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Golf Pro Puts Autistic Boy on Fairway To Success

4.51pm 17th February 2015 - Growing the Game - This story was updated on Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Steve Furlonger (courtesy of Adrian Milledge)
Steve Furlonger (courtesy of Adrian Milledge)

A PGA golf professional has been praised by the mother of an autistic teenager for helping to boost her son’s concentration, confidence and communication skills by turning him on to golf.

Anna Cliff, 47, of Redhill, Surrey, says that her teenage son, William, was shy and withdrawn before starting golf lessons at Steve Furlonger’s Golf Made Simple Junior Academy, based at the Redhill Golf Range.

Now, according to Anna, William is more sociable, friendly and approachable, thanks to the dedication and patience shown by Furlonger, a PGA Professional and his team of coaches.

Meanwhile, the positive effect the coaching has had on the youngster has inspired them to write and publish a play to learn book, Golf Made Simple for Kids.

Aimed at five to 12-year-olds, each of the book’s 64 pages features a hand-drawn illustration accompanied by a rhyme that complements the image.

“The object is to get the reader to visualise what we’re trying to get across,” explains Furlonger. “To teach a child how to play golf requires a different approach than when teaching an adult. First and foremost it has to be fun or you will lose their interest.

“Secondly it must challenge their skill and stimulate their mind with suitable games. Our book not only teaches the child the golf skills through its unique picture and rhyme format, we have also incorporated at the end of each chapter a number of extremely fun games to challenge and test their newly developed golf skills. We have made golf fun!!”

Hundreds of children coached by Steve and his team have discovered just that, not least 13-year-old William.

Recalling the day, which began the turnaround in William’s life, Anna, a school special needs assistant and school meals supervisor, said: “Steve and Phil came along and gave some of the children at school a golf lesson and William enjoyed it so much that we joined the academy.

“I didn’t notice much of a change in William at first but over time, he has become more sociable and approachable and isn’t so shy.

“Before having lessons every Sunday, William used to be easily distracted but golf has really helped to keep his attention and enabled him to focus better.”

William, a Queens Park Rangers fan who wants to be a train driver when he’s older, suffers from mild autism and has learning difficulties, which can affect his confidence and ability to interact with others.

But Anna says that due to Steve’s unique approach, William has blossomed and now is “so chatty he doesn’t shut up!”

She added: “Steve and his colleagues have been brilliant and are so patient. They have a way of working with children and have really helped to engage William – he just connected with them.

“William enjoys his lessons and has made friends – he’s always happy now. After each lesson, he’s always buzzing and full of it when he comes home. He’s always telling us how to hold a club!”

But William’s love of the sport doesn’t stop at lessons. Anna says that when he’s not on the range, the sports-mad youngster is either watching golf on TV – his favourite player is Open champion Rory McIlroy – or practicing his swing on The Wii.

Rather than view William’s autism and learning difficulties as a problem, Steve initially decided to teach him on a one-to-one basis – free of cost to Anna – to avoid putting him under pressure in a group situation with strangers.

“This first session proved to be invaluable,” explains Steve, who is head of coaching at the centre. “In order to help build William’s confidence, I suggested that he arrive 30 minutes before the official start time at the academy to have a one-to-one coaching session at no extra cost to prepare him for what the others would be asked to do in the main group session before he joined in.

“When the group arrived, I was then able to pair William with a suitable partner instead of putting him in a larger group. After six weeks, Anna told us that William was communicating a little better at home and at school and his concentration had improved slightly.

“After completing his assessment, William passed with flying colours! He signed up for a second term and this time we put him in the main group. We were really impressed with the excellent progress he made and with his ever-improving focus and concentration. Interestingly, William’s hand-eye coordination and golf ball striking also improved, as did his interaction with the other kids.

“We were thrilled when Anna reported that William’s teachers had commented on his improvement in both behaviour and performance. At the start of the next term, we were impressed to see William standing tall and confident – still a little shy but smiling, with a sparkle in his eye and even holding out his hand to greet us.

“He continued to progress, showing intelligence, asking good questions and interacting more comfortably with everyone he came into contact with. We also noticed that the attitude and behaviour of the other students towards William was positively changing and for the first time they witnessed him laughing.

“William is now a different person – his coordination, cognition and social capacities have all improved beyond recognition – not to mention he is now in the top half of his class at school. Our experiences with William underline that golf is not just a sport. It is a life skill. It is character building. And it is unpredictable, challenging, competitive and requires focus, concentration and self-control.

“For William, golf has provided him with an opportunity to find out who he really is while he has given me the inspiration to produce the world’s first Golf Made Simple For Kids play to learn book with video interaction*.”

*retails at £12.99

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