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Player support: The Mentor - Australian Golf Digest Player support: The Mentor - Australian Golf Digest

The role of a confidant, and how it can help steer a golfer on their path to success.

I feel like I’m qualified. I represented New South Wales in junior golf, won several junior tournaments and ended up in the United States on a golf scholarship at Georgia Southern University. I was fortunate to have met, played with, and become friends with players that went on to win on major tours all over the world. I also saw some incredible talent seemingly destined for similar success – golfers who I thought could win at any level – that never made it. 

What was the secret of those who did make it? Was their success planned or did they just get lucky? And what were the reasons these other young golfers never made it onto our television screens? 

I walked away from my college experience thinking, How can I replicate what I went through and what I saw from these amazing players? And, How can I pass that knowledge onto the next generation of golfers?

I believed I had the answer. It was now time to put it into practice.

Confidant – a person with whom one shares a secret

In 2008 I was in the right place at the right time. I was the club professional at Bexley Golf Club in Sydney’s south and a young boy came to learn golf. He was 4 years old at the time and his name was Jeffrey Guan. Over the next 13 years I watched him grow up and become an amazing player and an even better young man. I must emphasise, while I’m a PGA of Australia member, I’m not Jeff’s coach. That’s a role for a specialist, a role that carries very different responsibilities. 

I’m a mentor, a trusted adviser for Jeff to call on when he needs some direction on, well, anything. 

The role of a mentor is an underrated one in any sport, let alone an individual pursuit like golf that can be very lonely at times. In my opinion, mentors are vastly underutilised on our fairways.

My role is not a paid job, and I don’t bill by the hour. It’s done out of a love for the game and a friendship that makes it all worthwhile. It’s also done with a lot of honesty without judgement. I’m always there for Jeff. I listen… and when I can, I give advice. Hopefully that advice will make a difference. 

There is so much more to golf than executing a good swing or having an innate ability to hole putts. While Jeff has both of these qualities in spades, so do plenty of other golfers. While these fundamentals are important, they don’t guarantee success. Which is why I’m getting so much satisfaction out of my role with Jeff. He has confidence, trust, an inner belief and the ability to set goals and monitor his progress. He also has an incredibly strong work ethic and the ability to not let anything cloud his vision. They’re skills he learnt at an early age from his parents, Ken and Yuki, and skills that are constantly monitored and updated. These are the real traits of a champion and I’m glad to be part of the process that helps him fine-tune them.

The dogged determination and clear picture of where Jeff wants to go comes from within. The confidence of a player, along with the expectation and constant praise, is external and comes from an inner circle of support. Without it, like many of my former peers at Georgia Southern University, it’s an uphill battle to make it to the top.

A mentor is there to listen and understand the problems – any problems – or questions that a player may have and to provide helpful advice at any point, thereby instilling and maintaining their confidence levels and focus.

No two players are the same

A mentor must understand and tailor their approach based on the individual – every player is different and they all have unique methods of thinking and operating. Advice for some may not work for others, so knowing what makes a player tick is fundamental to being a good mentor. 

I’ve taken on a similar mentor role with current Queensland Open champion Andrew Evans, a golfer I’ve known for 25 years. It’s the same role I have with Jeff, yet with totally different advice. Andrew spends most of his time in Japan these days. Text messages, FaceTime calls and almost daily communication is what it’s all about. Like my role with Jeff, I love it and wouldn’t swap places with anyone. 

Being there no matter what state of mind they are in, or what pressure they are facing, is critical. Being a constant presence to reassure and provide constructive feedback is really important. 

Is there a talented young player showing real promise at your club? Ask yourself: could I offer my support in any way? Guidance, or simply a pair of ears to listen, could be the missing link to their future success.

 Guan: Ben owens