Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Suffering Inherent in the Game of Golf

Golf is a tough game.  Anyone who has to post a score in public understands this fact.  It is one of the few places that doesn't hand out participation ribbons to kids.  Poor play results in high scores.  Great play results in low scores.  There is no fluking a golf score.

This week, a player played beautiful golf for 52 holes of a 54 hole event.  On the 53rd hole, the wheels came off and the player made a big number which resulted in losing the event.  By this time of the event, people watching were talking about the beauty of the play and the inevitability of the win.  A friend called me to lament that player's pain and suffering.  My answer to her seemed cold when I said, "that's golf."

The golf course played tough for the entire 54 holes and many other great players in the field had made big numbers previously.  Their mistakes didn't happen as close to the end, but had the same effect; the mistakes kept them from winning.  Where the mistake is made really doesn't matter, but what does matter is the player's reaction and action going forward.  After the round, a player's responsibility is to look at what happened and why.  What was lacking, what could have been avoided, what can be done next time?  The goal is to be better the next time you reach the 53rd hole.  How can you bring resolve and readiness into it instead of bad memories?  The answer is to face up to what happened without emotion.  That might take a bit of time, but at some point, that is the next step.  How you respond to suffering is determined by your values.  Your values are like muscles for life.  They power you and keep you strong no matter what happens.  Developing your values is more important than developing your tee shots.  Strong values will hold you up when your tee shot goes astray and you have to score from the deep rough.

If at every step of your golf career or life you can step back from suffering and lean on what's important to you, you'll be okay.  It might be faith or family.  It might simply be resilience or the ability to learn.  You create and tell your story through your actions and reactions and the basis of your story comes from what you value.  Life doesn't end with disappointment or failure.  It goes on.  Golf as a reflection of life is the same.

The values we teach our players can't be based on comparisons, trophies won or image.  We have to dig deep and build a foundation based on respect for the process and the game, the ability to be at peace as a person, the knowledge that our preparation was enough, the camaraderie and friendships that we build and the ways that competition challenges us and our values so we can continue to grow.  The thing about golf is you never really "have it".  That's how golf reflects life the most to me.  Every day, you simply do your best and at the end lay your head on your pillow to get up and do it again.  As coaches and parents, we have to let our players know that their best is enough and that the effort put forth was well worth it.  If we do, there will be a time to shine.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Nod to PXG

Yesterday, we spent the day in the practice area at Trinity Forest Golf Club.  That isn't unusual, but what we did all day was a bit unusual.  PXG flew Joel Kribel in to work with the Women's Golf Team and get our returning athletes fitted for new PXG clubs.  He was awesome and meticulous in getting the right equipment into our players' hands.  That also might not seem unusual, but in all my years of coaching women's golf, it's an honor my teams haven't been afforded prior to now.  I'm very impressed with the commitment that Bob Parsons is making to women's golf and I want to thank him for serving us in the same way he is serving our men's team.  We plan to honor his support by playing great golf with his clubs!

Today, our men's team returners will go through their fittings and order their new equipment.  In my 25 years of coaching, I've seen this happen a lot.  I've been on the range when other major equipment brands sent their guy out to get the men's team equipped while we watched from the other end of the range.  It was an absolute joy to take part in this activity this year.  Thanks Mr. Parsons!

My first job in golf was in 1975 pulling carts out and scrubbing the floor of the bar at Bunker Hill Muni in my hometown.  I joined the PGA in 1983 and when I went to School 1 as it used to be called, I was one of 2 women in a room of 100 guys.  I've never really worried about what I was getting and what I wasn't getting as a female in the business.  Instead, I worked hard and focused on doing a great job.  If you want to shine as a minority in an industry, you can't spend time on what isn't happening.  As a coach of collegiate women, I've done the same.  While it would've been great for us to get all that the guys have gotten over the years, we've consistently gotten more.  We've gotten a better budget, better access to great facilities and better gear.  My goal has been to fight for more for my team since day one and we've made progress at both programs I've headed.  If I would have spent time focusing on what I didn't have, what wasn't happening or comparing our programs to others, we wouldn't have grown.  That lesson was taught to me early as a female in the golf profession.  No one can take away your great attitude, your hard work or your achievements, so staying focused on those things will bring results.

Now, Dave Von Ins and I are lucky enough to team with Jason Enloe and Chris Parra on our men's side, who are true team players.  They make sure we are included and equal in all that happens in SMU Golf, as does the Chair of the Payne Stewart Cup, Ron Spears.  Add to their inclusiveness our new relationship with PXG, who've honored our team and other women's teams around the country with equal treatment and respect.  Thank you Bob Parsons for setting the bar high in the industry in so many ways!  SMU Women's Golf greatly appreciates it!  Now, let's go make some birdies!






Thursday, May 11, 2017

Regionals Breakdown

After returning from NCAA Regionals last night, my mind was working on what seemed to be a lot of upsets occurring.  For that reason, I sat down today and plugged in a bunch of numbers.  Here are some of my unscientific conclusions after doing so.

  • We have a great deal of parity in NCAA Women's Golf
    • Of the 24 top ranked teams in the nation, only 13 will be competing at NCAA's
      • That means that 37% of the top seeded teams didn't advance
        • Does that bring up questions of the validity of our rankings?
        • Does course set up and weather at regionals differ greatly from regular season play?
    • The average ranking of the 24 teams at NCAA's is 21
    • The median ranking of the 24 teams at NCAA's is 17
    • Nine teams ranked from 24 to 50 made it to the NCAA Finals
  • The parity doesn't extend past the top 50
    • Only two teams ranked over 50 finished in the top halves of the four regional fields
    • One team ranked over 50 qualified
      • That team had a mid-year addition. That lead to an average of 27.5 shots better in the spring than the fall per tournament.  
        • One player can make a difference in women's golf
        • 9 shots a round points to more than one player making a difference
  • Rankings seem most valid in the Big Ten
    • 83% of the ranked teams at Regionals made it through to the finals.
  • Rankings seem least valid in Non-power 5 schools and SEC
    • Only 27% of the ranked Non-power 5 schools made it through to the finals
    • Only 38% of the ranked SEC schools made it through to the finals.
  • The NCAA did a decent job of splitting up the schools
    • The lowest median ranking of teams was in Lubbock at 28
    • The highest median ranking of teams was in Columbus with 24
      • Columbus had one fewer top 50 team than the other three regional sites
    • The other two regional sites both had median rankings of 26
    • The average ranking (28) of the teams advancing  from Athens was actually higher than the average ranking (27) of the ranked teams not advancing.
      • This anomaly is due to both the rise of Michigan State and the fall of Wake Forest
      • It is still a remarkable fact!
  • Five of the 12 individual qualifiers were ranked outside the top 100 players in the nation
  • Four of the 12 individual qualifiers were playing as individuals at the regional tournament

Here's the link to my spreadsheet with breakdowns that I chose to include.  Make your own conclusions and feel free to comment.  Some final points: In the "old days", we used to sit in a room and look at the data and put teams into fields based on the information we had.  If that had happened this year, would the rankings be more valid?  Michigan State, Wake Forest, Clemson and Washington all had remarkably different spring seasons than their fall seasons.  When a committee made the choices instead of a horseshoe placement by ranking, this would have been taken into account.  The horseshoe by ranking also doesn't seem to allow for regional considerations, which made for some very expensive travel for many teams.

It's hard to know what to think of all of this, but I do know that all but 24 teams are ending their seasons a few weeks earlier than they would have liked.  When you love your team as much as we did ours this year, that makes it a painful ending.  At the end of the year, every shot counts.  It is a cliche, but it is the truest one ever.  Most of the time, if your team simply plays to it's average, you will advance.  However, the end of the year comes with a tough academic schedule (finals), the need for good team chemistry and the need for healthy players.  Our goal for next year will be to fight for each shot from day one so that is the habit instead of something we talk about in post-season.  That is a mindset goal that the best teams have, along with the goal of getting better each day.  When you have great people and players to coach, you want that extra few weeks to spend with them; learning, competing and laughing.



Sunday, April 23, 2017

What is Coachable?

I recently told my team that I greatly appreciated their coachability.  Later in the day, one of my freshmen asked me what coachable means.  That's a great question and the answers might lead to some good goals for young players.

To me, coachable means open-minded.  You listen to what is being said and see if you can use it to get better.  You understand that better every day won't happen without change.  Your coaching staff is on your side and the goal is to score better.  That means you have ability to consider new things, work on positive changes and commit to agreed upon game plans.

Coachability isn't trying to please your coaches.  You need to consider what is being said and adopt what works for you and filter out what doesn't work.  If your goal is to please, you will lose this filter and lose yourself and your game.  Coachability means a dialogue and talking through what's working and what isn't with your coaches.



Are you coachable?  If your most common phrase is, "yea, but....." then probably not.  If you take constructive criticism personally, probably not.  If you think you know more about how to play golf than your coaches, I'd guess no.



You probably are coachable if you ask for help, especially on your weaknesses.  If you see your skill set as something that can get better, you're most likely coachable.  If you are able to talk with your coaches after a round and figure out what was good and what needs to be better, you are coachable.

Things that I've seen hurt coachability over the years is a fixed mindset instead of a learner's mindset.  If you think your skills are set or your mindset is a done deal, there is no reason to listen to anyone about change.  Statements such as, "I need to get angry and get it out" are what lead to that fixed mindset.  The opposite would be, "How can I learn to behave after a bad shot or a bad hole that would help me on the next shot?"  This one example is the essence of coachability.



Another thing that hurts coachability is the dependence on one voice.  The best players in the world are always seeking an edge and they'll look anywhere to find it.  They have the ability spoken of earlier in this blog of filtering out what won't help them, but they constantly seek  what will and put it into play.  They talk with other pros about how to hit shots, they watch how others choose to strategize and they grab putters out of each other's bags.  They've learned to coach themselves and part of that skill is being open to new things.  So, if your pro or parent won't allow you to listen to anyone else, that dependence might hurt your progress and coachability.

Perhaps the biggest roadblock to coachability is a lack of confidence.  If you're only as good as your last shot and dependent upon results to bolster your ego, you'll see your game as delicate and change as scary.  The ability to strike out on the road to better means you have to give up a skill that isn't great.  However, that skill is what you know and what you've worked to develop and how you've done things to get this far.  Unless you're confident in yourself to learn a better skill, giving up that old skill won't happen.


Coachability is about interdependence, which is strongest when you are first independent.  As a coach, I've seen players all along this scale and I understand that when players aren't independent, they must first find it to become coachable.  When they arrive at school dependent upon others or without their own filter, they must first develop that to then move to interdependence or as I call it, coachability.   This is important to understand in this world of strong parenting, early instruction and a glut of information.



Our goal as parents, teachers and coaches needs to be to teach and lead players to independence so they can then go on to build relationships that are interdependent.  Without the ability to know themselves and understand their games, players won't be able to filter what will be helpful and what is unhelpful.  I know this blog is about golf, but as I write this, I thank God that my parents did this for me in all walks of my life.  They raised me with trust in my decisions and helped me be independent and confident.  Thank you Mom and Dad.  Godspeed.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Regular Season Wrap Up

We played last weekend at ASU and that was a wrap for our regular season events this year.  It was a good year.  Each year, I tell the team to set their own legacy.  The season belongs to them and how they handle it will mean something for many years.  It will produce records, great days, rough days, rain delays, friendships and memories galore!  Memories of funny lines, great meals, early mornings and sleepy rides home from tournaments.  Of course, the golf is a big part of our lives, but the moments surrounding the golf are as important.  The seven young ladies on this team made a great year for themselves, both on and off the course.  They worked hard and improved daily.  They were coachable and open to learning every day.  They were positive and loving to each other.  They were patient with me and worked to do what Dave and I asked of them.  They built a great year day by day.

Coaching is what I love.  It's made easier and more joyful when everyone on the team is on the same page and wants the same things.  Thank you Linds, KP, Celli, B, Faithy, Kenz and APRP for giving us all you have.  Thank you Dave for being the best assistant in the business.  Thank you to my administrators for being strong leaders who value people more than wins. We have a great team!

With that being said, we hope to go rip it up in our last three events!  #ponyup #family #love




Sunday, April 2, 2017

Work on Your Pre-Shot Routine

Our job in coaching is to help our players access their best stuff at the most important times.  Whether that means a five footer to win on the first playoff hole or 54 holes of focused golf, the path to consistency and excellent play often comes down to a player's ability to have routines to rely on.  The word routine signals an act that is regular or typical.  In the world of golf, there is very little that is typical.  Even if you hit the same club off of your club's first tee every time you play, you won't face the exact same wind, turf conditions, temperature, body readiness or mindset twice.  Golf is a game of unique shots, situations and conditions.  That's what makes your routine so important.  It's your home base and within your control.

What does your pre-shot routine need to do for you?  It needs to condense all the information you gathered leading up to it and simplify it into a vision of what you will do with your golf ball with your shot.  In a perfect world, it will give you quiet confidence, centeredness, readiness and a connection to your vision.  That seems like a lot to ask of your routine, but there have been studies backing up the positive effects of a good routine.  Check out this study if you have some time.  It's a qualitative study and relies on interviews, so there are a lot of good quotes within it and at the end, some good suggestions for working on a routine.

Here's what we worked on this week at practice.  I asked each player what she was doing within her routine.  With some players, we talked multiple times to allow them to inventory what was happening.  This allowed for thoughtfulness and searching.  The team I have is very open to change if it leads to better performance, but I have to lead them, not change them.  If a pre-shot routine is going to work under great pressure, the player has to be completely in charge of it and in tune with its benefits.  After asking players about their routines, I videoed them with my iphone and then showed them the video.  I also timed each routine a few times to assure it was well within the 40 seconds that is our goal and that the time was consistent.  Players like to play with rhythm, which is tough in a game that often has long waits on the tee box.  A routine gives the player back their rhythm.  Then we talked about Joan Vickers Quiet Eyes study and compared their video with that ideology.  Here's a quick article explaining her science.    Most of the players were surprised at their lack of time given to target looks and the quickness of their eye movements.  They were also honest about their inconsistency of what they thought about behind the ball.  Many were still in the information gathering stages or they hadn't committed completely to the shot as they started their routine. We talked through the importance of doing those two acts prior to the beginning of the routine. A few of the players were focused on mechanics or what they didn't want to do.  We talked about making sure there was outward focus instead of only inward and we also talked about positivity.  We worked on visualization, flow, rhythm and breathing.

It was a great practice and the players figured out a lot about what they want to do with the moments before their shots.  Most felt more connected with their targets afterwards and a few felt like they could see it, feel it, trust it as Dr. Cook would say.  We even learned that too much inward focus was leading one player to aim poorly, but as soon as she focused more on the shot she wanted and saw it, she began to aim much better.  Find someone who can help you with your routine, but make sure it's your routine and not someone else's ideas.  Figure out a way to go through your checklist of important things to hit a great shot.  For some it's balance, visualization and clarity.  For others it's focus on target.  For some it's just doing the same thing over and over until it feels like a security blanket in tough times.

To wrap it up, here are a bunch of youtube videos of pro's routines and some describing them.  You'll hear words such as aim, exact. trust, consistent, target, etc as they talk through what they do.


Tiger talks about how he does it.  It's not about visualizing the shot; it's about feeling it.  Remember, everyone is different, so find your own way.  This is a great video. He talks about being in the zone as a blackout.  Clear, uncluttered, allowing, feeling, entrenched in the moment, subconscious, sanctuary, calmer, slows down, weird, enthralled, quiet, mentally prepared, out of his way, training takes over, let it happen are all descriptions he uses.  

Here is Tiger talking about his routine later in his career.  





Jordan Spieth talks about feeling the type of shot he wants to hit and then seeing it before stepping in.


Annika was a quick player and always knew she wouldn't be stroked if put on the clock in a slow group.




Annika had the opportunity to work with Pia Nilsson when she coached the Swedish team and then remained with her throughout her career.  Pia and Lynn Marriott teach the Think Box Play Box concept.  Here she talks about it with training aids denoting the two areas.  Remember, this is one time you don't want to think outside the box!



Nick Faldo thinks of his routine as a chance to rehearse the shot he wants.  This is in tune with how actors prepare for roles.  They put themselves in the situation many times prior to actually performing.


Sandra Palmer won 19 times on tour.  Her routine is simple and straightforward.


Lee Westwood


Justin Rose is very specific and measured in his routine.  For him, that leads to trust. 




Brad Faxon was one of the best putters.  He believes in a quick routine to remain instinctual.  I like it!

 Steve Stricker's pre shot in a tournament and then Stricker explains how he stays tension-free with his routine.  

Here's Jordan Spieth's routine in a tournament.  He doesn't take a practice stroke, which I also like.  He sees it.  As Tiger talked above that he feels things, he wouldn't be the type of player to skip practice swings. What's right for you?  




Just for fun!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Team Golf & Battling Perfectionism

Do you want to play on tour someday?  If you answered yes, make sure you say it often, because it's a really tough journey and your commitment to the goal needs to be remembered at all times, especially the tough times.  Over the years, I've seen a lot of discussion about whether or not college golf helps or hurts your chances of success on tour.  As a college coach, I see tremendous benefits of playing college/team golf, but only if you want to be on a team.  Being on a team means putting the team first.  What does that look like in golf?  Simple, it means doing the best you can with what you have 100% of the time.  And learning that simple lesson will serve you very well on tour!

That's the way the ball bounces.  Golf is so full of bad bounces that we have our own phrase for it, "rub of the green".  It is significant that our phrase covers what is unpredictable or accidental.  Yet, these bounces cause anger, frustration and disappointment.  To play the game with freedom, you must understand what is within your control and embrace the nature of the game and it's quirkiness.

Perfectionists often excel in golf, especially at an early age.  Here are some of the adjectives used to describe perfectionists:  obsessive, detail-oriented, specific, rigid, relentless, total, technical, exact, painstaking, intense, driven, etc.  You get the idea.  All of these are traits that help young players excel at golf.  They can spend hours and hours perfecting their swing.  They can obsess over hand positions and putting strokes.  They can figure out how to be exact with their wedges.  In golf, there are a thousand details in every round and perfectionists love it.  The problem is, golf is not a game of perfect.  That fact was even the title of a best-selling book by sports psychologist Bob Rotella.  If you haven't read it, pick it up!

Golf is played best when there is a sense of freedom and flow.  The best in the game were at their best at the most important times.  When they needed a big drive, they hit them.  When they needed a long putt to drop, they dropped them.  They weren't crippled by tightness.  They didn't steer the drives.  They didn't leave the putts short trying to be perfect.  The greats stayed loose!

Back to the idea of team golf.  If you want to help your team, you have to learn to play with freedom.  You have to give up on a perfect score or perfect shots and simply do your best. Most players best isn't perfect often or ever.  Can you and will you put the team first?  Will you do the very best you can with what you have for 18 holes?  Will you have a great attitude about what's going on?  Can you accept your mistakes and let them go?  Can you grind out a score for your team  on a tough day?  Can you have body language that is uplifting to your teammate who's a fairway away from you?  Can you follow a game plan?  Can you simply get a putt for par when you're out of position and put away the "go for broke" attitude?  Can you run a putt 6 feet past the hole and forgive yourself so you can focus on the putt for par?  Can you remember that you're not perfect and the perfect round of golf probably doesn't exist?  Can you leave most of the traits of a perfectionist behind and become an athlete who competes?

What if instead of life, Mr. Hopkins said golf.  Your preparation gives you readiness, but not a score.  You have to work for that each time you tee it up.  Expectations will hold you back.  Acceptance will help you.  Most young players are caught up in their expectations and aren't accepting of what happens when they play.  Reverse it to score better.

So, young players are faced with a paradox.  The very skills that helped them rise to the top now seem to be holding them back.  They dwell on mistakes and that takes them out of being in the moment.  They try to get shots back even though there is no such thing.  Once a shot is on the card, it's on the card.  They try to make up for mistakes, which generally means they get aggressive and make more mistakes.  They focus on what isn't happening for them instead of what is or what can be.  They get caught up in minutia missing the big picture important to the game.  They are hard on themselves and get stuck in negative self-talk.  The bottom line is, they have a tough time accepting the past and moving on.  If they were still on the range, they would simply drag that next ball over and work on perfect again, but on the golf course, you play each shot, perfect or not.

If you want to understand the importance of body language, check out this video.  

Team golf is the perfect opportunity to work through these tendencies.  You have a coach who reminds you to let it go, have good body language and do what you can with what you have.  You have teammates who show you what it looks like to play athletic golf vs. perfect golf.  You have a reason to move on and be good to yourself.  You have a limited window to figure this out.

If you're like me, you aren't a perfectionist in all aspects of your life.  Yes, as I write this, my house is super messy!  So, if we can pick and choose what we want to be perfect, how about you adopt perfectionism in different ways the next time you tee it up.  You can choose to have a perfect attitude.  It would be a goal that was something like this:  Today, I'll do my very best on every shot.  After the shot, I'll accept whatever result I get and relax between shots.  When I get to the next shot I'll do my very best again.  Or, you can decide to have a perfect pre-shot routine.  It would be something like this:  Today, I will see it, feel it, trust it before every shot.  If I don't, I'll step off and find it.  Or, you can decide to have great self-talk.  That would look like this:  Today, I will talk to myself in positive ways.  I'll focus on opportunities and find what is good.  If my mind goes to places that aren't positive, I'll interrupt it with my self-talk and remember to breath.  Or, you can decide to be as prepared as possible for every shot you hit.  That would look like this:  Today, I'll keep my head up to see the big picture.  I'll know my yardage to the hole and to my landing spot.  I'll know what a good target is for each shot.  I'll club for good shots, but not club for perfect shots.  I'll read my greens with the big picture first and then look for more subtle breaks.  I'll give every chip and putt a chance by giving it good speed and seeing the high side at the end.


Nancy Lopez is the consummate pro in my opinion.  She played beautiful golf with a golf swing that was perfect for only her.  She smiled and played to the fans, understanding that pro golf was entertainment and not all about her.  She won 48 times on tour and 3 majors.  She was a role model for how to be a pro!


Do you get the idea?  If you're a perfectionist, you don't need to stop being one, but you do need to choose where to put your focus.  Over the years, I've learned that many players focus beautifully for the entire 18 holes, but they don't choose the right places for their focus.  They focus on their mistakes, their problems and what they don't want.  Take your focus and put it on things that will help your score, not hurt it.  Focus on your pre-shot routine, focus on your body language, focus on your position on the golf course, focus on your self-talk and focus on the shot at hand.  Do the very best you can with these things and if you aren't perfect, simply start over.  No one is keeping score on these things but you!

If you want to be a pro golfer and one who stays out on tour for a long time, this is the skill set you need.  When I think of what a pro golfer is, this is what I picture.  I picture a player who is ready for the shot, has her head up, smiles at the fans, does her best and makes the lowest score possible no matter where her ball lies.  If you want to be a team player, it will be a perfect preparation to a long career on tour.


The epitome of doing what you can with what you have.