England Lagging In Grooming Elite Players

SURREY, ENGLAND | The average club golfer in England does not care overmuch about what goes on at the top of the amateur game and is even less interested in paying for it. To him, it matters more that he is getting his money’s worth out of his annual subscription.
Nigel Edwards, who is six months into his job as England’s Director of Coaching, understands. That, though, does not stop him from being acutely aware of the all-hands-on-deck approach which has been adopted on the Continent.
In France, today’s club golfers pay a per capita fee of €49 towards the annual €7 million utilised for the country’s leading amateurs. In England, in contrast, club players pay a miserly £6.25 apiece towards what is a £1.4 million Player Development budget.
On much the same tack, the French Federation, like all the other Continental federations, carry on supporting players when they turn professional.
England Golf, on the other hand, stops with the amateur game. The organisation does contribute something towards a lone English Challenge Tour event, but that not does stand comparison with the four Challenge Tour events in which the French Federation have a hand. They are in a position to hand out multiple invitations to their embryo professionals by way of helping them to get their players’ cards.
Edwards, who was at Walton Heath for last week’s Brabazon, is not pleading poverty and, indeed, is quick to point to how England’s amateurs, like their professional equivalents, are currently showing no signs of falling behind their continental cousins. This year, for instance, they won the France vs. England international by 15 points to nine, with all eight Englishmen contributing to the cause.
“I’m not,” says Edwards, “suggesting that we should become a Federation because things have been as they are in the UK for years and nothing changes in a hurry. However, there’s no question that Continentals are better placed to make a more seamless switch to the professional ranks.
“Take Daan Huizing. (Huizing is the Dutch whiz kid who won the St Andrews’ Links Trophy by the proverbial street.) When he turns pro at the end of the year, he will be on a Dutch Federation team which will provide support – financial and otherwise – for a minimum of three years.”
Edwards went on to speak of how the Continental set-ups also make it easier for players to turn professional at the optimum moment: “Our golfers,” he explained, “aren’t all from the kind of moneyed backgrounds that applied, say, 30 years ago. A lot of them come from families who can’t afford to fork out for a boy’s amateur career for too long. They need him to be making a living.
“Some of our players will look at Tom Lewis. They recall how they once beat him in some 36-hole tournament and convince themselves that they could get off to a similarly fast start. All it takes is the offer of a short-term fix of sponsorship and off they go.
“You don’t want to spoil their dream but it would be great if we had a system in place where they knew that support would still be there for them if they waited a year – or however long it takes for them to be ready.”
For the moment, Edwards is concentrating on what he sees as some small but significant steps.
Firstly, he would like to see more par-3 courses in the country along the lines of Castell Coch outside Cardiff where his own son is learning to play. “All these would-be championship courses that have sprung up around the country are far too intimidating for beginners,” notes this veteran of four Walker Cups.
Secondly, he is intent on bringing the club golfer and the elite golfer together, his feeling being that if the every-day player feels more involved, he might be rather more inclined to help foot the bills for the next Tom Lewis. He wants England players – “resplendent in England kit” – to spend the occasional day visiting golf clubs and having fun with juniors, regular golfers and seniors alike.
“It’s not about turning everyone into champions: most people play for enjoyment.”
In which connection, Edwards would like to see a touch of that enjoyment infiltrate the top players’ practice sessions: “They have to work hard, but they need a bit of entertainment in the mix, a few games along the lines, ‘You’ve got this putt to win the Open.’ ”
Edwards is constantly advising those who come under his wing that golf should not be all-consuming, that they should have an interest away from the sport.
“They all need something else,” he maintains. “I’ve seen a lot of those who do nothing but golf, golf, golf reaching their second year as professionals and not playing anywhere near as well as they could. They’re clearly finding it all a bit of a chore.”
When Edwards was preparing his troops to play France, he told them that he didn’t want to see any heads dropping.
“Competing,” he advised, “is meant to be fun.”


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