For those elite amateurs on the brink of making it to the big time, lockdown threatened to derail their progress. England Golf director of performance Nigel Edwards explains how they are guiding squads through
Targets and projects – paper plans – are threatened by an invisible enemy that doesn’t care for dreams.
The hours on the range, the sessions spent clutching for the almost imperceptible gains that will put you on top, can feel meaningless when the reason for that effort is taken away.
Golf’s shutdown hit all of us hard. Whether it was the whiff of competition, the stress-clearing feeling of striking a pure shot, or just the company of friends – what we lost for those two to three months was felt keenly.
For those whose futures are intrinsically linked to the game, the elite amateur men and women with hopes of ascending to the highest stages, the assault of bad news could have derailed the most carefully laid schemes.
But while many of us spent lockdown binge-watching box sets, or fighting a futile battle to stop the midriff spread, the team that shepherd the brightest of talents towards to the professional game were as busy as ever.
Just in new ways.
There are some 50 players on England Golf’s national squad programme. All different people with contrasting needs.
“It was challenging, to say the least, while we all got our heads around what was happening to start with,” says the man in charge of knitting it all together – director of performance Nigel Edwards.
“But people were great over lockdown in being flexible with their approach to training and coaching. And our coaches, and the staff in the performance department, have been really excellent in engaging with the players.”
Motivation comes from within, Edwards says, but smart coaches can inspire to work harder, better, and still achieve.
Technology played its part. Video hangouts kept teams connected, both to coaches and friends, and apps like Coach Now gave data-driven solutions despite the distance gap.
“Steve Burnett and Becca Hembrough (England Golf men’s and women’s performance managers) pulled together the Lockdown League, once we were able to start playing golf again,” Edwards adds.
“The players were able to play on their golf courses, record their scores, record their data, and then the coaches were able to direct their support to the individuals more on what they were seeing in the data.
“You’ve got all the information there coming back and you can support the players accordingly.
“It’s keeping the players engaged, having regular calls during the week, and it will vary from player to player.
“Since golf and coaching opened up, Steve Robinson (England Golf women’s performance coach) has been setting challenges for the players, having weekly hangouts where they discuss different topics.
“It’s been really broad. We have also been able to call on former players (such as Tommy Fleetwood and Alice Hewson) who have done Q&A’s with us. That has been really insightful.
“Being able to put a question to somebody like that is quite nice. The over-riding message that came through was their work ethic. I think we’ve engaged really well with the players.”
Familiarity is starting to return – though the hand sanitiser everywhere and the social distancing banners are signs, not that anyone needed them, that golf in a pandemic is far from normal.
We’re now into a blitz, the men’s and women’s Amateur Championships at Woodhall Spa the opening shots in a frenzied tournament schedule that packs England Golf’s biggest events into a near two-month run.
For the players who’d planned on going pro, there’s the realisation those ambitions are probably on hold for a year – the consequences of a truncated season that concludes without European Tour Q-School and the lure of the big time.
With others, there’s a catch-it-while-they-can mentality as they shake off the ring rust to mount an assault on the Brabazon Trophy and others.
Even in this strange times, though, as he hopes to welcome back national squad coaching to Woodhall Spa in September should government guidelines allow, Edwards can find the scent of opportunity.
“There is a lot coming thick and fast but, with amateur golf, that’s the same as any other year,” he says. “Look at the period from the first week in May right through to the Open, it’s absolutely choc-a-block. This year is the same.
“Next year is a great opportunity. Have a good period now, on the men’s side, and that can set up very nicely ahead of a Walker Cup that’s going to be played at Seminole next May.
“Those players at the upper echelons, who would have been considering [turning pro] are probably thinking, ‘I’ve got a very good opportunity to shine here in a very short period of time. If I can get on the horse and ride it nicely, I can secure a spot there.’
“And while the Curtis Cup dates have changed, it is still an opportunity to put a marker down for the players.”
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