Recognizing Your Child's Potential in Golf

And finding the right level of competition for your kids

Father and son on the golf course
Paul Barton/Corbis/Getty Images

One of the greatest things about golf is that you can play the game your whole life. Being able to start the game at a young age is also a big advantage. How many times have you heard adults say, "I wish I would have started at his age." Learning the game of golf at a young age is obviously a good thing and playing good golf at a young age is even better.

The question for many parents is whether their child is just a good player, or does that child have a chance to be a great player?

Recognizing a junior golfer's potential isn't easy, especially if the parents aren't golfers themselves.

Remember: Encouragement Is Key

The first thing to remember, before we even talk about a child's potential, is encouragement. All juniors start golfing because someone encourages them to play the game. It may be a parent, friend or coach. This encouragement, along with access to clubs and a course, is the key. So remember to encourage the junior throughout his or her career.

Kids Learn, Advance in Different Ways

When looking for potential in junior golfers, you have to remember that each junior is going to grow and learn at different rates. Some junior golfers don't score as well simply because they can't hit the ball as far as other kids their age. Many times that's just because they're physically smaller.

So when you're looking for your child's potential at a young age, don't just look at their scores.

Watch how they play the game, see how they chip and putt, and look at their shot selection.

A short-hitting junior usually has a pretty good short game. They realize they can't hit as far as the rest of the players their age, but they have also figured out that they can make up for it by chipping and putting well.

Many juniors understand the game instantly, while most kids are just trying to hit the ball as far as they can. That is a sign of real potential.

Playing Tournaments Becomes Important as Junior Golfer Ages

As a junior golfer gets older, tournaments become more important, whether it's the junior championship at your club or an AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) tournament.

This is where it's very important for parents to encourage and not push. Ultimately it has to be the junior's decision to play, and not the parents' decision. We've all heard the horror stories about the parents who push too hard, and the kids who simply put their clubs in the closet, never to play again.

Even with that said, one of the only ways to see how much potential a player has is for that golfer to play against his or her peers. Parents should encourage them to play in as many events as possible if that's what they want to do. Remember, a child being nervous before a tournament is normal, dreading going to the tournament is not.

Potential to be a good golfer begins to show at these small events. If the junior does well and enjoys the experience, the potential is there. Many good golfers are not tournament players.

The stress of competitions is not for everyone. We see that at every level.

Parents: Maintain a Realistic Outlook

With some success at smaller events, the next step is a bigger tournament. Your city or county is likely to have a junior event where your junior can play against the better kids in the area.

With success in these regional tournaments, you probably have a good player on your hands. If they can finish top 10 in one of these events they can probably play pretty well at the high school level. One thing to remember is that finishing in the top 10 in a golf event in Bangor, Maine, is different than the same finish in Orlando, Florida. Try to be realistic about how much talent was at the event.

The next step is high school golf. If your junior is the No. 1 player on his or her high school team, they probably have a shot at playing at the collegiate level.

If your child's high school tournament scoring average is in the low 70s, colleges will find them. If your child has a high school tournament scoring average in the low 80s, they will have to find the college, but there is still a place to play.

Playing Against Strong Tournament Fields in Junior Golf

For golfers in high school that shoot in the 70s, there are many national junior golf tournament associations. This is where they need to be playing in order to try to reach their true potential.

Here is a list of regional and national golf associations that college coaches consider strong tournaments:

Regional

  • PGA of America Sections
  • State Golf Associations (list)
  • Regional Golf Associations' Junior Championships
  • City Championships
  • High School Tournaments and State Championships
  • Local Country Club Inter Club Matches

National

There is also a good website that lists many of the local and regional junior events in each state: juniorgolfscoreboard.com.

Your Child's Scoring Average and Appropriate Competition Level

The following is a simple guide to parents and juniors determine what level of play each player is ready for:

Level 1 - Local Tournaments
(Based on 18-hole scoring averages)

  • Boys - 110 and below: Ready for local golf course and country club tournaments
  • Girls - 125 and below: Ready for city and county association tournaments

    Level 2 - State and Regional Tournaments
    (Based on 18-hole scoring averages)

    • Boys - 89 and below: Ready for state golf association and PGA sectional tournaments
    • Girls - 95 and below: Ready for high school championships

    Level 3 - National Tournaments
    (Based on 18-hole scoring averages)

    • Boys - 78 and below: Ready for USGA junior events and national tournaments such as the AJGA circuit
    • Girls - 84 and below: Ready for USGA junior events and national tournaments such as the AJGA circuit

    About the Author
    Frank Mantua is a Class A PGA Professional and Director of Golf at US Golf Camps. Frank has taught golf to thousands of juniors from more than 25 countries. More than 60 of his students have gone on to play at Division I colleges. Mantua has also published five books and numerous articles on junior golf and junior golf programs. He was one of the founding members of the National Association of Junior Golfers, and is one of the few golf professionals in the country that is also a member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. Frank also serves as the Junior Golf Specialist on ESPN Radio's "On Par with the Philadelphia PGA".