Without question, the headline story of the day or week goes to 15 year old Lydia Ko, an amateur who won the CN Canadian Women's Open. Yes, you read that right. She's 15 years old.
A 15 year old winning on the LPGA Tour today, and a 16 year old (Lexi Thompson) winning last year. There was a 13 year old playing on the European Tour earlier this year and a 10 year old qualifying for the US Women's Amateur. All of these recent events are sure to stimulate conversations on getting kids started younger at golf.
So for this week's "A Lesson Learned" I want to write on how young should golfers be when first introduced to the game?
To put it another way, should we introduce kids to the game at younger ages? My answer: Absolutely!
The reasons for doing so however should have very little to do with building champions and have more to do with building character. It should have more to do with introducing a game that can be played for a lifetime, with parents and grandparents and less to do with creating little golfing machines that can cash in big before they can vote or legally celebrate a victory with a glass of champagne. If it happens (Lydi Ko, Lexi Thompson are examples) - great! But that's not WHY we take them to the course early.
But first, I know that some 'experts' (even those within the golf industry) caution that kids any younger than 8 to 10 years old should not be a group to focus in on when introducing the game. I ask those that believe this, why? Kids as young as three have long been introduced to Baseball, Soccer, Dance, Karate and varies other activities and very successfully for that matter. In other countries, golf introduced at three or four years of age on a broad scale is not as unheard of as it is here in the United States. Golf teaches so much, we all know that.
Creating increased self confidence in children, developing motor skills, teaching perseverance, sharing and how to working in a group setting are just a few of the key things that kids can take from the game. Not to mention the health benefits; increased exercise and having fun outside instead of in front of a screen…what a novel concept for our children! Just ask junior golf pioneers in the six and under golf arena if younger kids can learn this game. Dedicated Professionals like Kate Tempesta of Kate Tempesta's Urban Golf Academy in New York, NY or Nicole Weller of Stick To Sports or even myself and our Little Linksters Academy and Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development (501c3). The three of us know that kids as young as 3 years old can learn, have fun and grow as a result of the game of golf. After all, the time between pre-k and second grade are some of the most import developmental years in a child's life, so why not introduce them to the wonders of the game we all love.
Seeing the recent rise in sport and golf headlines of younger and younger players making a name for themselves at the highest level is inspiring and great for the game. But seeing more general news headlines in the future that are positive and less about crime, obesity, bullying, etc. would be even better. Golf is a vehicle for creating good in our world. In terms of our youth specifically, we can use the game to mold great and healthy kids and if we get a 16 year old major champion as a spin off of this someday, then that would not be so bad either.
Brendon Elliott is a PGA Professional in Central Florida. He is the owner of Little Linksters, LLC, the Little Linksters Golf Academy @ Metrowest Golf Club and is the founder of the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development (501c3).
He is the winner of the 2011 & 2012 NFPGA Junior Golf Leader Award and is a 2010 & 2011 US Kids Golf Top 50 Kids Teacher. He was also a finalist for the 2012 PGA of America National Junior Golf Leader award.
For more info on how you can help the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development in there mission to grow their program nationwide contact NonProfit@LittleLinksters.com
To have your child, ages 3 and up have an online lesson and their swing anylized by Brendon go to http://littlelinksters.com/instruction/online-academy/