One of the positives that came out of the Ryder Cup for Team USA was the play of two of its young stars. That's a big plus for golf, both in the short term and the long term.
Patrick Reed, 24, and Jordan Spieth, 21, earned 2.5 points in three partner matches and Reed earned another point when he beat Henrik Stenson in singles. Throw into the mix 25-year-old Rickie Fowler, who despite being winless in the Ryder Cup is still one of the most popular golfers with young fans, and the future looks bright for the U.S.
With so much young American talent, there's a real possibility of enticing more children to play the game. That's the goal of PGA Professional Angela Aulenti of Sterling Farms Golf Course in Stamford, Conn. The recent winner of the LPGA's Nancy Lopez Award, Aulenti is very active with junior golfers, helping run a junior golf camp at Sterling Farms on Wednesdays during the summer and also working with junior golfers with disabilities.
Q: Just by looking at your background, you do a lot of work with junior golfers, especially charity work. Why do you like working with them?
Aulenti: They are the future and they are so newly molded and they are fun. It’s always a challenge to teach juniors and it always is a challenge to us as Professionals to figure out a different way to say it or figure out a different drill to do or something that’s new or fun and creative. It keeps the creative side of you going.
Q: Let’s say a parent has a child who wants to get into golf. What’s the one big piece of advice that you would give to the parent?
Aulenti: First of all, I want to make sure the child wants to do it. Then I want to make sure they get the right equipment and that they learn in the current atmosphere. Children usually learn better in groups. We cite that in our golf schools in the summer, that children usually learn better in groups. They have a little bit more fun with it. Then we just try to lead them down that path and find what’s available for them in their age group. Nowadays, with most children, they play a lot of sports; golf is not their only sport. So you have to be able to fit it in. That’s where we get creative with junior camps and clinics and we create programs that help fit their needs.
Q: Is there something parents can do at home to make golf more fun?
Aulenti: I think chipping and putting in the backyard with mom and dad, that kind of a thing. Making golf fun is always a challenge. You have to be creative, you have to have a lot of games for the kids. We play so many games with the kids and set up obstacle courses for the kids to make it a challenge. Their attention span is a little bit smaller than adults so I think parents can make it fun and set up some obstacle courses in their yard. Have them pitch it into a bucket, pitch it over their bag, that kind of thing or bring them to a range and just expose them to it and let them decide if they like it.
Q: The Junior Ryder Cup was played last week in Scotland. Is there something that amateur golfers of any age can take away from what these Junior Ryder Cup players are doing right now?
Aulenti: I think you can see the commitment they have. That’s your top level, they’re committed. The LPGA just did one at the Evion, the U.S. vs. France and the U.S. won. The LPGA had a team and it was great fun. Those are children who are committed. Also, you can teach your child that it could be a goal of theirs, that if they get committed they could be on these teams. It’s a thrill of a lifetime and I don’t think you realize it at the time.
Q: Unless you’re like Spieth or Rory (McIlroy) who goes from the Junior Ryder Cup on to the Ryder Cup.
Aulenti: Those are the gifted 2 percent of the world and I think that if parents just realize that no matter what their child does in golf, it’s a game of a lifetime. If their son or daughter gets into business, they have the game behind them. It’s become a big part of business. It’s a big part of the world now. So they don’t have to be a Rory or a Tiger or a Annika (Sorenstam), they can be whoever they are and use the game to help them. It teaches the kids so much about life.
Q: You hear a lot of stories about kids getting started using cut-down clubs or clubs from their parents. Is there an age when they should get fit for their own clubs or just get their own clubs?
Aulenti: I would say that if parents want to start their kids at 4 or 5 or 6 years old, they don’t have to be custom-fit but what the U.S. Kids (Golf) offers is a style list. At least they’ll be the right weight for the child. There’s nothing worse for kids, and the same is true for adults, than a club that’s too heavy and causes you to swing improperly. If you’re trying to teach them one style of swing with a club that’s just too heavy, they can’t do it. They don’t have to buy a set but they should start at a young age having the correct weight and flex equipment for them. It just makes the game more fun, and if parents can hear that one word, that with clubs that are the right weight, the right length, the right flex, it makes the game easier and more fun because (the kids) see better results.
Q: And once it’s more fun, the kids are more likely to be hooked, right?
Aulenti: Right. They’ll ask to come into it. They’ll ask to go hit balls. It’s pretty hard to make something fun when they don’t see good results.