For the love of the game
by: Don Allen, Director of Golf, Woodcrest Country Club
During the second intermission of a recent Flyers game, the ice was suddenly filled with 3-foot tall miniature versions of hockey players. The 5-minute game was not filled with crushing body checks, ballet like stick handling or a top shelf wrist shot, instead it was 16 youngsters living a dream on the ‘big’ ice in front of 19 thousand fans. They did not worry if their jersey was a foot too long or that most of the big roars were for a sudden stumble in open ice. They were playing a game they loved to the best of their ability and sharing that experience with 12 or 13 thousand strangers that decided not to get a hot dog. Perhaps one day one of these mighty mites will play on the “big” ice again and this time the rink will look small, but the love of the game will remain the same.
Growing up in the game of golf, I have noticed a change in how the sport is perceived and how it is taught. When I was 16, I was fortunate to be a member of the southern junior golf association. I was afforded the opportunity to compete on great golf courses from North Carolina to Florida, but what I cherish most from this experience where the friendships that were made and the opportunities to share the experience with others. These tournaments were more like a gypsy caravan of families traveling the South and sharing in the experience of golf. Junior golfers from age five to pre-college all competed on the same course, but from a yardage that maintained the integrity of the game. Following each round, the range and putting green would be filled with kids helping each other and sharing their experience. The focus each week was not on the winner but on the entire field and the concern for everyone’s growth and enjoyment of the sport. It is in this atmosphere that the love of a game is born and nurtured.
It was at one of these tournaments that my philosophy and teaching method was born. While recovering from an illness, Mr. Burt Yancey was teaching at a course on Hilton Head Island. Mr. Yancey stayed on that range 7 or 8 hours a day working with every kid that was there, most times one on one. I avoided him like the plague! My swing was unorthodox; from the grip to the stance, my fear was that he was going to change me. On the third day, he snuck up behind me and I was trapped. I hit 20 balls, each time turning to face the music, but he made no comment. He only prodded me into the next swing. Finally, he offered his advice. “Your swing is wonderfully repeatable but we need to work on a pre-shot routine that gets you in the same starting position each time. Your grip is a little strong, but that will change as you get stronger.”
We then worked on a pre-shot routine (that I still use and teach to this day) and he wished me good luck. Afterwards, he moved on to the next kid. Here was a man who possessed one of the finest technically sound golf swings in the world and he did not try to impose his will or method on me, but only encouraged what was there. Wow, what a concept.
Golf is a game. We start at the tee and advance to the green. If you can swing a club and make contact with the ball, you can play the game. It is time we taught people to play the game, not just the golf swing, for it is on the course that we develop a love of the game, not on a range.