Sunday, September 2, 2012

Own Your Game!

What makes Bubba cool?  He is his own man.  He is self-taught and takes complete ownership for his form.  He doesn’t listen to others, nor does he need to.  He plays with a lot of feel and learns through his mistakes.  He doesn’t fit the mold of the average touring pro who has a support staff of three or four people at many events.  He also cares little what you or anyone else thinks of him or his methods.  That's what makes him cool!

Think about the criticism that Tiger has been taking over his reliance upon his teachers.  Although what Tiger does is more typical of the culture on tour, he is viewed as not being his own man.  He takes the idea of a swing guru further than most by putting his game completely in their hands and making wholesale changes based on their opinions.  Many think he is crazy.  Here is a great blog by Kevin Garside, who is the golf writer for London's Daily Telegraph.  Lee Trevino's Advice to Tiger  The one thing that Tiger and Bubba have in common is, neither is interested in anyone's opinion. 

What can we learn from these approaches to greatness from two winners?  

From Bubba, you can take the idea that you learn on your own through trial and error and hard work.  You can also learn that whatever you do, you need to trust it 100%.  Bubba’s approach can also teach you that convention isn’t the goal.  Instead, learning what your swing can do for you should be the goal.  From Tiger, you can learn that guidance is okay.  It is good to be a part of a team at any level and Tiger carefully picks his and relies upon them.  

If you want to be great, the main question you need to ask yourself is, can I learn a swing and take complete ownership of it?  Does my swing fit me, my body and my abilities?

The more common question I hear from players is, how do I make the perfect swing?

How about if instead of chasing a perfect swing, you chase a swing that allows you to shape shots and control your trajectory?  How would your practice change?  You would probably begin to think more about what the ball is doing instead of what your body is doing.  I spent a lot of hours listening to Dick Harmon talk about golf and the golf swing.  He would watch a pre-shot routine and be either intrigued or dismissive of the player.  What caused his reactions?  He liked watching players with long target looks, quiet bodies, soft hands and arms and a little rhythm in their pre-shot.  A player with short target looks, who was twitchy and concerned about how his body was situated caused Dick to look away.  He would tell me that the player would never be successful thinking so much about himself and so little about the target.  He grew up around the best players in the world and spent as much time observing greatness as anyone around the game.  He understood the difference between outward focus and inward focus.  An outward focused player plays the course.  He takes in the conditions, the slopes, the grass, the wind.  An inward focused player plays his swing.  He gets lost in hitting good shots and blames poor scoring days on poor ball striking. 

Your golf swing needs certain things.  It needs to be reliable and better yet, reliable under pressure.  In other words, you need to know that the ball will go where you aim and the proper distance.  It would be nice if your swing provided you with power, but there have been many great players who were comparably short, yet quite successful.  It is important to develop a swing that allows you to control your trajectory and distance.  The other factor that needs to be controlled is spin.  Can you put spin on the ball?  Can you predict the amount of spin?  Can you hit a ball without spin?   These are questions that will lead you to score well. 

In our first team meeting this year, I showed my team these two videos of Jeff Wolff.
Video 1 and Video 2
Jeff has a +2 handicap and plays with a lot of power.  I'm not sure if you noticed, but he doesn't put his hands on the club in the conventional way.  I watched him hit a lot of balls and I loved his ball flight.  I asked him how long he had played and he told me he started at age 2 and this was how he picked up the club and hit the ball.  When he was 10, he had some lessons and they tried to change his grip, but he couldn't hit with power, so he quit taking lessons and stuck to what he knew.  He also told me that his most important focus is his tempo.

The reason I showed my team these videos is because I wanted them to understand that it is okay to be different.  It's okay to be unconventional.  It's okay to be yourself.  So many young players spend most of their time trying to be perfect or trying to fit a mold set up by someone else.  This is time poorly spent.  Most young players need to spend time learning to score.  They need to figure out how to hit bunker shots from crummy lies or how to flight a ball under a tree branch.  They need to become experts in hitting shots that are low and release or high and check.  There is a lot to learn in golf if you want to be great, but spending all of your time working on a perfect swing won't help you as much as you think it will.

Instead, work on trusting what you do and understanding what makes you tick.  Jeff Wolff told me his key was tempo.  What key do you have on the first tee to focus on during your round?  When you play, can you control trajectory, control distance, shape shots or take a little off a full shot?  Now, perfectionists will inevitably say that all of that will come if my swing is perfect, but they are wrong.  The tours are full of great swingers who don't score well and there are plenty of unique swings that earn big checks.  

Learn a swing, commit to it, figure out how to hit it where you want to, then figure out how to change the trajectory of the shot, then figure out how to shape your shots, then figure out how to do it all under pressure.  Then and only then will you be a great player!

Here is a little video of athletes who are unique and successful.  Think about how these athletes learn to make do and be successful!  Paralympics.  

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