02 Jun 2021 | Amateur golf |

Mentoring: the crucial guiding hand

by Golf Australia

Webb scholarship image
Webb Scholarship holders Grace Kim and Becky Kay with Karrie Webb, Sarah Jane Smith and Hannah Green at the 2019 Women's PGA.

Golf Australia views mentoring as hugely important to the creation and development of elite golfers from this country.

That’s why we have in place an arrangement to put our young rookie professionals in touch with generally older and more experienced players – a mentoring program that is structured in some aspects, yet more organic in others.

We want these two groups of people with common interests to make contact and to stay in touch.

We want them to form connections that last, with benefits for all.

It acknowledges the powerful truth that we all play a role in the future of Australian golf. All of us.

That role is to help to develop athletes who inspire more Australians to play golf.

We are on the same team.

But this is not so much about golf itself. These players know how to handle a golf club quite well enough. It’s more about logistics and getting organised. It is about running your own business: the business of the sole proprietor, the professional golfer on tour.

It’s about the peripheral issues that emerge for young players making their way into the golf world for the first time. It’s about the exercise of becoming a touring golf professional, and getting it right.

Finding a hotel that suits and one that does not break the bank. Employing a caddie who fits with the player’s style and personality. Finding a way to the course and an appropriate practice time. Finding the right flights and dealing with lost luggage.

Grappling with the loneliness that surely comes in some far-flung place when results are not coming and the prize cheques are rare.

It’s about what happens outside the ropes.

This is where mentoring is crucial.

These young players need help with much of this, and the best people to pass on that knowledge are right alongside them on the golf tours of the world; golfers who have already experienced the particular difficulties of playing the game for a living.

Golf Australia takes this role in guiding the next generation, but needs support from others, too.

There is a bridge that has to be built. We would hope that this mentoring program is that bridge.

Golf is a fraternity. In particular, Australian golf is lucky enough to boast a comradeship that may well be unique in the game. We hunt as a pack, and we are proud of that. It is part of the reason whey we bat out of our league.

Here is how mentoring works, as it relates to Australian golf, and a perfect example of how it should happen.

Stephanie Kyriacou emerges from St Michael’s Golf Club in Sydney and through the Golf New South Wales programs as a brilliant young player.

In February 2020, she wins a Ladies European Tour event in Bonville as an amateur, a remarkable achievement in itself for a 19-year-old against seasoned pros. But it brings along with it responsibility and a big decision: to turn pro or not …

Kyriacou can take up the playing rights on the LET that the victory offers, or continue her amateur career. She opts to turn professional, but this means that she is on the road almost instantaneously, with no opportunity to plan or prepare. She is required to think on her feet.

Meanwhile, Golf Australia’s Female Participation Manager, Stacey Peters, puts Kyriacou in touch with two LET players – Australian Whitney Hillier and England’s Felicity Johnson – who will take her under their wings in Europe.

Previously, Kyriacou has been put in touch by Peters with the legendary Karrie Webb, seven-time major champion and arguably the greatest of all Australian golfers. They meet at the ISPS Handa Vic Open, practise together, and form a strong relationship in a short time.

Webb knows what this is about; she is renowned for her willingness to give back to the game and provide a guiding hand for young players.

They exchange notes, and Kyriacou stays in touch with her famous mentor on the way to winning the rookie of the year award on the LET, logging a string of great results in 2020.

Hannah Green, who emerged from Mt Lawley Golf Club in Perth, and Minjee Lee, who came out of Royal Fremantle and progressed through state and national amateur squads, have both been recipients of the Karrie Webb Scholarship, staying and practising in America with Webb in the past.

Not that it is only Karrie Webb who offers up her advice.

Australia’s top male professionals like Adam Scott, Jason Day, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith have all been involved in mentoring of younger players.

Smith runs his own junior tournament in Queensland and hosts players from his home state in America, practising with them and passing on tricks of his profession. Day, Scott and Leishman have willingly engaged with young amateurs and professionals from their home country in the past, and continue to do so.

Gabriela Ruffels, the outstanding young player from Melbourne who won the US Women’s Amateur, is one who recently practised with Day. Meanwhile, a bunch of young, female amateurs recently held a Zoom conference with Minjee Lee, the top-ranked Australian female player and a five-time LPGA Tour winner.

The circle continues. Hannah Green benefited hugely from her relationship with Webb, and now Green at just 24 years mentors young girls at her home club in Perth.

The players generally will help out. And they do not seek publicity or plaudits for it. They are not obligated in any sense or required to take away from their own daily routine of preparation and hard work.

It simply happens.

But it requires a level of organisation, and the will to make it work.

This is how it will work from 2021 and beyond.

Golf Australia has a designated Rookie Squad of male and female golfers – the best, young players in the country. They are supported from the final six months of their amateur career and up to their fifth year in professional golf as a maximum term, receiving different levels of reimbursed funding to cover expenses and set them on their path.

The mentoring program sits alongside the rookie program. It is these players who benefit from the mentoring.

Potential mentors will be sought out and asked if they would help the rookie listers in a ‘buddying’ system. They will be carefully matched with rookie players by Golf Australia case managers.

In some instances, the match-up might be obvious. In other cases, the rookie player may have a potential mentor in mind; a person with whom they have a previous relationship or friendship.

Golf Australia will appoint case managers to make these connections: people like Stacey Peters, who knows all about the trials and tribulations of going overseas to play. Those case managers will set up mentoring meetings during the year and oversee the process, checking in periodically with both mentors and their understudies.

Our aim is to minimise the stresses on these young, touring players as they make their way, and to help them in developing the professional skills that are required to assist their performance – both on and off the course.

The role of the mentor is to exchange contact details and form a bond with the young player, to play practice rounds and share stories and tips from life on tour.

We believe that the mentors get something out of it, too: a sense of helping the game in the broader sense, outside of their own triumphs or failures.

So often professional golfers are seen as being about themselves, playing the solitary game that golf can be. Here is an example of them giving back to the game that they love. But mostly, it is about the creation of brilliant, young golfers who are competent in all areas of the touring professional’s life.

Which we can all agree, is an aim that is worth pursuing with fervour.

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