SINGAPORE | Head down is one of the abiding tenets of golf but, out at the Asian Amateur Championship at the Singapore Island Country Club, players and coaches alike spent just as much time looking over their shoulders. What could they learn and from whom?
Though Nick Faldo, the championship’s ambassador, said that there is “almost a blueprint in place” for how to play the game, not everyone agrees. Brad James, who runs the High Performance Programme in Australia, is among the doubters. In his opinion, golf is still a long way from being cracked: “There’s no scientific proof that anyone has discovered the optimum approach.”
With golf due to join the Olympics as from 2016, he is hoping that someone will do as has been done in other Olympic sports in researching precisely what is required.
In the meantime, the Australians are adopting a holistic method and simultaneously borrowing from the Koreans. “Australians,” he says, “have a degree of lethargy which can serve them well in pressure situations. Where it doesn’t help, though, is in practice and preparation. A touch of the Koreans’ work ethic doesn’t go amiss, only we don’t work our players as hard as they do. Their way can make players but it can also break them.”
New Zealand’s Joshua Munn, on the other hand, said that he has actively tried to match the Koreans’ longer practice stints. “I admire them because they hit the ball straighter than we do, they putt better and they focus more.
“Two years ago,” he continued, “I was getting nowhere on two hours practice a day. Now, I get up at six and go to the gym. I am on the practice ground at nine and I stay there till four. After that, I head for my parents’ pizza shop and work from 4:30 to 9:00.”
Kenta Konishi, the Japanese lad who won the R&A’s Junior Open at Lundin GC in 2010, will tell you that he envies the Europeans’ wide variety of shots but that he is still more envious of the Koreans and the time they have to play. “Ideally,” he said, “I’d like to play golf all day just like they do but I have to go to school and study. Longer term, I suppose that is better.”
Meanwhile, the Koreans claim that they are no longer doing what people think they are doing.
Won Ko, from the Korean Golf Association, was happy to outline the changes that have been made in the last couple of years. “We are focused on our juniors. But where, before, they spent all the time practising, they now do more studying. It is important to practise but our thinking today is that it is important, too, to spend time with friends and at school.
“Like in the other sports in Korea, our youngsters were practising too much. They were tired. Now, the Minister of Education has said that has to change.”
So how do all those Korean parents who stand over their daughters on the LPGA practice grounds or, rather, the next generation of those parents, feel about this development?
“They accept that things are changing,” he said. “They have no choice.”
Won Ko hopes the adjustments will make for better golfers but says it is too soon to be able to make any kind of a formal assessment. There were five Korean boys sitting around his table. The first two said they practised three to four hours a day; the third said he did no more than two hours; the fourth said five hours, and the sixth four hours. Certainly, they all had time for a good pudding and for playing games on their phones.
The Indonesians, meantime, think that the Australians go at it a bit hard.
One Indonesian lad, who had just been with his national squad to have some top-level coaching in Australia, had been more than a little taken aback to find that they did not stop for lunch on the Australian programme. “At home,” said Rinaldi Adiyandono, “we get an hour, but over there we were only getting 15 minutes. They told us it was because you can’t stop for an hour when you are in the middle of a round of golf. You have to get used to being out there for long a time.”
In the Philippines, they believe in turning professional as soon as possible. In Pakistan, they think the opposite. In which connection there was a conversation in which Pablo Soon, the manager of the Filipino side, was advising Taimur Amin of Pakistan that one of his best teenagers of a year ago had turned professional. The player in question was Miguel Tabuena and he made the move at 16.
“Too young,” pronounced the 59-year-old Amin.
The man from the Philippines tried to protest but Amin was not listening. “Sixteen or 18 is too young,” he said. What do they know of what life is? What if it all goes wrong?”
In Asia, as many would side with Soon as Amin but, as the Australian Performance Director was saying, no one, East or West, has all the answers.