THE global golf spotlight has been shone on Australia this year, led by Jason Day’s ascension to the world number one ranking, and the news we will stage the 2016 World Cup.
Other Aussie golfers—professional and amateurs, men and women, young and old—have shown that, per-capita on potential golf talent we can match it with any country.
A brilliant unsung example of this—and one of our best junior displays this year — was not a headline-grabbing trophy win, but the performance of a small 11-year-old Sydney boy: Jeffrey Guan of Bexley Golf Club.
Jeffrey, who is coached by one of Australia’s leading golf coaches, Sydney’s Glenn Whittle, was pipped on the final green in the “Boys 10 years” division of the IMG World Junior Championship in San Diego in July.
Jeffrey doesn’t hit it as far (about 175m) as his rivals (average 210m). He weighs in at only 40kg, and stands just 148cm tall, but he shot a final round 58 (four-under) with a bogey at the last, for a six-under total (62,60,58). India’s Shubham Jaglan (60,59,60) sank an 8m birdie putt at the 18th to win.
The IMG World Junior Championship in San Diego is the world’s most prized junior title, attracting 1200 children from more than 20 countries and is the event at which Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Adam Scott and Jason Day first made global news.
Whittle, a reputable PGA Member for over 20 years, has a unique background in junior golf coaching and recognises extraordinary talent. He was Head Coach with Jack Newton Junior Golf (JNJG) for six years, then spent five years with the PGA of Australia as The National Coaching Director and six years as Head Coach with the NSW Institute of Sport.
He realised Jeffrey was a natural talent three years ago when the boy’s father Ken, a single-figure handicap player at Bexley, brought him in for a lesson.
It didn’t take that talent long to show up on the scorecard after Jeffrey (although only 8) was allowed to join Bexley and in his first competition, playing off 36, he had 49 stableford points – that’s 13 under his handicap.
And playing in his age group with JNJG, he had five wins from five starts and was named Player of the Year for 2012. He then played in the 2012 IMG World Junior titles, qualifying and finishing 20th at his first try.
In 2014, playing off six, he was ranked as having the lowest handicap in Australia for a 10-year-old and that year won the club Junior Championship (for boys under 18) and finished fourth in the A Reserve Club Championship against all aged men.
Now aged 11 (his birthday was in July) he is playing off a 7 handicap. In what must have been a shock to his adult rivals Jeffrey played as the reserve in the club’s Senior Pennant team, winning two of his three matches.
Whittle, Sydney’s only specialist putting coach, particularly loves helping club golfers and has guided many elite players including the current NSW PGA Champion Lincoln Tighe,2014 New Zealand Open winner Jordan Zunic, former NSW Amateur Champion Michael Smyth and international USLPGA player Julia Boland, to name a few.
The NSW PGA Teaching Professional of the Year in 2008, he gets particular pleasure from the success of his prodigiously talented young clients such as Jeffrey and another amazing sub-teen star Sophie Yip, who at 10 is also making international attention. She finished very well placed at the IMG titles in San Diego this year also.
“Young golfers require a special method of just not learning how to swing but how to enjoy the game,” Whittle says.
“My approach always is ‘fun first’ and then we take small steps towards any long-term goals.
“The kids need to enjoy what they are doing without external pressure, otherwise they might burn out and even quit playing golf.
“Jeffrey and I play a lot of games with only short spurts of improving technique and always in a relaxed environment. Over the past couple of years we have spent countless hours, every two weeks, working on his technique and strategies to improve his consistency.
“He is a good putter but he has done a lot of work to constantly improve. He is a quiet achiever who is very humble and most impressive as a person. He might be small now, but I believe he has a big future in golf.
“I enjoy watching kids grow and mature and I hope I’m having a positive influence on their lives . . . not just on their golf.
“What Jason Day’s coach Col Swatton has done is a great example of how much influence we as PGA coaches can have on players we work with on a regular basis.”
The future of our game is in safe hands with PGA members like Glenn Whittle leading the way.