Jason Day: How To Get Your Little One Started In Golf
Welcome to the Family Issue. This is my son, Dash Day, who is 3½. He loves to hit balls. We're not at the big course just yet, but I'm looking forward to all the rounds we'll play together. Golf Digest asked me to share what we've been working on. Mainly, I just try to keep it fun, but there are certain things I do that might help you teach your rug rat. No matter what ages you have at home, you'll find useful information on equipment and trips, plus stories from the tour and more in the coming pages. Although rounds with friends are special, there's nothing quite like golf when it's blood on blood.
— With Max Adler
Dash was a year old when he learned to walk, and that's right about the time he got his first plastic golf club. He'd storm around swinging it one-handed. Six months later he began gripping the club with two hands, but apart, like he was holding a hockey stick. I figured it was correct enough that his right hand was on the bottom and just let him have at it. Before he turned 2, my friends at TaylorMade sent a cut-down JetSpeed driver. In these photographs Dash has his new M1 driver. Amazing.
I was kind of pushed into golf as a kid, so I vowed never to do that with my son. My rule is, Dash has to ask me to go to the range. Our family travels to most tournaments in our RV, and our "home" is almost always parked on or near a golf course. So the game is very present in his world. Dash will grab his driver and say, "Hit balls, hit balls." He really likes it, and watching his face light up when he connects with one brings me great joy.
My coach and caddie, Colin Swatton, took me from a 12-year-old to where I am today. If Dash ever decides to pursue golf seriously, I'll put Col in charge. I'd be too technical a teacher for a junior. For now, I just do my best to make it fun. If that ever stops being enough and Dash wants to play golf to win, that desire will have to come from within. Not from me.
No matter how much patience you have, when you become a parent, you find more.
It's a good thing to have a lot of—in life and in golf. When Dash and I go to the range, I think we both build this quality in ourselves. To even tee a ball is a delicate motor skill at his age, and so to steady his hand he must really focus and not get unnerved by failure. Me, I'll be kneeling there, feeding balls and encouragement—not gushing positive feedback, but enough to let him know he's doing a good job—all while watching that split grip. Once his hands began to migrate closer together, it took more than a month for them to finally touch. A couple times I did try physically moving his hands and explaining why, but what really worked was Dash watching me hit balls. He understood it on his time. That's golf.
I was kind of pushed into golf ... my rule is, Dash has to ask me to go to the range.
Dash has a nice, natural swing. His tendency is to hood the clubface at address, then kind of chop down on it. He has learned that striking down on a ball makes it pop up. To him, airborne means success, so that's what he does. The technique helps him crush his iron—he has only one—and even with the driver he sometimes nips it off the deck. When we tee the ball, occasionally I'll square his clubface and ask him to swing up at it more. But my main goal is to keep the time interesting. We don't just see how far Dash can hit the ball. I point out targets he can aim for, like a net or a pole. Not only does this energize him, swinging with a purpose is a good mind-set to establish.
Golf's in Dash's blood, I figure, so I mostly try not to get in the way. I just want to see his instincts come out. One drill we do is, I'll tee up four or five balls for him to hit in rapid-fire succession. Dash won't pause on either side of his swing—he goes promptly from one follow-through into another backswing—which is actually a great drill for anyone to build rhythm. The other drill: I slowly roll balls to him from the side. He'll hit them before they stop moving, not always so cleanly, but I think this develops good hand-eye coordination.
The threshold for frustration and boredom is pretty low in children. Dash still takes naps, so if we get caught at the range in a wrong part of that cycle, or without snacks and water, the situation can turn to a full meltdown real quick. If he's dragging, I never ask if he wants to leave. I always ask if he'd rather go work on another part of his game instead. So if we're on the range, we go to the putting green, or vice versa. If he doesn't want to do any of it, we load in the car right then and it's wheels up, even if that means returning a full bucket to the shop. The range near our house also has a miniature-golf course. I've found a game of putt-putt is the best move to start our day together.