Sunday, September 10, 2017

My Gentle Teacher

My dad was a good man.  He passed in 1998 and I still miss him a lot.  He had a smile that lit up his eyes and he had bright blue eyes.  He was a hard working, but gentle man.  He had so much love for his family and he taught me so many lessons that I think about daily.  One of the most important lessons he taught me was to give my best.

Me and my dad, Gene Sutherland in 1983


Giving your best sounds very simplistic, but I knew as a teenager what that demanded.  If I had a bad day at basketball or golf, he would ask me one question.  "Did you give your best?"  He was a man of few words and when he asked this he would look me dead in the eyes.  No matter how bad my day was, if I looked him in the eyes and said, "yes" he would accept it and smile at me and say "that's all you can do."

That quick exchange might signal an easy give and take, but it was anything but easy.  In fact, if I had let my temper get in the way on the golf course or if I dogged it at basketball, I couldn't say yes.  It was hard to lie to my dad.  He seemed to know the truth, so lying was going to lead to disappointing him.  I learned early that it was better to be truthful and talk through my actions or inaction than to lie and disappoint him.

The simplicity of his question is often what's missing from young player's games.  The importance of scores, rankings and wins often makes acceptance hard to find.  Young players focus on the bottom line to the point that they often repeat their mistakes over and over, because they don't learn to give their best and accept that it was enough on any given day.  If you are a basketball player and you have a rough day, you might have teammates who get hot or someone who helps on defense when you get beat.  In golf, your rough days are simply rough days.  Your bad shots have to be chased down and played.  Your scores have to be posted.  No one is around to bail you out.  It is probably why golf was my favorite sport of the many that I played growing up.  The sense of accomplishment after a good day is unmatched in any other sport.


Back to my dad's question.  What if you asked yourself that question when you played?  If you did, what would lead to a yes or no?   For me as a young player, it was about my attitude.  Did I get disgusted with my scoring and start messing around?  Did I get angry and give up on myself a little bit?  Did I focus on what I could do with each shot?  These were the questions I learned to ask myself before I answered him.  These were my measures of whether or not I gave my best.  It never had a thing to do with the physical shots I hit, but always with how I reacted to the shots.  His question helped me accept rough days and to understand what lead to good days.

My dad was a basketball coach and what he effectively did with that one question was hand me the ball.  He was never the judge of my effort or score.  He always allowed me to be that judge.  He always accepted my answer, too, whether or not he believed it.  His disbelief showed and that was the disappointment I mentioned earlier.  That was harder for me to face than shooting 80.

This blog post might be more for the parents who read my blogs than for the players, but I think either would benefit from the same mentality.  Lots of players are eaten up with poor results while they are playing the game.  It is impossible to give your best with that mindset.  A focus on results changes your game plan, your confidence, your touch and your reactions.  You can hear people talk about process all you want, but if a double bogie sends you into a tailspin, you aren't thinking about your process out there and you aren't giving your best to the next shot or the day.

What if we all just took a deep breath and asked each other, "Hey, did you give your best there?"  Then, look that person in the eye and demand an honest answer.  Golf is a tough game and there will be many days when your best will fall short of good scores, wins or even your expectations, but by not giving your best, you will never know what you could get done.  Allow your son or daughter to be accountable for his or her best.  Players, give your best and accept the outcomes.  Tomorrow, you will have another chance to give it.



The last paragraph I'm writing is for those players who gave me their best as their coach and I didn't accept it.  I was caught up in results too.  I'm sorry for not recognizing your sincerity, your effort or your ability to do all you could with what you had.  I promise I will do better at doing my best as a coach and accept your answers just as my dad accepted mine.  By allowing my players to be completely accountable without question, they can actually understand the acceptance needed to do it.  Off we go into our first competition.  I'm going to ask my team to do their best.

Link to live scoring at the University of Tennessee's Mercedes Benz Invitational


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Commit to Learning 24/7

You want to be a learner.  You've watched Carol Dweck's videos and you know how important a learner's mindset is to you.  (Here's a link, just in case you haven't.)  You might have also read Grit by Angela Duckworth or Lynn Marriott's and Pia Nilsson's new book Be A Player, which both give Dweck's research a nod.  You know exactly how to act when you want to learn a new golf skill.  You are a champ at practice and evaluate results so you can make the proper adjustments.  Then you go out to play.

You miss a 3 footer and you lose your mind.  You hit two drives right and your focus becomes hitting perfect shots.  You get caught up in results, what isn't happening and what your swing or putting stroke needs to do to be better.  The learning mindset is great for the range, but when you are keeping score, it goes straight out the window.  If you can see the hole in your peripheral vision, how can you possibly accept a miss?  If a poor shot costs you one or two shots, you can't let that happen again! 

Instead of losing your mind and reacting to poor shots with anxiety, you can design and practice a post-shot routine that allows you to evaluate and decompress.  In other words, you can think it through and chill out.  Was it great?  If so, don't get too high or excited, because you will have to do it again in 5 minutes.  Was it horrible?  Same deal!  You have to find it and hit it again or worse yet, you have to get another ball, mark it and put it in play.  Either way, the round goes on.  How can you calm yourself?  How can you best prepare for your next shot?  Here's how:

Start with simple questions.  

1.  Did you prepare for the shot/putt and feel good about your decisions?
  • Yardage, target, shot shape, club choice, conditions, read, slopes, etc.
2.  Did you have a good pre-shot routine? 
  • Visualization, rhythm, commitment, balance, target choice, etc.
3.  Did you hit the shot as planned?  
  • Rhythm, balance, tempo, target awareness, tension-control, etc.
Everyone pays attention to different things to play good golf.  Some need to feel centered and connected.  Others need to put their hands on the club in a certain way.  Another player might need to be completely into the visualization of the ball flight.  Each person who plays the game is slightly different than the next.  It's up to you to figure out what your keys for greatness will be when you play.  When you do figure it out, make it an important part of your plan.  In other words, if feeling centered is important to you, focus on that both in your pre-shot and post-shot routines.  The point of a good post-shot routine is to ask the right questions.  

What are the right questions?  Questions that allow you to be a learner.  Questions that allow for awareness and adjustments.  Questions that fit in numbers 1, 2 and 3 above!  From asking and answering these questions, you can be aware of what you have done and what you need to do going forward.  You can make adjustments, change your focus, choose different targets, play the shot shape that is showing up today, spend more time in preparation, lower your center of gravity, walk more slowly, swing more smoothly or commit more deeply. 

The questions you ask yourself are huge.  Stay away from mechanics unless you had a plan to focus on a certain move.  Some people do well with a swing thought and you might be that player.  However, most players have a better chance of going low with a focus on the ball and target vs. the motion or positions of the swing.  Stay away from questions that have no answers, such as "what is wrong with me?" Stick with specifics and a plan for your post-shot routine.  Keep your awareness in front of you and make adjustments that will help you on the next shot.  The answer you want is one that leads to an action, not more thoughts.  

Commit to a learner's mindset whether you are on the practice range or the golf course.  Don't allow results to change your attitude or approach to the game.  The better you are at using competition as a learning environment, the sooner you will set pressure and perfectionism behind and be open to what your possibilities are on the course.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Be a Player and Get on the Bus!


Another year has started and once again, I'm amazed at the energy and enthusiasm of our team when they arrive on campus.  Our job as coaches is to channel the energy and keep the enthusiasm flowing.  These two tasks are our daily challenges and important tasks.  In the course of a year there are ups and downs, injuries, bad days, missed trips, double bogeys, failed exams and exhaustion.  The task isn't to make these things better, but to learn to take them in stride and rise to the next challenge when the alarm goes off for morning workouts.  There are a lot of great things happening in our lives, too.  There are breakthroughs, learning, fun galore, laughter, A's, rounds in the 60's and the most important to me seems to be the camaraderie we feel.  Learning to be a team is new for each group and one of the most important processes in life.  Working together is such a satisfying feeling.

We kicked off our year with the typical lllllooooonnnnnggggg meeting on Monday.  We had four speakers in who covered everything from rules to concussions.  We went over our rules and scribbled initials in our gear.  Then, the good stuff started.   The team talked about what we want our culture to look like, how we will build it and how it will show up in our daily lives.  We had a nice dinner and we finished up with the team's presentations of our summer reading.  The freshmen read the Energy Bus by Jon Gordon.  Whenever anyone joins us, that book best represents the behavior we want to see from them.



The freshmen did a great job of acting out the 10 rules needed to fuel life and our team.  They had fun and worked together and communicated the ideas to us.  They clearly got the point of the book and made it come to life.  Then the upperclassmen presented Be A Player by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott.  Each of the four players took three chapters to present and it somehow seemed as though each got the chapters that fit them the best.  They talked through what they got from the chapters and how they are putting it into practice with their games.  They brought the book to life by relating the words to their own actions, desires and abilities.  It was impressive to watch the players all take ownership of what they want their teammates to know and work toward.



On Tuesday, we had our first practice.  It was designed to be fun, competitive and focused.  We played our Horse Course, which is a 9 hole par 3 that is very challenging and a wonderful playground for us.  All the players started together.  If a player made par, she moved on to the next hole.  A birdie allowed the player to skip a hole.  A bogey or higher meant walking back and playing the hole again.  The first player to the 9th hole won.  Ana Paula Ramirez birdied the 8th to win it.  She and freshman Lauren Chappell teed it up on the eighth together, but Lauren's par didn't keep her in the competition.  This is a great game, because while Lauren was playing the 9th hole, David, my co-coach, birdied 8 to pass her by.  You are never safe and never out of it.  There was a lot of drama at the end of the game!

Then we moved into the short game area for a 3-hole challenge.  Faith Summers finished last in the Horse Course game, but her short game shined and jumped her all the way to 2nd in the overall points. That is about right for this crazy game.  Some days are tough, but when the short game shines, so do you!  It was also great to hear Faith tell me she was using Be A Player ideas as she played.  The champion was David!  His short game coupled with his strong finish propelled him to the win.  We also had a team competition and he and his partner on Team Yankees won the whole thing.  Congrats Lauren and Dave!

The team came back to campus looking like they worked hard on their games and their fitness this summer.  They did their reading and it seems like we are all "all in".  I thought I'd blog about our start just to share what we do and how we do it here at SMU.  One of my goals is to get the players to think differently.  I want them to ask questions that lead to growth and allow them to excel individually.  I want them to believe in themselves and feel strength in facing challenges instead of anxiety over results.  I want them to understand that there is no such thing as failure as long as they keep moving forward.  I want to keep their enthusiasm high and their love for the game intact.  I want us to be ONE as a team.  I think we are going to have a good year!




Monday, August 7, 2017

Perfectionists, Read This!

Today, I was scheduled to recruit in North Texas, but my player's plans changed, so I have some bonus time on my hands and I get to do some writing!  Here is the question I've been pondering for quite some time:  Why is it that perfectionists get better by leaps and bounds in the game of golf and then hit a wall?  I've seen it happen, I've coached a few through it, but I never really got to the core of the problem.  I think I have now.  As with all I know, I learn it from someone else, whether it's a book, a great teacher or from one of my students.  I'm smart in that I pay attention and put 2 + 2, but I'm not as smart as most of the folks I listen to or learn from.  I'm saying that, because I want you to understand how today's epiphany came about.

Here is a list of what's bouncing around in my head right now:
Grit by Angela Duckworth
Barking up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker
Two golf books that both told me one big message:  Look at data and don't take anything for granted!  Better Faster by Corey Lundberg and Matt Wilson, High Performance Golf by Henry Brunton
A seminar by James Sieckmann and finally, Lynn Marriott's and Pia Nilsson's new book, Be a Player.

The epiphany I had is, perfectionists are always focused on self and not on other controllables.  When it comes to golf, that means they rarely make the obvious adjustments.

We had a junior camp this weekend with seven good, young players.  I noticed from them what I often notice with my own players; they perform a skill well, but with a poor result and fail to make any notable adjustments.  In fact, given 5 balls and a pitch shot to hit, they will often put all 5 shots in the same area of the green without getting the shots any closer to the hole.  This weekend, I questioned the players about what adjustments they could make and where their awareness was while performing the tasks.  Each player missed the most obvious adjustments over and over.  When leaving a shot short, none said to grab less loft.  Instead, they made the task about how they performed instead of the tool in their hand.  We were lucky to have an LPGA player assisting us this week.  Casey Grice was one of our teachers and added so much to our camp. When asked what she would change, she almost always went with an outside factor, such as club choice or aim point.  Granted, she admitted to also being a perfectionist and learning much of this the hard way over the years.  In my experience, a lot of players never learn and that might be the difference between earning a tour card or ending a career earlier than anticipated.

If you're a perfectionist, you can choose what you want to perfect.  The most common subject in your brain is probably you and what you're doing.  What if you changed the subject to the ball?  Tomorrow when you go practice or play, pay attention to it's flight, bounces, spin, trajectory, roll and pay even closer attention to it's final resting place.  While watching the junior golfers yesterday, I noticed some didn't even watch their pitch shots roll out.  That is a red flag that they are mainly concerned about what they are doing and not concerned enough about the ball.  Their inward attention discounts green firmness, winds, grain, landing spot and spin.  One of my favorite coaching reminders to my players is, "Make sure you spend your time outside yourself today instead of being inside yourself."   They know that I mean to pay attention to what's happening and not get stuck in their own heads.  If you do that, you can stay aware of what's happening and give yourself the best chance to make the proper adjustment.

Here are some scenarios you might recognize:

You warm up on the range and you don't feel great.  It might be that chicken salad sandwich you ate. Who knows.  What you do know is, you aren't hitting it as strong as normal.  Do you walk to the first tee and vow to use one more club all day or swing harder?  Simple choice.  Which would serve you best?  Probably vowing to use one more club, because you could keep your rhythm.  Which would most perfectionists choose?  Swing hard, because my 7 iron is supposed to go 150!  The words "supposed to" are very important to perfectionists.

You are working on chipping on a 3-tiered green.  The first five shots you hit don't make it to the third tier.  Do you hit it harder?  Do you move it back in your stance?  Do you change your landing point?  Do you go get less loft?  Do you try to hit it better?  Are you even paying attention to where it stops?  The first four choices are actual adjustments.  The last two aren't and while they might seem funny to read on paper, they happen a lot.  Of the first four choices, the first two are you-related and the second two aren't.  The very simplest adjustment would probably be to choose less loft, but when we work with our players, that is often not considered.  Our goal as coaches is to get our players to make the simplest adjustment first and to consider outside factors first.

You are on the 18th hole and tied for the lead.  The wind is behind you, the hole is back and you're pumped up!  You have a stock 8 iron to the hole.  What do you pull?  If you are aware of the conditions, the hole location, your tendencies and your current state, you'll probably pull a 9 iron and still get it close.  If not, you'll pull the 8, fly the green and later complain about how you hit an 8 iron 15 yards farther than you thought you could.  Perfectionists like to focus on the facts as though they dictate actions. However, all facts are wrapped in layers of context.  Decisions on the golf course are all situational and dependent on more than yardage.

There are a hundred more examples possible, but you get the idea.  Perfectionists read Grit by Duckworth and focus on these types of quotes:  "as much as talent counts, effort counts twice."  Funny enough, Angela Duckworth also wrote this in her book Grit:  "giving up on lower-level goals is not only forgivable, it's sometimes absolutely necessary."  You won't find a lot of people putting that quote on twitter.  Perfectionists think that more effort is the answer.  Instead of switching to a 9 iron, they just need to hit that 60 degree wedge better!  If you place your focus on what you're doing, how you are doing it and how well you are doing it, you have the triple crown of inner focus.  If you decided to change your focus to what the goal is, what the ball does in relationship to that goal and what had the greatest effect on the ball, you will have adjusted your thought process to sometimes include what you do, but often it will focus on green firmness, club selection, wind or spin.  In other words, you will begin to give your own actions less power and consider all factors that might affect the ball.

While we are talking about the power of more effort, let's talk about the power of positive thinking.  In our culture, we teach kids that success is the goal and positive thinking is a key to reaching success.  That puts my perfectionist golfer next to the green hitting 10 chips to the same area of the green (not by the target) instead of watching one, adjusting, watching the second, adjusting again, etc.  She thinks if she does better with her chipping motion, tries a little harder and thinks more clearly, she will be successful.  She comes to this conclusion from us, her coaches, her teachers, her parents and her peers.  She's heard from us that she needs to stay positive, be persistent and resilient, yet she hasn't been taught to be aware and make good adjustments.  Thank you Pia and Lynn for writing a book (Be a Player) that I can hand out to my players about this very subject.  It helps me teach it and it helps me learn it better, too!  Kids are taught form instead of function.  They are over-focused on what they do and only somewhat focused on what the ball does.  I hear them talk about other players with funny swings a lot and then I remind them that the funny swing just beat them.  Give me five players with funny swings and a focus on the ball and the hole and we will go win championships!

When I ask our campers what they want to do better with their mental games, I hear them tell me things like "get out of my own head" and "quit comparing myself to everyone else".  Yet, we aren't teaching them to be aware and focus on the outside factors that lead to controlling ball flight and roll.  We don't celebrate their uniqueness or creativity.  We compare them to others constantly.  Why in the world do these kids follow us when what we are offering them isn't what they want?  If we are going to grow the game, let's grow champions, too!  Let's all do a better job of paying attention to function instead of form.  Let's accelerate our junior golfer's learning and efficiency by pointing out what the balls are doing far more than we point out what they are doing!  Let's give them what they ask for!

Heidi Grant Halvorson is a leading researcher in goal setting and success.  Here is a 25 minute video about this type of mindset.    It is valuable when you have the time to watch it!
















Friday, July 14, 2017

Effort or Process?

Imagine you live in an old house.  The windows are sticky and heavy.  You go into your room to open the window and get some fresh air.  You fully expect the window to stick, so you give it all you have and sure enough it won't budge.  You step in a second time and try harder.  Your face is red with effort.  You step away a second time only to realize you failed to unlock the window.  Doh!

No matter how much effort you had put into that sticky, heavy, cumbersome window, you weren't going to move it.  You went into it with the notion it would be hard and it lived up to it.  You moaned, groaned and maybe even cursed your old house.  Your preconceived notions made your expectations, but you failed to follow a process.  The first step to opening any window is to first unlock it.


Many players approach golf in much the same way.  They step onto a tough golf course ready for a fight.  They are braced and determined.  They forget their process and play defensively.  It doesn't have to be a tough course that causes this approach.  Some players will take this approach after a tough warm up session or a rough day leading into the round.  Whatever the reason, they don't approach their game with openness, peace or a commitment to the process.

Golf is a game to be played.  It is about feel, intuitiveness, playfulness, creativity, joy, nature, action and fun.  To approach your round as though you're girded for battle is to put on armor against all of these aspects of the game.  I often hear players talk about mechanics, grind, battling and toughness. As a coach, I know there is a time for these things when things aren't going well, but I certainly don't want these approaches to be our standard.  I want our players to play with freedom and flow!




Just think of the words you associate with the word grind; tedious, crumble, hard, work, effort, bear down, etc.  If I were recruiting kids to play golf, these aren't the words that would attract them to the sport.  Why did you start playing?  To play or to grind?  And that is just one of the popular words used to describe golf as though it is a tough battle.

If you want to play your best golf, prepare to PLAY.  Embrace the PROCESS of choosing a target, visualizing the shot and letting it go.  Be AWARE and OPEN to the day, the conditions, the course and your fellow competitors.  If you make the game about your effort, you will feel tired and beaten after your rounds.  If you make the game about freedom and flow, you will simply run out of holes.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Your Mindset is Valuable

Have you ever played great golf and things seemed easy and then all of a sudden, everything got hard?  It has happened to all of us who've played competitive golf.  I can remember a tournament round when I was all over the flag.  My swing felt smooth and I was in control  Then, I grabbed the wrong club on an approach and flew the green.  My mistake wasn't isolated.  It led to more mistakes.  All of a sudden, my swing wasn't smooth, it was jerky.  I didn't feel in control.  Instead, I was reactive, angry, nervous, embarrassed and quite simply, a mess.  BOOM!  One swing changed everything.  Actually, the swing was good, one decision to hit a 7 iron instead of an 8 iron changed everything.  It put me in a hazard and caused a double bogey.  In hindsight, my bad decision created many more bad decisions, because my mindset changed.  I let one shot effect many.  If I had anticipated a poor shot and how to act after it happened, I would have been able to continue after the double with a smooth swing and a chosen mindset.  Instead, I shot myself in the foot.


In other words, I caused myself problems.  Even though I had played seven good holes, one shot threw me off.  I was only as good as my last shot.  I allowed it to define me instead of allowing my preparation, my experience or my good shots leading to the mistake to define me.  Have you felt the same loss of mindset?  When you did, did you get fearful?  Did you play away from trouble?  Did you get tight?  Did you lose your rhythm?  Did you lose your confidence?  Did you start thinking about mechanics?  Did you shoot yourself in the foot?


You can blame your downward spiral on choosing the wrong club or a bad swing.  You can point clearly to the moment things changed for you, but, all the blame in the world that points at the shot, the bounce, the decision or the distraction that started the spiral isn't really the moment you shot yourself in the foot.  That moment is when you allowed that result to change your mindset.  

You will be challenged every time you tee it up on the first hole.  No round of golf will be easy.  You will never play an entire round of golf with perfect swings, shots or decisions.  There will be mistakes, mishits and poor choices, not to mention bad bounces or wind gusts that you didn't control. Since you know this going into your round, why would you let any of those occasions change your mindset?  

Before you play your next competitive round, decide prior to teeing it up what your mindset will be.  You can choose to compete with complete acceptance of what happens and  move past whatever it is, whether good or bad.  You can choose to have patience and a sense of humor.  You can choose to be completely focused on the shot at hand as though it's the first of the round.  You can choose to connect and commit to your targets.  Do you get the idea?  You can choose whatever you want for your mindset before you even tee it up.  The trick is, when you get a bad bounce, make a poor decision or hit an errant shot, remembering your choice and focusing on keeping it in your mind.  If you are always reactive to results, you will only be as good as your last shot or putt.



Over the years, there are certain things we repeat to our players that we hope allows them to have "actions" instead of reactions when things aren't going well.  Actions are planned and happen because you chose them.  Reactions are reliant upon results and happen like dominoes.  



  • When you are out of position, get back into position!  
    • That sounds super obvious, yet when players get in trouble, they rarely look at the easiest way to get the ball out of trouble.  Instead, they look at the hole and work to route the ball that direction.  
    • Mindset is helped by a plan.  This is a simple plan to follow.
  • When you are in trouble, figure out how to get a putt for par.  
    • If you get a putt for par, you might make it.
    • If you get a putt for par, you will most likely make bogey and you can cover it with a birdie coming in.  Doubles and triples are tough to cover.
    • Mindset is helped by simplicity.  Remembering this simple rule of get a putt for par will help you hang on to your chosen mindset.
  • You're allowed one mistake per hole.
    • See above.  If you get a putt for par and you jam it past in your desire to make it, you will invite a three putt into the equation.  Two mistakes per hole almost always means double bogey.
    • Keep your self-talk on action and your chosen mindset.  Talk yourself through the situation calmly and choose an action that won't lead to another mistake.  Think conservative.
    • Even though there is no such thing as erasing a shot or even making up for it, players try to do both things.  When they've made a mistake, they take bigger risks to rectify the situation and usually end up multiplying their problems and shots taken.
  • When you make a mistake, take a deep breath and give yourself a few options.  
    • Good players take a bit more time after a mistake.  Poor players feel hurried, rushed and pressured after a mistake.  
    • Give yourself options so you're actively choosing the right next step.  Many times when players get in trouble, they get tunnel vision and see only the pin.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Pendulum Stroke

It's recruiting season and I've already had the opportunity to watch a lot of junior golf.  One skill that always stands out as an area of separation is speed control in putting.  If you put the top putters on tour at 10 on a scale of 1-10, even the best juniors are roughly around 6. If you give a top junior a fairly flat 35 feet putt, she will probably roll it within 2-4 feet.  However, if you add tiers, big slopes, bumps and rolls, the distance left will go up with each feature.  Here are the reasons why and some ways you can accelerate your progress and move up the scale to putt like the pros.  I included a few videos about putting that I hope you find helpful!

  • Lag putting - The goal is to take your practice to the golf course.  Here are some ways to accomplish this goal:
    • Use one ball.  Give yourself one shot to get it right at practice just as you do in tournament play.
      • In practice, slow down your pre-shot routine and identify each feature that could effect your putt's break or speed.
        • Here are some possibilities:  slopes, tiers, bunker complexes, grain, wind
        • Look around for drains or signs of water flow to understand how the green was built to rid itself of water.  It will be faster toward the water.
      • Play games that use closest putt as the way to get points.  
        • Move around, choose tough putts, make if fun.
        • Compete with another player or compete against yourself.
    • At practice, find some big slopes or tiers.  Put some tees down to give yourself targets. 
      • Pay attention to how long it takes for a ball to go up sharp hills.  This will help you visualize and also understand where balls break when you have to give them some speed to get up the hill.
      • Now do the same on downhill putts.  Count out how many seconds it will take for the ball to go down the hill.  This is once again for your ability to visualize.  If you can see the speed it will travel, you will be able to start rolling the ball to match your visualization.
    • On the golf course, divide your putts into halves or thirds.  This will help you identify what will happen on long putts.  
      • Start at the hole and visualize where the ball needs to fall in and the direction it will have to travel to get there.  The speed will be the slowest here, so the break will be important
      • Figure out how to get to that point halfway there.  When you get better at this or on super long putts, break it into thirds.  
      • Know that your ball will begin breaking as soon as you hit it, so make sure you aim above your "break point".  Many of the putts I see when I recruit never get high enough to go in.  Think high side and slow at the hole.
    • Don't be typical.
      • This is something I say to my players.  If you stand on one hole for four or five groups, you'll notice that most players will have the same reactions to certain putts.  If the hole is guarded by a bump or tier, most players will roll the ball to the bump and then the ball will work away from the hole.  Occasionally, a player will see what needs to happen and get the ball above the bump so it works toward the hole at the end of the putt.  Figure out how to be THAT player.  
      • To be better than typical, you have to be better at paying attention.  I see a lot of aimpoint happening, but that is only a part of the equation. Your eyes need to be active from 50 yards out and looking for big picture features.  Then you need to look around your putt's path and figure out what effect anything on the path will have on your ball.  Sometimes it will be a bunp from a bunker complex or a drain just past the hole on the left.  Everything will have an effect.  
      • When you visualize, make it vivid and fun.  If you see a drain left of the hole, imagine it's a magnet and your ball is attracted to it.  Or, see your path with different colors.  Blue is fast and grey is slower.  You can see whatever you want to see!
  • Putts inside 15 feet - The goal is to match your speed with your break.  We all know these putts are the ones that give us momentum or take it away.  They are the birdie putts resultant from good shots or the par saves after tough up and down shots.
    • Matching your speed to your break is once again pretty easy on straightforward putts, but add grain, wind, speed or geographical features and they become tough.  Practice when it's windy!  If you aren't used to grain and will compete on a grainy course, go out in the evening when the grain is the most pronounced and spend a lot of time learning how to let your ball ride the grain. 
    • Get great at controlling your speed inside 15 feet.  This is about a combination of mindset and rhythm.  Great putters have great rhythm and a pendulum stroke.  That doesn't mean your stroke needs to be fast or slow, but in rhythm.  In other words, the putter's swing has a center and the transition is smooth and the same no matter the length of the stroke.  As for mindset, the best stroke in the world won't help you if you get squinty-eyed whenever you have a 10 footer for birdie and then 4 or 5 feet coming back.  Every putt is worth one shot and the ability to make the next one is the key to low scores.  If you could play a round of golf with no 3 putts, how many shots would you save?  Roll the ball with nice rhythm to within 1 foot and you'll make fewer mistakes.
    • Reading greens is reliant upon speed control.  Put a quarter on the green and putt to it from 2-15 feet until you can get the ball within a putter head on each putt.  When you can do that, your green reading will improve.  The reason for that is, your feedback will be good.  When you miss a putt, but you've putted it with the right speed, you know why you missed it.  It was too high or too low.  Breaking the putt down to missing only one factor is a huge step for most junior golfers and an outstanding goal.
    • Your tempo is the pace of your stroke.  Brandt Snedeker has a quick tempo and Jordan Speith has a slower tempo.  Rhythm is your sequencing of movements.  Your rhythm controls your mechanics and the roll of your ball.  It should remain the same on all putts.  Ask yourself these questions:  Does your putter always have the same feel in transition?  Do you keep your hands moving through the putt?  In many cases, I watch juniors change their rhythm if putts are uphill or downhill.  That means the sequence gets off.  You simply don't have time to overcome a mistake in your putting stroke.  Rhythm mistakes show up in poor distance control as well as starting your ball off line.  Practice in different conditions to assure that your rhythm is maintained.
      • If you release the putter on a quick downhill putt, that is a rhythm problem.  It also adds speed to the roll.  Fear or cautiousness can't effect your sequence of motion on the greens.  
      • If you have a quick transition because a putt is sharply uphill, that is a rhythm problem.  Quick transitions can cause a lot of mistakes, including hitting down on the ball and causing it to pop up.  This bleeds speed off of your roll and you will come up short.
    • Once again, think high and slow on your putts that break.  So many putts never have a chance to go in.  They are below the break point right off of the putter face.  The ball will begin breaking immediately!
      • Set up a gate drill on a 10 footer that has a lot of break and you'll get the idea very quickly that you're aimed well off of the hole.
      • See where the ball will enter the hole and draw a big thick line back to your ball.  Then start your ball on that line.
I hope this helps you as you work to improve your scoring.  Putting has become more of a science lately with great systems in place such as Strackaline and Aimpoint, but before you can truly use the science, you have to be great at awareness, visualization and vision.  You have to see enough putts to anticipate what any putt will do when you compete.  Even the pros are occasionally fooled, but not too often.  They and their caddies are the very best at paying attention to what's important and using the information to read greens.  I'll finish by saying if you have a habit of blaming your misses on your stroke and dropping your head down to think about what you're doing, you're losing ground and will quickly become "typical".  Most misses aren't stroke related.  Instead, they are related to speed control, poor green reading and poor awareness.  Thinking about your mechanics during a round reduces your ability to pay attention to what is around you.  If you get nothing else from today's blog, get this:  PAY ATTENTION!

My Gentle Teacher

My dad was a good man.  He passed in 1998 and I still miss him a lot.  He had a smile that lit up his eyes and he had bright blue eyes.  He ...