One of the most frequently asked questions we get is – how do you become a professional golfer? In Australia there are two distinct pathways to become a professional golfer.
- Gain a tour card through a multi-stage tour qualifying school
- Complete the PGA Trainee Program
Both options require exceptional playing ability so the purpose of this post is to really go deeper into the training and the environment required to become a professional golfer.
Firstly, let’s look at the training elements that are required to reach a “pro level.” The basic equation is this:
Tournament experience + Deliberate Practice + Coaching x Time = Pro level golf
This is a critical element to your quest to become a professional golfer. A typical touring professional with a full card on a tour might play on average 25 multi round tournaments per year. It can’t be overstated that this is a lot of golf to play. A typical week for a tour player looks like this:
Monday – rest, travel, practice
Tuesday – 18 hole practice round
Wednesday – 18 hole practice round or Pro Am
Thursday – Round 1
Friday – Round 2
Saturday – Round 3
Sunday – Round 4
This means that in the unlikely event that the player makes every cut, 25 tournaments x 4 rounds = 100 rounds. Including practice rounds there is the potential for 150 rounds of golf.
This is 100 rounds of strokeplay in tournament conditions. One of the biggest gaps you need to overcome is the accessbility of playing multiround strokplay tournaments. It is highly likely with just an average golf IQ, if you played tournament level strokeplay at this level your golf skills would improve without any coaching or outside help. Most golfers are great at adapting and would quickly (or even slowly) figure out the finetuning they needed to control their ball around the course and score better.
“If you aspire to become a professional golfer, two stableford rounds per week at your home club is not going to cut it.”
One of the great abilities of tour professionals is their ability to be able “unpack” their games every week on a new golf course. Scout a course, set a game plan, test the plan and execute in tournament conditions. AND repeat this for weeks on end. So if you are looking to become a professional golfer. Look to seriously increase the amount of tournaments you play in.
An often asked question is how much practice do I need to do? The great Sir Nick Faldo once answered that question with “if you have to ask that question than you’ll never make it.” Implying that you just need to do whatever it takes. This is certainly a strong remark but the question is legitimate, particularly if you don’t know.
The guideline we give to players is to do 40+ hours of golf related activities per week. A typical breakdown of a non tournament week might look this:
12 hours – on course practice
8 hours – long game
8 hours – short game
8 hours – putting
4 hours – golf related physical preparation (mobility, strength, power, etc)
= 40 hours
The breakdown of what you do in the 40 hours is a topic for another time. However if you want to become a professional golfer you have to train like one and treat it as a job.
One key distinction that must be made is the quality of the 40 hours is the most important thing. You must engage in deliberate practice. No goofing off. No talking in the pro shop for 2 hours before you practice. No pausing to discuss the latest Masterchef or Game of Thrones episode.
Deliberate practice involves: setting a task to be achieved, being fully engaged, using a pre shot routine if appropriate, having a target, keeping score, debriefing the outcome.
Deliberate practice is tough. You need to have intrinsic motivation to do this. You need to the enjoy the process of improvement and enjoy the mental solidarity and “boredom” of practice. An extrinsically motivated person enjoys talking about the latest PGA Tour tournament, the new driver that is on the market, the latest pair of spikeless golf shoes and will finish off with an Instagram photo of their empty basket of range balls. All slapped with a 7 iron off a driving range mat to the same target. The extrinsic person might clock 40 hours but the quality is low and the improvement is non-existant.
Whilst there are several examples of golfers that have succeeded without coaching, quality, structured coaching has been shown time and time again to improve players in all sports, not just golf. Self coaching is difficult to do due to something called Cognitive Bias. All golfers overestimate their abilities and to think logically with reason and evidence when it comes to their own golf. The best players in the world have a had a trusted set of eyes to help them.
Coaching is a way to accelerate your development as a golfer. PGA Professionals have the training and experience required to improve your game. They can help you avoid the mistakes and pitfalls along the way, and with regular contact help you to stay on track and committed to the plan.
Coaching a golfer to improve is a complex process. The technique for all shots must be sound enough to produce predictable shot patterns that can be used on the course. The mental and tactical skills of the player must be understood and developed. A training plan must be developed and executed. A physical assessment must be made and the body either maintained or improved.
How do you compare to the tour professional? Are you in very regular contact with your coach? Or is your coaching frequency once per month or less? How often does your coach watch you on course in tournaments. Golf is strange in a sense that coaches rarely watch their players in competition. Could you imagine a football coach taking the Thursday training session and leaving players to their own devices on a Saturday?
Coaching is an important element in your quest to become a professional golfer.
Players in the PGA Performance Program are asked this at the commencement of the program. What is your golf training age?
Using the information above of 40 hours per week of deliberate practice, the answer for most players is less than 2 years. Meaning that despite their low single figure handicap they haven’t really trained that well up until this point. This is both good and bad news.
Good – you should make rapid improvement with the right direction and training.
Bad – you probably have many many years ahead of full time deliberate practice to become a pro.
In many skill acqusition discussions, you’ll hear the 10,000 hour/ 10 year rule. The caveat to this rule is that the hours have to be deliberate and of sufficient quality. You can’t just clock the hours so to speak. Tiger Woods won the Masters at 21, started golf at 2.5 years old and was regularly winning his age tournaments for 15 years along the journey. Jordan Spieth followed a similar timeline although started competition much later.
That being said you can be close to professional status in a much shorter time than the legends of the game. You can be the “big dog” at your local course or win local tournaments in a few short years. Even the prodigous Greg Norman turned professional six years after starting the game. Though it must be said, Norman put in a seriously large amount of practice in those six years, and brought with him tremendous physical attributes to fast track the process. The game’s elite are exponents of this 10,000 hour/ 10 year rule. It just takes time.
So the real question is, are you prepared to?:
- play regular stroke play tournaments
- engage in deliberate practice for 40 + hours per week
- be coachable and be coached consistently
- repeat the process, be unwaivering and stick to a plan for a long period of time.
Time is the true multiplier. 10 years of unfocused effort won’t get you closer to your goal.
Assuming reasonable levels of talent and physical longevity, in 10 years or less with deliberate focused effort you could be a professional golfer.