Ryan Vest smacked his driver 160 yards on the fourth hole at the Vernon Golf & Country Club on Thursday.
He swings cross handed and doesn’t look at the ball when he takes his club away, but makes amazing contact with the consistency of a low handicapper. He’s five and can tell you who won the last PGA Tour tournament, who finished second and who are the new young guns on the block.
The next Tiger Woods? A future Rory McIlroy or Adam Hedwin?
Should Ryan start taking regular lessons from a golf professional, or should he just do his own thing for a few years?
“For some kids, there is a certain start-up education that is required, including how to stand over the ball and how to hold the club,” said Vernon pro Shannon Glenesk.
“Other kids will know what to do immediately. Ryan views golf with the passion of a retired businessman who has worked his whole life to enable himself to play the game. He has been hitting balls and putting on the practice green for three years now.”
Glenesk said Ryan’s parents – Jeff and Lori Vest – consulted him and they made a conscious decision to avoid any instruction and let him enjoy the game doing it his way.
“He is in the process of figuring out the correct hand position himself, and we will wait a few more years ‘till he is seven or eight to get him into private lessons where we will attempt to develop his abilities in a more structured way,” said Glenesk. “For most kids, the timing of this would be best suited at the age of 10 or 11.”
Glenesk said parents can encourage their children to play golf as soon as there is some interest, but teaching children golf fundamentals really isn’t important in the earlier stages of childhood.
Today’s kids are exposed to the game at a young age. When I was kid, we had two TV channels. Now, golf has its own network. And there are superb junior camps all over town.
Most golf clubs are too heavy for kids to swing properly, even with the new graphite shafts. I had my two sons whacking whiffle balls with plastic clubs in the backyard as a fun introduction to the game. They loved the game just as much as they do today on a golf course.
Lee Ranger, head pro of The Golf Club at The Rise, says plastic is a perfect way for tykes to start the game.
“As soon as they show any interest, get them a plastic club, a sponge ball and let them go at it,” said Ranger. “No need for lessons until they have enough strength to get a real club in motion, but a bit of gentle coaxing towards a correct grip will make a big difference in the long run.
“In the early stages they may even prefer a cross handed grip which feels stronger to the small child. Don’t discourage them from this, but gradually persuade them as strength is greater.”
Ranger has had three-year-olds in his Junior/Junior programs, but most kids that age have the attention span of a house plant.
“I played many sports as a child myself, including hockey, lacrosse and baseball, but I didn’t start golf until age 15. Although my grandmother told me I hit her in the shin with a seven-iron at age three.
“As a competitive athlete, I took lessons and practised hard to be better than my friends and my grandfather. By the end of my second year I managed to make the high school golf team and established a two handicap.”
Myles Johnson out at Spallumcheen Golf & Country Club has held two junior camps this summer and says while most seven-year-olds will listen, they really just want to hit the ball their way.
“Just give them a club and let them swing, even if it’s a whiffle ball,” said Johnson. “We teach them fundamentals and a little bit on balance and etiquette. They were pulling their carts on the green yesterday so I had to remind them not to, and they did it again today so it’s all about repetition. With golf, it’s a simple cause and effect.”
North Vancouver’s Eugene Wong took his first swings with a plastic toy club at age three. At 14, he received his first recruitment letter from a U.S. college.
Today, at 20, he is ranked among the top-100 amateur golfers in the world. He is a star at the University of Oregon, where last year he won the Jack Nicklaus Award and Golf Canada’s top male athlete of the year.
Woods shot 80 when he was eight and appeared on the Mike Douglas Show at age two, putting against comedian Bob Hope. He was introduced to golf very early by his athletic father Earl.
At age three, he shot a 48 over nine holes over the Cypress Navy course, and at age five, he appeared in Golf Digest and on ABC’s That’s Incredible.
At any rate, get a club in your child’s hand sooner than later, and then let them smile. Tiger, who has earned more than $90 million playing golf, is one in a million. The average kid is going to end up playing the game for fun well into their golden years.