Monday, December 20, 2010

Research

I am well aware that I broke the cardinal rule of blogging by taking a 3 week break, but I will defend it as a time for research.  I have been without a computer and with very little internet for the past 3 weeks and seem none the worse for it.  Perhaps it isn't an addiction. 

As for the research, I spent 8 days at LPGA final qualifying in Daytona, FL on the bag for Ashley Knoll.  She played well and entered the fifth and final round in good shape.  However, she was far enough back going into that round that she was forced to produce a low score on a day when wind gusts got up to 40 mph.  Aggression, pressure and tough conditions are a lethal combination that made a target score look tough to obtain.  Next year the plan will be to enter the final round with a bit of a cushion in case the winds are whipping and shots are going astray. 

Every time I go to a tournament I learn a lot.  As a caddy, there is a lot of time to observe as your player warms up or practices following a round.  There is also the chance for many different pairings within 5 tournament days and even though most of the focus is on Ashley and her game, you still get to pick stuff up from the players in your group.  There were many swing styles, many mental approaches, many putting strokes and a lot of players to see.  The pressure at tour school as it is called is high, which makes it very appealing as a test of a game, but not much fun to live through.  From the week, I took many notes to cultivate blog entries and to help myself as a teacher, coach and caddy.  Hopefully, what I learned will help current and future students.  Today, I will outline future blogs by way of noting what I believe makes a professional golfer great.  Some of the elements for success as a professional will most certainly help amateur golfers.  Some things though, are simply the reality for the small percentage of people who make their living controlling the flight and roll of a little white ball. 

Golf is a very unique profession.  It requires those playing it to deal with a great amount of uncertainty.  In the early stages, young pros have no idea of where they will be playing, how much money they will make, what the costs will be, or if they will advance in their profession.  Can you imagine taking a job with no knowledge of these important aspects of the job?  Few of us would sign up for that degree of uncertainty.  However, many young men and women have the dream of playing professional golf at the highest level and in order to pursue that dream, they must start out playing mini tours until they earn their LPGA, PGA or European cards.  
While dealing with this uncertainty, the pros must prepare themselves to compete at the highest level possible.  Tour school is about one week, but players can also take a season long approach and earn a card by playing well on one of the developmental tours.  However, just to get the right to play on the developmental tour is a tough task that only a small percentage of players achieve.  Achieving a Nationwide, Challenge Tour or Futures Tour card is in and of itself a big step and a mark of success.  Any and all success gained as a young professional adds up to less uncertainty and more security.  However, there is little security even when reaching the highest levels.  You are only as secure as your last year on tour.  Witness Billy Mayfair, five time winner on the PGA Tour, who spent his last two Decembers at the PGA Final Stage earning his way back to making checks.  On the woman's side this year, Nicole Hage was once again successful in earning her tour status by finishing t10th at final qualifying.  However, her earnings last year were just shy of $16,000, so even though she is living her dream of playing on the LPGA Tour, she is making little more than $8 per hour based on 40 hour weeks and a 52 week schedule.  Nicole is a very bright, dynamic young lady who, if using her Auburn degree, could earn a sizable salary in her field of study.  That is the reality of what professional golfers face.  What we see on television are the top players on Sunday.  What we don't see on television are the hundreds of mini-tour players struggling to fill the gas tank and find a roommate so they can make it to the next stop.  My question is, what does it take to erase the uncertainty and move up the ladder to playing on Sunday on television? 

There is no "perfect" combination.  Each golfer is unique, just as each person in this world is unique.  There are probably sports psychologists who will tell you exactly what it takes to be successful, but I think a great player figures out what it takes to make himself or herself successful given his or her qualities, strengths and weaknesses.  Golfers are best when they are completely themselves, not trying to fit into a mold or play a part.  That doesn't mean that golfers can't change who they are, but simply that they must be honest about who they are and decide what works and what doesn't in their pursuit of their dream.  For example, you might hear someone say, "I am not a morning person."  I myself used to say that until I started coaching and realized my morning mood was very important to the team's morning mood.  If I was grumpy, uncommunicative, or slow, the team would pick up on it and either react to it or use my mood as an excuse to adopt the same mood.  I changed into a morning person.  Before the change took place, I made sure to get up much earlier than necessary to present the right attitude when breakfast time came along.  Golfers constantly make these types of adjustments to their attitudes and routines.  Great players figure out what it is that makes them play their best golf and they turn these actions into habits.

What do the best players do to alleviate uncertainty?  They prepare.  They focus.  They make putts.  They minimize unforced errors.  They stay in shape.  They eat right and avoid vices, such as alcohol.  They get a good night's sleep.  They are good self coaches.  They have a strong support team.  They are realistic.  They are patient.  They balance their drive with a degree of contentedness.  They keep their equipment in good condition and fit it to their game.  They know the rules.  They know the course.  They build strong relationships with their caddies.  They stay in the moment.  They understand the importance of process.  They don't get caught up in process for the sake of it.  Bottom line, they score no matter how they hit it, how they feel or what the conditions may be.

Wow, what a list of what great players do to be great.  And in that list, no mention was made of swing technique, which if you listen to the weekend television commentators, is the main thing that makes a player great.  If you stand on the range at a professional event, you will quickly realize that 100 players will have 100 different swings.  There is no one way to swing the club.  At the professional level, the swing needs to be powerful, reliable under pressure, consistent over months of travel and employ a one way miss.  Pros don't need a swing that looks good, but they do need to know what their swing produces when on and when off.  If they choose to make a living playing golf, there will be as many off days as their are on days. 

The world of professional golf is definitely great for those who succeed at the highest levels.  In the next few blogs, I will go away from talking about technique and instead talk about the elements of success listed above and how you can employ them to take shots off of your score whether you play for a living or only on the weekend. 

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