Tiger Woods. Scottie Scheffler. Phil Mickelson. Jack Nicklaus. Dustin Johnson. Most golf fans know these professional golfers and watch them on television winning major championships on the PGA Tour.
However, not many fans know when they got their start playing the game of golf.
Tiger Woods’s father Earl Woods began teaching him the basics when he was 2 years old, and the rest, as we know, is history. But is this the norm for professional golfers or is Tiger Woods an outlier? Let’s find out.
Most professional golfers on the professional golf tours today began playing golf sometime during their childhood and developed a passion for the game.
Jordan Spieth began playing golf as a child, but he played other sports as well including basketball and baseball.
It was when he was a teenager that he decided to take golf seriously and dedicate himself to the game.
Spieth had an immense natural talent for the game and when he decided to dedicate his time to the sport, he blossomed into one of the best amateur golfers in the world and eventually would rise to the number one golfer in the world.
There are a few golfers throughout golf’s long history who have been outliers. One of them is Larry Nelson.
Larry Nelson did not pick up a golf club until he was 21 years old and fresh out of the military after serving in the Vietnam War.
He made it to the PGA Tour 6 years later. Nelson would eventually win 2 major golf championships and amass 10 PGA Tour wins throughout his career (Golf Digest).
With Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, and Larry Nelson in mind there is no definitive answer on when professional golfers start playing golf, but the earlier the better.
What’s The Best Age To Start Golf?
The best age to start playing golf can vary depending on who you ask. Should you follow the Tiger Woods route and start swinging the club as soon as you can walk?
Should you wait until you are 21 years old to touch a club like Larry Nelson? Well, like most discussions, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
According to psychologist Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Stages of Development, the concrete operational stage in a child is between the ages of seven and eleven and this is the stage where children begin to become aware of their surroundings and develop basic cognitive abilities, essentially they have self-awareness (WebMD). People begin to understand who they are and what they can do.
It is also during this period that a person is young enough to adapt and change to the nuances of the golf swing very seamlessly.
Children are very adaptable. With proper teaching and coaching, they can develop the fundamentals of the golf swing including stance, grip, backswing, transition, and follow-through.
Again, there is not a concrete definitive answer as to what the best age to start playing golf is, but if you ingrain the fundamentals at an early age, your chances of success as a golfer are vastly improved.
When Is It Too Late To Become A Golf Professional?
In today’s hyper-competitive sports market and talent pool, there is a point to which it will be too late to become a professional golfer.
Everyone knows that it takes years and years of practice and play to hone one’s golf skills. It’s a whole other challenge to do those things at an elite level.
That is why most professional golfers will begin playing the game in their youth and teenage years to develop those elite skills needed to be successful.
The oldest golfer ever to turn professional was Allen Doyle, who at age 46, won 3 events on a minor league tour called the Nike Tour.
He also went on to play the Champions Tour where he won a total of 10 events. While not turning professional until he was 46, Doyle had a great career as an amateur golfer before he turned professional (Sports Illustrated).
In today’s game where professional golfers are consistently driving the ball over 300 yards and hitting 7-irons 200 yards, potential professional golfers need to be able to generate very fast clubhead speeds and hit the ball great distances.
This would lead one to conclude that somewhere between the ages of 35 and 40 would be too late to become a professional golfer.
This period is when golfers’ bodies and abilities begin to slow down, and they can no longer produce the high swing speeds needed to keep up with the field and the golf course distances of the professional tours.
How Realistic Is It To Become A Golf Professional?
Why is it so difficult to become a professional golfer? Well, in professional golf the margin for error is so small and the competition is extremely competitive.
If you are trying to make it on the PGA Tour one route most golfers take is to try and qualify at Q-School. First, you have to play in pre-qualifying events, then there is the first stage of Q-School, the second stage of Q-School, and then a final stage.
At the final stage of Q-School in 2021, the winner shot a 14-under-par total over 4 rounds with his highest round of the week being a 69.
To summarize, you need to make the cut at 3 different tournaments to make the final stage and in the final stage, nothing is guaranteed. There are hundreds of golfers who have missed the chance to get a tour card by a single stroke!
Becoming a professional golfer is extremely hard. There are thousands of golfers throughout the world who can shoot under-par scores on a golf course, but only between 150 and 200 golfers get to play on the PGA Tour every year. So, the chances of making it to the top are very slim.