• Alistair Tait

Does nature or nurture create golf champions?


An excellent article in this week’s edition of Global Golf Post has me wondering if nature or nurture is what it takes to create a champion golfer.


David Schaefer profiles the four Swedish amateurs currently in the World Amateur Golf ranking top 10 who are genuine contenders to win this week’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship. World number two Linn Grant heads a quartet that includes fourth-ranked Ingrid Lindblad, world number six Maja Stark and Beatrice Wallin, the world’s 10th best player.


They are genuine contenders to win at Augusta. All are serial winners in American college golf, with Grant coming off a run of five consecutive victories.


Swedes winning golf tournaments is nothing new, especially in women’s golf. It’s been happening since Liselotte Neumann won the 1988 U.S. Women’s Open. Helen Alfredsson (pictured) joined her in the major club when she won the 1993 Nabisco Dinah Shore, the forerunner to this week’s ANA Inspiration. Then Annika Sorenstam started winning and didn’t stop until she’d bagged 10 major championships among her 72 LPGA Tour titles.


I’m still remember the days of “Hello Sweden,” the supposed Swedish system producing players not only like Neumann, Alfredsson and Sorenstam, but European Tour winners such as Ove Sellberg, Anders Forsbrand, Per-Ulrik Johansson, Jesper Parnevik, Pierre Fulke, Niclas Fasth and Joakim Haeggman, Sweden’s first Ryder Cup player.


Supposedly the Swedes had created a system of producing champion golfers. Yet, as former Association of Golf Writers president Goran Zachrisson once told me, there was no “system” as such. Swedish golf authorities hadn’t discovered the secret to the golf swing. They’d merely created an environment in which players could compete and develop their talents.


Schaefer asks the same question about the current crop of Swedish amateurs that was being asked in the early 1990s about Sorenstam et al:

“Is this concentration of remarkable amateurs the result of the natural ebbs and flows of talent or something else?”

The question is never really answered. Schaefer includes an intriguing anecdote about the Swedish national coach making his charges camp overnight in the wild and ford fast-flowing rivers to supposedly harden them up for competitive golf. Sorenstam says the four are:

“Tough, they are physically strong, and their extra determination will build confidence.”

But was this strength, this determination and confidence already built into the character of these four players anyway?


England Golf, and its equivalent in Scotland, has spent a lot of money over the years on elite squads, providing coaching, advice on psychology, nutrition and the like to breed champion golfers. Yet Scotland’s relative travails on the European Tour are well documented.


As friend and fellow golf writer Steve Scott outlines in his Tee to Green column in this week’s Dundee Courier, Scottish golf is in a good place right now thanks largely to the success of Bob McIntyre. However, for years Scottish success in amateur golf wasn’t replicated in the professional game. Furthermore, with the exception of Catriona Matthew and a few others, Scottish women have been conspicuous by their absence at the top of world golf. Matthew remains Scotland’s only female major winner, which is something of a travesty for a nation that invented the game. (And I’ll say it yet again: Matthew has never received proper recognition for our outstanding 2009 Ricoh Women’s British Open victory.)


English golfers dominate the European Tour. Some will say it’s because of the money spent on a system that identifies promising youngsters and nurtures them through to the pro game. That’s forgetting England has always been the most prominent nation on the European Tour. Besides, I’d estimate that for every player who has successfully passed through the English system, many others either haven’t made it or are still toiling on the mini tours. I could certainly rattle off a lot of those players without resorting to a Google search.


Ian Poulter never had the benefit of top-flight England coaching, and he hasn’t done too badly. Ian Woosnam made it to world number one and owns a gaudy green jacket even though there was no great Welsh system in place in his day. They reached the pinnacle of the game thorough sheer hard work and desire.


Could the money the four home unions in Great Britain & Ireland, and other countries, spend on developing talent be better spent elsewhere, considering much of it comes from the pockets of ordinary club golfers as part of their golf club subscription fees?


Maybe all we need to do is create a competitive environment and let the kids loose. Individual qualities such as grit, determination, perseverance, devotion, hard work, etc., will surely identify the strong from the weak, as Charles Darwin identified all those years ago?


So, serious question: Is it nature or nurture that creates a champion golfer? Answers on a postcard please.


#JustSaying: “He has a pretty swing, but can he make a par down the last to win the Open Championship?” Sir Henry Cotton

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