Monday, December 29, 2014


How much time will you need to become a master of your craft?  In the old days, young people would be apprenticed to masters of a skill or profession to learn and become a master themselves.  In most professions, that is still the case, but it isn’t as structured of a system.  As a young lawyer, you are often spending your time helping partners prepare for their cases.  As a doctor, you serve both an internship and a residency before you are able to practice on your own.  In most pursuits that require excellence, young people work long hours to learn their craft and dream of doing it their own way one day.  

Golf is no different.  Rare are the cases of Lydia Ko or Jordan Spieth, who find success with little experience.  More commonly, players begin playing tournament golf at age 12 or 13 and spend the next 10 to 15 years honing their skills before they reach their potential.  The further along in the process they go, the more they realize that talent isn’t the key, just an ingredient.  At each level, there is a lot of talent and the key soon becomes to figure out what will separate you from the other competitors. To become a great player and win at the highest level, you need talent, a firm  vision of your future, the will to work to make it reality, the means to live while in the process, the body to support the strain and the mind that is calm under pressure.   Most of all, you need to understand that time is a paradox.  You need to feel patience as well as a sense of urgency all at the same time.   

If you have the elements listed above and keep your vision in mind, you need to have patience to reach your goals with the faith that time is on your side.  The patience is about your vision, but your day to day life must include a sense of urgency that leads your choices.  You must know what is important to your success and tackle it daily.  Here are the things we focus on at SMU to assure our success. 

1.    Fitness
2.      Nutrition
3.      Sleep
4.      A strong work ethic and effective time management
5.      A repeatable swing that creates predictable shots
6.      The ability to chip and pitch the ball close to the hole
7.      A stroke that putts the ball on line at the desired speed
8.      The awareness to see the course and the greens and what they offer
9.      A focused, calm and confident approach to the game when the pressure is turned up
10.   Faith in yourself that you are up to any challenge

No one on our team is a master at all ten of the elements on this list, however, most of the team works on most of these items daily.  When I say most, I know that some players don’t believe that missing a night’s sleep due to cramming will have a long term effect on their vision.  However, if you want to achieve greatness, you need to understand the elements that will produce it and feel a sense of urgency to master each on a daily basis.  A missed night's sleep might start a domino effect of problems that impact many of the other nine elements of success.

Another way to think of the time it will take you to achieve your vision of success is by how you would order the ten elements above or what you would remove or add to the list.  A problem that players sometimes encounter is getting stuck in one of the elements and failing to master another. 
The ten elements are listed in no particular order, but if I asked my players to order them by importance, the order each chose would probably reflect the time spent on each.   

A common lament we hear often in college golf is “I don’t have enough time to work on my swing.”   The player who tells me that is probably going to list #5 as their #1. As you change levels in the game, you increase competitions, you increase travel and you increase responsibilities.  As a junior golfer, you are well taken care of by your parents and have abundant time to hit balls.  In college, you have more to do, but still rely upon others for much of your life, such as travel.  In college golf, your responsibilities are usually in the classroom.  On tour, your responsibilities include pro-ams, sponsorship duties and travel planning.  You are in charge of your golf, your travel, your daly life and your planning.  If you are still working on a repeatable swing that provides you with predictable ball flight when on tour, you will have a tough time finding enough time for mastery.

The sooner you master #5, the sooner you can move to mastering the other 9 elements.  A friend of mine recently asked me, does your player swing to play or play to swing?  If #5 is #1, ask yourself the same question.  Go through the list and figure out your order and how you would rate yourself in mastery of each element.  Make your strengths important to you and your weaknesses at the top of the list so mastery can be reached.  

As a college coach, I often see that players work hard in so many ways, but completely neglect one area, such as nutrition.  They practice with focus, they work hard in the weight room, but the fuel they put in their bodies don't allow them to get the most out of their work.  They eat food without nutrition that add empty calories to their system.  They don't seek out fruits or vegetables.  They are addicted to sugar and keep it in steady supply.  Once again, if nutrition is last on the list, it will effect the other 9 elements.  If you want greatness, you must become a master of each element.
How do you manage your time, your focus, your goals and your energy?  Hopefully, you’re now seeing how all ten elements we value at SMU weave in and out to form a great player.  No one element is more or less important than another, but if you place too much value in one, you will be slower to master the other nine.  Time is on your side.  You can win a U.S. Open at age 42 like Juli Inkster or a British Open at age 43 as Sherri Steinhauer did in 2006.  But if you want to reach that level of play, you better feel a sense of urgency to master the elements needed today!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

More About Perfection

Yesterday, I posted a blog about perfection and it's role in golf.  It lead to some great comments, conversations and musings on experiences.  Yesterday's blog sort of presented perfection as a character trait, but the idea of being perfect goes much deeper.  We all strive for perfection as we learn the game, but the trick is to understand when we fall into the trap of perfection on the golf course.

This fall, our team was playing very good golf.  We had the lead with just 9 holes to play at UT's event, the Betsy Rawls.  On the 9th green, there was a big scoreboard that told us the news.  This was a new experience for us and we played the final 9 holes with protection in mind.  Protection usually equals the goal of perfect.  We had played 45 holes of golf with freedom and 9 holes with tightness.  We fell to 4th place and lost to Tulane by 5 shots.  Our games were ready, but our mindsets weren't.  Next time we are in this position, we will remember that freedom and flow are the keys, not protection and perfection.

All of us can slip in and out of the mode of perfection.  In a conversation with Casey Grice yesterday about whether or not she was a perfectionist on the course, she said she recognized certain behaviors in the chart at the end of yesterday's blog.  The one that she dealt with at Q school last week was the ability to accept mistakes.  At the most important tournament of her career to date with a LPGA card on the line, she found it harder and harder to let go of mistakes and refocus.  This is another form of perfectionism, especially from a player known for her bouncebacks.  We are all prone to being our worst critics when our desire for a goal overcomes our ability to be in the moment.

One of the comments I received about the blog yesterday was this from my friend Steven Yellin, founder of the Fluid Motion Factor:  "I enjoyed reading this. There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of perfection as long as one doesn't become a prisoner of it. The key experience in all activities in life is balance. Nature thrives on balance and as we are all a part of Nature, we are most most happy when balance is there. If in the pursuit of perfection, balance is lost, which means a part (of anything) overshadows the whole, then the most precious element of our lives is partially, or fully lost...peace."

In some ways I agree with Steven.  Balance is very important and the pursuit of perfection seems to be the path for becoming the best we can be.  Yet, the premise that there is a perfect player model discounts the individual and the understanding that each of us has unique greatness.  All of us will have a strength that separates us and a weakness that will cost us.  Practice time needs to be spent on both, but if a player focuses only on the weakness, she will lose her strength.  As Steven said, balance needs to be in place.  

The best putter I ever coached was Wendi Wiese.  She turned in a 24 putt round under the greatest of pressure, NCAA Regionals.  That performance was representative of her skill, not an anomaly.  Yet, she spent her first few years of college golf chasing distance and higher ball flight.  She was certain that those were the keys to her success.  In her junior year, she realized she hit it well enough to score if she chipped and putted well and from that point on, she scored well.  She was a key to our team's success.  Chasing better ball striking is important for players.  Good ball striking is a major key to scoring at every level.  The important factors of power and accuracy will always be a focus of golf practice.  However, do you need perfection to be win majors?  Bubba Watson was #1 in driving distance in 2014, but he ranked #102 in driving accuracy.  I bet Bubba understands that his distance is his strength and he will deal with his accuracy the best he can.  If he had the attitude that he needed to be #1 in both categories, would he need to dial back and lose some speed?  Would he hit more 3 woods off the tee?  His acceptance of his strengths and weaknesses allows his strengths to stay intact. 

Jason Dufner also won a major in the past few years and if you take a look at his stats, nothing stands out.  He is good at all stats, but not great at any.  Perhaps his mindset or competitiveness is his greatest strength.  He won't be able to measure that strength on Trackman or through any measurable other than his own analysis.  What would it mean if he looked at the stats he recorded and decided they were holding him back?  Would it effect his mindset?  Would it effect his competitiveness?  

Jason Dufner

Here is a great quote from a blogpost I found on the subject.   Jennifer Kunst writes,
"We can mistakenly believe that our limitations and imperfections are obstacles to our mental health, happiness, and peace of mind."  It is the same with golf.  We can get so caught up with our limitations that we forget our strengths.

The point of this blog isn't to discount your desire to be great at what you do.  It is an understandable process.  The point of this blog is to understand the role of perfection as you compete, practice and evaluate yourself as a player.  Understand that you will not be the same as the golfers in your group.  If one of your competitors makes a lot of long putts, it doesn't cause your putting to pale, it simply means that player has a different strength.  Remember, you are unique, but not perfect. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Weight of Perfection

I came across this quote today:

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

It seems to me to be written for golf, but as we all know, golf is a reflection of life in so many ways and it merely fits with the truth of life..  Over the years, I've coached many perfectionists.  Perfectionists are attracted to golf, because is provides an endless challenge that is both captivating and frustrating at the same time.  Perfectionists excel at golf, because it is in their nature to overcome their own foibles and conquer the game.  Of course, we all know that golf isn't a game you can conquer and therein lies the rub.

As I've watched players who are admitted perfectionists, I notice one thing.  They excel at a young age.  They are driven to overcome challenges and will spend as much time practicing as is needed.  However, they will often reach the pinnacle of their ability before they exhaust their talent.  What I mean by that is, they quit developing as a golfer and get stuck.

Why do perfectionists get stuck?  Because they are trying to perfect that which isn't perfectible.  Creating golf shots, linking them together to play a hole and doing so versus weather, course conditions and competition takes a balance between being pliable and being perfect.  Here is an example of what I'm talking about.

I was at an LPGA event in New Rochelle at Wykagyl Country Club.  I was there to watch Jamie Hullett.  Jamie was playing in the group in front of Annika.  Annika won this event twice, but not in 2006.  On the day I was watching, she was putting on a clinic with her iron play.  Every shot landed within 5-10 feet of the hole.  You rarely see a player so dialed in, but it was fun to watch.  Until she came to the 18th hole.  Her ability to be perfect that day was what hurt her.  She hit three shots that all landed within 5 feet of the hole, but it is a steep approach and the pin was up front.  All three shots spun back and finished near where she had just hit from, 70 yards off the green.  I actually found an account of the moment here.  This is a great example of the balance that needs to be struck in golf.  You can be as perfect as you want, but that doesn't mean it will fit the situation at hand.

This still doesn't explain why perfectionists get stuck, but it's a start.  Here is one description of perfection from Mirriam-Webster:
the quality or state of being very accurate <audio recordings were reaching a level of perfection that earlier technicians had never dreamt possible>
Every one of these words is music to the ears of golfers.  These are the things we chase at every practice and hope to have in hand when we step on the course.  However, even the best players at the top of their games don't possess these things at all times, nor are they able to use them.  In a recent presentation to the nation's golf coaches, Sean Foley told us how beautiful Justin Rose's swing was when he hit into a net.  He said it was beautiful.  He said his swing on the range was also very nice.  Not quite as beautiful as into a net, but better than most.  He then said, Rose's swing on the course resembled neither, because he was generally flighting balls into the wind, knocking shots down, putting the ball back or forward to effect trajectory and distance, etc.  You get the point.  This is where the perfectionists get tripped up.  Instead of being fluid and pliable on the course, they rely upon exactitude and precision.

So what do you do with a perfectionist?  What happens when he or she hits that sticking point that stops progress?  Remember, these are players who will reach elite levels of play due to the tenacity they show for accuracy, precision and exactness.  Their methodology will seem The Way for them and your coaching will seem to discount everything they know.  If I want a perfectionist to become pliable, I'm introducing him to this (also from Mirriam-Webster):
capable of being readily changed <with such iffy weather, we had to keep our vacation schedule fairly pliable>
I can hear perfectionists hyper-ventilating just reading words like variable or fluctuating.  This goes against all they hold dear and protect against.  Take heart perfectionists, Dr. David Cook gave me a strategy that you can use, too.  Find something, anything to perfect in a round of golf, but don't make it your technique, your shot making or even your results.  Find something else.  Allow yourself to create your swing and match it to the situation for each shot.  Allow yourself to accept bad bounces, bad yardages and bad swings.  Know that your swing will be created for the situation at hand and that is a good thing.

When a perfectionist suffers an injury or illness and must do with what she can bring on any given day, she will often play some of her best golf.  The expectations lower and the pressure to be perfect falls away.  Then the magic can happen.  All the repetitions that player has put into practice will be there for her and with no energy for precision, she will find flow and use it to score.  This lesson is hard to grasp, but I've seen it play out often.

If you are a perfectionist, learn what skills you can use to play the game in a perfect way, such as course management, mindset or attitude.  Imagine if instead of working to hit perfect shots, you worked to have a perfect attitude on the course.  One of acceptance, lack of expectations and positivism might be a start.  Good luck perfectionists!  Some times I'm glad I'm a bit of a mess.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


Today, I was finally able to formulate the essence of confidence and with that, I understood why it was so hard to think about.  Confidence is the absence of fear and doubt, much like darkness is the absence of light.  How can you describe darkness without the use of light?  How can you describe confidence without doubt or fear?

In a recent meeting with a player, she told me that she wanted to be a more confident player.  My answer to her was that great players aren't thinking of confidence when they are on the golf course.  With that, we were at an impasse.  She thought that a lack of confidence was holding her back.  I thought that confidence was a by-product, not a goal.  That got me to thinking about what the role of confidence is for golfers. 

Confidence is important to athletes, but only on reflection.  The knowledge that you have the game to win going into an event.  The feeling that you are as good or anyone when you step on the range with your bucket of balls.  The ability to work hard to learn the game with the understanding that you will improve.  The idea that you are up to whatever you face when you tee it up on the first hole.  All of these things require self-confidence and build it at the same time.  However, when you are playing the game, it isn't the time for reflection on your confidence.  If you question any of the above things in the heat of battle, you will soon be facing fear and doubt.  The problem with golf is, there is a lot of time for your mind to wander between shots and many player's minds go to these questions of self-worth.

Garcia: McIlroy less afraid to hit driver than Tiger 

That was the headline in Golfweek from Nick Masuda's column on August 6, 2014.  It points out to us that even the best players struggle with fear.  Today (11/30/14), Jordan Spieth dominated the final round to win the Australian Open in very windy conditions.  Here is what he had to say about his round:

"It's the best round I have ever played, especially considering the conditions," Spieth said. "It was just kind of one of those rounds when you're in the zone and you're not sure what you're at. It's nice that it came on a Sunday."

Spieth birdied four holes on the front nine -- three of them in a row -- to lead by three strokes after nine holes, then made light of the challenging, windy conditions by adding four more on the back nine, never threatening to lose his lead.

"You don't want any kind of crack in the door to be open and I felt like we kept it shut from the front nine on," Spieth said.

His last sentence alluded to that fear that he didn't experience in the final round.  Windy days are tough, because the wind creates doubt.  Will it effect the shot or putt?  Will the wind make my hook worse?  Is this the right club?  Doubts turn to fears about outcomes and the game gets tough.  Spieth kept that door shut as he says.

Jordan Spieth with his Australian Open trophy.  Copyright AFP

How did he do it?  If you are in the moment of the shot, neither fear nor confidence will enter your mind.  Instead, your preparation, routine and focus will take over and allow you to perform as you know you can.  However, if your mind wonders if you have the confidence to hit the shot, then your mind is dwelling in the unknown, which leads to fear. 

What is fear?  It is an emotion that comes from a perceived threat.  The question you need to ask yourself if you lack confidence is, what is causing your fear?  What is threatening about the situation you face?  Are you threatened by the number that you will put in the box on the scorecard?  Are you threatened about how people will judge you by your performance?  Are you threatened by the possibility of failure?  Are you threatened by living up to your promise?  What is causing your emotional reaction?  Without an emotional reaction on the golf course, why else would you work to find confidence to do something that you've done a thousand times in practice?

I recently watched Olivia LePoint, a rocket scientist who flunked high school math, talk about reprogramming your brain to overcome fear.  You can watch it in this Tedx Talk.  She gives you three steps to doing so.  1.  Name and reject your fear.  2.  Reprogram your brain with different thoughts  3.  Take action in direct opposition to your fear.  These are the things that athletes need to learn also.  If you can't carry a water hazard off the tee on the fourth hole, face your fear, take a bucket of balls out there and learn to carry it.  Any fear can be faced with the determination to overcome it if you name it.  Perhaps you are afraid of shooting a big number, because of what others will say.  Say it out loud, decide that it is out of your control what people believe about your score and know that your effort was 100% over each shot you made.  I once had a player who was afraid of the water.  She overcame it by signing up for swim classes.  That might sound logical or even an easy solution, but to someone who practically hyperventilated when she was near water, it was an heroic thing to do.  She understood what the problem was and it wasn't water.  It was fear.

This semester, we worked with Steven Yellin this semester to do exactly as LePoint talks about in her talk.  Steven takes the idea much farther than LePoint and gives seven levels of abstraction to overcome to reprogram your brain.  Here they are:

1. Anticipation
2. Concern
3. Expectation
4. Intensity of Intention
5. Anxiety
6. Fear
7. Acceptance

He then provided us with the skills to find abstraction and become less obsessed with concrete goals.  Steven has studied the brain and how it works, so his methods tap into years of study.  My description of it is very simple, but I will say that when learned, it allows a player to play with freedom and flow.  He does what LePoint speaks of, he helps reprogram our brains.

You can imagine all seven of these interfering with your ability to focus over a tough putt or a tight fairway.  You anticipate making it and rocket into the future.  You are concerned that you will or won't and become obsessed with the result.  You expect to make it since you are putting well and once again leave the moment.  You over focus, try to hard and your muscles tighten up.  You are worried about the putt.  You fear missing.  You can't accept failure and you will beat yourself up if you miss. On and on it goes.  We've all been there.  The goal is to be in the moment, allow your ability and preparation to take over and simply make the shot.

Steven recently wrote a note to one of my players.  In it he said, "Try to have abstract goals when you putt. No one has to remind you of the four concrete goals...line, speed, make a good stroke, make the putt. Reminding yourself of these four goals usually have the opposite effect of what you ultimately want to do...making the putt."  

Concrete goals make sense to athletes.  We know that we want to make the putt and we spend hours each week working on the skills that allow us to do so under pressure.  The question is, what thoughts lead to the most success in that situation?  What happens when you are caught up in the outcome instead of the process?  Where do your emotions go when you think of what could happen?  

Most of us are stuck in one or two of these areas.  LePoint talks about fear as being the main thing to hold people back and perhaps all seven abstractions have a root in fear.  At the beginning of the blog, I spoke of doubt as well as fear, but isn't doubt simply the fear of the unknown.  Doubt about your own abilities means you lack conviction in yourself.  As a coach, I want a team full of players who want to face the six footer that will win us a championship.  Whether or not each player will make it isn't the point, but the self-conviction that she is the person for the job is what leads to success.  Does that mean we are back to the question of confidence?  NO!

The ability to make the putt isn't a matter of confidence, but of preparation, embracing the moment, and putting your brain in the right place to allow your body to perform.  Everything your muscles do is due to a message sent to them from your brain.  If your brain is busy searching for confidence before a shot or a putt, it isn't in the right place.  Instead, it needs to rely upon the hundreds of hours of preparation in the last year that lead to this moment.  You know how to putt, so don't look for reasons why you should make it, simply do what you know.  Revel in the opportunity to use your skill. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Are You on Offense or Defense?

When you play golf, are you on offense or defense?  You play the best golf on offense.  That means that you are playing without fear and without protecting against mistakes.  Many players change their approach mid game and that might be the most helpful way for you to understand what mode you are in when you are on the course.

First Example:  Match Play
You are paired against a big hitter.  She knocks the ball past you by 40 yards off the tee.  You lose the first hole in awe of her power and wondering how in the world you will keep up.  You are playing fear based golf.  By the time you snap out of it and pay attention to what you are doing, you are 3 down after 5 holes.  Now you are forced to play offense and go after the big hitter.  What happens?  You start producing good shots and making putts.  You have switched from playing with fear to playing to score or playing offense.

Second Example:  Match Play
You are the big hitter.  You start off the round playing your game and enjoying the day.  You build an early lead and it looks to be an easy match.  Then, your opponent starts to climb back into the match with a few great shots and long putts.  Now, you decide you need to protect your lead, so you gear down and become more conservative and conscious of what you are doing.  When you protect, you play defense.  Soon, you watch your lead completely crumble and when it's time to turn to offense again on the last holes, you've lost the edge.

Third Example:  Stroke Play
Your warm up felt good and you walk to the first tee swinging freely.  You make a birdie on the first and feel great.  After 9 you are -3 and begin to think about shooting your lowest score, which is -4.  As soon as that thought enters your mind, you begin to play to not make mistakes.  The freedom you had on the front slowly leaves you and by the 18th hole, you are tight and struggling to make par.  You are +1 on the back nine, but you know that you had a much better day in you.  When you thought about your opportunity for a personal best, you began protecting your score and playing defense.

You have to love Charlie Brown.  He just doesn't have it in him to play defense.  All of us are thinking, "no, not again!"  But Charlie Brown goes in for the kick in total offensive mode.  His attitude is exactly what you need to play great golf.  That determined run and grimace in the fourth frame from the last is a clear indication of offense.  The height he gets on the miss in the next frame and the huge wham that occurs when he hits the ground all give you the same idea.  Golf is a lot like Lucy, making it tough to go in time after time and give it our all to score.  We have all walked off the course feeling like Charlie Brown after a whiff.  However, we all need his optimism and ability to give it all we have if we ever want to achieve greatness.  I love Charlie Brown's optimism and determination.  He is a coach's dream!

Fourth Example:  Stroke Play
You start your day with a double bogey.  Sure, it was a bad bounce and a lip out, but it is still a double bogey.  You go to the second hole with a sour taste in your mouth.  On the second hole, you lip your par putt out and make another bogey to go to 3 over.  Before you know it, you are +4 and struggling to hold it together.  You resign yourself to the fact that it just isn't your day and give up the idea of having a good day.  Funny thing is, when you give in to those ideas, things seem to go better.  You give up the worry of scoring well and the ball starts to fly at the hole.  With nothing to protect and nothing to lose, you begin to play offense.

A one on one competition is a simple scenario.  Match play is a lot like arm wrestling.  Quick, personal and with a clear winner.  Also, you can get a rematch in a minute. 

Can you recognize yourself in any of the above scenarios?  Many players love match play, because it is very easy to have a scoring mindset based on offense.  The goal is very simple, one hole!  Win it.  Beat the person standing next to you.  Your feedback is quick and gratification follows each win.  In stroke play, your goal has to last four hours and it will include many opportunities to succeed or fail.  You will have many events that will lead you to question your mindset or change your approach from offense to defense.  In match play, the need for a mindset of offense is evident from the first tee on.  It is the underdog's goal to get an opponent to question that mindset and put her on defense.

How can you learn to play the game with your foot on the pedal at all times?  That is the question you come away with.  First, have a game plan for each hole.  Know how you want to play the hole and how that will change if the winds shift or conditions change.  Know the best place on each green to attack the hole.  Know your strengths and keep them in mind as you form your game plan.  For example, if you are a great bunker player, give yourself a green light for pins tucked behind a bunker.  If your bunker game isn't good, play to the middle of the green and attack the hole with your putter.  If you are a great wedge player, attack par 5's with a wedge in your hand.  If not, stuff the ball in as close to the green on your second shot as you can.  Everyone has different strengths that require different positions.  You need to plot your path around the course based on what you do well.

Next, figure out a mindset that works for you. When you are playing with freedom, what is your approach and how did you create it?  Understand what gets under your skin and creates problems with your mindset.  What causes you to tighten up and play defense?  It might be certain ball flights that signal old habits.  It could be a string of birdies or a string of bogeys.  Some people don't like the look of certain holes or shots.  Just being in between clubs is a big reason that a player might tighten up and swing defensively.  Know what your triggers are and game plan to stay in an offensive mindset.

How?  Have a pre-shot routine that is focused on getting you ready to hit the best shot possible.  It should allow you to visualize, commit, stay loose, and connect what your eyes and mind see to what your body produces.   When you have Big Picture thoughts that could lure you into playing defense, you let them go and replace them with thoughts of your game plan on this shot, this hole and this golf course.  You have prepared well and you know how to play offense on this golf course.  Finally, step away from results, whether good or bad and put your energy into producing a great shot on the next shot you have.  Simple stuff, but tough to commit to all day long.  You are on the course for at least four hours and that gives you plenty of time to think about your score, your chance of winning or qualifying, what your score will look like online, what people will think of your score, what your score means compared to all the preparation you put in, what your coach will do when you shoot that score, etc., etc., etc.  You can spend time thinking about what isn't happening for you and what bad breaks you've gotten.  You can spend time wishing that all the bad shots you had hadn't happened.  You can spend time wanting to start over or be somewhere else entirely.  However, NONE of those thoughts have anything to do with your game plan or a mindset to play offense.  Don't give in to the why's, what's or how's when you're playing golf.  Those are all questions and questions don't help your mindset or your scoring.  Answers are the Answer!

Questions on the golf course lead to playing defense.  Don't question yourself or go to a shot with a question in your mind.  Instead, stick to your game plan.  Commit to the shot without questions.  If you have a question, such as when you are in between clubs, find a reason to commit to one or the other.  Look for answers, such as their is more room behind the hole, so I'll just hit more and accept a longer putt.  Or, I know I need to carry that bunker and this is going to be close, but I'm a great bunker player, so I'll hit this 8 iron.

Your answers for playing good golf are:  play offense, have a game plan and stick to it, rely on an active and positive pre-shot routine and use your strengths to attack the hole.  Everyone has questions that pop into their head when playing golf, but you can understand that you don't need to answer them.  Instead, you can replace them with the answers you've prepared for yourself prior to the round.  Know what your best mindset is for playing good golf and put it into play as soon as you hit the parking lot on tournament days.  Remember, you don't score in any sport you play when you play defense.  It takes offense to score!

Your goal on the first tee should be to score as well as your game allows that day.  If that is a 65, then embrace greatness.  If all you can do is shoot a 76 with what you have, then accept that, but work hard to shoot a 76.  In other words, play offense with each shot you hit. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Goals, Expectations and the Big Picture

Are goals and expectations valuable to you as a golfer?  YES!  Goals and expectations are tools that allow you to see the Big Picture and move forward into a future that you create.

Are goals and expectations harmful to you as a golfer?  YES!  Goals and expectations can overcome your ability to be in the moment on the golf course and disrupt your focus on the shot at hand.

As with all things, there is a learning curve for your ability to use goals and expectations as tools that allow you to both see the Big Picture and move within it to excel in the moment.  This learning curve is revisited constantly and even the top professionals sometimes allow their goals and expectations to creep into their heads at the wrong times.  However, the more seasoned the pro, the better they are at staying in the moment and the shot at hand.

How does it work?  Let's say you are playing in the Ryder Cup and you desperately want to win your match against the European Team today.  That is an obvious goal.  Both you and your opponent share the goal.  There is no need to revisit it during play.  Your goal is coupled with a lot of expectations for the day.  You expect that your preparation was enough for you to prevail.  You expect to rise to any challenge you face.  You expect a tough competition.  You expect your opponent to hit great shots.  You expect the crowd to be against you.  You expect to have courage, patience and determination.   

Expectations are important tools for preparation.  They help you anticipate what you will face and allow you to form your mindset to meet it.  They help you prepare for the intensity of competition.  Expectations are a part of the Big Picture.  Once you tee it up on the first hole, your goal of winning and your expectations need to drop away and you need to play the game.  If at any time your mind pops back into the Big Picture with thoughts such as, "I'm winning" or "I want to win" you are out of the moment and in trouble.  You are now in the future.  The outcome is the enemy to the moment.  The goal hasn't changed, so why worry about it?

As for your expectations, they are Big Picture tools, not tools for the golf course.  You might catch yourself smiling when one of them comes true, but they aren't the focus.  They might have helped you reach this tournament, but they won't help you win it.  Put them away for after play.  They are especially harmful when they don't meet reality.  If you hit it great last week and expect it to continue, but it doesn't, you can lose yourself to what is lost and spend your time searching for it.  Great players accept their realities and don't allow expectations to follow them onto the first tee.  If you expect the greens to be fast and they are slow, you will be slower to make the adjustment to what you are facing.  Expectations aren't reality.  They are merely ways of helping you prepare for what might be reality.

The Big Picture will take you right off the road to excellence during play.

There are many ways that your goals and expectations can get in the way during a round of golf.  If you spent the last month working hard on your golf swing and getting a move down, you had the goal of mastery and the expectation that it would make you a better ball striker.  Both of those are important steps to becoming a champion golfer.  However, during play of the game, that goal and expectation cannot be in your mind. If you make a bad swing (and you will make at least one bad swing) and fall into an old habit that you had worked to overcome, it was simply a bad swing that probably produced a bad shot.  If you stay in the moment, you will have an opportunity to create a good shot very soon.  If you decide instead to think about your goal of changing your swing and your expectation that you would be a better ball striker, you are now in the big picture and out of the moment or out of the shot at hand.  Competition is about the goal of playing the game and making the best score possible.  That is also obvious, unless you replace it with your goals of swinging well, winning the tournament, impressing your gallery, or any number of things that can get in the way of playing with freedom.

There is a time to think of the Big Picture.  That time is when you are contemplating your game and its strengths and weaknesses.  It can be prior to a practice session or following a tournament.  It can involve others, such as your pro or your coach.  It needs to be an unemotional look at statistics, misses, good shots, bad shots and progress.  However, none of this can happen during play.  Play needs to be a time when you are "ALL IN" with the shot at hand.  There should never be a Big Picture moment during a round.  As soon as you have it, you are sunk unless you replace it with renewed focus on the shot at hand.  Everyone has Big Picture thoughts creep into their minds at times, but to dance with those thoughts during the round is a bad idea.  Instead, leave them behind with determination to be in the moment. 

There are players who play the game in the Big Picture at all times and they are able to reach high levels of play.  The problem with playing in that frame of mind is, they are in a state of constant reaction to what has happened (the past) and working to change the past with their next swing (the future).  They are in a state of evaluation at all times and judge each shot, each golf swing and each result looking for feedback.  They spend their time on the golf course searching for patterns and adjustments of what they do.  When they finish, they are mentally exhausted and usually find few answers to the questions they pondered in their round.  They quickly head to the driving range in search of answers.  The habit will remain until they figure out that the questions will never end unless they learn to quit asking them during play.

When great players learn to live in the moment on the course, it allows them to create shots, adjust to conditions on the course and find a natural rhythm for their play.  Without the constant questions of what they did, what went wrong, how did that happen and did I make the right move, their mind is free to think about what they want in the shot at hand.  The simplicity of the game takes over and after the round, they feel fresh and know they did their best.  They might still head to the range, but it isn't with the many questions produced during the round.  It is with a goal that they produced after play based on a shot or a feel that they lacked.  After play is the time to jump into the Big Picture and see what is needed for the next day.

After watching countless rounds of golf by recruits, college players and pros, I constantly wonder what separates the good from the great.  It is obviously not golf swings, because the great ones sometimes don't swing it well, but they manage to get it into the hole.  I watched one of the best young players in the nation play this weekend and nothing about her physical game stood out.  What did stand out was her ability to get the ball in the hole.  It seems to me that a player's determination to score is the separator.  No matter how you are hitting it.  No matter what trouble you face.  No matter the conditions.  No matter the competition.  No matter what's at stake.  No matter how you are feeling.  The greatest players spend their time on the golf course in that one little place, the next shot.  At every level, this is a separator. 

Are goals and expectations good?  Yes!  For years they have been the tools that allow players to reach their dreams.  Are goals and expectations good all the time?  NO!  They are in place only when looking at the Big Picture of your game, not when you are facing a 5 foot putt for par or a tee shot on a tight fairway.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Match Play

JP, our senior leader, points at the scoreboard as the team poses for a quick picture.

Let me start off by saying, I wasn't in favor of our sport changing its championship to a match play format.  It seemed crazy to me to play one format all year long (stroke play) and then when it counts the most, switch to a different way of competing (match play).  I've changed my mind.

A par on the 18th hole secured a 1 up victory for Lindsey McCurdy, who birdied 17 to earn the hole.  The team celebrated it's win on the green!

This weekend, we traveled to the University of Michigan for the East-West Match Play Championship along with UC Davis, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Miami, Iowa and Purdue.  We played 36 holes of stroke play.  I saw improvement over our first outing, but we still had a lot of room for improvement in many areas.  We squeaked into the Championship bracket by one shot, over a Miami team that had a scorecard mistake that cost them the spot.  It wasn't the route we envisioned, but from that point, we never looked back.  We COMPETED.  

Lindsey McCurdy sent us all this video on the night before the final round.  It was a perfect mindset for us.  Thanks Apollo!  I love what you have going on in that head and heart!

In my mind, the definition of competition on the course is to be completely into the shot at hand.  Competitors do their best with what they have with no thought of how they got there.  Match play is the perfect place to use that approach.  You can make a double bogey and step to the next hole with the chance to win it.  You understand that any shot can go in and change the momentum of the game.  You are continually offered a clean slate!  All of this is true in stroke play also, but it isn't always evident when you are in the heat of a round.  True competitors get it and become champions, whether playing match or stroke play.

The team accepts the trophies.  From r to l: Coach Dave Von Ins, Coach Jeanne Sutherland, Junior Alexandra Rossi, Senior Jennifer Park, Sophomore Katie Page, Sophomore Lindsey McCurdy, Junior Jenny Haglund, Sophomore Alexandria Celli

We also learned the importance of simply giving ourselves a chance.  We did that in a number of ways.  We got our shots and putts to the hole and played more aggressively than we have this fall.  We focused on what we wanted instead of what we didn't want.  We hung around in each match despite getting down early and plugged away until we could turn the tide.  All of these things are also important teaching points to championship golf, but so much easier to see in match play.  Giving yourself a chance also means that you don't beat yourself.  There is no shame in getting beaten by a good opponent who plays a great game.  There is, however, no sense in beating yourself in match play through a bad attitude, a thought pattern that isn't focused on the shot at hand or failing to believe you are up to the task.  That might be the most important thing that match play teaches you.

These ladies don't need caffeine!  They wake up ready to go with spirit and enthusiasm.

Finally, we had a blast!  We took a lighthearted attitude that focused on fun and togetherness.  It started in the morning with some positive tunes and parking lot football (our thing) and continued through the day with fist pumps, hollas across the fairways and birdie dances.  And this is why I've changed my mind about match play.  It brought out the best in the TEAM.  It is all about the TEAM.  Every Mustang fought for the TEAM.  Each and every player was important to the TEAM.

On Rickie Fowler's new haircut for the Ryder Cup matches:  “I thought it was great. I thought it was terrific. It brings a spirit, a light spirit to the team.”  Tom Watson

 The USA Ryder Cup team is in good hands.  Tom Watson gets it!  He is embracing a fun and spirited approach to the competition.  You play the best with a seriousness about the shot, but not about yourself. 

Off we go into more events.  We will continue to work on all the stuff we learned in Michigan and probably relearn it a few more times.  We will continue to improve at our FMF (our edge!) until we are able to access what we have more often and enjoy a high quality of silence on the golf course.  We will continue to put the team first and have a blast!

By the way, college golf is unique in that it provides camaraderie within competition.  One of my favorite parts of my jobs is getting to know the players on other teams.  There are so many great kids playing college golf and their easy smiles and dedication to the sport really lift me up.  Here is a great example of that camaraderie.  I asked Ohio State player, Rio Watanabe to take some pictures when we went up to receive our trophy and I got some great shots.  Not just us receiving our trophy, but of the entire Ohio State team having fun, too.  I love it!

We also get treated wonderfully when we are on the road.  Michigan fed us and offered us a chance to see the Big House.  They also provided the opportunity to play golf on a GREAT track, Radrick Farms.  Last week, we had the same hospitality at Minnesota when we ate wonderful meals, played one of the finest courses in the nation at Minikahda and met the sponsors, Land O Lakes.  Basically, what I'm saying is, I'm grateful to have a job that allows me to make friends, mentor young people, travel to wonderful places, work with motivated and talented golfers, continue to learn and grow and make a decent living.  Now all of you have a glimpse into the by-product of our hours and hours of practice.  Every drop of sweat is well worth it!

The entrance to the Big House from the player's locker room.

Right guard: Katie Page, Center: Jenny Haglund, Left Guard: Alex Rossi, Left Tackle: Lindsey McCurdy, QB: Jennifer Park, Halfback: Alex Celli


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