Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Practice for Golf Focus

The Vail Golf Club is one of my favorite courses and I can clearly visualize each hole.
1.      Play your favorite course on the driving range.  Picture the holes, the shots you need to hit and then play the shot as though you are there.  Have the mental discipline to play each shot with focus and realism.  Don’t allow mechanics to creep into your play even though you are on the range.  Use your routine, definite targets and realistic lies.  What kind of ball striking day did you have?  Now use the rest of your range time to work on anything that wasn’t great during the round. 
2.      From the middle of the pitching green, walk off 25 yards.  Put 12 balls down and hit one shot to each flag.  Your goal is to get each shot within 5 feet. Keep track and see if you can get 25% within your target area.  As you move away, expand the target area.  Next time you do the drill, try for a higher % of shots within your circle.  Continue to 75 yards.  Change clubs when needed.  This is a tough challenge and you will need great focus to finish from each yardage.
3.      On the practice green, chip with your sand wedge, wedge and 9 until you chip in with each club.
4.      Play 18 holes on the practice green, always putting to the nearest hole, but never putting back to the hole you just came from.  Go deep!  Your goal should be 3 or 4 under par!
5.      End your day by doing the 20/20 focus drill.  Make 10 from 3 feet, 5 from 4 feet, 3 from 5 feet and 2 from 6 feet.  You must make 20 in a row.  Go through your routine on each putt and pay attention to your focus level.  Commit to the highest level of focus or don’t pull the trigger.
EyeLine Golf Target Circle (6-Feet)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Peter Kostis Thinks College Golf Doesn't Produce Stars

Peter Kostis thinks college golf doesn't produce stars.  At least that is what he said on the PGA telecast on Saturday.  I hate it when commentators say things like that, because there is a segment of listeners who will believe it.  Is he right?  Possibly, but that depends on your outlook.  You can look at examples of pros to support an argument either way, so instead of making a sweeping statement as he did, lets look at how we could make sure that college golf helps players who want to be stars on the big tours.

First, what do young pros learn on tour?  Self reliance.  They spend weeks or even months on the road traveling without the support of a teaching pro, without consistent practice facilities, without a strength coach, without a travel planner, without a nutritionist and without mom and dad.  They soon figure out that they are in charge and they need to either do the right things to be successful or have a lot of fun with other pursuits and soon fail.  One of the young pros Kostis looks at to prove his point is Manaserro.  Manaserro, a European Tour winner is, I believe 19 years old.  I would guess that he has people taking care of him since he went on tour as an 18 year old.  I have no idea what his circumstances, but a big portion of learning to be a pro is dealing with travel, new places, eating right, avoiding alcohol in large quantities or completely and so many other things that go on daily on tour.
Matteo Manessero

What do college players learn?  They learn to show up when their coach tells them to show up.  Unless driven, college players can do just enough.  Once the scholarship is earned, they can go so far as to take months away from the game during off seasons.  They also have a huge support system.  They can have their swing looked at by the coach, local pros or state of the art video systems.  Their every need is seen to in the weight room, the training room and by the coaches.  If all of this doesn't happen, the coach gets a call from mom and dad, so the support system is made up of layers upon layers.  If you truly want to prepare college players for tour golf, mom and dad need to quit helping with summer golf.  Allow Jr. to schedule his events, sign up, make travel plans and figure out where he is staying.  It might seem like helping would be to take care of all those details, but truly helping would be teaching the skills needed at the next level. While in school, allow the players more autonomy as they mature.  Freshmen can have a lot of structure, but slowly back off and by the time players are seniors, they should know what they need to do to prepare for great play.
Patrick Cantlay
Young pros are playing for money and that brings the game into focus.  You need to keep the ball in play, you need to hit greens and you need to make putts.  If you aren't keeping it in play or hitting greens, then your wedges and short game need to be bullet proof.  If not, you miss the cut and miss your pay check.  Putting becomes an important skill needed on both good ball striking days and poor ball striking days.  The clarity of scoring is hammered home with every missed cut or missed opportunity for a win.

In college, there are no cuts, there are no pay checks and the clarity is often missing.  This causes players to focus blame in the wrong places.  When you are a young pro, you learn to accept responsibility for your score.  In college, a shot here or there doesn't have the same effect on the outcome of a tournament, unless the player is driven to win each and every time he or she tees it up.  Until a player experiences a missed cut after a pair of 71s, he won't understand the idea of taking advantage of what the course has to offer.  Until he is playing for gas money to the next event, he won't get the pain of a 3 putt.  Until he realizes that hitting it poorly isn't an excuse for not scoring, his scores will bounce around.  Playing for money hammers home all of those lessons week in and week out.
This is the story on tour.  If the putt falls, you earn a couple of hundred dollars.  If it stays out, someone else takes those bills.
As a college coach, I believe deeply in college golf.  It is a chance to earn an education, sharpen golf skills, be a part of something bigger than yourself and learn to play great golf with a team of like minded people.  With that belief, how can I produce players who can make a smooth transition into professional golf?  That is a good question and one that I think a lot of coaches need to be asking of themselves as they lead golfers to the next level of play.  It is in our self interest to do so if we want to continue to coach the best and brightest young players.
Texas A&M had a culture of winning in their program and turned it into winning it all!
Here are some possible strategies that might help players make a quick transition.  First, teach players to win.  Reward wins within the program.  JT Higgins did a great job of this when I was at A&M. He was  very stingy with qualifying spots.  He wanted players to play for a win, not to play for 5th place.  The guys knew going into some very competitive qualifiers that the one sure way to travel was to win.  Any other outcome would be a risk.  However, the depth of his team allowed for this and many coaches don't have this luxury.  They need to figure out how to get it done either way.

Learning to reward wins and not mediocrity is especially important for players with the goal of greatness.   It is easy in college to excuse away a bad round due to a late party, a looming exam or soreness after a workout.  That same bad round would cost money on tour, but in the college game, it might only cost a few ranking points.  If you want star quality play, there can be no rationalization for a lack of effort or focus.  All players have rough days, but they should never be because of a lack of effort or focus.  A culture of no excuses needs to be cultivated within college golf programs.
Figure out how to win when you should and sometimes when you shouldn't and you will never be mediocre.
Another strategy in college golf is to get a team of driven individuals.  They don't all need to be stars, but they should all be working toward a goal of personal greatness.  It is tough to find people on tour who aren't focused on their own achievement, but in college, many athletes have achieved their goal of earning a scholarship or find that golf is fun, but not the driving force in their life.  If you are a star on a team of halfhearted individuals, you might start to slip into bad habits.  Coaches shouldn't rely on the leadership of one great player to create the atmosphere, but should instead find like-minded teammates for the great player. 

Finally, players need to be told the truth at every level of the game.  There is nothing but truth on any level of professional golf.  Every time a player tees it up, they know the truth.  If they have a bad tournament, they miss the cut and the paycheck.  If they have a bad year, they are back at tour school working to get a spot in the show.  There are, of course, some players making excuses for their play and explaining away why they aren't "making it".  That practice will lead to failure fairly quickly.  The truth lies in the scores.
The truth might hurt, but don't save it for professional golf.  Teach young players to separate the numbers they shoot from their egos and help them understand the process of evaluation and adjustment that occurs with every round of golf.
Tournament golf provides a constant evaluation and adjustment process. Junior players should have a trusted and honest advocate who tells them the truth and that should continue throughout their careers.  Parents are sometimes not good candidates for this job, due to the relationship they want with their children, but they should help find the right person for the job.  If a player learns to hear the truth and accept it, it will help them get into the process of evaluating and adjusting instead of chasing after the wrong things, whether techniques, tempers or bad habits.  If a college player can't hear or won't hear the truth, the process needed for greatness will be slowed down and the player's ego will be too attached to the numbers he produces. 

There will always be an adjustment period when a golfer changes levels.  Sure, Patrick Cantlay is having a great few weeks out there and his game is obviously ready for the tour.  However, what will it be like for him to be on the road for 200 days?  What happens when he is in the Quad Cities and he loses his rhythm?  How about when he is in Memphis and it is 98 degrees and he has strep throat?  The transition to playing tournament golf for a living has a ton of variables and all need to be juggled to assure success.

As I said at the beginning of the blog, you can find players to support whatever argument you want to present.  I believe the bottom line is, for every Manessero, there are 40 or 50 Challenge Tour players barely scraping by, of whom you will never hear.  Perhaps slowing the transition to becoming a star on tour for a college player is a small price to pay for the opportunities that college golf provides for players from around the world.  Plus, it is a blast!
Augusta State celebrates their NCAA win.  The emotions involved with winning championships with your buddies are priceless.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What Did Rory Learn?

The drama of golf.  Sometimes it is like Ulysses, played out in a day.  Sometimes it takes weeks, months or even years to fully understand the drama.  Think of Greg Norman's or Ben Hogan's careers.  Rory McIlroy's drama began in April at The Masters.  He looked like a champion for three rounds, but then fell apart to shoot an 80.  

The body language tells it all.  Dejection, sadness, defeat.
Rory was our hero in a Greek tragedy and the gallery became the chorus.  We could only guess about what flaw brought him down at The Masters.  However, in less than 60 days, Rory overcame the tragedy and rose from the ashes of his defeat.  Very dramatic, isn't it? 

What Rory did is what all of us do in life, we work at something, we fail, we adjust and we do it again.  Rory managed to fail, adjust and succeed on the first attempt if you only count majors.  My question is what did Rory adjust?  What did he learn upon reflection of the events of The Masters?  My guess is, he realized there is more to manage than the golf course.  

Last week, the blog covered the Five Deadly Sins of Course Management.  Today, we are going to talk a bit about course management, but also how to manage your golf game and yourself.  These can be thought of as three separate skill sets, but they intertwine in a round of golf to create a package of greatness or a mess of mistakes.  Rory showed both outcomes during the Masters, but somehow managed to adjust his management skills to create simply greatness in the 2011 U.S. Open.  Here is a synopsis of the three types of management skills needed to play great golf. 

Managing yourself over the course of a tournament round is crucial.  You need to understand what you can and can't control and get a firm grasp on the things that you can control, such as your attitude and energy level.  Then you have to figure out how to act when the things you can't control start happening, such as bad bounces, slow play, opponent's birdies, or bad weather.  The list could go on and on, but this is the point where you need to figure out what bugs you and how you will deal with it.  What happened to Rory at The Masters?  Was the spotlight too bright?  Was the play too slow?  Were his thought spinning forward to a green jacket when they should have been focused on a 3 foot putt?  None of us know, but what we do know is, he figured out how to better manage himself in a major championship.  

 Here are some things that you can use to help you improve your self management on the golf course:
  1. Never let one part of your game have a negative effect on another part of your game.  If you carry your disappointment over a 3 putt to the next tee, you have allowed your putting to effect your driving.  This spiral can go on and on.
  2. Be realistic.  What are the percentages of the shot at hand?  Does more pressure create more desire for the miracle shot?
  3. You can never “make up for” bad holes or bad shots.  That mentality will compound your mistakes.  Mistakes will happen to all players.  Instead of making up for them, figure out how to let go and refocus.  Remember to leave the desire for perfection at home.  Golf is not a game of perfection.
  4. Start the day with a game plan for your mental game.  Stick to the plan throughout the round.  An example might be as simple as this; I will see each shot I want to hit, commit to it and hit it. 
  5. Understand your adrenaline level and stay level throughout the day.  If you get to a situation that “pumps you up” make sure you allow for that.  Eat a small amount every six holes to keep your energy level stable.  Drink plenty of fluids! One bottle per nine on a cool day and two bottles per nine on a hot or windy day when walking.
  6. It is your responsibility to deal with any distractions you meet.  If you become a victim to an annoyance or a distraction, you have lost control.
  7. Always have the proper gear for the day.  There is no excuse to not have an umbrella, rain gloves or extra towels when you are in bad weather at a tournament.  
  8. Understand that you will have challenges throughout your day and accept that you will deal with them as well as possible. 
  9. Have a solid pre-shot routine that allows you to focus on the shot at hand, aligns your clubface and body for the shot and gives you the rhythm needed to hit the shot.  Have a solid post-shot routine that allows you to keep reactions to a minimum and keep your cool under pressure.  After you hit a shot, it is past and your goal should be to be focused on the next shot needed.
  10. Be yourself!  If you are a talker, talk on the course.  If you are quiet, then its okay to be quiet.  If you love to smile, no need to play with a grim look.  The person you are away from the course is the person you should bring to the course.
Game management is the skill of knowing your game, understanding your strengths and weaknesses and playing to your strengths on the golf course.  Personally, I didn't notice any weaknesses in Rory's game, so I am not sure how much this needed to be adjusted, but according to the commentators he has a "left miss" so I guess even record breaking needs some management.  Here are some things that you need to be a great game manager.
  1. Know how far you carry each club in the air.
  2. Have a “go to” shot you can rely on when under pressure.
  3. Learn how to work the ball both ways.
  4. Have a bump and run shot in your bag from 50 yards and in, as well as the flop shot.
  5. Know your strengths and use them when you play.  For example, if you are a great bunker player (over 50% up and downs), feel free to go at pins tucked behind bunkers.  If you are a poor bunker player, play to the center of the green when the pin is tucked.
  6. Know how to control punch outs.  Too many players punch out of trouble into trouble, because they never practice punch shots or control distance on the range.  
  7. Play in the wind whenever possible and learn to control your trajectory and ball flight.  
  8. Play in the rain whenever possible and learn to juggle your umbrella and two towels so your gear and hands stay dry.
  9. Practice for trouble, not for perfect conditions.  Learn to hit good shots from divots, deep rough and funky bunker lies.
  10. Be a great putter.  All great tournament players manage the greens well.
Managing the golf course is the x's and o's of preparation and competition.  It is the skill of knowing the competition course and how it can help you score.  It is understanding where you want to land the ball off the tee, which angle you want to approach the hole from and where it will be easiest to putt from to any hole location on the green.  When you are a skilled course manager, the course seems to open up for you.  Great course managers hit what poor course managers think are lucky shots that bounce off of hills into the fairway or hit slopes on the green and curl slowly toward the hole.  They look at the course and see a road map of how to play it.  If, however, you ignore what the course designer visualized, the course will penalize you for the smallest mistakes.  Here are some things to look for the next time you play a practice round.
  1. Stand on the back of every green after playing a hole and look at the hole.  From this perspective, you will notice where the hole is open and where the trouble is located.  You will also see how the ball can best be played to the green.
  2. Take notes on each green and be consistent.  For example, split the green into quadrants with front right named “A”, back right named “B”, etc.  Then on your course notes, you can keep track of where you want to be in regards to each quadrant.  On the course, in the heat of the competition, your notes will be simple and straightforward.  A big X through A will mean that is a pin you need to play away from, while a circle around the B means you have a green light. When competition is heated or important, things seem to speed up and the simpler you make your notes, the better it will be for making quick decisions.
  3. Use arrows to denote slope and speed.  One arrow is fast, two arrows means very fast.  This will help you to remember where slopes are on fairways and greens and allow you to use them to help you.
  4. If there is a tiered green, write down the distance to the top of each level.  When you look at your hole location sheet, you will be able to tell which level the hole is on.  You can do this prior to your round to help you make quick decisions. In fact, if you get to the course early and get a hole location sheet, you can copy your course notes to it so you only have to look at one thing for your approach shots and putts.
  5. Figure out where the widest spot is in each fairway and land your ball in that area.
  6. Look for the best view of the green from the fairway.  
  7. Figure out the prevailing wind and make sure to pay attention to the holes that have doglegs or trouble on the side that the wind blows toward.  Make sure if you work the ball a certain direction that you really pay attention if the wind blows the same direction as you work the ball.
  8. Find out if there is local knowledge that can help you, such as greens break toward the river. 
We can say that Rory adjusted his skills in a few months time, but it actually has been a long process.  It started when he was a little guy and playing against older, stronger players.  Over his career of junior golf, amateur golf and as a young pro, he has steadily learned to deal with lots of factors that can cause a round of golf to go south.  Major championships are like giant magnifying glasses.  The toughness of the course set up and the desire to win increase the pressure on even great players.  Weaknesses of any kind are magnified.  Rory's job after The Masters was to figure out where he was weak and adjust to correct it and create a strength.  His biggest failure lead to his biggest success because it forced him to adjust his weaknesses and create strengths. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Scorer's Practice

4 hour practice- All About Scoring!
Are you excited about getting the ball in the hole?

1.       Play 9 holes and play match play against the course.  If you birdie, you win the hole.  If you par, you push.  Anything more and you lose the hole.    Other options are to drop an extra ball on every hole from a distance you need work.  You can also play par 3’s from the tips, play par 4’s from the 150 marker and play par 5’s play from the 100 marker.  Keep score and see if you can break 27!
When you come in off the course, stay in the short game area and play one ball up and down games.  If you can find someone to play with you it will be more fun!
2.       In the bunker, get the ball up and down 10 times.  You get 20 tries to get it done.  If you don’t get 10/20, start over and do it until you get it.  Vary the length of your shots and the lies.  Give yourself a lot of different looks and realistic shots. Remember, one ball, so you will be doing a lot of walking, but this is realistic and the best practice you can get.

  3.       Take two sleeves of balls and chip to six different holes on the practice green.  Get at least four of the balls up and down.  You may use different clubs to hit the shots.  Stay with it until you accomplish it. 
  4.       Lag Putting Challenge:  Use the two sleeves of balls again and put a tee down in the middle of the green.  Putt to six holes from the tee.  You must get each ball within two feet of the hole to finish.  Challenge yourself by picking holes that are far away.  To make it tougher, get the ball within 1 foot of the hole.  You can finish the challenge by putting out if you want to.

      I put a link to my favorite book about scoring, Raymond Floyd's Elements of Scoring.  It is one of the few golf books I have found that is written for good    players, not beginners.  Here is a quote from Raymond that I love:  “I am a good putter. I know it and I believe it. If I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t be a good putter. Every scorer should feel this way. Although putting certainly requires some talent, the mechanical demands are minimal. I honestly believe that with a strong mind, you can literally will the ball into the hole.” Raymond Floyd

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Its All in the E's and the Eyes

What are the E's you ask?  The E's are the important words to remember if you want to be a great coach.  Yesterday, I had the good fortune to watch a great coach in action and saw him using the E's.  He was enthusiastic, encouraging and enlightening.

I paid a drop in fee to do my rehab at the Alpine Tennis Center and I was on a bike above the courts.  The tennis pro was below me teaching a seven year old girl the game of tennis.  I could barely hear a word he said, but I could plainly see the E's in action through his body language.  It was clear that he loved what he was doing by his enthusiasm.  His enthusiasm was contagious for the 7 year old and she wanted some of what he had!  He was encouraging on many levels.  When things went well, we would give a YEA!  He would stop and clap and he grinned ear to ear.  It was obvious that he was very pleased with her and she understood it when she either did something well or gave great effort.  Finally, his enlightenment was fantastic.  He stopped action, drew her in by being quiet, showed what he didn't like by mimicking and being somewhat goofy and then showed the movement he wanted more than once.  This pro gave a great lesson and both teacher and student had a lot of fun.

One of the things he spent a lot of time on is another E, the eyes.  They started the session by tossing a ball into cone.  He was prompting the girl to watch the ball into the cone.  It was evident by her head movement that she adjusted and learned to do what he wanted.  Then when she got a racket in hand, he once again told her where her eyes should look.  He was training that all important skill called eye-hand coordination.  That coordination seems to encompass a lot of skills, such as target recognition, aiming, depth perception, focus, and taking in details or information for decision making.  In a 30 minute session, the pro seemed to touch on all of these without ever mentioning any of them.

After training the eyes to watch the ball into the cone and then onto the racket, he put targets out on the court.  The seven year old immediately went from hitting the ball to hitting the ball to a spot.  Her target awareness went from a vague, I want to hit it in the lines to, I want to hit it to that orange circle.  Target awareness brought about aiming and body control.  Then the pro started varying the shots he hit to the girl, so now she had to make decisions about where to contact the ball and how to hit it to her target.  She was taking in information, making decisions and executing a tennis shot.  Sometimes she was successful and sometimes she wasn't, but the process happened either way.  The pro would make sure to use the three E's to give feedback and on they would go.  Golf instructors could learn a lot from this tennis lesson.  Introduce a target to introduce alignment and see what happens.

Here is what I was reminded of by watching a great pro in action.  First, the three E's are important, whether you are 7 or 70.  We all want and need encouragement and enlightenment from enthusiastic people.  It also helps if they are themselves enlightened or knowledgeable.  Second, by training the eyes, you train the skills.  It would be great if the catch phrase for learning golf was "keep your eyes on the ball" instead of "keep your head down".  Keeping your eyes on the ball is the first step to making contact.  Seeing and playing to a target is the first step to body awareness and alignment during the swing.  Watching the results of the shot is the first step toward depth perception and adjustment for success.  However, if you go to the driving range, you see a lot of folks with their heads down, possibly watching the ball, but possibly not, with no target and barely glancing at the shot they just hit before dragging another ball over.  Your eyes are the leaders of your brain and your body.  If you train them properly, they will lead you to become a great golfer. 

Dr. Craig Farnsworth has written some great books to help golfers understand and succeed in this area.  You can go to Amazon and check them out.  Another great resource you can check out is PBS's Scientific America  In it, Alan Alda presents us with the importance of a quiet gaze for successful athletes and visits with Dr. Joan Vickers about her research on successful gaze control in sports.  You can also check out her website if you want more information.  Dr. Vickers website.  Finally, this tennis pro understood that this little girl was learning through her eyes, not just her ears.  He was demonstrative with his body movements, he mimicked, he demonstrated and he used visual aids.  He didn't rely only on the spoken word.

The one thing that golf pros have over tennis pros is our proximity.  We can stand very close to a student when we teach, so that student can also benefit from manipulation.  We can give them movement cues through touch.  However, this isn't a benefit if you are using touch to "stop action" and hold positions.  Golf, like tennis is a game of flow and sequences.  If you teach using frozen positions, it will take longer to achieve the goals you are trying to teach.

Tennis has a lot going for it, especially if you are a 7 year old girl.  There is easy access to tennis courts.  Instruction and equipment is affordable.  When you make it big, you make as much as the guys do!  We have a lot of work to do in golf to keep it moving forward and to address these simple things; access, affordability, and equality.  Here is a good column on that subject.  That, however, is a subject for another blog.

P.S. The third E, enlightenment, can entail a lot of discipline, just so you don't think coaching is all sweetness and light.

Perhaps the best of all time at the E's.  Coach John Wooden speaks to Lew Alcinder.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Grinder Practice

    1. Wedges – Put towels out at three different distances for your lob wedge.  Hit shots to the towels varying the target and the trajectory until you hit each towel.  Now do the same with your sand wedge and gap wedge.  You may move the towels to your distances.  Figure out how long your swing is and what your ball position is for each distance and trajectory.
    2. Short Irons – Hit your PW, 9, 8 and 7 irons at targets that you have lasered.  You may put the nets out, lay towels down or use the greens on the range, but you must be able to see the ball land.  Hit ten shots with each club.  Rate each shot on a scale of 1-10 for distance and direction.  A perfect score for each club is 100.  When you hit ten shots and get at least 70 with the club, move to another club.  This is your rating system
    3. Hit the long irons and fairway woods in your bag until you hit three in a row you are pleased with.  Go through your routine, pick a definite target and hit the shot. 
    4. Drivers – Pick a fairway on the range.  Separate 14 balls from the pile and see if you can hit 14 fairways.  You set the standard of the narrowness of your fairway.  Go through your routine and pick a target within the fairway.    How many fairways did you hit today?
    5. Putting – Today will be about progression drills and repetition. 
                                                              i.      Make 10 putts from 3 feet with your right hand only.
                                                            ii.      Make 10 putts from 3 feet with your left hand only.
                                                          iii.      Make 10 putts from 2 feet with no backswing (push drill)
                                                          iv.      Put tees down at 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 feet.  Make all five putts in a row.  Begin closest to the hole.  To make this more challenging, go back again (10 putts instead of 5).
                                                            v.      Put 5 tees down around the hole at 12 feet for each tee.  Go in a circle and putt from each tee.  When you make the putt, move the tee back one putter length.  When you have moved a tee twice, pick it up when you make the third putt.  If you do this drill until you are finished, you will have made 15 putts from 12 to 18 feet.
                                                          vi.      Putt to a hole from 20 feet until you make it.  You can use as many balls as you need, but you are not allowed to move balls out of your way, so get them to the hole.  Now do the same from 25 and 30 feet.  Continue as long as you want to.
Congrats!  You finished a tough day of practice.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Five Deadly Sins of Course Management

The Five Deadly Sins of Course Management

The desire for more in any given situation 
  • In the woods, choosing the low percentage shot 
  • In the fairway, choosing to go at a sucker pin  
  • On the tee, choosing to hit to a narrow area that is 20 yards further than a wide area. 
  • Failing to remember that each shot or stroke is worth “1”. 
Excessive belief in one’s own abilities.  Shown by the desire to “try harder”, “make up for the past, or “show” my game.
  • A change in position creates a change in game plan
  • A focus on results vs. task
  • An attempt to change other’s perceptions of you as a player.
Green with Envy!
The desire to have different circumstances than those you are presented with at the moment.            Examples
  • Not being in the moment.
  • Talk of others “making everything” as though it is a fluke.
  • The wish for things to be easier or a “why me?” attitude.   
Anger or Wrath  The manifestation of your frustration or inability to accept what has happened.  Often thought to overcome reason.
        You know these without my examples.
Staying with the movie theme, the famous putter toss from Caddyshack! 

                Failing to check your course notes to note your plan
                Mentally relaxing when things become “too much”
                Choosing to play without a game plan.

Here are some ways to stay on the right paths and not visit the deadly sins of course management:
Practice Round
    Chart the course.  
            Note what can help you and what can hurt you.
            Know where the fairway is wide and where it is narrow
            Know where the “sucker” pins will be.
            Know any generalities.
    Figure out what the designer had in mind.
            Where do they want you to hit it?
            With what do they distract you?
            Where do they give you an escape?
            What are the tendencies?

Game Plan
    Know your game.
            How far do you hit your clubs?
            What are your strengths and how can you play to them?
Where is the optimal spot to play from with each shot on each hole?
How will the spin on your ball effect the flight?  How will the wind effect the flight?  
Clear head
    Make your plan by what you want to do vs. what you don’t want to do.
            Note problem areas.
            Play away from trouble.
            Do not short side yourself.
            Remember the five deadly sins of course management.

Another of my favorite movies, The Sound of Music and Julie Andrews singing My Favorite Things

These are a few of my favorite things (feel free to put it to music!):
    1.  Fat side of the pin.  
    2.  Boring golf (fairways and greens)
    3.  Getting out of trouble quickly and efficiently.
    4.  One putts, whether for birdie, par or more.
    5.  Conservative decision making following a mistake.
    6.  Recognizing “sucker” pins.
    7.  Great wedge players.
    8.  Great putters.
    9. Smart players who understand their strengths and weaknesses.
    10. Reasonable players who are aggressive when it makes sense.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How Do You Practice?

What is the best practice for you?  That depends on where you are in the process of learning the game and what your goal is for the practice session.  Here are some different scenarios and some practice possibilities for each.

1.   Learning a new skill or changing a habit -
  •    For this type of practice, you should be clear on exactly what you want to do.  An example of this is, when I swing the club, I will make sure the shaft is on plane by feeling the balance of the club in my hands and not allowing it to drop at the top.  Instead, my right arm will support it at the top.  
  • This type of practice needs to be very critical.  Each swing should be evaluated.  Be picky with yourself and self-correct whenever it is done incorrectly by rehearsing what you want and putting it into practice.
  • Get help from a knowledgeable source, training aids or video.  When you are learning or relearning a movement that is crucial for your golf, your comfort level needs to be shaken.  It is human nature to seek comfort, so it is good to have some eyes on you to tell you when you are doing the right thing or even what the right thing is in your swing.
Here is a great link to a blog that I find fascinating:  Talent Code Blog  In it, Daniel Coyle talks about how not to learn quickly.

2.  Preparing for competition or learning to put your skills to use -
  • Use one ball whenever possible.  Game like practice is slow and might seem like it isn't very productive, but it puts you in the mode of success vs. failure.  If you are working on your short game using one ball, you either get it up and down or you don't and if not, you need to make adjustments and figure out how to be successful.  
  • Figure out how to introduce competition into your practice, whether with your best or with others. By placing a win/loss atmosphere on your practice, you will up the pressure and move it a bit more toward realism.  
  • Play!  Go to the course and try to set your own personal course record every time out.  Make do/don't bets with yourself, such as, if I break 80 today, I get to stop at DQ and get a cone on the way home.  Keep stats and figure out where you can shave a stroke or two to lower your handicap.
  • Practice how you will play.  Use your routine, focus, have a game plan, and measure your risk and reward.  Many of my students take a different attitude to practice rounds than they do to competitive rounds.  They like to drop a second ball or try the miracle shot.  These things might seem harmless in the moment, but the harm is in having an attitude different than you will take into competition.  Allowing yourself a mulligan in practice lessens the pressure and focus.  Going for the miracle shot, whether you pull it off or not, doesn't teach you how to use strategy successfully.  
This might seem like a random picture, but the most competitive and game like practices I have witnessed in my life happen in wrestling.  They will do the same take down move 40 times and each time it is intense.  I have a great deal of respect for the focus and work ethic of wrestlers.  They were the best athletes I knew growing up in Iowa. 

3.  Feel practice -
  • How will you learn what you can do with the club and the ball if you don't experiment?  This is a type of practice that you loved as a kid, but now seems frivolous.  How much can you open the face of your wedge and still hit the ball?  Can you hit a shot that never gets more than waist high and how far will it go?  Can you hit a shot standing on one leg or left handed?  This type of practice gives you an idea of what is possible and what moves you need to make to create shots.  
  • Everything in golf is unique.  You might hit the same club off the first tee each day, but will the wind, the grass length or your body ever be exactly the same?  From there, the uniqueness of each shot you face will increase.  The beauty of golf is that you can play the same course day in and day out but no round or even hole will play exactly the same.  That means you will need creativity and imagination to produce great shots.  If you cannot imagine or visualize a shot prior to hitting it, it will be tough to pull off.  Having a fun, creative and imaginative practice session will prepare you for the uniqueness of the game.
  • Creativity leads to innovation and learning.  You know the old saying, if you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always got.  If you try new things, you might find an easier way to achieve your best.  Imagine if Dick Fosbury never tried his flop in the high jump.  Would someone else have it figured it out or would we still be doing a scissor kick over a low bar?  On a smaller scale, I watched a great player at A&M practice his knock down shots in a way I had never seen a knock down hit before.  When I asked him who taught him that method, he told me he figured it out himself and it worked every time.  I had never read about the shot being hit that way or seen it by any other player, yet when I tried it myself, I found that it did indeed work every time.  It is now a shot I teach to others, thanks to the creativity of a young and talented player.
Was Fosbury the most creative person in sports?  His imagination changed his sport.

Next time you go out to practice, make a conscious decision how you will practice.  All of us need all areas, no matter where we are in our game.  Great players need repetition and critical practice to keep their skills sharp and new players need to move their game to the course and can prepare with game like practice.  We all need creativity, imagination and fun to stay fresh and stay in touch with life long learning.



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