DULUTH, Ga. -- Jim Collins’ official title was Captain of Team California, not coach. After the way his team performed at the 2014 PGA Junior League Golf Championship, it’s clear why his title is captain.
When it comes down to it, the role of coach was really spread out among all the players. The same could be said about the other seven teams who played at TPC Sugarloaf.
With four pairings of teammates on four different holes at the same time, it was a challenge for a captain or assistant coach to be ingrained in every match. But even if they were closely following a certain match, the captains and coaches tended to take a hands-off approach.
“The kids are out there making decisions on their own and coming up with their own strategies on each shot, each hole,” Team Indiana Captain Amy Nickol said. “As captain, I’m out there to give them positive encouragement in between holes. If they’ve got questions, maybe answer them in between holes. But otherwise, they are their own player, they are their own coaches out there.”
Team New Jersey assistant coach Paul Kaster said he tended to just provide encouragement for his players and help on the greens, but he left the breakdown of shots to his players.
That put the responsibility of making sure a golfer was taking the right approach on his or her teammate and playing partner.
“When you see a teammate going up to hit, you want to make sure they’re ready to hit the ball,” Team California player Macade Mangels said. “You have to think about how they’re going to hit the ball and how you’re going to hit the ball. You have to help line up each other. … When you’re out there, you feel like a coach.”
Collins compared the format of the Junior League to basketball, a sport that he also coaches. With the PGA Junior League being a team format rather than stroke play, players are forced to work together, much like the five players on a basketball court.
That was even more important, Mangels said, especially with Sugarloaf’s fast greens.
“You have to convince them they can make the shot,” he said. “If they don’t think they can make the shot, you have to help them with the process.”
So instead of relying on individual skill and self-analysis, the PGA Junior League brought a different side to the sport. Perhaps that’s what helps to explain why the popularity of the league has doubled from last year to this year. There are now 18,000 participants and 1,500 teams around the country.
“Being able to work with someone else and manage yourself, manage them over the course of four-and-a-half hours under some pressure, that’s a pretty useful skill that can transfer over to a lot of different endeavors,” Kaster said.
It’s that type of communication that can help these players in all aspects of life.
“I think what they really learn is that two heads are better than one,” Collins said. “Maybe that will help them communicate better with their parents. Their parents are telling them what to do and maybe (the kids think) ‘maybe I need to listen a little better do this because two is better than one.’
“As they get into college and later in life and become parents, they are going to remember what they learned.”