If I delve back into my memory banks, between the ages of 18 and 24 is when I improved the most as a golfer.
That was the time when I moved into playing elite amateur events all over the world, then progressed even further when I entered the professional ranks. There is no teacher in golf who could have beaten the experience I got from competing in bigger and bigger tournaments against better and better players. That’s where the fastest learning comes from, trying to beat guys who are better than you are.
The opportunities to gauge myself against others increased during that period too. As an amateur, it was probably about ten times a year. Then, as a professional I was teeing-up against the strongest competition maybe 30 times a season. It was all wonderful experience that helped shape the player I later became.
Which brings me to my point.
The young men and women in the age group I am thinking about are currently missing out on just about all of the above. The global pandemic has so far deprived them of 60 tournaments in which they would have been improving all the time. Their whole world has been put on pause, which is so hard.
To me, that six- or seven-year period is when most players are in their most sponge-like state. They are experiencing their highest level of enthusiasm, before the travel and all the rest of life on the road starts to get to them. They haven’t been beaten up by the Tour yet or developed any scar tissue, so it’s all about learning and getting better.
It’s actually double-whammy. Not only have they missed out on a couple of their most productive years in terms of establishing themselves on a Tour and in the world rankings, they are probably treading water when it comes to improving. A year is a long time when you’re 20. It’s hard to become competitively tough, when all you are doing is beating balls and playing with your mates.
I fear all of the above is going to have a knock-on effect down the road. These youngsters have lost any momentum they had built up before the pandemic. How often do we see a young amateur who has won a ton of events and was the obvious stand-out player of the time come out on Tour and do well straight away? Then, maybe two years on from that initial burst of brilliance, they have settled into a slightly less productive norm. They find their level, whatever that may be. That must have happened 20 times during my time on Tour.
Sadly then, the young up-and-comers of today are missing that chance. Their path to the top has stalled. I wonder what effect all of this will have a decade down the road. There are so many questions. – Geoff Ogilvy
Are we going to have a gap amongst golf’s elite, with no one around the age of 30 up there?
Will missing a couple of years at the age of 20 stop some players from making it out on Tour at all?
Will these players reach their best later in their career than normal?
Will they ever reach their best at all?
But it’s safe to assume that at least some of today’s most promising prospects are not going to fulfil the potential they showed pre-pandemic.
It’s not all bad news, of course. There are definitely people out there who have benefited from the suspension of money-lists and exemptions. Guys who had a really bad 2020 were given a reprieve. Instead of losing their cards, they retained the status they had at the start of that year. Then there are guys playing on mental health medicals – which is 100 percent fair – because of the way the world is right now. Maybe those players will end up being on Tour a lot longer than they might have been because they got time off exactly when they needed it most. Again, who knows?
Still, at least for me, the current situation has way more negative implications than positive. I’ve been playing a bit recently with a bunch of promising lads and they are definitely missing out on playing real events under real pressure.
Golf remains a bit of a mystery to most people, but at the professional level ignorance is a lot less of a factor than it once was. Most coaches are teaching sensible stuff. Almost everyone hits the ball well and has a kind understanding of what they are doing. The man who is today the 150th-best ball-striker in the world is outrageously good. But back when I turned professional that wasn’t the case. The level of technical proficiency now is unbelievable.
Here’s the thing though. The word I’m going to use is ‘green’ to describe the youngsters who are currently missing out on moving onwards and upwards. The art of professional golf is not just about hitting shots. It’s a lifestyle thing. It’s how fast can you learn a new course each week? It’s how well do you travel and get over jet-lag? It’s how well can you hit and putt on different grasses? Can you be familiar enough with a course after just one practice round? That’s a skill you don’t have when you’re an amateur. It’s all a new experience, one that you can only learn by doing it over and over.
Plus, when you have a bad day at an amateur event, or more than one bad day, they never stop letting you into tournaments. If you miss out on making the match-play at an event, you can always have another go next year. You don’t lose your job.
But when you’re a professional you have to thrive in an environment where you are playing for money, for your job and for your livelihood. It’s a completely different way to do something. And for most people, it all takes time to learn. By way of example, you only know if you can putt on Bermuda grass after you’ve putted on Bermuda grass.
Anyway, to sum up, I worry that today’s youngsters are not getting enough variety in their golf life. They haven’t played enough rounds in a strong, competitive environment. I can tell by some of the shots they choose and hit when they get challenged. They play amazingly well physically and they have all the tools, but the little intangibles that maybe only experienced pros see are sometimes missing. The way they see holes and how to play them is very different from the approach a 15-year Tour pro would adopt.
The bottom line? You get good at playing golf by playing golf. You get good at professional golf by being a professional. You get good at playing in front of crowds by playing in front of crowds.
And right now, sadly, many of our most promising players are not getting to do any of those things nearly often enough.