Make The Long Game Short And Other Tips From A Top PGA Juniors Coach

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by Alison Zeidman
Originally Published: 

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Golf used to be the place where you escaped for a few hours to curse while walking around a well-manicured lawn. But now, thanks to a bunch of breakout stars in their 20s winning PGA tours, golf attracts a younger audience. It’s understandable if you’d rather not encourage your own kid to pick up a game they will never, ever, ever master, but if they express an interest, you may as well take a few pointers from a pro.

Gary Cressend is a PGA member and certified golfing instructor at Augusta Country Club (it’s next to that other famous club) who, in 2014, was named one of the top 50 junior golf instructors in the country by U.S. Kids Golf. Here are his driving, chipping and putting tips that will get your kid on course … on the course.

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Carry A Bigger Stick

When kids are just starting out, Cressend recommends fitting them with U.S. Golf Kids equipment that, like the Wu-Tang Clan, is for the children. The organization’s yard club has a head 3 times the size of a normal club for kids 5 and under. And for your toddler, Cressend says you can pique their interest with a set of plastic clubs. They double as lamp smashers.

Putting A Club In Their Hands

On the first day, Cressend teaches young kids how to hold the club, set up properly, and swing the club with balance. That’s it. “I let them try to figure everything else out and try to keep it as simple as possible,” he says.

Hitting the ball? Gauging distance? Knowing when the bar cart comes around? That’s something that they’ll get the hang of with practice. To get them interested in just sticking with a frustrating game, Cressend usually tells his students to swing as hard as they can and hold their finish. “That gives them an idea of how hard they can swing, and still balance,” he says.

Getting Set Up

Here’s the proper set-up stance according to Cressend: “Feet are about shoulder width apart, and there will be a slight bend at the waist. Ideally, the golf club sits behind the golf ball and will be pointing at the waist line, and the chest is tilted towards the golf ball. If they’re bent over too much, the golf club will be pointing more between the leg; and if they’re standing up too straight it will be pointing more toward their sternum.” It’s basically the same position as dry heaving.

Keep It Balanced

Once they swing there’s the follow-through. Cressend says, “They’re balanced on their left leg, the club is behind the ears and across their shoulder line, and their body is turned towards the target that they’re hitting at.” You can’t win any golf trophies until you look like the little gold dude on top of one.

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Make The Long Game Short

“A lot of courses now are introducing a family set of tees, which are especially for kids. The tees are well out in front and it’s a much shorter golf course,” says Cressend. “It allows for kids to get on a par 4 in 2 or 3 shots, as opposed to playing on a senior tee that will take 5 or 6 shots, which can be more discouraging.” But if your local club doesn’t have that option, Cressend says “when you’re learning, there really are no rules.” Go ahead and tee up from 100 yards away so they can just work on their skills, without needing all day to play through.

Pick The Right Set Of Clubs

Kids should “always grow out of clubs and never grow into them,” says Cressend. So, the opposite of how you shop at Old Navy. You’re going to have to upgrade them for every 3 or 4 inches they grow, but it’s better to get a perfect fit now, so they can play properly and don’t get discouraged. You don’t want to be buying them new irons because they broke them over their knee.

Bring It On Home

Going to a golf course — even a public one — can be an expensive day out just to give a quick lesson. Set up a net or target at home, so they can get some driving range practice in without actually driving anywhere. Another at-home practice tip: Lay out a dish towel to help your kid with controlling their putt. “My favorite drill with putting is to take a towel, lay that out on the green, and then start from 5 feet away, and then work your way back to 50 feet, just trying to get the ball to stop on that towel,” says Cressend. It’ll teach your kid to focus on distance control and the speed of their putt rather than just having the ball go to its home — which it’s often too good for.

Don’t Ruin It For Them Like You Ruin It For Yourself

Like everything else in life, kids on the golf course take the lead from adults. Cressend stresses that you should encourage enjoyment, especially at an early age. “Even when you don’t hit a good shot, it’s about looking forward to the challenge that is coming with the next shot, and being excited about trying to make up for the mistake you made in the previous shot,” he says. Failing that, there’s always the thrill of raising hell in a golf cart.

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