Here is one of my favorite games and the multiple skills we can teach while having fun – TIC, TAC, TOE!
A simple game of Tic, Tac, Toe on the putting green is one of the best teaching settings I have ever used. Every young athlete absolutely loves playing this simple game and we can use this to teach a variety of different skills at the same time.
When one team hits a putt in a square they take control of that square. Like you would expect three squares in a row wins the game. The one caveat is that if they make a putt in the hole of the middle square that team can take control of any square they want.
One of the challenges with our younger golfers is simply, making putts. A 5 or 6 year old can have challenges making a 10 foot putt and can become frustrated very quickly. My younger athletes love this game because it’s something they can accomplish because we change the size of the target. Instead of a 4 1/4 inch hole they now have a 18″x18″ target or larger. They can decide which square they putt to instead of always having to putt to a specific hole or target.
We can also bring multiple ages of athletes together, the younger athletes (4-7 yrs old) can team up with older athletes (8-13 yrs old).
The younger athletes love partnering up with the older athletes while the older athletes can take give a bit of guidance and show off their skills. Golf is an individual sport and encouraging interaction between athletes can be challenging. The strategy and excitement that a team game creates makes golf much more enjoyable and the kids love it!
Here are some of the concepts that we teach while playing Tic, Tac, Toe:
- Golf skills – we stick to one specific skill each week. During December we focused on Posture and ensuring each FUNdamental athlete (4-7 yrs old) was able to hang their arms down and hinge from the hips. As our athletes progress and learn new skills the goals of each theme become more refined and catered to each athlete.
- Etiquette – to me this is the most important overall concept I can impart on any of our young athletes. We discuss the concept of sportsmanship and what golf “manners” really mean. When a 5 yr old competes, he/she wants to win, but they don’t generally grasp the difference between personal success and the opponents failure. Young athletes cheer when they or their teammates make a putt and/or when the other team misses a putt. It is not acceptable to cheer when someone else misses a putt and I only stop class for 2 situations; injury / injury prevention and to discuss etiquette opportunities.
- Strategy – the negotiation and discussion involved in deciding where to putt the ball is priceless. I’ve really enjoyed listening to the back and forth while trying to be aggressive and take a square or be more defensive and block the other team. 4 and 5 year olds have few opportunities to justify their position and convince their teammates.
- Pressure – one shot to block the other team and win the game. How often does a 5 year old have multiple people counting on them to perform? To create a pressure situation for a young athlete in a comfortable atmosphere is unique and something I love to see. It is awesome to see them succeed and have their entire team cheer for them.
All of this from a simple game of Tic, Tac, Toe!
Playing fun and challenging games is something every young athlete enjoys. I am constantly striving to develop new games which allow our young athletes to exhibit new golf skills, learn more about themselves and put themselves in new situations. GAMES RULE!
Next time you go for a practice session with your young athlete play a game. You don’t need the tape or anything elaborate, unless you want to of course!
What games do you like that are easy and fun for your young athlete?
My favorite tournament of the year is here, the Masters! I love the theme song, the par 3 contest, the history and the dramas that always occurs during the Masters. I’ve never visited Augusta National Golf Club but hope to do so very soon to see the golf course in person. Everyone I have spoken with always talks about the elevation changes and the significant slope on each of the greens. Putting well is a key to playing quality golf, winning on the PGA Tour and navigating Augusta National.
During a typical round of golf approximately half of a players shots will occur on the green and we do our best to reinforce the focus on putting ability. Most juniors we work with prefer to spend their time hitting drivers so we focus on making putting fun and entertaining. Last week our juniors spent the afternoon working on their putting skills. I only know a few people who can spend a great deal of time on the putting green and I have a tremendous respect for them, I am not one of those people. For me to actually practice my putting I need a few games and drills.
I’ve changed my views on putting over the last couple of years. In the past I focused more on the mechanics of the putting stroke, ensuring my putter “matched” my stroke, and ensuring I maintained the “triangle”. The “triangle” is created between my shoulders and hands and to maintain it during the stroke minimum wrist action should occur. I have found most golfers won’t really change their putting stroke or mechanics, frankly I was one of them. I’ve got to stick with my basic stroke but spend time on the skills to make my stroke more efficient and effective.
I’ve found it is important to have a few fundamentals in a putting stroke which include; acceleration OR constant swing speed through the stroke, limited wrist action and a consistent setup. On the practice green mechanics are important but many times we (myself included) try to change mechanics while on the course. Everyone has differences in their setup, stroke and pre-shot routine but the key is consistency. As long as you do it every time, you know what to expect.
To consistently make putts on the course a player must have a few skills. In my opinion the top three skills necessary to be a good putter are;
- Ability to read a green correctly
- Start the ball on the intended line
- Distance control
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll introduce a few drills to help hone these skills which will help a player lower scores and become a better putter.
I always have to remind myself that drills are just that…drills. They must be fun (or I won’t work on them), be measureable and they must be focused on a specific skill. In the end it’s imperative to translate these skills out to the course since our main goal is to MAKE MORE PUTTS!
The best resource I have found for making more putts was Dave Stockton’s book Unconscious Putting. This book is an outstanding resource and promotes making a putt while forgetting mechanics out on the course. Check out more of what the Stockton family has to offer here: http://www.stocktongolf.com. I’ve had the opportunity to attend a seminar by the Stockton family and learn about their philosophy in person.
Tour players do make it look so easy and make a tremendous amount of putts. They have honed the necessary skills to make putts by using a variety of drills. Drills are important as long as they help us engrain the skills which will help us make more putts. Once we get to the golf course we must focus on one thing, getting the ball into the hole.
The other day Christopher and I had a group of 6th and 7th graders and we spent a very quick hour and a half on chipping skills. Most of the kids have played a bit but are all still learning the basics of the game. I’m working on structuring my instruction a bit differently and was very happy with the results and response from the kids.
In my opinion it takes three basic skills to chip the ball well:
- Controlling trajectory
- Landing near your intended spot
- Controlling distance
Within each of those skills there are a variety of options and variations that will affect the final outcome. Instead of spending 15+ minutes go over stance, ball position, swing motion and club selection we set up 5 stations that focused on one of the three skills. We introduced each station, paired the kids up and let them “discover”. While they worked the stations, competing along the way of course, Christopher and I introduced stance, ball position and swing motion.
Our 5 stations consisted of:
- String 18 inches above the ground and had to hit chip shots over the string
- String 18 inches above the ground and had to hit chip shots below the string
- 25 inch diameter circle and had to land chip shots inside the circle
- Two parallel strings approximately 3 feet apart from each other and 18 feet from the starting point. Had to keep as many balls between the circles
- 2 holes at different distances which they hit 2 shots at each hole
It was great to see the kids all engaged and focused on the various stations. We discussed each of the skills as they moved between stations and were able to address individual golfer’s strengths and weaknesses. All of the kids showed improvement and were able to keep a ball low, hit a ball high, understood distance control and the importance of landing in the intended spot.
Breaking down the chip shot and making it fun really made the session beneficial for the golfers. They changed clubs during the stations and grasped the concept of controlling trajectory with the strings. The easiest station was hitting shots under the string, the hardest was landing shots in the circle. To make it better they had to discover and figure out how to accomplish each of the skills. It was great to see all of the realize the importance of getting the ball on the ground as quickly as possible. As the man Peter Scott once said “Putt it if you can, chip it if you can’t, wedge it if you must.”
Strong grip, loose hands, keep my head still, club head outside of my hands, balance, tempo, posture, alignment, railroad tracks, inside – out, outside – in, draw, fade, where is the wind….and on and on.
Sound familiar?? I would be willing to bet it does to most of us. We have so many things going on inside our head that we forget to actually focus on anything which leads to counterproductive practice sessions. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen golfers banging golf balls so fast that they actually get worse.
Next time on the range try this!
Pick ONE swing thought or goal for your practice session. One mechanical swing change or feel that you are working on, just focus on that. Use a “block” practice method (see earlier post) until that change is more consistent and then switch to “random” practice. As the change becomes more routine and part of your natural swing think Balance. Start your swing in balance and try to finish in balance.
Example: If your weight is on your heels, your momentum will take you to your toes on your finish.
Balance is one of the things you can adjust and focus on while on the golf course, mechanics are very hard to change and adjust while playing. Always remember we are trying to practice what we do on the course but how often do you practice “Balance”.
For more insight on your swing and a great place to practice visit: Del Mar Golf Center