Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Are Golfers Athletes?

If you are a competitive golfer, are you also an athlete?  Your answer should be a resounding yes, but much of what we do as golfers moves us closer to the answer no.  Check out some ways you can move to playing the game as an athlete in today's blog.

Camillo.  His training would prepare him to compete in many sports.

Five Steps That Will Make You An Athlete on the Golf Course
1.  Move away from comfortable.
2.  Train yourself to play the game.
3.  Quit conversing with yourself when it is time to execute.
4.  Stay in the now.
5.  Compete!

Today, we will cover #1!

1.  Move away from comfortable.  Have you ever stated that you want to feel comfortable over a shot or that you like to hit shots that you are comfortable with?  If so, you are not in an athletic frame of mind.  Instead, you are either too self aware or looking for false confidence, or both!  For examples, we could use any sport, but for this example, we will talk about soccer.  If you are a mid-fielder, you decide to dribble or pass based on what the defense is doing.  In other words, your move is in response to what is offered or what you need to do, not what you want.  Can you play a course and allow the terrain, wind, or the lie of the ball to offer you a plan?  If a shot can be played any way you like, then you can choose your own best option.  However, most of the time, there is a "right" shot to hit.

I can hear you now, you are thinking, but I like to hit a draw, so I play that whenever possible and I have total confidence in that shot.  There is something to be said for that, but remember, we are making the transition to playing like an athlete, so here is what I would argue.  If you are playing mid field and need to hit a long, high pass to a streaking forward down the right side, but you aren't comfortable with high shots, what would you do?  In soccer, you could hit the low shot and have it be intercepted, you could hesitate and miss the open teammate or you could understand your limitations and vow to learn the shot.  The next step is to practice it until you owned it.  The next time you faced the same scenario, you could send a long, high pass and hopefully card an assist. We need to do the same thing on the course.  If we don't have a shot, we need to vow to learn it and own it so we have it next time we play.  If you want to compete at golf, you have to have all the shots, not just the ones you are comfortable hitting!

"I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match." -- Mia Hamm 

If you are a golfer and you need to hit a high, cut around a bushy tree, but you aren't comfortable with the shot, is it acceptable to simply say, I am not a player who fades shots and be finished with it?  In any other sport, that would be a signal to learn the shot, but for some reason, golfers have been told its okay to have one way to do things, because you know you can always do it.  That confidence is based on a lack of knowledge, not on a lot of knowledge.  Confidence that comes from being great at one thing is limiting if any situation calls for something different.  Confidence that comes from mastery of all shots is true confidence.  Teachers and coaches are selling their students short when they limit their learning instead of allowing them to approach the game like an athlete.

The other way I hear comfortable talked about is by players who try to get comfortable over the ball.  Name another sport where the participant's awareness is based on herself and her body?  Imagine if you had to be comfortable to shoot a basketball?  Most great basketball players shoot as well with someone hanging on them, spinning on one leg and falling away from the basket as they do from the free throw line.  If you want to play like an athlete, get your awareness on your ball and your target and get it out of your own body.  We all have remarkable abilities to balance ourselves, swing with rhythm and match our hands to what we want the club to do.  Learning to trust those abilities is a big step toward athleticism on the golf course.

This is Bridget Sloan on the balance beam.  Does she look like she is comfortable?  NO!  She is pushing her body to its limits.  She trusts her abilities and her training.  Most of all, her body reflects joy in its freedom and motion.  That is your goal as a golfer!  Allow yourself to have joy in the freedom and motion of your golf swing!

Most sports push players to the edge and past their "comfort zone".  Downhill skiers travel faster on skis than the speed limit we can drive our cars.  Gymnasts do flips on a tiny balance bar.  Football players catch passes while being stalked by big, strong defensive backs who are running as fast as they can.  It is impossible for any of these athletes to consider their comfort while playing their sports.  You might think golf is different, but at the highest levels it isn't.  It is the golfers who are comfortable with their own discomfort who succeed.  They thrive on pressure situations.  They feel as though they can hit any shot they need.  They think only of what they want to do with the ball.  Just as athletes in all sports experience high heart rates, adrenaline and heightened focus, so do golfers in the heat of competition.  If the golfer stays in the moment and relishes the feel of these body adjustments, she will learn they are all natural reactions to being in the heat of competition.  Instead of worrying about being comfortable, she will make the necessary adjustments, such as walking a bit slower to get the heart rate down before the next shot, grabbing one less club to offset the adrenaline and welcoming the focus and feeling the zone.

“I feel really good right now and really comfortable,” Tseng said. “I’ve wanted to be No. 1 since I was 12, and it’s been a dream come true. But I feel like I still have a long way to go. There are still some things I need to learn and need to work on. I’m really excited, and I’m just going to do my best and have fun.” Yani Tseng

Does this quote sound like someone who is comfortable being uncomfortable?  

The next time you play or compete on the golf course, play the game as an athlete would.  See the course with an open mind and eyes wide open.  What does it offer to you?  How can you take advantage of the course to help you score lower?  As you play the game, stay focused on what the ball is doing and let go of what you are doing as the player.  If you are uncomfortable over a shot, your mind is focused on you instead of the ball or the situation.  Step off the shot and see the shot you want to hit and step in and hit it with no thoughts of how.  Trust yourself and your athleticism.  Most of all, trust your training for this moment.

Our next blog will be about that training.  Until then, go play some golf and be an athlete!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What Can You Learn From Tebow?

One of the hottest topics in the news, in social media and in conversation these days is Tim Tebow.  Tebow is a winning quarterback at every level of the game, despite the lack of tangible things such as a strong arm or perfect technique.  What makes him a winner?  Why is he so compelling to us?  What can we learn from him?

#1 – FAITH
His unshakeable faith in Jesus Christ has taught him to have faith in himself and those around him.

Football isn’t the most important thing in Tebow’s life.  He is building a children's hospital in the Philippines for the poor.  Here is what he says,  “Helping raise money for kids – there’s nothing better than that.”  This is one example of where his focus is when he isn’t on the field.
Tebow doesn’t care what others think of him.  He lives his life as he believes he should live it.  He does all he can with what he has and he knows that deep inside, so he needn’t listen to critics tell him what he can’t do.  He knows that he did all he could.  There is peace in that knowledge. 
#4 – FOCUS
Tebow’s game gets better as the game goes because his focus gets better.  At the end of the game, the goals are crystal clear and he knows what he is supposed to do.  Pressure flusters some and clarifies things for others.  Tebow is in the second category.  
#5 - FIGHT
Tebow doesn't give up.  His teammate Champ Bailey, a pro bowler, said this about Tebow, “One thing about that quarterback: he is going to keep grinding. As a defense, we just have to keep him in this game – keep this team in the game and in the fourth quarter you never know what you are going to get. We are never out of it, and it is a good feeling because I know if we are close we have a chance.”

#1 FAITH - Definition:  confidence or trust in a person or thing, or a belief that is not based on proof. 

If you want to be a great player on the golf course, you must learn to have faith in yourself.  The most important part of the definition isn't the reference to confidence or trust, but the part that says, "not based on proof".  Tebow is known for his fourth quarter heroics.  Read this account from the Denver Post:  Tebow's passes may not look like much, but when it comes to his fourth-quarter numbers, he shines. With a 107.8 fourth-quarter quarterback rating, Tebow is fourth behind Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Tebow has thrown eight touchdowns and only one interception in the fourth quarter or overtime.  Tebow is in the game until the end of the game.  He doesn't base his confidence on what he has done, but what he is capable of doing.  He has faith in his abilities and in his teammate's abilities.  

How many times have you gained confidence not because of your preparation, but because of one great shot?  How many times have you hit a few bad shots and lost your confidence, despite hours, weeks and years of practice?  If you have faith in yourself, it shouldn't matter what has happened in the minutes, hours or even days leading up to now. If you have done all you can to prepare to play and worked to master your game, you must take the next big step and have faith in yourself.  This is as important for a seasoned tour player as it is for a young high school golfer.   

Your faith in a higher power can teach you what it is to have faith in something unseen.  This is a tricky topic to discuss as a coach, because belief systems are very personal and individual.  I have always been careful to leave each to their beliefs and support all through the years.  The focus of a coach needn’t be on a player’s faith, but instead on character and focus.  The question for me isn't what do you believe in?  Instead, it is do you believe in something?  If faith is a learned skill, can your belief system help you to become a successful athlete?

#2 PRIORITIES - A priority is something given special attention.  

Think about your priorities for a moment.  If you are a new mother, your priority will be your newborn.  If you just married, your priority will probably be spending time with your spouse.  We all have different things to which we give special attention. If you are a competitive athlete, you probably spend a lot of attention, time, sweat and value on your sport.  That is also common and natural.  What if that sport is your only priority?  What if you work 100% of the time on becoming better at your sport, but very little time becoming a better person?  What if you work to please your coach, but not necessarily to please yourself?  What if your parents allow you to shirk many of your responsibilities to give your attention completely to your sport?  If any of these things are occurring in your life, you are losing your balance as a person and your perspective of what is important.

As a coach, I want my players to bring a passionate love of the game of golf with them to SMU.  I want them to do all they can to be successful, including eating right, becoming fit and getting enough sleep.  However, I also want them to have friends, spend time as a normal college kid would and focus on school or family whenever it is needed and as much as is needed.  Tebow does good work in the world because of his belief system.  This work is a priority to him and it allows him to see his football in the proper light and gives him a healthy perspective.  Balance is tricky in today’s world.  If you are a successful athlete, you will escape criticism for having other interests.  However, when you fail, they will be called distractions.  Tebow clearly prioritizes his interests in the press and doesn’t worry about fall out, because he chose his priorities and didn’t allow others to do that for him. 

#3 - THICK SKIN - is the ability to withstand criticism.

Tebow’s critics are crying from the mountaintops about what he can’t do.  Tebow is focused instead on what he can do.  I am sure he is clear on what he needs to improve upon to be a better quarterback.  Tebow believes in preparation and hard work.  These are the reasons that Tebow has thick skin.  He can see himself and his faults clearly.  He knows he isn’t perfect.  Instead, he strives to do all he can and be the best he can when he steps on the field.  He does the same off of the field.  With the knowledge that he strives to do and be his best, why should he listen to critics?  Why listen to people who aren’t important to you tell you what you can’t do?  I would bet that Tebow also ignores the people who think he is wonderful and can do no wrong.  He has a higher power that he strives to please and that is the opinion he works to appease.

How does this relate to you as a golfer?  Your goal should be to figure out who you are as a person and take that knowledge to the golf course.  How you prepare, how you compete, how you act and how you play should all be based on who you are as a person, what is important to you and what you want to achieve.  If your goal in life is to be happy and make others happy, figure out how to do that within your golf game.  A coach who tells you to put on a game face and play without talking will obviously be asking you to do the opposite of what you want.  How can you withstand criticism if you don't understand what is right and wrong for you?  Your thick skin will grow based on knowing yourself and what is important to you.

#4 – FOCUS - is quite simply the ability to concentrate.

Distraction is an enemy of focus.  So many of us today have a problem with focus. We have a phone that allows us to talk to ten people at once and none of them are in the room.  While we are doing that, we can also follow 500 friends on facebook and find out what they are doing and with whom.  You might think that it takes great focus to multi-task and pull this off, but I would argue that it takes a complete lack of focus.  Am I present with the person in front of me?  Can I listen fully to her?  Can I make eye contact with her through an entire conversation?  Can I be thoughtful in my responses to her?  To answer these questions, I will have to let go of the dings, beeps, rings and other notifications that get in the way of attention.  The question is, can we be trained to turn away from distraction and learn focus?  Just as I said that Tebow’s deep faith in God teaches him to have deep faith in life, deep focus in one area teaches you to have deep focus in other areas.  This is definitely a teachable skill and one that we need to address if we want to develop great young players.  Tebow probably spends quiet time in his day in prayer and contemplation.  That time of silence and deep thought is a transferable skill and is valuable to both his relationship to God and his ability to control where his mind goes and when. So many of us diagnose ourselves with ADD and I would guess that most of us suffer from it in some way.  The question is, do we give in to the diagnosis or do we learn to offset this problem?  Learn to be quiet, thoughtful, contemplative or prayerful.  It will be a big step toward your focus on the golf course. Start tonight!  Turn off your phone, your t.v., your computer, and your ipod  How long can you sit in a quiet room?  Can you direct your thoughts to a certain subject?  Can you focus?

To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement.” ~Bertrand Russell

#5 - FIGHT - Perhaps the most important skill you can take to the golf course.  Truly great players stay in the round on each and every shot, no matter where they stand in the round or in the field.

As a golfer, you have to know that you will have ups and downs in a round of golf.  You will do dumb things, make bad swings and have bad results.  Everyone does!  How you fight through the consequences of these is what makes you a fighter.  Tebow doesn't worry much about the "how" during the game.  He might throw some bad passes or fumble the ball, but the next time on the field, he fights to do great things.  Unlike Tebow, you have the ability to fight for greatness right away!  You don't have to wait until the defense gets the ball back for you, you get to hit another shot right now!  If you can view your challenges as opportunities to fight back, you will see the golf course as Tebow sees the football field.  

Tebow is a great athlete.  Do great athletes think differently than you and I?  Yes and no.  One thing that they understand is that it takes consistent, daily effort to be great.  They can’t give in to laziness, self indulgence, or distraction.  Unlike fans, they don’t think of one loss as the end of a season or a clear sign of failure.  Instead, they use it to figure out their next steps and focus on improvement.  We talk a lot about the “dream” of success, but I think that type of thinking is only the first step.    Greatness might start out as a dream, but to be great, you have to come crashing down to earth and work hard. 

Most of us have this approach in our daily lives.   We strive to be good parents, good siblings, good sons and daughters.  We go to work and do our best.  We go through illness and injury with grim determination and work hard to get better.  We don’t look at our lives through the scope of wins and losses, failures and successes.  Instead, we give a consistent daily effort to be at our best and be a good person.  That is exactly what great athletes are doing.  That is character.  Tebow isn't unique.  He is, however, someone from whom we can all learn lessons of success.

“You will have to adopt a particular lifestyle of ambition, not just for a few weeks or months but for years and years and years. You have to want it so bad that you are not only ready to fail, but you actually want to experience failure: revel in it, learn from it.”  David Shenk


Monday, November 14, 2011

Selective Attention

In past blogs, we have talked about decision making and selective attention.  As I mentioned previously, one of my roles as a coach is to be the master of the obvious.  As players progress and become more experienced, they will rely more on a mental checklist and not take things for granted.  Things such as the slope of the lie of the ball, the wind and the placement of the hole on the green will be considered instead of merely noted.

You may think that you always pay attention to the wind, but when the pressure is on, you might miss it completely.  The same can be said when the ball is above or below your feet.  Great course designers, such as Tom Doak (who is my favorite), will often place subtle slopes that combine with prevailing winds to lead players to miss targets in a certain direction.  Add water or sand to that miss and you will pay a penalty for not paying attention.  Simply paying attention is an important skill in tournament golf.  Juniors and college players don't get the benefit of a caddy, whose main role is to pay attention or be the master of the obvious for their player.
Caddy, AJ Eathorne, is also a great player.  Did that help her or hurt her as she made the transition to caddy?  As a college champion, she was probably already paying attention to all the things that matter to a player on the course.

I have a clear memory of one of my former players, Jenny Poth, throwing grass in the air on the first tee of the Old Course at St. Andrews.  We all thought it was a funny thing to do, because it was blowing about 30 mph in our faces, but she had simply trained herself to always pay attention to the wind and this was part of her pre shot routine.  She didn't take it for granted when it was calm or when it was blowing.  How do you pay attention to the important factors?  Do you game plan for them by preparing in the practice round or do you include things in your pre shot routine?  However you accomplish it, it is an important skill to train it and make sure it is there when it counts the most.

How well do you pay attention?

Check out this video:  Monkey Business

I will continue the blog tomorrow, because I want you to go watch the video without continuing to read.  Good luck on the test!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Golf Practice Prior to a Tournament Round

Today's blog is a recent SMU Women's Golf practice schedule.  We had five challenges each day and these were used for our tournament preparation. 

It is important to understand the type of practice you are doing and have a plan for your practice.  There is a time for all types of practice.  There is mechanical practice when you are working on specific things in your swing.  Mechanical practice is how many people practice all of the time, which makes it tough to go to the golf course and play without mechanical thoughts.  There is a time to work on your swing, but not prior to a round or a tournament.  Mechanical practice is usually followed by repetitive practice.  Repetitive practice is what we all do to learn a skill and your focus should remain on your movements and motion.  There is feel practice when you are letting your eyes talk to your hands without the thoughts of how it is done.  The last type of practice is competitive practice when you are focused on scoring and using only one ball.  It can be done with others or with goals as a guide.  One ball practice is as close as you can get to the real thing, playing golf.  As we near tournament play, we work mainly on competitive and feel practice as evidenced in the following challenges.  We also work on routine and focus more as we near tournament play.

Enjoy the practice.  These challenges should keep you fully engaged and sharpen your game.  Follow directions closely, such as "no do-overs"! 

The theme is “take care of business”!
1.  Lag putting - Putt to the string from 25, 30, 35 and 40 feet until you get 5 balls within a putter head of the string. 
2.  On a practice hole, go to your full PW distance and hit 25 balls.  If you miss the green, add five balls to the pile.  If you hit the ball within a club length, take 2 balls off the pile.  Stay until you have no balls in front of you.  Now do the same from full SW distance.  Fix all your ball marks.   3.  Get 10 bunker shots up and down.  Use one ball.  Go through your routine.  Finish out all shots.  
4.  Chip against a teammate.  Use one ball and play to 10.  You get a point when you make an up and down and your teammate doesn’t.  Winner gets honors and choice of shot.  Finish everything out!
5.  Choose five clubs in your bag and on the range, hit five shots with each.  1. Hook it  2. Slice it  3.  Hit it high  4.  Hit it low  5.  Hit it straight  No do-overs.  When you are finished, you can go back and do five more shots with a club if you want to.  Spend the time to visualize the shot prior to hitting it.

Thursday - Today’s theme is to prepare for competition with “one-ball” practice and routine work.
1.  Get one ball up and down ten times first using your SW and putter and then using your 9 iron and putter.  Drop the ball and don’t nudge it.  Finish everything out.  Use your routine.  
2.  Play a putting game with a teammate.  9 holes of match play.  Pick long lags.  Talk smack!
3.  Play Around the World from 5 points from 4, 5, and 6 feet.  You have to make 10 in a row going around the circle before you can move to the next distance.
4.  Hit each club in your bag until you hit 3 great shots with each.  Aim at a target for both distance and direction.  You are the judge.  When you hit a great shot, celebrate!  Use your routine and focus!
5.  On a practice hole, hit wedges from 50 yards until you get 10 balls to come to rest within 10 feet.  Now do the same from 75 yards.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Illogical World of Golf

Whew, it has been a while since I have blogged and I miss it a lot.  Life got a bit busy, but blogging was set aside mainly due to the fact that Sprint sent me a bill for $500.  It seems my $70/month internet account used too much data due to roaming.  They won't get me twice with that scam!  New internet sources to come...

Today's topic is decision making on the golf course.  Is your decision making logical?  Does it change based on how you are playing?  Golf seems to appeal to logical, math oriented people.  There are numbers at every turn.  However, I have found that those same math-oriented people lose their logical minds quickly when the heat is on.  Instead of choosing an action based on what is in front of them, they instead carry around past mistakes, fears, doubts, and hopes.  In other words, instead of being a golf robot, most golfers are humans with emotions.

Emotions are an important factor in all of our decision making, whether on or off the course.  Without emotions, we would be crippled by our choices in every day life.  I read a great book this summer about decision making called Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.  Another book I hope to read very soon is The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.  Both of these books are studies in decision making.  Nudge looks at how people make decisions and The Invisible Gorilla was written about how we pay attention.  These are both very simplified explanations and you can check out the blogs that accompany these author's works here:  Nudge Blog and Invisible Gorilla Blog.  I learned a lot from the authors of Nudge about how we all form our choices. 

Golfers make hundreds of choices in every round of golf they play.  I would like to talk about just one; the process of choosing a club for a shot.  As I stand on a par 3 or an approach to a green, my job as a coach is to take in the factors that could effect the shot and come up with a plan.  It is a pretty simple process, yet, it is also inherently complicated. 

Let's go through a typical club choice process:  Par 3, 168 yards to the hole, which is 25 yards deep and 10 from the left edge, green is slightly uphill from the tee, the wind is from right to left and hurting a bit, green is sloped back to front and tiered with the back tier falling off to the left, the green sits on a slope that goes right to left, there is a bunker in the front, left of the green and the green is narrower there.  The green is 38 yards deep, 18 yards wide on front tier and 27 yards wide on back tier.  These seem to be the important features.  Now add situational factors, such as the greens are firm today due to a lot of wind, which has also increased green speed.

Which one should I choose?

The first team member to the tee hits the ball low and consistently draws the ball.  Her landing point needs to be on the front, right side of the green.  As a player, it is her job to choose, commit and execute a shot to that target.  As a coach, it is my job to assist her with her choice of club and target.  I know that everything in the situation (slope, wind, ball flight) might lead her to miss the shot on the left side and leave herself a very tough shot at an up and down, but that knowledge has to stay unspoken and I must somehow nudge her towards the right choices.  On top of the facts of her ball flight, the wind, the green's shape and the distance of the shot is the role that emotion will play in her choices.  As I said before, emotion is a vital part of our decision making process, but how can we shape what we pay attention to and let go of what isn't helpful?

Even though this player knows she usually hits a draw and will need to start her shot at least 15 yards right of the hole, her last look might focus on the flag instead of her chosen target and that flag is mighty inviting.  This would be the emotion of greed.  Another popular emotion that might effect her choice is doubt.  Even though the player hits a low draw 90% of the time, her mind flashes to the 3rd hole of the day when she pushed the ball further right than her aim and it stayed there to end 30 yards right of the hole.  It is possible that could happen again.  Fear might also get in the way of commitment and it introduces itself in a lot of ways.  The bunker might loom large due to a few missed up and downs.  The possibility of going over the green might seem scary.  Just the fear of not executing the shot well sometimes messes with a player.  Emotions that play a part needn't be negative.  Confidence sometimes replaces game plans with intuition and creativity.  Adaptability allows a player to make the adjustments needed to play in a big wind or with a pronounced ball flight.  The emotions that help and hurt a golfer are many and completely individual both to the player and the situation.

Remember, there is a team of five in this event and the next player through the par 3 hits a high ball that moves left to right.  She puts a lot of spin on her shots.  Everything about her shot will be different from the player in front of her.  She will carry it farther on the green and aim closer to the hole.  The wind will not effect her ball as much as it did player #1 due to the shape of her shot.  The bunker will come into play more for this player than the first player.  Not only is every shot in golf unique from a player's standpoint, but as a coach, there can't be much carry over from one player to another since there is usually very few similarities in games.  

Too many times, players and coaches make decisions based on things that aren't important to the situation, but seem to be due to emotions.  Negative emotions based on past mistakes guide decisions.   For example, what a player did on the hole on the day before might seem important even though the wind, the hole location, and the player are all a bit different today.  The approach shot that was hit on the last hole might guide a decision even though it really has no bearing.  A coach might watch a player make a double from the bunker and guide the next player to hit it long or right to avoid the same fate, even though there is no real connection.

Every shot in golf is unique, but players and coaches often carry around memories that create patterns in their minds.  Focusing on patterns is a tricky skill in golf and usually misguided.  Useful patterns such as noticing that you are hitting the ball a bit shorter today or that your putts aren't getting to the hole might lead you to using 1/2 club more or judging the green speed differently.  Patterns that are based on random shots or events will lead to blurred decision making, such as I missed this green short yesterday and I don't want to be short again.

As coaches, our first job is to give players the tools to make decisions that will help them score on the course.  The first tool is to help the player know herself.  These are the questions that will help a player make good decisions:  How far do you carry each club in your bag?  What is your predominant ball flight?  What is your most common miss?  What are your strengths?  What are your weaknesses?

The next job of a coach is to be the Master of the Obvious.  My players tease me about this, because I actually state the title when pointing out important things to pay attention to on the golf course.  For example, being the Master of the Obvious might lead me to tell a player to watch the tops of the trees to see the wind even though she can't feel it where she is standing.  In the heat of competition, the simple act of looking up at the tree tops is out of character for most players, but it can be trained and come in handy on tree-lined courses.  Other M of the O comments would be about the firmness of the greens and choosing a landing point for an approach shot or the amount of green behind a hole to accommodate a shot rolling past the hole.  The reason for becoming a M of the O is explained in the book The Invisible Gorilla.  We choose what we pay attention to and often miss very obvious things.

Learning to formulate a game plan for each shot and for each round is another skill that is developed over time.  It is very common to see a player use a laser on each approach shot, but not use a hole location sheet.  There is so much information lost when a hole location sheet isn't used.  How much green do I have to use in front or behind the hole?  How much green is there left or right of the hole?  These are two very important questions that aren't answered very often these days. By forming a game plan using the terrain, the weather and the predominant ball flight, a player will gain an understanding of where to land the ball, how much spin or release to expect, and how to use the course design to get close to the hole.

A hugely important job of a coach is to trust the player and her intuition.  Coaches have as many emotions working as the players and they can get in the way just as easily as the player's emotions.  All conversations with players must be made as a consultant, not a boss.  Golfers need to steer their own boats and a strong coach who takes over the tiller will get in the way of a player and her development toward greatness.  Players learn through trial and error and overriding their decision making will cause the process to take longer or worse yet, will cause the players to lose confidence in their ability to form decisions.

Most of tournament play is dependent upon a player's preparation and hard work in practice. However, it is impossible to prepare completely for decision making under pressure.  For that, you must play and post your score in public.  The more often you post a score, the more chances you will have to make decisions, learn from them, adjust them and be better next time out.  One of the adjustments players learn to make is which emotions to tap into during a round and which emotions to set aside.  Players also learn to balance logical factors and emotional factors to come up with a style of play.  Coaches can help you with the process, but in the end, the golfer is in charge of her own destiny on the golf course.   If you understand what information you use to make decisions and how you act in different situations you can become a better player through the use of both emotion and logic.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Reading Greens - Three Spots on the Green

We had a great practice session yesterday at the Dallas Athletic Club.  We practiced on the big putting green by the Gold Course first tee, because of the slopes on it.  Our practice was focused on reading the speed of the putt, reading the break of the putt and choosing a break point where we wanted the ball to rely on gravity and momentum to get to the hole.

Felicia is putting to the hole, using the white tee as her break point.  This is a very fast putt and the break point was 10 feet from the hole.  The goal is to aim to the blue tee, die the ball on the white tee and let it feed down the hill to the hole.  (NOTE: by clicking on any of the pictures in this blog, it will get big so you can see it clearly.  After viewing, click the back arrow in your browser.)

The first piece of learning that I witnessed is that a lot of players believe that you should aim at the break point.  If you aim at the break point, you will miss a lot of putts on the low side of the hole.  In other words, you won't be playing enough break.  In order to hit the break point, you usually have to play additional break.  You want to think of the break point as a target, but not necessarily an aim point.

Here is a diagram of the three important points in an uphill putt.   The straight line from the ball to the hole is the line if the putt didn't break and ends in the true center of the hole.  Because your putt breaks left to right, the new center is left of center or about 7 O Clock on a clock face.  Your aim point will start the ball on the arc.  Because the putt is uphill, your break point is very near the hole and the new center is closer to the true center than a fast, downhill putt would present.

Every breaking putt you face has three important spots on the green that should have your attention.  The first is the aim point, the second is the break point and the third is the spot on the hole where the ball will enter.  When you read putts, start at the hole and pick the third spot first.

Here is a diagram of a fast, downhill, breaking putt.  The straight arrow represents your aim point.  The break point is the spot on the putt's line when the ball starts to roll to the hole because of gravity and momentum.  The new center of the hole is the point the ball will enter on the line chosen.  When you putt, look for your center for the putt first, imagine the arc on which the ball will travel and figure out where to aim to get the ball to die on that point.

On the golf hole, there is a point that is the true center.  If the hole is the same as a clock, that point would be 6 O Clock.  If you have a putt that breaks from right to left, your ball will enter the hole on the right side or closer to 4 or 5 O Clock depending on the amount of break.  That point where the ball will enter the hole is the new center for your putt.

Your next job in reading putts is to figure out the break point.  If you lay a stick down on the spot where the ball will enter the hole, that stick will aim at your break point.  If you have a fast, downhill putt, your break point may be 10 feet away from the hole.  If you have a slow putt or an uphill putt, your break point will probably be just a few feet away from the hole, depending on the length of the putt.  The shorter the putt and the slower the putt, the closer the break point will get to the hole.

Here is a youtube video of Nick Faldo using an extreme break point to make a putt at Augusta.

Now that you have chosen the break point, your goal should be to get the ball to roll over that point at a die speed.  From the break point to the hole, the ball should be carried forward by gravity and the momentum of your stroke.  In other words, it should be well beyond the apex of speed and slowing down.  When you figure out how to get the ball to roll over your break point at a die speed, you have figured out where you need to aim.  That is your aim point.

Here is a youtube video of Aaron Baddeley using an aim point to work on a left to right breaking putt.

Taking these three steps is a great exercise for young players.  It clarifies a lot of information for them by clearly breaking down what is important.  Players who grow up playing sloped, quick greens generally do this without a lot of thought.  However, there are a lot of players who grow up playing slow or flat Bermuda greens without a lot of slopes.  For them, this is a new skill and there is a great deal of value in understanding the entire process instead of feeling as though reading greens is a guessing game.  No matter what your age or handicap, if you consistently miss breaking putts on the low side, you need to pay attention to all three important spots on the putting green.  Remember to start at the hole and work your way back to the ball and you will become a much better green reader and you will also understand the importance of speed control in hitting your break points.

The goal of every putt!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Thinking the Right Way on the Putting Green

Over the past few weeks, we have worked hard on our putting at SMU.  The physical practice has shown up in a few player's results, but not all.  After watching great practice and players who know how to putt, it became clear that sometimes a great stroke can be wasted if the player's thoughts are bad. The problem with putting isn't always physical, but is sometimes mental.  Here are some ways poor thinking will effect your putting and good thoughts that will change your approach and make you a better putter.

Put ball here ^.

Does your speed vary based on how you judge the putt?   This is a prevalent problem and you can find support for it from T.V. announcers, scramble partners and even some golf professionals.  Your speed should always match the putt you face and the situation surrounding the putt should never, ever be part of the equation.  There is no such thing as an aggressive putter.  An aggressive putter is simply a putter who is hitting the ball too hard and in effect making the hole a smaller target.  A putt for birdie is not worth more or less than a putt for par.  Both putts are worth one and while all of us would love to make birdie, facing a 4 footer coming back for par isn't what we want after a missed attempt.

When you face a putt, you need to set aside your judgment of the putt itself and of the situation you face.  All putts are makeable if you hit it on the correct line with the correct speed.  There are putts that are very challenging and can get away from you if you don't pay attention.  However, it still holds true that if you do a great job of controlling the speed and hitting the ball on the correct line, you can make challenging putts, too.  If you approach every putt the same and have the two goals of rolling it at the correct speed and starting it on the correct line instead of how easy or tough the putt is, you will make a lot more putts.

This is one time that judgment might be an appropriate response.

Judgment of the situation can also be a problem.  "Needing" to make a putt often leads to forgetting about speed and running the ball past the hole.  If you truly need a putt, give yourself a chance to make it by rolling it at the right speed.  Some players feel a lot of pressure over birdie putts while others feel it over par putts.  Others want to cover mistakes on the hole with made putts.  Whatever your poison, the sooner you can get the idea planted in your mind that every putt is important and should be approached the same way every time, the better you will be on the greens.

Another thing that gets players in trouble on the putting green is analyzing each and every stroke during a round.  Don't worry about being perfect on the greens.  Greens aren't perfect and neither are you.  A good stroke coupled with good focus and preparation will allow you to make a lot of putts.  If your focus is on the wrong thing or if you fail to see slopes or grain, a perfect putting stroke won't help you a bit.  Don't allow yourself to think about putting mechanics during a round.

Don't venture down this lane!

The last way of thinking that often separates great putters from poor putters is the importance of results.  If you have practiced and prepared for a round, you have done all you can to be a great putter that day.  You might miss a few putts, but those putts don't mean a thing, unless you allow them to get in your head.  The missed putts could easily be followed by many made putts if you continue to rely upon your preparation and trust yourself.  However, if you focus on the misses and allow it to change your approach, you will have a rough day ahead of you.  Consistent effort and focus are keys to great putting.  Never let one shot or putt effect any other shot or putt.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

What Do I See When I Recruit?

Many players and parents ask, "what are coaches looking for when they watch golf?"  I can only speak for myself and what I hope to see in young players.  If you want to get my attention, hit it long.  That will make me follow along for at least a few holes.  If you want to keep my attention, roll the ball well on the greens.  By that I mean, control the speed of your putts and if you don't make everything, look as though you would on another day.  If you do those things well, and have a great attitude, you will hook me.

This is my favorite comic of all time.  If I could print it and hand it to junior golfers, I think it might bring a smile and better body language.  Fake it 'til you make it means act like you want to feel.

What makes a great attitude?  I like it when you respect your opponents, no matter how they are playing.  I like to see you smile and look as though you are enjoying yourself.  I like it when you have a quick pace of play.  I like it when you celebrate good things and let go of mistakes.  I like it when a big number is followed by a small number.  I like it when you are respectful to your parents, even when you just made a triple on the final hole.  I like it when you look like a confident player and not a drama queen.  I like it when you work hard before, during and after a round.

Finally, and most importantly, I like winners.  If you are the best player in a high school event, you should win the event.  As you challenge yourself with tougher fields on a regional or national level, you should figure out how to win at that level.  The way to do that is to embrace your strengths, never compare yourself to others and work on getting rid of your weaknesses.  In other words, figure out who you are, what you want your game to look like and work on it every day.  One mistake that young players make when they move from one level of competition to another is to believe they have to change their game to be successful.  These changes usually come at a vulnerable time when good results will already be tough to come by because of the better competition.  I have seen great, young players so shaken by the combination of changes and tough competition that their confidence never fully recovers.  Timing is everything as you are learning the game and how to compete. 

Here are some things that I want to see as a coach:

Forget putting notes on your reports of tournament rounds, such as windy or rainy.  We want players who score no matter what, so your note alerts me to the fact that you have excuses at the ready.

Put your most recent scores at the top.  Don't make me figure out what you are doing now by sorting through four years of scores.

If you want to play college golf, you should be the person communicating with me.   I can tell when emails are written by your parents and their phone calls don't mean as much as if you called me.

Improvement is important, but it doesn't mean as much as current results.  Don't put all your eggs in the improvement basket when you write a letter.  It is my job to judge your potential and your job to fulfill it.  Does your potential as a player mean more if you have further to go to win on the college level?

What is Lexi Thompson's potential? 

Here is some advice as you go through the process:

Talk to current players on as many teams as you can about all teams for whom you might play.  Players know the inside scoop and will share if asked.

Look at the recruiting process as a long one.  Have patience, gather information, don't panic when a few people commit and find the right fit for you.  If you are a good player, it will work out.

Play a lot.  Play in tournaments you can win.  Don't get so focused on national tours that you forget to play local stuff where you can dominate.

Have fun!  Golf is a game you should play for itself, not to get a scholarship.  If you keep that attitude, the scholarship will be a great bonus for loving a game you can play the rest of your life.


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