Many juniors during their high school years have this dream of playing on the PGA or LPGA Tour. Living a lifestyle just like they see on Instagram, competing against the world’s best players on some of the world’s best courses, making millions of dollars and flying around in private jets.
Although some may know that they will have to work hard for this dream to come true, they still don’t understand what is required.
When I’ve asked juniors over the years what they are planning to do when they leave school, a typical response has been, “Well, I am going to take a gap year and focus on my golf to see where I can get to!”
My interpretation of the comment above from juniors I would consider as being talented enough is they are thinking the following:
“I am pretty good at this game, and I have had to spend time on things like going to school and doing homework. Imagine how good I could become if I could just focus on improving my golf and playing in tournaments. I will spend 12 months just focusing on my golf and see if I can get good enough to become a tour pro.”
My response to this line of thinking is:
“In 12 months, you are still not going to know if you will be good enough to become a tour pro. You will find out, though, whether you want to become a tour pro or not!”
In my 30 plus years of coaching, I’ve seen gap years done well, and I’ve seen gap years done poorly.
Twelve months is ample time to find out if you have the desire to make it happen, have an idea of the level of commitment, the work ethic and willingness to make sacrifices, and spend the time – much of it on your own – to develop your game.
Simply, what you’ll find out after 12 months is this:
Do you want to do this as a job day-in and day-out?
Can you deal with the repetition without getting bored, complacent and not fall into the habit of just going through the motions?
The reality is you need to treat it like a job that you aren’t being paid for.
I don’t want to make it sound dull; of course, you need to make training enjoyable and challenging, but it’s not just about hanging with your mates and playing golf.
My advice is this:
If you genuinely want to find out if you have a chance, you need to give yourself at least three to four years to see if you can or want (some might say need) to make this your career.
In the end, that’s what it is – a career. A long-term endeavour that you build towards and work upon every day.
The first 12 months (gap year) to find out “do I want to keep going?” and then another two to three years if the answer is yes.
At the end of each 12 months, do a personal check-in:
Is this still what I want to be doing?
Are my life priorities still the same?
How is my game trending?
Do I see growth in my game?
Are my tournament results improving?
Gap Year Planning
Below is my advice for those who want to get the most out of the gap year experience.
1. Develop an annual schedule
Plan out a schedule that includes the tournaments you will play in, development windows, and rest periods.
As a guide, a tournament schedule should include six to eight Golf Australia Order of Merit events, one or two Golf NSW Vardon/Derin Trophy events per month, Club Pennant, & Home Club “major” events.
Depending on what level you are at, you may even include some international events.
Development windows or non-tournament periods are an opportunity to work on “major” game improvement projects. You can still compete during these windows but in lower priority events and not many of them. However, you can undertake substantial technical (major swing change) or physical changes (increase strength) during this period with plenty of time for any changes to bed-in.
Rest periods where you have some have time away from competing, and practising is also vital. You may do some light physical training or golf movement pattern drills to maintain fitness and feels during these periods.
2. Develop a weekly timetable
Develop a weekly timetable and commit to it.
Ensure that things like work or study, practice, social time, physical workouts, chill out time etc., are all scheduled into your timetable. The biggest thing here is what you are committed to, and this must be your timetable.
During your time at school, you had a daily & weekly structure. There is a set time you get up, travel to school, attend school, travel home, practice your golf, do your homework, go to bed.
When you leave school, the first thing you’ll find out is you have all this time on your hands.
So, what tends to happen is this: You stay up playing PlayStation and go to bed later and later. Consequently, you get up later and later.
You have no plan for the day. A friend calls, wanting to go to the beach. You go too because you think, “I have nothing on today”.
Time is wasted because you don’t have a weekly schedule that you have committed to.
To be successful at golf, you need to be self-motivated. There will be no detentions, no notes sent home to your parents, no being expelled from the school if you don’t turn up to practice like there is if you don’t turn up to school.
If you start to take shortcuts with your commitment to your schedule, you’ll have to live with your guilt. If you don’t feel that guilt, it’s often a sign that you don’t want it bad enough. If that’s the case, start looking look for a real job.
3. Turn up to the course with a plan for the day
Those that don’t have a practice plan for the day end up being unproductive with their time. As the saying goes, “Plan your work, work your plan”.
So, you set up a weekly schedule. You go to bed at your set time, you wake up when the alarm goes, you do a workout, have a good breakfast, and you get to the golf course.
Those that don’t have a practice plan for the day end up being unproductive with their time. Doing things like hanging around the pro-shop, chatting with other members, spend time on the phone, just beating balls, only practising things they enjoy or are good at, or just playing holes.
You need to plan out your day.
Once you get the course or even better still, the night before, take 10-15 minutes to plan out what you want to achieve for the day.
There are basically two ways to plan out your day:
The Blocked Time Method:
Essentially like “periods” in your school timetable. You allocate a block of time to a particular subject.
For example, this might mean from 9.30 -10.30 putting. You then allocate time within this block to various activities. E.g. 20 mins short putts, 20 mins mid-range and 20 mins long range.
You set up these time blocks during the day, and you practice various skills in these time blocks.
The Task Completion Method:
There is no set time block with this method, but you list several activities or drills you want to complete for the day.
Say you list six drills you want to complete. You go through this list one-by-one until you have completed the drills you have on your list.
Generally, with this method, a “benchmark” is established with the drill.
Once you reach the established benchmark, the drill is over. E.g. hole 40 three feet putts in a row, or how many attempts it takes to get five chips into a four-foot circle round the hole.
Complete this at four different locations around the green.
A couple of other things on this topic:
Commitment. It will take discipline to stay on your plan. You may have to knock back going to play holes with your mates to stick with your schedule.
Achieve then Leave. Once you have completed what you set out to do, leave the course. Don’t be tempted to hang around and do more. It’s likely, very likely, you’ll get sloppy with your work, or you will end up over practising and run the risk of injury or burnout.
4. Ensure balance in your life
I recommend that people do some part-time/casual work or study during their gap year.
Let’s face it: you can’t play golf every hour you are awake. So doing some work will give you some financial independence allow you to re-invest into your game or pay for living expenses & entertainment.
It also helps as you have responsibilities, gain new knowledge or skills, meet new people, gain life experience and many other benefits.
If working isn’t your thing, consider doing some part-time study in another interest area you have.
As well as work or study, make sure you allocate time to catch up with friends, spend time with family, or just “chill out”.
The key here is factoring all of these things appropriately to support your personal growth, physical & mental wellbeing, as well as golf development.
If you find over time that any of these things start becoming more of a priority to you or detracting your time or focus away from golf, it is probably time to take a personal check-in and re-assess where you are at and what your goals are.
5. Support Team
You must surround yourself with those people on the journey with you – people in the inner circle you can trust.
They need to be on the journey with you for the right reasons. You don’t just want yes men or enablers or supporters who pat you on your back when you do well or have success, but people who will provide you with constructive feedback and hold you accountable.
So who is in your inner circle?
The legendary UCLA College Basketball Coach John Wooden had a saying, “You will never outperform your inner circle, so always be improving your inner circle.”
Wooden had an exercise he had people do to determine their inner circle.
All you need is a pencil and a piece of paper. Draw three circles on a piece of paper with the following titles: personal, professional, and social.
In each circle, list the five people who were closest to you in each of those categories.
You then need to think;
Are they going where I’m going?
Are they the kind of people I want on my journey?
If they are not, you need to scratch them from the list and create a new inner circle.
On the golf side (professional circle), I feel teamwork within your inner circle is essential.
Everybody must know their role and how each part interacts with the other.
Performance in golf is holistic. The technical, mental, physical, strategic and equipment elements are all entwined.
Change one element, and it can have a cascading effect on everything else.
Off-course elements may also collide with on-course performance. So make sure you consider this when deciding who is in your personal and social circles.
Remember, the timeline between the school books and life as a professional is critical, so plan it wisely.
*Khan Pullen is Golf NSW’s High-Performance Manager. A member of the PGA since 1993, Pullen also coaches current PGA Tour Player & 2017 Australian Open Champion Cameron Davis, as well as the reigning Australian Women’s Amateur Champion, Grace Kim.