THE increasing number of young golfers winning major championships in the modern era is dumbfounding.
It doesn't seem so long ago that pro golfers didn't mature fully until comfortably into the 30s.
Why are golfers, these days, so good at such a young age? Will they have 'burned out' right about the time when they should be peaking? Will McIlroy, Spieth, Fowler and Day be still at the top in 10-years from now?
Or, will they be retired and forced to enjoy a cosseted, unfulfilled lifestyle thanks to the millions of dollars they have earned? Will they have been reluctantly pushed aside by even younger and better prodigies?
No question today's youth are better-trained athletes. The scientific knowledge and technology available and as good as coaching is, as good as technology is, there is no excuse for bad swings anymore.
The application of scientific knowledge that did not even exist twenty years ago puts them miles ahead of previous generations.
All you have to do is check out PGA Tour Classics or Shell's Wonderful World of Golf On Sky Sports TV to understand what I am driving at.
The kids today have more competitive experience from an earlier age than ever before. There is mental coaching too, which turns out fearless and more composed golfers.
Better technology has made the game less complicated and easier to master.
Today's hotshots can select a driver head and have it fitted with any amount of different shafts until they find the 'right one' for them. The golf ball is engineered to fly straight. With good fundamentals there is no mystery to hitting the ball very long and very accurately. Travel is easier.
In spite of the recession there is more money available and there are more opportunities.
Back in the day finding the 'perfect' driver was almost impossible. If you found one you liked, you kept it until it disintegrated in your hands. In those circumstances, the most highly skilled of practitioners found it much easier to put daylight between themselves and the pack.
Perhaps we should be asking if we want a game where equipment makes it too easy to excel at an early age?
Or, do we want the game to be more about getting the ball from tee to green efficiently? It is slightly shocking how much confidence and ability today's young players have but it could all blow up in their faces.
Will fans care enough to watch young golfers with whom they cannot build a 'relationship' because the turnover at the top is so fast? If no one is watching will the sponsors pull the plug?
When golf becomes so 'technological' due to apps, life coaches, business managers, caddies, dieticians feeding more and more refined information to talented athletes - will fans become disconnected and not care?
Apart from a regular weekly match on Sunday afternoons with my infamous, reverend mentor, the late Fr Gerard Enright, after he had said Mass, I learned to play golf on my own with my own imagination and thoughts.
There was no golf on TV in those days and now that I think about it - we didn't have a TV in our house. I played 100s of rounds by myself. (Still do because I like the solitude and being lost in my own thoughts.)
Self-motivation, self-organizing and digging for the 'secrets in the dirt' was the name of the game. It is the most enjoyable way to learn if you think about it but it isn't efficient and takes too long.
I learned by doing and playing. I played to learn and I learned to play. That was the joy of growing up in the 1960s but it wouldn't cut the mustard in 2016.
I was attracted to golf because it was an individual game. I won or lost on my own. I understood very early that by trial and error I could put my own personal stamp on my own swing.
Even though today's Trackman coaching and other helpful inputs are valid, learning for yourself what you do best and being able to repeat it under pressure is all you need.
There were no limits on when, or how often I played either. The biggest disadvantage was only one competition per annum specifically for juniors. There was no Irish Boys Championship, no Fred Daly Trophy, or, no boys' inter-provincials, no boys' internationals.
Clubs tended not to select juniors on their GUI cups and shields' teams. Different times, different strokes!
Words of the Wise
IN all of my years, I have never heard of a champion golfer improving his putting after the age of 30. And yet, the biggest weakness I see in junior golfers today is their reluctance to practice the short game. Surely, they have been told that 63% of the game is played from 100-yards in? Too much practice is done at the driving range, often with a Trackman in attendance spewing out data about launch angles and spin rates. Not enough attention is given to putting.
The main difference between now and in the 60s is - I learned on the course and on the practice chipping and putting green. It led to a 'get it in the hole mentality.' The modern way favours better scoring through better ball striking. But, too much time at the driving range instead of at the chipping and putting green is a mistake. Today's coaches are trying to produce robots!