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Journey to the Pros

While many young golfers dream of going pro, it takes dedication, experience, and expert coaching to get there.

By: DALE LEATHERMAN

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work the more I have of it,” the famous quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson goes. Most PGA TOUR professionals would agree that luck has very little to do with success — or even earning a chance to compete at the highest levels of the sport. Involving years of sacrifice and dedication, the journey to the TOUR is not for the faint-hearted. Tiger Woods began imitating his father’s golf swing when he was 18 months old and trained 13 hours a day for much of his career. Scottie Scheffler was given a plastic club and ball at 3 and moved on to real clubs and nine-hole matches when he was 6. Collin Morikawa began his golf training at 5 years old.

 

Brian Harman, a Sea Island resident and member of the PGA TOUR, was 11 when his mother first brought him to the Sea Island Golf Performance Center (GPC) to be evaluated by the legendary Jack Lumpkin. It was the beginning of a coach player relationship that lasted until Lumpkin’s death in February 2022. Harman capped a successful amateur career with a win in the 2003 U.S. Junior Championship and was a member of the victorious 2005 and 2009 Walker Cup teams before turning pro. He went on to win the 2014 John Deere Classic and the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship. In July 2023, he won his first major: the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.

 

Tournaments like the Sea Island Women’s Amateur, pictured here, and the Jones Cup Junior Invitational allow up-and-coming players to test their skills.

 

“Growing up I always knew I wanted to play golf on the PGA TOUR, so when the time was right I searched for instruction,” Harman explains. “An hour from my hometown of Savannah, Georgia, was a world-class facility with talented coaches. I loved the atmosphere so much that I now call St. Simons Island my home. I don’t know where I would be today without the Sea Island Golf Performance Center.”

 

In 2017 the GPC launched the Player Development Program (PDP) as a training regimen for competition-minded juniors like Harman.

 

“The PDP was born out of what we saw as a need for parents to find quality instruction for their competitive juniors on an organized and consistent basis,” says GPC director Craig Allan. “We were seeing too many parents and juniors taking lessons on a reactionary or panic basis, attacking only the current issue rather than creating a long-term plan and building the instruction around that plan. Recognizing that these folks would have to travel to see us, the program has quarterly visits organized around the long-term plan, while also incorporating statistics from events. In between quarterly visits, we hold remote coaching to ensure the player is staying on track.”

 

Junior golfers who train at Sea Island have the opportunity to test their skills at two dedicated competitions held at the resort: the Jones Cup Junior Invitational held each winter for males under 18 who are not full-time college students, and the Sea Island Women’s Amateur held each summer, which has no age restrictions.

 

Director of Golf Brannen Veal says the Jones Cup Junior Invitational was a natural progression from the Jones Cup Invitational. Held at Ocean Forest Golf Club, the elite amateur tournament was inspired by the A.W. Jones family, founders of the Sea Island Golf Club and The Cloister.

 

“The Jones Cup Junior Invitational allows players to compete at a very high level, gauge where they are in their own games, and prepare for college and, potentially, professional golf,” Veal says. The junior champion receives an exemption into the following Jones Cup Invitational.

 

Similarly, the Sea Island Women’s Amateur now in its third year, has already become a top-tier amateur event for women.

 

Whether seeking expert coaching or the chance to test their skills among the best of their peers, the coaching and competitions offered at Sea Island help propel many young golfers forward on their quest for college or professional success.