Putt your best foot forward

20th July 2007 at 01:00

Young golfers are being put through their paces in nutrition, yoga and t'ai chi, as well as working on their swing in the country's first golf apprenticeship.

In a sport traditionally regarded as physically undemanding, Sussex Downs College is helping to ensure the UK's young golfers keep up with the changing game, through training to build power and detailed nutritional advice.

The two-year advanced apprenticeship, based at Lindfield Golf Club in East Sussex, incorporates an NVQ in golf and a BTEC in sports science. It produced its first graduates this month.

Among them were Alex Swainsbury, who has earned a scholarship to play in the US, and Bill Britton, who played for the England amateur team and came second in the Peter McAvoy Trophy a competition won by Lee Westwood and Justin Rose on their rise to the top.

The apprentices have been learning from Denis Pugh, coach to Ryder Cup star Colin Montgomerie, and sports psychologist Pete Cohen, who has worked with Tim Henman among others.

Before this course, according to the organisers of the Sussex College of Golf, there was nowhere for talented young golfers to receive intensive coaching.

Paul Lyons, a former European Tour player and head coach, said: "It's almost like being a tour player, where your coach is travelling with you, week in week out. They don't allow you to get into bad habits. It's the same here.

"Denis Pugh says the saddest thing he sees is when young people give up school to play full-time golf, then the rain starts and they begin making excuses because they don't have any structure. We provide that structure.

"Our ambition is to produce tournament players who play in the Ryder Cup, win majors and represent Europe."

As the college expands to take on 30 teenagers a year, students make up the majority of players at the club. The other members have to fit around them.

Applicants usually need to demonstrate a handicap of five or lower before having their driving and putting skills tested at the club.

In a typical day, students might have a lesson in nutrition with Sussex Downs College staff, a round of golf watched by professional coaches, followed by a personalised workout and t'ai chi or yoga.

Every February, they relocate to Spain to avoid the worst of the winter and to keep up their playing and practising.

The course claims a 98 per cent employment rate, with many going on to US scholarships, management, running a shop or working in a country club.

"It's much more than just golf. The students turn into great young people. Not everyone is going to become a tournament player, so they have to have something to fall back on," said Mr Cohen. He works with students to help them handle the mental pressure of competitive golf and to hold their nerve through to the final putt.

"As Jack Nicklaus said, 90 per cent of golf is in the head," Mr Cohen said. "They have to learn to switch off their minds. I give them tips and techniques to get them in the zone."

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