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How Much does the Age You Start Playing Golf Contribute to Your Success?

How Much does the Age You Start Playing Golf Contribute to Your Success?
by Ken Martin, MS,
PGA Member Certified in Instruction and General Management


Success in golf can be measured in several ways.

The game can be enjoyed at virtually any level of performance, provided one’s play is safe, fast, courteous, and from a length of golf course that matches one’s skill set.

Success relative to scoring is also a subjective topic. An adult playing “business golf” weekly or twice a month can be successful if he/she can generally score in the mid-80s.

Such a level of performance will fit well with most any other level.

My experience in teaching the game has shown that this standard of performance can be readily attained, regardless of the age an individual begins his/her pursuit in golf.

It is a simple matter of deliberate practice, practice that favors function over form, where the function is intentionally controlling a golf ball’s flight.

However, if scoring success is measured at par or better, with par being 72 on the average 18-hole golf course, the age one begins his/her quest could be a factor.

According to the United States Golf Association (USGA) (2018), 0.96% of male golfers in the United States have a +1 handicap or better, which generally equates to scores of par or better.

The average golfer is considered to have a 15 handicap, which generally equates to 18-hole scores around 90.

As there are many golfers who do not record their scores to officially obtain a USGA handicap, it is estimated by the National Golf Foundation that the true average golfer scores closer to 100 (National Golf Foundation, 2005 as cited in Golf Blogger, 2005).

This distinction is important when considering scoring expectations relative to the age an individual begins to play.
Primarily, because of the time required to develop the wide variety of skills necessary to score close to par, the younger one starts is typically more advantageous.

Junior beginning golfers typically have more time to play and practice than beginning adults.

Skills in golf are essentially, in the beginning, a matter of motor skill development.

Motor skills are developed through repetition across time. The more repetition, the more refined the skills become.
The more refined golf skills become, the more likely the transference to a golfer’s scoring ability.

It follows that it is reasonable to conclude an adult beginner, with time, may achieve the scoring success achieved by a junior across the same time period.

One of the best examples is PGA Hall of Fame member Larry Nelson.

Mr. Nelson began to play golf at the age of 21.

Within nine months of earnest practice (averaging 8-hours per day), Mr. Nelson broke the scoring threshold of 70 (World Golf Hall of Fame, 2018).

Further, after only four years of playing, he qualified for the PGA Tour.

All told, he won seven times on the PGA Tour, three Major Championships, 19 Champions Tour events, and additionally 11 more times world-wide.

So, does starting age matter? Most likely not, with a caveat; that being time to play and practice.
As for natural ability, one might query the source.

In other words, is there really such a thing as being born with a genetic advantage toward a particular skill set?
Or, is it possible that natural ability is better operationalized as a response to stimuli?

Further, one might ask if an individual’s response to stimuli can be altered through experience?

If so, it may follow that one’s ability can improve through varied task experience. Such is the basis of perceptual learning, the foundation of deliberate practice in golf.

Perceptual learning has been defined as “experience-dependent enhancement of our ability to make sense of what we see, hear, feel, taste or smell” (Gold & Watanabe, 2010, p. 1).

Such enhancements are adaptive and provide performance benefits.

Applied to golf, this concept may show that if one deliberately experiences golf club movement that produces a slice, hook, or straight shot, they can learn to produce these shots on purpose, as they will have perceived the difference in feel between each.

Deliberately practicing these varied perceptions of feel may then result in the natural ability to produce these shot shapes at will, regardless if one began playing as a junior or adult.

Hope springs eternal!

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