” Wilson said.
He also thinks it’s important for junior golfers to be themselves.
“I would certainly stress the importance of being an individual. I think teachers today tend to mold players into what they should be, instead,” Wilson said. “I would also try to get away from technology as much as possible. The launch monitors of the world and things we have are good—but they’re just tools.”
When in doubt, go back to the basics practiced by the masters of the game.
“The golf ball in the air doesn’t lie,” Wilson said. “So, I suggest going back to what Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino and those guys did to get better, and that’s watching ball flight.”
Danny Lee: Be Patient. Keep Fighting. Repeat.
Though just shy of his 26th birthday at this writing, Danny Lee has been playing as a pro since 2009. His advice for kids who aspire to follow in his footsteps begins with pure grit.
“Work hard and have a lot of patience—you need it with this game. Golf will always try to find a way to bring you down. You just have to keep your head up and keep fighting,” Lee said. “Never give up and stay patient. Things will turn around.”
Jason Gore: Have Fun and Keep Things in Perspective.
Jason Gore has an engaging smile, a big personality, and a degree in Psychology from Pepperdine University. His advice for aspiring pros is to enjoy the ride.
“Continue to have fun, that’s just it. This is going to turn into a business really quick,” Gore said.” I think I fell into that a few years back. Golf turned into a business for me and I lost my love for the game. Once I realized that I was very fortunate to play a game for a living, I could continue to have fun at it—and get better at it.”
Keeping the love alive is often easier said than done.
“You have to try to keep things in perspective. The hardest part is realizing that this (golf) is not who you are, it’s what you do,” Gore said. “I think a lot of people base their self-worth on how well they play. Keeping things in perspective, knowing who you are and being comfortable with yourself—that’s the key.”
Jerry Kelly: Don’t Let Anyone Tell You “You Can’t”
When we asked the ever-amiable Jerry Kelly our question, his posture straightened, his eyes flashed and he answered with the passion of a man who knows of which he speaks:
“If somebody says you can’t make it, put that chip on your shoulder and use it,” Kelly said. “You don’t have to be mad at the world about it, but you certainly can use it to prove them all wrong.”
Is he speaking from personal experience?
“Absolutely,” he said. “Everybody thought I’d end up selling insurance, and here I am.”