Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Team Clinic - Chipping

A quick review of the basics is a great way to remember what is important for your game, whether you are a beginner or a touring pro.  At SMU, we do weekly clinics that touch on a subject, review the important points and move into individual variances so the players can constantly expand the shots they can play on the golf course.  This week's clinic was chipping.

When you approach the green, your first goal is to find a place to land your chip shot.  The area should allow you to predict how the ball will react.  It is great if you can land your chip on a flat spot that is the same consistency as the rest of the green.  In other words, not a wet spot or a hard spot.

After you choose a landing point, you then visualize the shot.  What club do you need to land the ball on that spot and have it roll out to the hole?  After visualizing, it is time to choose a club.

You are now in the pre shot routine stage.  Go back to your visualization (SEE IT), step into the shot and take a practice swing (FEEL IT) and now address the ball and hit it.  This is not the time for thinking about HOW.

To support our clinic today, we did some practice challenges that honed our skill of landing the ball on the spot we chose.  That skill is often lacking, even with accomplished players and it must be developed with any club you use when you chip.

Here are the challenges:
Challenge 1:  Put a towel or a circle on the ground 2 steps onto the green.  Now put 10 balls down 2 steps off the green, another 10 balls 5 steps off the green and a third pile of 10 balls 10 steps off the green.  Choose 2 clubs for each shot and land the ball in the circle. Watch how far it rolls out.  This is a drill to control trajectory and landing point, which are the first two things you consider when choosing a chip shot.
Challenge 2: Lay 4 clubs on the ground in a ladder with 3 feet in between each club.  Use your LW, SW, and PW.  With each club, land one ball in each section of the ladder.  You must control how long the ball will be in the air, so adjust your ball position. You must make 3 in a row with each club prior to moving on.  

The next things we talked about are the variables you adjust to control how high or low the ball flies, how to control spin and we also touched on tempo with individuals on the team.  The first important variable to understand is shaft lean.  Shaft lean is controlled with set up or where in your stance you place the ball.  It is also controlled with technique or how well you return your hands to the ball and keep control of the shaft of the club from handle to head.  If you want a lot of shaft lean, you will place the ball far back in your stance.  This will create a low shot that will land quickly.  If you want less shaft lean, you place the ball more forward in your stance and the ball will fly higher and spend more time in the air.  This is an important theory to understand and practice if you want to land the ball on the spot you choose when chipping.  Your technique is also important to controlling your shaft lean.  Your arms must swing through the shot, creating a 50/50 swing with nice tempo to help you control your shaft lean.  Many players stop swinging the club and deliver their hands to deliver the club head.  This adds loft to the club by taking away shaft lean.  

An obvious way to change how high the ball flies is to choose different lofted clubs.  My advice to the team is start with getting great at three ratios; 50:50, 30:70 and 70:30.  Find a club that creates a chip that flies 1/2 way to the hole and rolls the next half.  That is your 50:50 ratio.  Now, figure out which club flies about 1/3 of the way to the hole and rolls out 2/3's of the way.  That is your 30:70 ratio.  Most players favorite chip is the third, using a lob wedge to fly it 2/3's of the way to the hole and letting it release the final 1/3.  That is your 70:30 ratio.  If you can begin by mastering three clubs and these three ratios, you will soon be making small adjustments with ball position and length of back swing that covers any shot you face around the green. 

The final subject we touched on was spin.  Learning to roll a ball is powerful, because it gives you the best opportunity to predict the landing and roll out of the shot.  Many players seem to want to spin their chips, but now you are introducing an extra variable to control.  Spin is added to a chip with speed and firm hands at impact.  Spin is taken off chips by smoothing your chips with a soft and subtle release of the hands.  Allowing the toe of the club to close slightly as you are chipping will allow the ball to roll out without spin.  When you need a ball to check, you want to tighten your hands at impact and create the feeling of keeping the toe of the club behind the face at impact.  It would be great if you practice both shots and understand how to control your spin instead of having it randomly show up at times.  

Chipping is fun to practice.  I hope you enjoy your chipping challenges today and focus on being the best at landing the ball on the spot you choose.   

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Balance, Counter Balance and Speed in the Golf Swing

Today's blog is a communication for one of my players, so I am not going to bother with the pictures.  It is chock full of links to swings and other things, so it will take a little time to read, but it is a good overview of the importance of motion and balance to your power.  I tried to make it comprehensive, but it is a subject with many examples.

Our bodies work to stay centered in all that we do.  If you are gently pushed backward, your body will quickly compensate by either leaning forward into the force or by taking a quick step backward.  All of this is reflexive and is happening for us constantly.  Many things that are happening in your golf swing are also reflexive and occur as a result of balance problems or misconceptions.  It rarely occurs to us that something as simple as balance could be causing our swing flaws, but it is actually one of the major causes.

If you take a golf stance as you would to create a powerful ready position in another sport, you will be starting on the right track.  Power is created through a combination of leverage, balance, strength and speed.  Picture a power lifter about to lift a heavy rack of weight.  He will sink into his hips and his weight will be centered between the arches and heels of his feet.  His weight will never be on his toes or even the balls of his feet.  If it were, he would tip forward and not be able to properly use his hips and legs to push against the ground while lifting.  By centering his weight using the strongest leverage point, where the tibia centers over the foot, his balance is assured and his butt will serve as ballast for the heavy weight being lifted on the front side.  Even though we aren't lifting a big rack of weight, golfers also need to have their weight centered or more specifically, directly below where the leg bone meets the ankle joint.

Here is a link to a dead lift with proper form.  Notice where the weight is on his feet as he lifts.

Here is a link to a swing by KJ Choi.  Notice that his set up puts the weight in the very same place on his feet as the weight lifter.

If you set up with your weight too far forward in your feet, with too much weight toward your toes, your body will immediately counter balance by swinging your arms inside on the way back and bringing your overall balance back to center.  If you had poor instruction and you were told that you should be on the balls of your feet at address, it would be a fair guess that your next lesson focused on the takeaway and you worked on getting the club on plane on the way back, instead of inside the plane.  If you are a player who struggles with bringing the club too far inside with your backswing, you should start by checking your balance at set up and making sure it isn't too far forward.

The opposite of this would be the golfer who has too much weight on his heels at address.  One thing that is usually lacking when the weight is too much on the heels is good posture.  Good posture will have a hip set that provides a counterbalance at address.  Usually, players with too much weight on their heels have posture that includes too much knee bend and too straight of a spine angle or in other words, their backs are straight up and down instead of tilted over the ball.  Their first move usually involves dropping their heads and rocking their shoulders to take the club away.  Once again, if you have been told that you drop your head or move it up and down as you swing, you should check your balance and posture. 

If all of this happens based on poor address positions, imagine what happens when your balance isn't where it should be as you are swinging the club.  As I said earlier, power will be created with the combination of balance, leverage, speed and strength.  Your balance is controlled by your center or core. Think about what your body does when you begin to walk.  When I ask students how they begin walking, almost all tell me that they start by kicking their leg forward.  Our bodies don't move because our appendages move.  It is the opposite.  Your core is in charge of whatever you do with your arms, legs or head and it will adjust using other appendages to offset a bad move.  Have someone put the end of your golf grip directly below your belly button and then try to take a step.  You will instantly feel stuck, no matter how many times you kick your leg forward.  A step forward starts with your core leaning forward to create momentum.  Your leg fires out to keep you from falling on your face because of that momentum.

Check out this link to an example of what we are talking about.  It is a very cool clip.  Notice how the woman in the clip only spins fast when she is lined up top to bottom.

In your golf swing, the center of your body starts the turn away, the shoulder turn and gently shifts the weight back and through.  Many players have a high center of gravity and want their heads to lead their back or through swing.  The extra movement that occurs high in the body is tough to recover from for golfers.  It is not exactly correct for someone to ask you to keep your head still.  Your head will move slightly back and through as you swing.  However, a lot of head movement is counter-productive to a great swing that is grounded.

A link of a teacher going over a one footed spin.  Again, he talks about the importance of standing straight over the skate you are spinning on.

Another common misconceptions that even good players have is that you need to be centered at impact.  If your balance is centered in the middle of your body at impact, it will be tough to hit down on the golf ball, release the club down the line or create maximum speed in either your turn or club head.  There are three centers in the golf swing.  The first is the true center, which is your starting point and is the midline between your sternum and belly button.  The second center is the point you move to in your back swing and is a point just inside the top of your right femur or the inside of your right hip.  From there, you move to the third center, which is just inside the top of your left femur or the inside of your left hip.  This move to the third center is the key to the speed that big hitters have as they swing through the ball.  If you are taught to return to center, but not taught to commit to your front leg, everything will slow down in your through swing because of the lack of a straight line of rotation.

Here is a video of a little girl learning to spin on one skate.  In her first attempt, her weight isn't centered over her skate, but more in the center of her body.  She loses her balance and has to use her head and arms to right herself.  In her second attempt, she commits her center over her skate and is able to spin in a straight line.  This commitment is the same thing we need in a golf swing.  Perfect balance along with maximum speed happens when we commit our weight over our front foot, so we can create a straight line that extends from the ground up to our head.  If we hang back and start our through swing without committing all the way to our third center, our core will be working to offset the balance problem created by having our head behind center while the hips are out in front of center.   Check out this swing of Rory McIroy.  Stop it at :07 and you will see that his weight is lined up over the inside of his left hip.  His head is quiet and his hip is under his shoulder and his body creates a line that allows it maximum speed.

I hope all of this helps you to understand the balance you want in a great golf swing and the problems poor balance will cause.  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Keeping Statistics to Track Improvement

How do you track your game?  Do you really know what causes you to make bogies?  Can you clearly see the areas of your game that need improvement?  Do you have a grasp of your strengths and weaknesses?  One way to know your game is to keep statistics and compile them to see true percentages and trends.  Here is a sample of the stats you can keep to track your game.

Any scorecard can be used to keep statistics by using the boxes below your score for additional data.

Date, Course, Par
Score, Fairways Hit, Greens Hit, Putts
Up & Down Chances from within 50 yards and Bunker Chances

From the numbers you compile from these simple stats, you can gather a lot of helpful information.  Here is an explanation of how you can use these numbers to help you learn more about your game after each and every round.

How to Use Your Stat Compilation:

The beginning is very straightforward.  It includes the date, course and par played.  This is important so you can view your scoring historically.

Next, you will keep your hole by hole score.  From this, you can keep track of your scoring vs. par, your scoring vs. par on par 5's, par 4's, and par 3's.  You can keep an average score that is updated each time you play.

Fairways hit is very simple.  Simply put an X in the box under the score if you hit the fairway and either a "R" or an "L" if you miss the fairway right or left.  There are generally 14 fairways per round, so a simple spreadsheet xcel equation would be =sum(fairways hit)/sum(possible fairways).  If you hit 7 fairways tomorrow, your % would be .50.  If you want to check that out versus the pros on tour, go to PGA Tour Fwys Hit

You will do the same for Greens Hit.  Put an X in the next box down on the scorecard.  If you hit a great shot and get your approach within 15 feet of the hole, circle the X and we will use that statistic for a few things.  If you miss R or L record those.  We will add O for over the green or S for short of the green.  The direction you miss greens isn't overly important unless you truly aren't paying attention.  If you are consistently right or left of the green, you may need to work on alignment or something specific in your swing.  If you are short, you might be kidding yourself with how far you carry each club in your bag.

Nick Watney is #1 in Total Putting on the PGA Tour

The next stat is putting.  If you keep putting hole by hole, you can acquire a lot of data.  First, you can track your Putts on Greens in Regulation or PGIR.  Simply count the putts under the holes with X's marking green hits.  If, for example, you hit 9 greens and have 16 putts on those holes, you would have a PGIR score of 1.77.  This is a significant stat.  On the LPGA, 8 of the top 10 in PGIR are also in the top 35 on the money list.  Check it out on the LPGA's Statistics Page.

Julie Inkster is 11th in the P.G.I.R. stat and 33rd on the money list.

The next putting stat is PPR, which means putts per round.  It is obvious that the more greens you hit, the higher this number will probably be, but with that being said, it is a good indicator of progress throughout the year.  When your putting becomes great, you will see the number drop below 30, no matter how many greens you are hitting.

The final putting stat we will use is the conversion percentage when you hit your approach within 15 feet of the flag.  Fifteen feet is a random number to designate a good shot, but it is a distance that creates makeable birdie chances, so we will use it.  Simply count the number of putts below all your circled X's and equate them into an average.  For example, let's say you hit three approach shots into  15 feet and made birdie once.  You would have a 33% conversion rate of birdies.  The PGA Tour can actually track how close each player hits each approach shot, so instead of conversion rates, they keep track of the feet of putts made on each hole by each player.  Once again, we don't need that much information to improve our game. 

Up and down percentage is kept whenever you are within 50 yards of the green.  It doesn’t matter with which shot and by that I mean if you are hitting your 3rd on a par 5 from 25 yards in front of the green or just missed the green on a par 3, it counts as an up and down attempt.  An up and down attempt is successful if it is converted in two shots.  You could miss the green with your wedge and chip in and it would be counted as a successful up and down, not two up and down tries.  You can only have one up and down try per hole.  If you miss the green and are outside 50 yards or cannot play to the green, you don’t need to claim an up and down opportunity.  Anything hit from off the surface of the green is an up and down try, including putting from the fringe.  

The bunker stat is the same.  If you are within 50 yards of the green in a bunker, you have two shots to convert it to be successful.  Both of these stats are simple to keep.  Whenever you have a hole without an X on the green hit, you should look below for the number of putts.  If there is one putt, you converted an up and down.  If you would like more information, you might want to put a B for Bunkers, a C for Chips and a P for Pitches.  If you were outside 50 yards, a simple NC would designate that you had No Chance for an up and down.

Now we can start getting into some interpretive stats within your scoring.  The first and what I believe is the most important is the Bounce Back or BB.  On the PGA Tour, a bounce back is any hole above par followed by a hole below par.  In other words, on tour, you earn a bounce back if you go bogey-birdie on consecutive holes.  For our purposes, we simply want to right the ship, so our goal will be to make a par or birdie following a hole above par.  Whenever you see a hole with a score of bogey or higher, the next hole represents a BB opportunity.  If that hole is a par or under par, you are 1/1.  If you follow a bogey with another bogey, you are 0/1.  Golfers who can't get over their mistakes will often string bogeys along and will have poor bounce back scores.  Because on tour they have to make birdie to have a BB, a great percentage is 30%.  For amateur golfers, 80% is a great percentage and definitely within reach of most players.

You can keep track of the number of birdies you make, the number of one putts you have during a round or your ability to recover from trouble. All of these are stats that reflect positive things happening on the course.  The last one, the ability to recover is kept by noting scores made when you record a NC from a poor tee shot.  Following an NC with a par or bogey is considered a success and worth noting.

You can also keep track of mistakes, such as the number of three putts or the number of holes of above bogey.  These two stats aren't very positive but they will give you an idea of how you can quickly lose shots on the course.

With a simple Excel spreadsheet, you can use graphs or charts to keep track of approach shots.  

All of these statistics are quite easy to track using a simple Google spreadsheet or Microsoft Excel or Numbers in Mac.  If you would like help with a spreadsheet to keep track of your game, simply email me and I will share a google doc that is set up to record your stats.

Start with Simplicity

When things seem overwhelming to you, no matter what the sport or venue, the beginning of a focused approach starts with simplicity.  What is the most important thing right this second?  In golf, it might be as basic as breathing deeply and from the stomach, not the chest.  It isn't a coincidence that a failure to perform in sports is called a choke.  There is a physiological event that accompanies failure and it often starts with a change in our breathing patterns.

Breathe deeply from your belly!

When overwhelmed, athletes describe the experience with phrases such as, "things seem to be going too fast" or "my mind was racing".  Losing your focus in competition is usually accompanied by a speeding up of all that is happening around you.  The opposite would be when athletes describe being in the zone as when the game slows down to a crystal clear perfection and seems to be moving in slow motion.  Not having a clear plan in place for when things go wrong will cause the mind to race as it jumps from thought to thought looking for a solution to the problem at hand.
Once the mind starts racing, your breathing will go with it and now you have lost the deep, belly breathing and instead you are breathing shallowly from high in your chest.  Your body is busy with simply getting enough oxygen and athletic performance becomes secondary.  What do you do to gain control?

While it is simple to say that you need to be in the moment, it is often very hard to accomplish.  First, get the belly moving.  Put your hand on your belly button and move it when you take a deep breath.  Next, take a close look at one, small, specific thing, like a blade of grass or a rock.  I like to suggest things on the ground, because our goal is to help you get grounded.  Focus completely on that one thing.  Don't let your mind wander anywhere else.  Notice the tones of green, the sharpness of the blade, any imperfections in the grass and how it lines up with other blades.  If you do all of this, you are completely in the moment.  You are breathing, your mind is calm and focused and your next job is to move it to your next task on the golf course.

When you look up, what shot are you facing?  How would you like to hit it?  Come up with a very simple plan.  Perhaps this is a time when you choose an extra club and hit a smooth shot to the middle of the green in front of you.  In other words, take the pressure off of yourself and focus on the smoothness, the tempo or the fullness of the shot.  Take it a step further and picture the green as a big, absorbent sponge that will suck your ball into it.  Any type of vivid picture will help you accomplish your goal of being completely in the moment and making it as simple as possible.

Imagine the green is actually Spongebob Squarepants laying on his back.  Silly?  Yes, but fun, vivid, colorful and it will get you into the moment.  Hit Bob right between the eyes.

This is the time to let go of any mechanical thoughts you have been thinking of during your round.  Trust one clear swing thought that is tried and true.  A good swing thought that creates the rhythm you want along with a cue that quiets your mind is like a comforting old friend  A swing thought doesn't have to be mechanical or even make sense to anyone but you.  Saying to yourself, "swing slow and sweet" might give you the right picture and put you in your "sweet spot" for making a nice, rhythmic swing.

One of the sweetest and smoothest swings I have seen is Steve Elkington's.

This is the process you can put in place whenever things seem to start spinning or quit making sense on the golf course.  This happens to all of us at some point in time.  We have witnessed countless touring pros lose "it" on the course and the same stuff is happening to them that happens to you or me.  Time speeds up, confusion sets in, focus is lost, there are no clear goals and after hitting a shot, it seems as though you weren't even present for it.  Worry, doubt, fear, and confusion take the places of focus, clarity, commitment, and trust.  To reverse the process, go to the most basic and simple thing possible, your breathing pattern.  Then follow the steps outlined above to get yourself into the state of mind you need to perform on the course.  Have patience with yourself and with the process.  If it doesn't all happen for you on the first shot, hang in there and stick with the process.  Nothing will be accomplished by giving up on the process or on yourself.  As I have blogged many times before, your mental game takes as much practice as your physical game, so work hard at it and it will improve.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Quality > Quantity - P.S. #1

As a coach, you would like to focus on game improvement as many hours of the week as possible, but there are many distractions in the first week with class schedules, support staff meetings, and the process of adjustment for student-athletes.  After a week of practice, we begin qualifying today and I am certain the athletes felt a bit cheated of practice time because of all the distractions.  That is really the lesson for junior golfers though.  When you get to college, life gets a lot busier.  As a junior, you generally get to practice for as long as you would like without many distractions or instructions.  The older you get, the tougher this gets.  After college, pros will have demands on their time and soon will be juggling practice time with family time.  One of the first important lessons college golfers need to learn is quality is more important than quantity.

One of my goals is to provide the players with structure to give them guidance with their game improvement.  Golf is a very individual game, so it is important to balance the time they are required to do drills and challenges with time for them to work on what they feel is important to them.  If possible, we can give guidance in those areas, too, but many players want to remain in control of more of their game and my job is to support that as much as possible.

With that being said, after many years of coaching, it is pretty obvious that most college players need to be better putters and better within 100 yards of the green.  Most of our structure will be aimed toward those goals.  Another important area of improvement for most college players is the ability to focus, work through frustration, and commit to shots.  That is rarely addressed in practice time, so we design drills to help players in these areas and give reminders such as "go through your routine prior to each putt" on their practice sheet. 
Lorena Ochoa in her putting pre shot routine.  It is as important to practice your mental game skills, such as routines and visualization as it is your physical skills. 

Here is our weekly practice schedule.  I will share these so you can see what we do on a daily basis at SMU and perhaps some of our drills or challenges will help you plan your practices and be effective with your time.  Remember, the quality of your practice time is more important than the quantity.

SMU Women’s Golf
Weekly Schedule #1
Aug. 22-27, 2011
Aug. 22                        6:00 AM workouts
                                    4:00  Team meeting            5:00  Compliance meeting            6:00 Dinner at Digg’s
Aug. 23                        2:00 Practice at DAC
Aug.24            Play day at Lakewood.  Tee times and pairings tba.

Aug. 25            2:00 Practice at DAC

Aug. 26            Qualifying – Blue Course DAC 2:00, 2:08, 2:17

Aug. 27            Qualifying – Gold Course DAC 2:00, 2:08, 2:17

Do these tasks daily:           
Start your putting practice each day by making 10 putts in a row. 
3 from 3 ft., 3 from 4 ft., 3 from 5 ft., and one from 6 feet.

Chip with 2 different clubs each day until you chip one in with each.  Switch the clubs up daily.

Put 10 balls in a pile and choose a wedge distance that is different each day.  For example, tomorrow, go to your full PW distance.  For every ball that is within a flagstick of the hole, you may take a ball out of the pile.  For every ball outside 30 feet (10 paces), add a ball.  If you miss the green, add five balls to your pile.  Anything between a flagstick and 30 feet is neutral.  Keep track of how many balls you hit. 

Hit five bunker shots from a good lie. Then hit five bunker shots from various lies (buried, uphill, downhill and sidehills) If you aren’t happy with your shots come back to it and practice it.
“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

On Tuesday, find a partner and choose three clubs and a putter.  The goal is to get the ball up and down while playing a game of H.O.R.S.E.  If you win a hole, you get to choose the club and place for the next shot.  You get a letter if your partner gets an up and down but you fail to do so.  No letters if neither of you get an up and down.  No letters if you both get it up and down.
Stand in the middle of the practice green.  Putt one ball to each hole on the green.  Do it until you either make it or have each ball within a putterhead of the hole.

On Thursday, do the following:
Make 10 putts from 3 feet with your right hand only.  Make 10 putts from 3 feet with your left hand only.  Make 10 putts from 2 feet with no backswing (push drill). 
Put tees down at 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 feet.  Make all five putts in a row.  To make this more challenging, go back again (10 putts instead of 5).
Put 5 tees down around the hole at 10 feet for each tee.  Putt from each tee.  When you make a putt, move the tee back one putter length.  When you have moved a tee twice, pick it up when you make the 3rd putt.  Take the time to notice trends on these putts.  Are there any that seem easy or hard?  Do you over read or under read right to left or left to right?  This is a great challenge for making birdie putts on the course.
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.  This is a great visualization drill and it will also help you get the ball to the hole.  You might need to putt to hit a ball out of the way prior to going back to the goal.  Do this drill for 20 minutes tops.  If you are successful quickly, do it from 25 or 30 feet.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What is your brain doing?

Thanks to Dr. Deborah Graham for her idea of a busy brain vs. a quiet brain, which is the subject of this graphic:

Any list of qualities you want or don't want to have when performing is just that, a list.  The key to looking at theses lists is to individualize it to you.  When your head gets busy, which one of the thoughts on the left creep in?  When you are playing well and you are in the zone, what would accurately describe your state of mind?  It is rarely a lot of things that are bothersome.  For some players, it is keeping a mental scorecard and projecting the final score or lamenting mistakes or big holes.  Either keeps the player in places other than focus on the moment.  Others can't forgive themselves for mistakes and spiral into negative self-talk and a lack of motivation.  I am sure there are many other busy mind states we can fall into that don't help us on the course.

As for the quiet mind, it might take practice or reminders to learn to embrace these states of mind.  In fact, you can be quite patient on the course one day and lose it completely the next.  A quiet mind doesn't simply happen, but takes commitment and practice.  As with the busy mind, there are usually one or two things on the quiet mind side of the inventory that are individual to you and your game.  For some, it might be vivid visualization that keeps them focused on hitting the shot or rolling the putt.  I read Tommy Gainey's interview today following 36 holes of great golf and he stated that he needed to have fun out there.  Many of you reading this might think the fun comes from playing well, but a commitment to fun can also come first.  To me, the word fun shows in facial expressions, looseness, finding challenges in tough situations and being totally oneself.  What would fun mean to you?

Pick one or two of the states of mind on the left that you would like to eliminate from your golf and then choose one or two that you think are keys to successful play.  Now commit to playing a round of golf without the negatives and focused on the positives.  If you chose anger and frustration for example, when you find yourself feeling angry after a poor shot, remind yourself that you want to be in control of your emotions and focus on hitting shots.  Lets say frustration is creeping in after a string of bogies.  You are now clearly in the past, not the present, so change gears and have clear visualization of the shot at hand.  See it vividly before you step in to execute it.

If you want to see how great your mental game can be on the golf course, commit to one useful state of mind the next time you play and vow to leave one busy mind state behind.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Time to Kick it In!

Yes, August has been a poor month for blogging for me.  It is once again time to recommit to 15 posts per month, beginning now.  I haven't missed it too much, mainly because I have been doing a lot of reading and writing in my travels, but in preparation for the season.  This is the time of year when I slow down, think, consider, dream a bit and come up with a plan for the direction we will take to lead the team through the semester and year.

Here is what I have decided will be important in this first season.
1.  Dreams - We haven't had an appearance in post season for quite a while.  There haven't been many team wins either.  We want to accomplish both of those things this year.  It will be important to talk about these things, prepare for them and dream of the events.
2.  Goals - The tools needed to reach dreams are goals.  Goals shouldn't run your life, but they should provide you with the daily motivation to do what it takes to achieve big things.  One of the most powerful things I learned from Fred Shoemaker is to allow players to have one goal for each tournament, allow them to make it their own, in their own language and whatever they want and then talk to them about it so they stay clear on it throughout the day.  I can clearly remember player's goals that they grabbed and used to ride to success.  Mimi Epps:  "Fairways and Greens"  Wendi Wiese:  "Roll the Rock" and Ashley Knoll: "Hit shots" All were simple, all meant something to the player and all helped the player focus.
3.  Motivation vs. Discipline - People talk about the changes here as though there needs to be a firm hand and discipline among the individuals.  I doubt that that is the case.  Instead, there needs to be motivation.  To discipline people is to push them.  To allow people to be motivated is to allow them to pull themselves to their goals.  The second is so much more powerful than the first.  Now we obviously will need discipline, but if the goals are in place, the players want to achieve them and the team loves golf, self-discipline will be the rule. (thanks to the blog Zenhabits for helping me form this plan).
4.  Be a team in all things.  This was hugely important for past successful teams and we worked on it daily.  How?  Pretty simple, we formed relationships with each other.  We judged each other by our most common behavior, not the rare times when we were cranky or mean spirited.  We refused to react to rumors or tattles, especially if it was a teammate throwing another under the bus.  We learned to talk openly with each other, but didn't talk openly with people outside the program.  The most important thing though is, we made the effort to develop our friendships.  Friendships take time, they take care, they take genuineness and they take fun to be successful.
5.  The final thing that we will do as a group is understand the importance of each person and the responsibility that goes along with that importance.  That doesn't just include the team members, but also our coaches, and our support staff.  In order for us to win championships, we all have to not just buy in, but work hard for them.

As we sift through the first semester, introduce the ideals that will be in place for SMU Women's Golf and then work daily to live up to them, the team will learn quickly that it is fun to be motivated, challenged and tired from working for what you want.  Conversely, it is boring to go through the motions 8 hours a day for something that isn't very interesting or that has no dream attached to it.  That is the lesson that is the most important for young people (and maybe old too) to learn, because it pushes them to choose careers in what they love or to throw themselves head first into feats that seem overwhelming and come out on the other end with a remarkable achievement.  That is what we want for SMU Women's Golf!

Old Quaker saying.  Magnet painted by Charity Elise of Atlanta.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On Lorena by Marta Ostos

Today's blog is a guest entry by a good friend of mine.  This is an article from 2007 that journalist, Marta Ostos, wrote about Lorena Ochoa.  It is a glimpse into what it takes to be great!  Enjoy.
Lorena Ochoa
Where There is a Will, There is a Way
by:  Marta Ostos

The rankings show that Lorena Ochoa is the number one player in the world; and on her fifth year on tour, she won her first major tournament at the age of 25 in St. Andrews. Numbers, statistics, records… all these reaffirm that today, Lorena is the most dominant female golfer in the world. But what lies behind all this math?... A person who had a dream, believed in it, and worked hard to achieve it.

While other five-year old girls played with dolls, Lorena preferred to watch her father and his friends play the game. It didn’t take long for her to grab an adult club and not only watch, but start experiencing it for herself. In a country where less than one percent of the population plays golf, she was at the practice green dreaming of putting her way towards majors. She used to tell everyone that one day she was going to be the number one player of that sport. Obviously, nobody believed her, but she was determined to prove them wrong because she had a will. She was born to make history and break records.

It all started when “a girl from that city...Guadalajara” won the Junior World in San Diego, a tournament that had never been even remotely close to being won by a Mexican. She couldn’t speak a word of English, but she could play golf. She started to appear on the radar of those few people that followed golf in Mexico. The expectations started to grow when she won this tournament five years in a row, broke Tiger Woods’ records as a junior golfer, and her name made the Guinness Book of World Records for those results. A star was emerging, people started to look up to Mexico through Lorena and in Mexico they started to learn about golf. Family and friends started to believe in her and they even offered equipment, flight tickets, and houses to stay in the tournaments in and outside the country.

She had to keep going…and the next step was playing college golf in the United States because in México, Universities don´t have athletic programs for golfers. She finished high school in less than two years so she could play golf and study at the same time. Once she finished, many universities recruited her and offered the Mexican star full scholarships. The problem was, that first, she had to learn to speak English, and then, she had to attain the required scores for the famous SAT admissions test. It took her one year to complete these goals. After three trials she made the grade and chose The University of Arizona as her next step to pursue her maximum goal of being the number one player of the world. Her performance at collegiate level was no surprise, very successful. She only competed for two years, but her accomplishments placed her at the top of the list of all time elite college players. In 20 starts, she won 12 times, finished as a runner up six times and never placed out of the top 10. She won the NCAA Player of the Year Honors both years. Her major was Sports Psychology, a choice made to complement her dream. Her popularity was crossing barriers, many of the Hispanics living in Arizona started to follow her. The gardeners on the golf courses, the cooks at school…they were proud of the successful and charismatic Latin-American.

In Mexico she started to gain national level recognition. In 2001, for the first time, a golfer was presented with the National Sports Award by Mexico’s President. She became the youngest recipient to receive the country’s highest athletic recognition. At that moment, she was still an amateur, so she could not accept the money prize so she donated it to the Mexican Golf Association to support golf in her country. In 2006 she won this award again as a professional. 

Lorena with a Mexican flag. 

After finishing her second year in college, she turned professional. This was the next step to coming closer to her dream. The LPGA season had already started so her debut was on the Futures Tour. She bought a van and drove to all the tournaments with her brother as a caddie and her father as a supporter. In her first event, she finished in second place, won three times and other four runner-ups. She finished number one on the money list after only 10 events. She was named The 2002 Futures Tour Rookie and Player of the Year. With this, she earned her card to play at the LPGA in 2003.

At the same time she was taking off in golf, she never left her other passions behind. She not only loves other sports, but she is very talented in all of them. Name one, and she is always on a good level. In high school she was a star in basketball, she has competed in triathlons, ecothlons, half marathons, and 10K races. She loves nature, fishing, and mountain climbing. All these extra activities through her life have always helped her to train her body and mind to be competitive and strong.

As a kid on that that practice green, she dreamt of playing at the LPGA against the best in the world, and now she was one of them. All she had battled, all the sacrifices, and all the sunrises and sunsets she watched while playing golf, were worth it. By being at the LPGA, she was on the right track to become the best player in the world. In 2003, her first year on tour, she was recognized as “Rookie of the Year”. She did not win any tournaments, but placed number nine on the money list.

Lorena was born to be special, and therefore, many significant achievements in her career have come at the right times and in the right places. In 2004, her second year on tour, she finally won the first tournament everybody was waiting for. Lorena received a call on Sunday early morning in Tennessee before playing the last round of the tournament. She was told that her brother Alejandro had just reached the summit of Mount Everest a few hours prior. With that motivation, Lorena conquered her first tournament with a very dramatic 18th hole. She became the first Mexican to win a tournament on the LPGA tour. A great day for Lorena’s history, for the Ochoa family, and for México! That same year she conquered her second victory.

In 2005, her third year on tour, she only had one victory and 4 runner up finishes. At that precise moment, for many, Lorena was a great player but not close to be the number one since it was clearly Annika Sorenstam´s era. She was consistent enough to finish fourth on the money list. It appeared as a bad year, but it made her a stronger and more mature player. It was a year of patience, consolidation, and change.

In 2006, Lorena came back with a different caddie, adjustments to her swing, physically and mentally prepared to take Annika’s crown. She had six victories, including her first one in her home country. She claimed her first Rolex Player of the Year Award, the lowest scoring average (Vare Trophy) and she finished as the leader of the money list earning more than 2.5 million dollars. Still, she finished second on the World Ranking, but at a minimal distance from Sorenstam who had been dominating golf for the past 10 years. Lorena´s Era was coming…

Finally, this year has been the start of Lorena´s dream. After 20 years of holding that picture in her mind, and after successfully conquering all stages of her career, she was named the world’s number one player in April 2007. She was at her home course practicing with her coach Rafael Alarcón when she received the news. In May she won her first trophy with that title and all she needed to confirm her greatness was to win a Major. She had played 23 majors without a win, with 13 top ten finishes and 2 runner ups. 

Lorena with her teacher, Rafael Alarcon

The wait was worthwhile. She conquered her first major tournament “at the right moment and at the right place”. She was the first woman to win a major at golf’s birthplace, St. Andrews, Scotland. The British Open title was on her mind from day one, her name was on top of the leader board all week. She made many people cry when we saw her crossing the historical Swilcan Bridge with her arms raised. And then…hugging her British caddie, celebrating with her father and friends, Mexican flags, champagne…a victory that not only makes golf history, but makes many people and a whole country believe.

She is definitely the best athlete Mexico has had, she is a role model and an icon for success. Every Mexican is proud of her and even if they don´t know about golf, they know her and respect her. She has a strong compromise with her country and helps fund education with her personal “Lorena Ochoa Foundation”. She wants to promote golf in a country where there are no public courses, so she inaugurated three Academies where everybody can go and practice, sometimes, even for free. A signal of what she means is that Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s President, has personally called her twice this year. First, to congratulate her when she was named number one player in the world, the second time while she was in Scotland to recognize her British Open victory. Additionally, he attended the trophy ceremony at the Morelia Championship held in México this past April. He frequently says that: “Lorena represents the eagerness of Mexicans and the Mexico we want to see, a Mexico that is not defeated by adversity, a country that fights, that takes a step onto the world, a winning Mexico”.

And that is not all… Besides being the most dominant player of the word, she is charismatic, funny, passionate, friendly. Also she is the best daughter, an incredible sister and the best of the friends. She is the best hero you could ever have.

And this story…is to be continued. For her, this is just the beginning, there are many records still to be broken and many dreams still to come true. 
The author, Marta Ostos, with her husband, Luis Torres Septien Warren

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Your Tension Shows!

Does a certain shot make you nervous and tense?  How about a fast, downhill putt that slides right?  How do you feel about carrying a shot over water?  What if you need to hit a 3 wood on that shot over the water?  Do you play the game avoiding bunkers?  Most of us have some sort of shot that makes us nervous or tense.  What happens when we get tense?  One of the body's responses to tension or anxiety is to trigger shallow breathing from high in the chest. 

When you are relaxed, your breathing is deep and moves your belly more than your chest.  If you watch an athlete who is focused and in the zone, she appears grounded and calm.  An athlete who is uncomfortable with her situation will breathe from the chest and her shoulders will creep closer to her ears.  What if, instead of taking a lesson focused on how to hit it over the water, we started by working on our physical state and learning to control our breathing when we face that shot?  Learning to have control over your breathing and therefore, your body's state is one facet of a good pre shot routine.

Its okay to be nervous prior to a shot.  Most people feel anxiety on the first tee shot of the day.  Trying to ignore your thoughts or fears simply doesn't work.  Instead, acknowledge them and take action to put them in the proper context.  In order to play your best golf, you must be able to control where you put your attention and focus.  Where that focus should go is different for everyone.  Many great players have tempo thoughts.  Many focus on the target.  Some have a mechanical trigger and some think about their ball flight.  It doesn't matter what you focus on as long as you are making a conscious decision to do it.  The spiral of bad choices for your focus happen quickly and automatically, unless you put an end to them and move your thoughts to where you want them.  It may not seem like a choice when you are standing on the tee worried about the water on the right or what your buddies will think of your swing, but it is a choice.  It is a choice of avoidance, of laziness, or of stubbornness.  Decide to make the change you need to make to put your focus on what will help your game.

It is okay to adjust your plan if you acknowledge your nervousness and feel it is overwhelming.  For example, if you have a shot that needs to carry 180 yards and you have a tight lie that makes you uncomfortable, it is okay to lay up.  Feeling backed against the wall isn't a positive way to act on the course either.  In any situation, the trick is to understand the importance of your pre shot routine for putting you in the right mind set. 

Don't believe for a minute that pros don't face the same nervousness and tension over certain shots they face.  The difference is, they have the training and experience to know how to deal with the situation.  They have a pre shot routine that incorporates many things to keep your physical state in the right place.  Does your pre shot routine have a deep breath in it?  Do you take your stance and feel balanced and grounded?  Do you have a waggle that keeps your muscles moving and loose?  Do your eyes connect to the target to keep your focus on what you want instead of allowing your mind to wander to places you don't want to hit the ball?  Does your pre shot routine allow you to see the shot fly high and land comfortably on the other side of the water?  Does it put your body in a state of readiness?  Does it have some tempo cues to help your rhythm and tempo?If not, you need to work on your pre shot routine and make sure it puts you in the physical state of alertness, not tenseness.

First, keep your breathing in your stomach, instead of in your chest.  Next, feel as though your center of gravity moves lower.  Yes, you can thoughtfully move your center of gravity lower simply by focusing on doing so.  You did it automatically as a kid when you didn't want to be picked up.  You mentally hunkered down and physically lowered yourself as though you were connected to the ground.  If you played contact sports in high school, it is that reaction to seeing someone about to run into you.  You lower and brace automatically.  If you love balance sports, it is the feeling of gathering yourself to stay centered through anything, such as skiing in a blizzard when the visibility is poor.

It seems as though nothing is automatic in golf and that it must be learned.  The reason for that is most of us learn golf later in life and instead of relying upon our natural instincts, we take lessons, we read how-to articles and blogs ;-), and watch the pros and copy their movements.  If we could all learn golf as children, we would inherently have a feel for body awareness and make the adjustments needed when faced with challenges on the course.

Your pre shot routine should take 20 or 30 seconds.  Taking more time means you will have more time to think the wrong things.  Put a good thought in your mind and execute the shot.  Any act that takes courage is best tackled quickly, without a lot of thought.  Hitting that shot over the water might take a little courage on your part, so keep it short and measured.

As with everything, your pre shot routine needs practice.  If it is to be dependable under pressure, it should be thought through, timed and practiced on the range and during practice rounds.  Don't expect it to work for you if you have a vague idea of what you want.  It won't help your focus if you allow your mind to wander to mechanics or other things on the range.  Chatting with people on the range in the middle of your routine will definitely effect your focus.  Put some solid time into your approach to executing shots and it will pay off at the most important times. 


Where do you place your awareness?  This is a gigantic question, because there are so many things, thoughts, people and conditions to be awa...