Since 2004, we have had the pleasure of coaching dozens of Ireland’s aspiring elite amateurs and professionals at our academy. The walls have become decorated with pictures of players’ trophies and signed memorabilia. But for us, it’s the faces who aren’t there that raise our eyebrows. Both myself and Chris often ask ‘do you remember this guy….where did he go?’ or ‘I wonder what so and so are doing now? I was certain he’d make it.’ Sometimes they seem like questions without an answer.
Here’s an even more important one – what is it about the transition from top amateur to professional golf that can act as a trap door for some and a trampoline for others?
Since the inception of the ‘mini tours’ and professional golf’s saturation of TV, it seems that every young player who either wins a prestigious event or somewhere along the way beats someone who has won a prestigious event, decides to ‘turn pro’. We find it intriguing because the odds of ‘making it’ are stacked against them, and it’s inevitably a bumpy road. Having reflected many times on this question, we are now of the opinion that ‘making it’ is playing on a main tour over a consistent period of years and earning enough money to change your live. That would be golf working for you.
[styled_image image=”http://www.johnnyfostergolfacademy.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/blog2.jpg” w=”200″ h=”433″ link=”” lightbox=”yes” alt=”The Transition” rel=”tour” align=”left”]It is the most human of things to dream, and in essence that’s what these fledging professionals are doing. They are imagining a future that has them competing at the very top level against the best in the world…and being successful. The same imagination that envisaged them winning their club championship or playing for their country. It’s not this blog’s intention to dispel anyone of their dreams, in fact as a coach to many of these ‘hopefuls’, we encourage them to be aspirational and THINK BIG, just as we once did. What we are really passionate about at the Johnny Foster Golf Academy is supporting these dreams and helping the students build a structure around them, based in reality.
The fascination of top level golf has been with me since I watched Garth McGimpsey and Darren Clarke play in the North of Ireland at Portrush in 1990. Over the ensuing 25 years I’ve watched with admiration as friends and team mates have made a success of themselves out on the European Tour. I was lucky enough to play on teams with Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Michael Hoey. I’ve watched them blossom into multiple tournament winners and wealthy people. It was also a great thrill to play with Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen and Ross Fisher at the beginning of their journeys. Each of those three in particular had pedigree (ie a history of good finishes and wins), but they also had what my good friend Ross McKenzie would call ‘sparkle’. I’ll let you figure that one out.
On the other hand I’ve scratched my head many more times when guys who were ‘can’t miss amateurs’ have been swallowed by the ‘results driven’, unapologetic world of pro golf, seemingly unable to score as they did as amateurs just months before. Why is that? Did they lose their talent? Do pro golfers play to a smaller hole?
I don’t think so. What I do know is that players who have made the successful transition have shared certain qualities, and I’ll reveal my thoughts here. Of course it’s not a conclusive list and there will always be exceptions. I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on this. These are just observations I’ve made having studied elite golf closely – firstly as a spectator at the North of Ireland, then a ‘dreamer’ playing elite amateur golf myself and now a coach.
So, what are these most precious of all attributes? I’ll share a few of them with you now…
‘The Bottom Line’ – the ability to score: we could go no farther than this one. If you’re like me and you study the European Tour App too often from Thursday to Sunday, there’s only one common denominator among the players who are successful – their score. The top 25 on any given week will represent a variety of club manufacturers, listen to a multitude of coaches, each have a different caddy and probably be from a range of countries. In fact, on many occasions the only thing they do have in common is that they have finished on the same score at the week’s end. So as much as myself or any other adviser tells you to ‘forget about the score and stick to the process’, you better have the potential to score at a ‘tour’ standard or there’s not much point reading on. Your diet can be pure and you can surround yourself with the latest of technology, which will make you feel better, but in my experience the most important number a player can produce is their ‘stroke average in relation to par’. If you have the rare ability to manipulate numbers, I’d stick to lowering that if you can, rather than fixating on your Angle of Attack. Whatever way you choose to do it, if you judge your success in pounds, euros or points, then your score is the only figure that matters. If you are an aspiring player, ask yourself ‘is everything I’m currently doing geared to helping me reduce my scoring average?’
‘The Apprentice’ – learning to learn: for billions of people who don’t fall into the ‘outlier’ category, learning a trade or a set of skills is a process that takes time, usually years. So consider this when planning your assault on professional golf – ‘I’ll give it a go for a year’, isn’t really a sound plan. How many surgeons, F1 drivers of classic opera singers ‘give it a go for year’ and eventually become successful? Remember, you’re attempting to reach the 0.01% of people in your chosen field. Your apprenticeship will take time, so make the financial and emotional provision for it. You’re attempting to hone a very specific set of skills – from reading grain on greens to working with a professional caddy, allow yourself time to adjust. Speak to the people you trust around you, the ones who have helped get you this far and draw up a realistic performance plan with subtlety staggered targets long the way. And be realistic with your deadlines, look at your rate of progression over the past few years. Fair chance this trend is going to continue. As the saying goes ‘an overnight sensation usually takes about 10 years’.
‘Perspective’ – it’s really just hitting a ball around a manicured field: in all honesty, playing golf (and coaching it for that matter,) isn’t that important. I know we like to think it is, but it isn’t. We aren’t saving lives. In the grand scheme of things, we’ve turned a hobby into a living, so treat it as such. A common thread I see among the players who seem to move seamlessly into the world of professional golf is that they continue to treat it as a game, even though it’s their ‘job’. It’s a bit of a contradiction this one, but the best seem to retain their sense of humour about events on the golf course and crucially don’t beat themselves up over a bad shot they hit every so often. Ideally, I’d suggest you adopt an attitude that all the hard work you do actually entitles you to the odd mistake rather than raises the expectations that they shouldn’t happen. Something I failed at miserably, but I have noticed it time and again (annoyingly!).
‘Professional’ – understanding the concept: the last one I’ll mention is possibly the most wide ranging and important for those that actually do possess the potential. Do you really understand the meaning of the words ‘being professional’? The answer to that one isn’t on Google. It covers everything from investing heavily in your future, travelling extensively in a very competitive atmosphere and a love of the routine. Take 10 minutes to either write down or imagine what being really professional and effective with your time would look like, every day. That includes rest and balance in your life – very important pillars. How close or ‘congruent’ are you in reality with this vision? If there is a gap between your vision and reality, then the size of that gap may just determine if you reach your vision of ‘making it’, if you have the aforementioned scoring potential to start with. Ideally, you’d like that gap no thicker than one of Rory’s cashmere sweaters.
These are just some patterns I’ve witnessed over the last few years, I hope you found them thought provoking. So, thanks for reading and any questions you can contact myself or Chris through our academy website www.johnnyfostergolfacademy.com or on twitter @JFgolfacademy.
If you enjoy our blogs, let us know and be sure to check out the next one in a few weeks,