As a parent, it can be incredibly exciting to discover that your child has a special talent, and it’s completely natural to feel the urge to nurture that talent as they mature.
But trying to decide whether your child should build a career around their talent is a much more serious decision, especially if pursuing a career in that field is going to mean years, or even decades, of hard work.
As you’ve probably guessed based on the headline, the focus of today’s piece is professional golf. As we’ll be discussing a bit later, it’s now common for aspiring golf pros to start out as young as seven or eight years old, receiving private coaching and maybe even attending a specialized golf academy.
But that’s also a very young age to choose a career path. Just think of how old you were when you chose your own career. For many of us, that’s not something that happens until high school, university, or even later.
We also have to consider that plenty of children may only stay interested in a specific sport or activity for a brief amount of time before wanting to try out something else.
So let’s say your child has a real passion for golf. They play as often as they can, and during their free time, they read up on past golf greats and watch pro-level competitions on TV.
They’ve shown real talent, and the local golf pro down at the club has suggested getting involved in competitive play on multiple occasions.
After a few wins, it might be time to decide whether your child should be attending an elite golf academy. But that would mean pulling them out of their current school and placing them in an environment where every student is just as talented.
That’s a very tough call to make, but we’d like to help. We reached out to golf pro James Anthony Ferraby, a David Leadbetter-certified golf coach trained by ex-Tiger Woods coach Hank Haney.
As a young golfer, Ferraby competed in many international events, and he won IJGT Parris Island in 2009. He has since coached celebrities and organized golf events for notable clients like Michel Preudhomme, Dwight Gayle, and Phil Foden.
With Ferraby’s expert knowledge of competitive play and high-level golf training, this article will help you make informed decisions about your child’s future in professional golf.
In the early stages of a child’s experience with golf, it can be hard to tell just how much they enjoy it and how seriously they might commit to improving their game.
We mentioned earlier that some parents start their child’s golf training from an early age. It’s true, and even if it sounds outlandish, there are indeed benefits to starting early.
“Some parents are committing their children from a very young age to practicing almost every day. I see kids under ten going through this a lot. That’s definitely a bit young, but the younger you start them off, the better they’re going to be in the future.”
In other words, starting this young is a high-risk, high-reward scenario. If they do end up getting the training they need, commit fully to the sport, and end up going pro one day, then starting early puts them ahead of the crowd.
But there’s no guarantee that the child will actually stay committed over time, in which case an early start means missing out on a lot of other activities.
So how can parents make this call, and when exactly should they consider letting their child take the next step?
Ferraby feels it’s best to be patient and to get an accurate sense of what the child really wants.
“It’s important that they’re doing this because they want to, not because they’re being forced. If their heart’s not in it, they’ll lose interest in the sport. I think age 12 is a good time to start working on a routine since they’ll probably have tried some other sports by then.”
Of course, the child still might want to move away from golf at some point in the future, but the difference between an eight-year-old golfer and a twelve-year-old golfer is a big one, particularly in terms of decision-making abilities.
Understand the pressure
Ok, so let’s move on with the assumption that the golfer in question really does want to try and go pro someday.
If they’re winning competitions with their school team and beating out other skilled players, then it might be time to consider enrolling them in a golf academy.
As we already touched on, this is a huge decision. Changing schools is a big deal for a child of any age, and if the child already has a healthy social and academic life at their current school, then a move could be especially disruptive.
Parents need to understand the effects of sending their child to a golf academy, and they also need to understand how stressful these academies can be for students.
Golf academies are filled with skilled coaches and instructors, but they’re also filled with other talented students who are all trying to make it to the top.
That translates to one highly stressful environment, and for preteens/adolescents still coming to grips with their personalities and emotions, it might not be a very healthy space for them to spend most of their time.
That said, there are obvious benefits to attending a prestigious golf academy. For example, Ferraby attended Hank Haney International Golf Academy, where legendary instructors helped him to refine his skills.
But once again, even the best resources don’t represent any kind of guarantee of future success.
“Going to a high-level golf academy isn’t easy. There’s a lot of pressure on the child to develop. Just because you’re getting the best coaching doesn’t mean you will become a professional. And parents can sometimes also add pressure, especially if they’re golfers themselves.”
One of the best things you can do as a parent of a talented golfer is to not contribute to the overwhelming pressure they’re already facing. Offer support to help them through the stress. Even just checking in on them and asking how they’re feeling can go a long way toward relieving some of that pressure.
Build a relationship with a coach
Beyond golf academies, another option to consider is finding a golf coach for your child. In fact, signing them up for some coaching sessions is a great step to take before considering an academy.
But how do you go about choosing the right coach for your child? There are many different kinds of coaches and golfers and not every coach is going to be a good fit for your child and their specific needs.
If your family already belongs to a golf club, then you’ll have the option of signing up for lessons with the in-house golf pro or a number of other instructors. The other option is to find an independent coach who comes highly recommended.
Ferraby doesn’t recommend one route over the other, instead emphasizing the relationship between the golfer and the coach.
“I think it’s all about building relationships. Hiring a top coach independently doesn’t necessarily mean that your child will succeed. I think the most important part for any child is that they build a good relationship with their golf coach. That’s where it all starts.”
With that in mind, feel free to try different coaches, especially if your child doesn’t seem to click with the first one.
Ferraby reminded us that being exposed to a variety of coaching styles can be beneficial in its own way, and this contributes to his own evolving coaching style.
“I like to incorporate ideas and drills from other coaches if I feel they’re going to help my students. I’ve also attended seminars when possible and had conversations with many different golf coaches. I’m always developing my approach, and it’s all for my students.”
The final piece of advice that we’d like to end on is an important one: you and your young golfer need to keep trying, even when things get tough.
Golf is and always will be highly competitive, and not even the best players in the world win every match.
It’s incredibly important for your child to learn early on how to cope with losses and stay motivated through it all.
This is what’s called the ‘mental game,’ and it can be just as important as any tangible golf skill.
“It’s not easy. You’re not always going to get the results you want. You have to be ready to fail at times. By doing this, you’ll gain a lot of spirit and a lot of determination to succeed. If you work hard and want it enough, you’ll get to where you want.”
The best players are the ones who have worked through countless challenges along the way, and you can bet that they’ve received a lot of support from the ones closest to them.
If your son or daughter has that fighting spirit, they’ll be able to prove themselves time and time again.
Will every talented player end up going pro? Definitely not. But even so, there are many ways to stay involved in golf without competing at the professional level.
Event organizers, referees, and coaches all contribute to the sport in meaningful ways, and they share their passion for the game with elite players from all over the world.
We hope that this has given you a more accurate idea of what it takes to go pro and how you can set your young player on the right path. Just remember that, every step of the way, it comes down to what they want and how badly they want it.