If you’re an avid golfer that on occasion has shot par or 2-3 under, you’ve probably had the thought run through your head of turning pro. Images of sinking that 15 footer on the 18th, the crowd cheering, and of course that nice big paycheck are alluring.
But is turning pro really a viable option? And if so, what steps do you need to take to turn your golfing dream into a reality?
Having had a successful career coaching and managing professional athletes, I can tell you that your dream of becoming a PGA Tour pro can become a reality. If you dream big and put in the hard work, then anything is possible; One day, you could even be teeing it up with Phil or Tiger.
So let’s take an in-depth look at what it takes to be a professional golfer. I’ll take you through practice routines, registration procedures, time management, various pathways, and more in this comprehensive guide to becoming one of the best golfers in the world, or who knows, maybe the best.
5 Simple Steps to Get you Started
To start this guide, I’m going to run through five simple steps that will get you one step closer to becoming a PGA Tour pro. The information in these steps will be concise and, more importantly, actionable. Later in the guide, I will elaborate on each step in much greater detail.
The first step is pretty obvious, but it’s probably the most important of the five steps, and that’s to start playing golf as early as you can. The earlier you begin, the greater head start you have on your competitors.
A rule in high-performance sports suggests that more than 10,000 hours are needed to give yourself the best chance of success. Great your thinking; I’ll rack up 10,000 hours and be on my way to the Tour. But it’s not that easy, and if it were, everyone would be doing it.
Starting at an early age is one of the best indicators of success, but it doesn’t mean that you cannot pick up the game later and still become a PGA Tour pro. Remember, everyone has their own unique circumstances, which go a long way to determining success.
Golf is a game of different facets and requires you to attain a high level of competency across several varying skill sets. One of the biggest mistakes junior, amateur, and aspiring pros make is neglecting one or more areas of their game.
Developing a consistent training program that incorporates all areas of the game is critical to your success.
Aspects such as:
- Long iron
- Short game
- Bunker play and
- Putting are just some of the areas you need to give equal and ample time to improve.
Acquiring a coach who can develop a plan will be paramount if you’re to achieve your goal of teeing it up on Tour. Neglecting areas of your game will only lead to trouble later on down the line.
Identify weaknesses in your game that need improving and embrace the challenge; Golf is not a game of how good your best shots are; it’s a game of how good your worst shots are.
This next step might only apply to those living in the United States, but still, it’s a critical phase. It can mean the difference between being a top amateur or a PGA Tour pro.
Playing golf in college is an excellent pathway to the pro tour, and it exposes young golfers to some of the biggest tournaments on the most challenging courses in the US. National tournaments, such as the USGA Amateur Public Links and the USGA Amateur Championship, are played on iconic courses like the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina.
Playing these courses in tournament conditions and competing against the best amateurs worldwide prepares young golfers for the road ahead. Quite frankly, it separates the best from the rest.
Ok, so you’ve made it through the first three steps, and now it’s time to head to qualifying school or what we affectionately refer to as “Q school.”
Qualifying school is one of the most brutal challenges in all of sports. Unlike tennis, where no qualification or test is needed, golf requires aspiring pros to endure four days of the most gut-wrenching and stressful environments known to sport.
But it’s not only four days; once you’ve passed the first stage, you’ve got three more waiting. There are 1000s of top amateur players all vying for the top 25 spots, which grant full access to the PGA Tour. Each country’s national governing body will have its own schedule and requirements, so be sure you tick all boxes before registering.
You went to Q school, played well, fought like tooth and nail but just missed a spot at joining the PGA Tour; where to from here?
One thing is certain; you can’t give up. The soundest thing to do is reevaluate your plan and keep playing tournaments. The more often you put yourself in tournament situations, the more you’ll become accustomed to the stress and expectations of tournament golf.
There are several minor tours on every continent where golfers hone their physical and mental skills in the pursuit of teeing it on the main tour. Tours like the Korn Ferry Tour in the US allow golfers to compete and earn the right for a spot.
Players like John Daly, Bubba Watson, and Zach Johnson have all come through this challenging pathway, and many more up-and-coming champions like them are on their way.
Fundamental Aspects of Turning Pro
National Governing Bodies field 100s of emails and phone calls a day. One frequently asked question is, ” how do I become a pro golfer? Basically, there are two direct pathways you can take to turn your professional golf dream into a reality.
- Attain your tour card by earning a spot through the Qualifying School or
- Undertake the PGA Trainee Program
An exceptional level of playing ability is required whether you decide to head to Q-School or participate in the PGA Trainee Program. Both pathways are challenging, and a substantial life commitment is needed; however, the reward is being able to call yourself a PGA Pro.
Ever heard the saying “experience is everything,” well, this old adage rings true in golf and plays a critical role in determining whether you make it.
When you consider that your average touring pro with full status on tour might play between 25-30 tournaments per season, you can quickly gauge how vital tournament experience is. It can’t be over-emphasized enough, and even for someone who loves golf, that’s a lot of golf to play.
Regular week in the life of a PGA Tour pro:
- Monday: Recovery, travel, and light practice
- Tuesday: A full round of on-course practice
- Wednesday: Pro-Am plus another practice round
- Thursday: 1st round
- Friday: 2nd round
- Saturday: 3rd round
- Sunday: Final round
- Repeat 30 times
So you can see, hypothetically, if a player made every cut, which is very doubtful, there’s the potential to play close to 100 rounds. Now, if you factor in the practice rounds, you could bump the figure closer to 150 rounds in the season; I don’t care who you are; that’s a lot of golf.
And remember, we’re talking about playing golf under tournament conditions with your livelihood on the line week in week. Miss the cut, and you go home empty-handed.
As an aspiring golfer, it’s essential you enter as many tournaments as possible to give yourself the best chance of turning pro. As a matter of fact, I would say in my experience that sufficient tournament play is one of the most integral factors in improving your golf game. Even with an average golf IQ, your game will improve just by being exposed to the high level and the stresses of tournament play.
The best golfers can bounce back from disappointment quickly, pack up, hit the road, and do it all again on an entirely new course with different playing conditions. The touring pro’s ability to plan and then execute week in week out is what truly makes them great.
Trust me, traveling the world playing professional sport is a dream, but living out of airports and hotels can take its toll after a while, especially if you’re missing the cut. So play as many tournaments as you can to accustom your mind and body to the rigors of playing professional golf.
Practice With Intent
As a professional coach with over 20 years of experience, the one question I get asked the most is, “how much do I need to practice.? I’ve heard a lot of interesting answers to that question, but Sir Nick Faldo summed it up best by saying “if that’s a question you need to ask, you’ll never make it.”
The amounts of practice required vary from player to player, with each having their own plans, thoughts, and philosophies on how they go about achieving success.
Here is what a practice week might look like:
- Putting: 6-8 hours
- Practice Rounds: 10-12 hours
- Short Game: 8-10 hours
- Long Game: 8-10 hours
- Fitness, strength, cardio 4-6 hours
That’s between 40-45 hours a week, which is more than a typical salaried position. When you factor in battling the harsh elements of the weather and the physical and mental stress that goes with it, you can see the commitment needed to make your dream a reality.
But I’m not talking about any old practice session; Chatting with mates for hours while hitting a few shots now and then will not cut it. Aspiring golfers and athletes of any sport need to understand there’s a clear distinction between “practice” and “deliberate practice.”
Deliberate practice or practicing with intent is not easy, and it’s one of the primary reasons many top amateur golfers fail to jump to the pro ranks. Planning each session with precision, setting goals, staying focused, and evaluating your training are all aspects of deliberate practice. Sticking to your pre-shot routine, picking target lines, and seeing the shot are all non-negotiables.
Intrinsic motivation is paramount to your practice session, and enjoying the process no matter how challenging is key to a successful outcome. Great coaches know that Task-Focused players practice harder and are more successful than players who are extrinsically motivated by prizemoney or fame.
The Importance of Coaching
Let’s face it; if you’re going to give yourself the best opportunity to become a successful pro, you will need the help of an experienced coach. For the one percent of self-taught golfers, 99 percent of others need the guidance and tuition of an experienced and qualified coach.
I’ve repeatedly seen it with self-taught players who lack the ability to critically evaluate their game due to “cognitive bias.” It’s a known phenomenon in sports that most professionals drastically overestimate their own skills, which ends up hindering their ability to evaluate and plan. Whether it’s tennis, cycling, or golf, the best players have a coach or a team of people around them they can trust.
Along with tournament experience, coaching is the number one way to supercharge your development as a golfer. Qualified and experienced coaches can help you plan and avoid the pitfalls that are inevitably waiting. Finding a coach you can trust is vital as they’ll be taking significant responsibility for the outcome of your career.
Golf is already a challenging game, and making it more complex by not employing the expertise of a coach is only going to make it tougher. Having sound technique across every shot is a complex process, and hiring a coach who understands your game inside out will pay big dividends later on. A good coach knows what motivates you and understands every little quirk regarding your physical and mental strengths and weaknesses.
How often do you receive coaching? Does your coach watch your tournament play? These are two crucial questions to ask. Golf is a peculiar sport because most coaches don’t watch their students out on the course. Do you think a football coach would coach all week then just wish the players good luck on game day? I highly doubt it, or at least if he did, he probably wouldn’t last too long.
The Importance of Time Management
Learning what many governing golf bodies and academies call your “Golf Age” is critical for establishing a solid foundational starting point.
If you look at the number of hours I stated earlier, many golfers don’t even come to close to 10 years experience, with most only averaging a golfing age of about two years. That’s less than two years of “deliberate practice.” So although an aspiring golfer might have a very low handicap, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve put in enough work to make the jump to touring pro.
This translates into good and not-so-good news.
- The Good: Now that you’ve hired a coach and are receiving expert instruction, you should see quick improvements in all areas of your game
- The not-so-good: You’ve got another eight years of spending 40 hours a week out in the sun, wind, and rain trying to turn your dream into a reality.
Remember what I discussed early on regarding practice and its importance to success. The major caveat here is that the practice needs to be deliberate; it’s not just clocking the hours and thinking you will make it. Tiger Woods, for example, won his first major at 21 years of age, but when you consider he was practicing with intent from the age of two, it’s fair to say he put in the hours.
Everyone is different, and some players can fast track their journey from amateur to pro in a much shorter time.
The Final Hole
There’s no way around it; to become a professional golfer, you need to put in the work and commit yourself to hours a week pursuing your dream.
Are you cut out for it? Are you willing to sacrifice late nights?
- Enter stroke play tournaments
- Commit to deliberate practice for 40 hours every week
- Receive coaching
- Be consistent and commit to the plan laid out no matter the challenges you face?
If you answered yes to these questions, then follow your dreams and start your journey to become not only a professional golfer but one of the greats of all time.