“I wish I would have started playing golf when I was younger.” That’s one of the most common phrases you hear from adult golfers, and for good reason. Golf is a difficult sport, and without developing your golf swing and hand-eye coordination at a younger age, it makes for a difficult (but not impossible!) sport to pick up in adulthood.
Since junior golfers improve so quickly, and they have all the time in the world to practice, it’s crucial for them to have the correct equipment in their hands as they ingrain swing patterns. This will help avoid injury, frustration, and future bad habits.
It’s important to remember that junior golfers are not adult golfers. They have less power, speed, size, height, and they can make swing changes quicker than the average adult. As such, getting junior golfers into the right golf equipment for their game is a crucial aspect of their career and longtime enjoyment. No pressure, though, that’s why we’re here to help.
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To gain a better understanding of junior golf equipment, and how to help fit your junior golfer into the right clubs, I spoke with Tim Briand, Senior Vice President of GOLF.com’s sister company True Spec Golf. Briand specializes in club fitting; he works with junior golfers, average hacks, PGA Tour players, and everyone in-between.
Here are 6 things I learned from Briand about junior golf equipment. Hopefully this helps your junior golfer have a long and fun-filled golf experience!
1) Height and speed
Some kids grow faster than others, so basing the fit of their clubs and shafts off their age can be misguided. Rather, Briand suggests going off of height and speed when fitting a junior golfer.
“With kids, it’s mostly about height and club head speed. Gender and age really doesn’t matter,” Briand says. “When you look at some dedicated junior sets, they tend to classify based on gender and age, but in all reality it’s really more about height and club head speed.”
Where’s the cutoff, though? Briand says that if a golfer is under 5 feet tall and hits the ball less than 190-200 yards total with their driver, it may be best to get that golfer into a dedicated junior set. By “dedicated junior set,” we mean U.S. Kids Golf clubs, TaylorMade’s “Rory” sets, Ping’s Prodi-G clubs, Callaway’s XJ sets, or other junior-golf-specific brands. It’s important to note that junior golf club heads are not the same as adult heads; they’re a bit lighter and smaller, and they’re built with short and flexible shafts and smaller grip sizes. These constructions help the junior golfer develop a swing that’s right for their bodies.
2) A junior doesn’t need all 14 clubs
Until a junior golfer starts taking the game seriously and entering tournaments, it’s not about filling a bag full of 14 clubs just because that’s the legal limit. It’s more about getting the right clubs in the bag for the junior. For example, does a junior golfer need a 3 wood, or long irons in the bag? Since they don’t create as much speed as an adult, they may not have the ability to create enough differential between small increments of loft change in longer clubs.
For example, a startup set could just be a driver, hybrid, 7 iron, pitching wedge, sand wedge and putter. Of course, you’ll want to ensure that those clubs have the correct lengths, lie angles, shafts, shaft weights, overall club weights, grip sizes and grip weights. Remember, junior golfers are smaller and have significantly less speed than an average adult, so they need to be fit properly.
Briand says that the short game clubs are more of a crucial part in the junior’s development.
“Does a junior golfer need 14 clubs? Absolutely not,” Briand says. “A competitive junior golfer in their teenage years most likely will need 14 clubs, but picking the right 14 clubs is incredibly important. Making sure that the junior golfer is using a scoring club setup that is the most conducive to scoring is incredibly important because they’re going to develop their short game around that setup. That’s going to stick with them usually for the rest of their career.”
3) Be very careful of poorly fit clubs
Hand-me-down clubs, or cutting down old clubs, can certainly save a bunch of money. As Briand says, though, there’s a lot at stake.
“When you’re dealing with young kids, you have to be careful that you don’t give them clubs that aren’t properly fit,” Briand says. “Not only do they start to develop around the clubs from a golf swing perspective, but there’s the potential that their physiology actually starts to develop around it, too. Once that player’s physiology develops around those parameters, there’s no going back.”
Poorly fit clubs can wreak havoc on adults’ games, but with kids it’s even more important because of their abilities to make quick but lasting changes. Briand uses the example of John Daly to drive the point home. Daly developed his signature long swing because he used his dad’s clubs growing up that were too long and heavy for young John. Not only did his swing take shape around the improperly fit golf clubs, but he developed extreme flexibility in his wrists, too. Of course, it worked out just fine for Daly, but that isn’t the case for everyone.
If you’re in a situation where cutting down clubs is the only option financially, Briand has the following advice:
“I would say if the kid is just learning how to play, yeah, I get it, you have to be smart with your money. You don’t want to spend a ton of money on fit clubs for your kid if you don’t think the game and the experience is going to be sticky and they’re going to do it for awhile. Maybe the first foray into golf is cut down clubs, but if the kid shows any interest where they want to do it with any level of regularity, and if you are considering entering private 1-on-1 lessons for your child, and you’re using cut down golf clubs, you’re wasting your money.”
Remember, though, that simply cutting down adult shafts and re-gripping the clubs will make the clubs play extremely stiff. You’ll want to speak with a proper club builder and express that you want light and flexible shafts for your junior so the clubs are not too heavy and stiff for them.
4) Throw it ahead of the receiver… but not too far
Some golfers say that juniors should play blades, or clubs made for adults, so that they can improve their games at a faster rate. To this point, Briand suggests that no club fitter should fit a junior into a club that they cannot use effectively right away. It sacrifices enjoyment, and could turn the junior golfer away from the game entirely. Instead, he says fitters should throw it about 6-7 months ahead of the receiver.
“When you’re working with junior players, I call it throwing it in front of the receiver,” Briand says. “If you want to throw a pass to a wide receiver who’s running down the field, you don’t throw it at the receiver, you try to throw it in front of him. You want to fit clubs for a junior golfer, you need to fit slightly into the future of where that student is going to be 6-7 months from now.”
5) It takes teamwork
So, your junior golfer is starting to take the game more seriously. The junior is asking about lessons and club fittings, and you’re ready to make an investment. According to Briand, it’s extremely important that the club fitter and the instructor are on the same page.
“With kids, the club fitter has to be savvy enough to understand what the kid is working on with their instructor,” Briand says. “The instructor and the fitter have to be in lockstep. If the instructor and fitter aren’t in lockstep, you can end up with two people swimming in the opposite directions and that’s going to wreak havoc for the kid.”
For example, if the club fitter fits the junior golfer into clubs that correct a slice, but the instructor is trying to teach the kid how to hit a power fade, this can get extremely confusing for the kid and wires can get crossed. Instead, arrange time for the instructor and fitter to speak, or ideally, have the instructor come with the junior to the club fitting!
6) Graduation day
As the junior progresses through their career, Briand says they will hit the point – usually around 17 or 18 years of age – when they develop enough speed to play with adult club heads and X-flex shafts. Below, Briand goes through a typical equipment progression for a competitive junior golfer.
“Throughout the junior’s career, they’ll go from junior sets, to adult club heads with ladies flex shafts, to senior flex shafts, then usually from senior flex to R/S flex,” Briand says. “Then once they get to be 17 or 18, they’re going to be swinging at speeds – if they’re an accomplished golfer – they’re going to require an X-flex. At that point they’re playing their adult set of clubs.”
Remember, it’s important not to skip ahead and give clubs to your junior golfer that are well outside their skill level, speed and height. The goal here is to help the junior golfer have fun, play their best, and instill proper swing delivery patterns that will stick for the future. And, as a parent, don’t forget to enjoy the process yourself!
Curious about getting a club fitting for your junior? Head over to True Spec Golf, GOLF.com’s sister company that conducts brand-agnostic fittings. Also, for more gear news and information, check out our latest Fully Equipped podcast in the Spotify embed below!