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.

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