Our latest Q&A is with Megan Johnston, First Tee and Girls Golf Junior Coach. Originally from Northern Ireland, Megan now resides in Florida, United States, having settled since moving there following a division one college scholarship. Megan took time from her busy schedule for us to learn more about her golfing journey and the golfing outlook for 2021.
Tell us about yourself!
My name is Megan, I now live in Clermont Florida with my husband, daughter and pup called Divot. I am the LPGA director of instruction at Kings Ridge Golf Academy and a site director for Girls Golf and First Tee. I love golf but I also love anything outdoors- hiking, fishing, etc.
What’s your first golfing memory?
My grandfather was the manager of my local golf course. I used to go to the course every day after school. My first memory was putting comps with my grandad or uncle and junior classes with the local pro. I also remember always getting a ham sandwich after golf.
How did you first get into golf?
I come from a big golfing family. My uncle was a talented player and lots of cousins were heavily involved in the game and top Irish amateurs.
Who is your golfing inspiration?
My uncle, he used to play for our clubs top team and I thought he was the coolest person to watch. Once I started watching professional golf, I loved Laura Davis and Tiger Woods.
You moved to the US on a college scholarship. Tell us more!
I played for Northern Ireland and Ireland as a junior, a couple of people older than me at my club had moved to the US for a scholarship so from the age of 12 onwards. I remember telling everyone I was going to go to America and play golf. I was very fortunate to land a scholarship at division one level and loved my time at Missouri State. Fun fact – my first time ever coming to America was my first day of college.
Having competed at international level for Ireland and Northern Ireland, what were your aspirations as a player?
I always wanted to play professionally and I have played some mini tour events, but in college after an injury, I took an internship with Tim Mahoney (Golf Digest top 50) and assisted his teaching. I fell in love with coaching. Finding the missing piece of the puzzle and helping people meet their goals is a pretty sweet job! I still play and plan to get back into playing a little more now that my daughter is almost one!
What advice would you give to junior golfers who have aspirations of becoming a professional player?
Believe in yourself, put the work in, set lots of short term goals to reach your targets, find a coach who believes in you and can connect you with work outs practice plans/nutrition. When you fall get back up again. You can learn from every golf shot and there is a lot of paths to get to professional golf- if you don’t land a scholarship for college, don’t give up!
What’s the best advice for parents and junior golfers in the UK who are seeking a college golf scholarship?
Feel free to reach out to me. Based on your level, budget, aspirations I can help connect you to division one, two and three schools, or junior colleges. Play in lots of tournaments, make sure your child’s grades are good and start an Instagram account to document your child’s golfing journey. Coaches are looking for team players, coachable juniors, good grades and good people. The perfect swing/scores is just one piece of the puzzle. Start preparing when your junior is 15/16 not their last year of school.
When did you pursue the coaching route and how have you found your experience so far?
2 years after college after interning with Tim Mahoney I proceeded to become a full time coach. I started in Arizona and then moved to Florida with my husband and have taught in the Orlando area ever since. My husband was part of the construction team who built the Star Wars Land at Disney, moving to Florida was a great opportunity for both of our careers.
What’s the best thing about coaching children?
Knowing that I can positively impact their life. I don’t know which of my juniors will play college or professional. They may just enjoy the game and play and make memories with their friends or family. But to know that something I say could help them in life is a pretty cool thought. Some of my biggest role models as a junior, were coaches (not just in golf but in other sports). I became a better person because they pushed me, they challenged me, they taught me the meaning of perseverance, hard work, confidence, sportsmanship. That made me who I am today – maybe I can do that for one kid too!
At what point should parents encourage their children to seek coaching?
That’s a good question. I think it’s important to join a junior group early on. Great coaches can teach a lot of fundamentals in junior classes through games and keep it fun. Juniors will also meet like minded friends. I still get together with 5 of the guys from my club that a grew up trying to beat every summer 15 years later! If you take your junior to the range don’t give advice unless you are qualified. For private lessons everyone is different; my general rule of thumb is I like to see juniors playing multiple sports and then focus on their favourite by age 12/13- so around 10ish is when I would take more private lessons and focus on competing. But like I said; everyone is different. My biggest fear for a junior is burn out. Golf is a game- keep it fun!
Before a child sees a coach, what three tips would you give?
Make sure the child has a goal- every lesson I set a goal, hopefully a long term goal and then a short term goal to be achieved in the lesson. When the coach asks you what you want to achieve make sure you have an answer.
Make sure you dress appropriately and show up on time. Get to the course early, get familiar with where to go, make sure you have good tennis shoes or golf shoes and appropriate clothing for the weather and clubs or inform the coach you need some.
Bring a note pad and pen, you can write down what you learned so you don’t forget. I still have an old notebook from my lesson days as a junior. If your junior isn’t a note taker (and that’s okay) make sure you asked them what they learned today at the end of their lesson.
What do your plans for 2021 look like, now we are reaching a bit more normality?
Fortunately golf wasn’t effected that much with Covid in Florida. I have been fortunate to be working throughout the pandemic. We have lots of great summer camps planned for juniors of all ages, more wee tee classes for 4-6 age group and lots of fun themed girls golf classes!
Working with children presents a unique challenge. How do you approach coaching with different ages and ability levels?
4-6 wee tees is always fun! Fundamentals of putting, chipping and full swing but always a theme. If a kid wants to hit cross handed that is fine! As long as they associate the golf course as a fun place to come too!
7-9 still fun but a little bit more golf related rather than themes, still lots of games, but with a focus on understanding distance, direction and contact.
10-13 goal setting, routines, balance, center contact, judgment, short game.
This is very general. Grouping a child into an age bracket is not always the case, some juniors play competitions earlier than others. I’ll set goals based on their aspirations and feedback from watching them play/compete and course statistics. In a group situation I am very particular with my games. I make sure they are fun but can be adapted to be easy for newer golfers and more challenging for more advanced players. My after school program ranges from 8-16 with 16 players all at very different levels.
Who would be your dream Four-ball?
My grandfather, Tiger and Seve!