PGA Jr. League: Teamwork is key to building future generation of golfers

Courtesy: Barbara Blanchar

PGA Jr. League: Teamwork is key to building future generation of golfers

PGA

PGA Jr. League: Teamwork is key to building future generation of golfers

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PGA professional Barbara Blanchar will tell you the popularity of youth soccer in the United States has little to do with kids hoping to hone their individual skills to become the best. It’s really all about the team, she says.

It’s a lesson PGA of America pros have seen play out throughout the PGA Jr. League season, which culminates Oct. 14 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. The league matches up local teams of golfers ages 13 and under to play a series of games against each other in the scramble format. Teams are led by captains, who are all PGA professionals.

For Blanchar and fellow pro Derrick Payne, the team aspect is one of the big reasons kids love the program and return year after year.

“I think having fun is key and having friends just makes it even more important,” Blanchar says, adding that team golf usually isn’t an option for young players until high school.

“To watch the interactions between the kids is one of the most invaluable things I’ve seen out there,” says Blanchar, who teaches at WingHaven Country Club in O’Fallon, Mo. “It’s absolutely incredible to see them make decisions without adults. It’s neat to see them do that on the golf course and know that they can do that in real life, too.”

Six-year-old golfers Derek Espinosa (left) and Jacob Marrero enjoy their end-of-year banquet. Both are part of a team captained by pro Derrick Payne. (Courtesy: Derrick Payne)

Payne agrees the social aspect of Jr. League can’t be emphasized enough. “It shows me that golf brings so much more to kids’ lives than just a golf club,” he says. “These kids look forward to practicing so they can see their friends.”

In the Miami area where Payne coaches, many kids play tournament golf, but Jr. League serves a different purpose. “We don’t have enough recreational golfers. If we can interest these people just to be able to play with their bosses (when they get older), I think that’s the future of our game,” Payne says.

As a facility operator, Derrick Griffitts understands the importance of growing the game. “The Jr. League is a way for me to be a farmer of future golfers,” says Griffitts, who works out of Clear Creek Golf Center in rural Shelbyville, Ky.

PGA Jr. League player Michael Yocum learns about the grip from PGA professional Derrick Griffitts. (Photo by Spring Yocum 2019)

“They can tap into it any point in their life,” he says. “I would like to think that some of them want to pick up a club and continue playing when they’re in college, when they get out of college, when they start a family. But understanding life these days, they may have a little lapse in play. I hope they remember the experience as being positive, and what we’ve done as a community is something that they’d always like to have some part in.”

Life lessons

Teams are generally eight to 12 players consisting of boys and girls of varying ability. Payne said many parents come to Jr. League because they don’t play golf but want their kids to learn. He teaches kids and parents golf etiquette and practical lessons such as how to buy balls to practice on the range.

“We talk a lot about safety. We talk a lot about integrity and what it means to play golf,” Payne says. “We talk a lot about pace of play because were trying to play as many holes as possible, especially with the scaling that I do.”

Pro Mike Suhre, who runs a Jr. League program at Oak Brook Golf Club in Edwardsville, Ill., had 120 kids sign up this year. He says for about a third, “this was their first real time getting out on a golf course.”

PGA pro Mike Suhre says his Jr. League program has become a successful part of the community because parents keep spreading the word. He had 10 teams this year after registration filled up in four days. Here a few of his players are shown with girls from St. Clair CC. (Courtesy: Mike Suhre)

His grandfather built Oak Brook, outside St. Louis, so Suhre believes he’s sharing the gift of golf that was given to him. Teaching young golfers life lessons steeped in the game is a gratifying part of being a Jr. League captain.

“If you want to start talking about swing plane or launch angle, that stuff bores me,” Suhre says. “But when you start talking about being successful and being honorable and having integrity, that’s the stuff that I’m trying to teach. Because they’re not all going to end up being great golfers, but they can all end up being great human beings.”

The PGA Jr. League Championship will be broadcast at 3 p.m. ET Nov. 3 on ESPN2.

 

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