There are 2 types of people who talk about talent – the people who talk about someone else having talent OR the people who talk about how they personally wish they had some. I’m hoping that this outlook on grass roots talent can shine a different light on how people currently “view” talent.
Are you born with talent and/or can you create it? Is it a product of your internal behaviour and/or a result of the environment?
Books have been written, people have been tested, and still we can’t seem to get many more players better trained to perform at a higher level. Everyone has their training models and some have produced great players but in the most part, most players don’t reach an elite level and the reason is beyond the scope of the training program itself. Internal drive is said to be key to continue the passion, perseverance, and all that comes with the desire to be competitive where new doors can be opened to encourage this drive. This may be something that you’re born with or perhaps there’s a motivating force advancing you through, but either way it’s something that’s in you. You can even fake this. I worked with a 15 year old junior who acted like he was already a major winner. Workouts, practice, eating habits… like an olympian! Mock personal interviews and fake sponsorship deals got annoying pretty fast, but if you really want to be there, fake it ’til you make it. The attitude and actions part.
I spent a fair amount of time at one of the world’s largest and most competitive junior boarding schools. The students go to private school in the morning (top 10 academically in the US) and train all afternoon. You can imagine the practice facility with more than 50 players working on the range, or on one of the 2 putting greens,
or on one of the 2 chipping greens. For 3 hours a day, the environment is almost ideal – unlimited support, an infinite number of practice shots, and competition is in the air. Players are being coached to prepare to win, plain and simple. Each player wants to be better than their friend because in the next 4 weeks, they will compete against each other at a regional level at least twice, maybe more. The image I’m attempting to give you here is the what this training ground looks like, smells like, feels like… and how would you use this environment to the best of your ability? It is the ultimate training ground and it’s only this way because I have made it this way.
This brings us to who these types of training camps cater to. It costs more than $65,000 for 9 months at the academy (adults too) so this limits the participation to those who have the financial opportunity. There is the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of training to reach an expert level where this type of opportunity makes the 10,000 hours easier to attain, however even when you take the group of those who can afford to be there, there are still those who don’t make it to the level of some of their peers. Perhaps because they didn’t take advantage of their situation or didn’t build the same image as others. They may not have seen it the way that I see it. My game improved by just arriving.
Parents love to talk about their kids and how they are at an elite level for their age – more so south of the border. I spoke with a father at a tourney in the US who said his 11 year old has the talent to play minor league baseball, today. That may be a stretch but in their defense, I didn’t get the chance to see his son in action. I may have been talking to the Earl Woods of the 2018 MLB player of the year! Any way you look at it, there are some kids who ‘were just born with natural ability’ but is anything in golf natural ? I believe that the action of hitting a ball is NOT natural because we didn’t evolve from cavemen who did anything similar. Perhaps its the hand-eye coordination or a tough minded competitive trait that are the common trait. This could be the most common theme of all! The junior who wins at hockey, soccer, bike racing, or running is probably the one who wins at golf and/or who hits it the furthest. Passion and a competitive nature is probably the only thing that a golfer is born with. From here, we have to develop our skills.
As far as talent being created, I think it comes down to whose eyes are you looking through. A parents role is to find the right enabler to encourage and let talent develop through the opportunity and the environment. One of my mentors said that all he did all day was teach talent and he said it with a smile because he knew all he had to do was keep the player on an easy path and they will do the rest. It’s very similar to another mentor who said that he doesn’t know what’s right, but he knows what’s wrong, and if you put those 2 ideas together, when you recognize a golfer with that internal desire to play, practice, and win, the coach and the parent should wave the red flag and let the bull run through! You know what’s not right – getting in the way of the bull – but you don’t know what’s perfect and you don’t have to. Just avoid the bull.
The theme of talent and its development through desire and environment is the one that seems to be able to incorporate individuals and the theory that the cream rises to the top. I hope to add a few stories of Canadian professionals and their road to success in the future but a story I tell frequently is a story of a team of 10 junior golfers from the same small golf club. This club didn’t have many members and they encouraged juniors to play. These kids each played between 6 and 15 rounds per week and each score was measured and posted, so if the score didn’t make it to the top of the list, they went back out to play. Like with all handicapping, I’m sure there was some score “adjustments” just so that their number could make it to the top, but no one cared. It forced others to go out the next day and beat a “fake” score, and if they really did it, then it was that much of a bigger success. No one ever took lessons but out of these 10 golfers, 7 earned NCAA scholarships, to bring the total to 10 players from the same small club in Canada over a 6 year period. When they practiced, every ball on the range had a purpose and every round counted because it was all competition, all the time. There was never a talk of how to hit a shot because it didn’t matter. It was either in play or it wasn’t and you learned how to walk down the middle of the course. These were my junior years at Kanata Lakes Golf Club in Ottawa in the early 90s and I heard a similar story out of Peterborough Golf Club at that time with a number of juniors playing NCAA golf and then professional. We’re starting to see it out of Brantford Golf Club now with 2 pros and 2 ams making waves. Ironically, these 3 golf courses all have small driving ranges. Even more food for thought when you consider how you look at your path to getting better. Those we perceive with talent just don’t know any different.