Sunday, June 15, 2014

Golf Course Practice

If you are playing golf without the pressure of time or a group behind you, try some of these practice ideas.  Some of them will work in a fast round, too.  The best practice for a golfer is golf and here are some ways to play and get a little extra work in your round.

1.  Split the Fairway!  On every tee shot, choose a side of the fairway and make sure your ball ends there.  Make it tougher by working the ball into the half you chose.  Think about how you want to approach the hole location before choosing a side.  If it's windy, work the ball against the wind.  This is a great way to learn to hit shots.  Tip:  The pros often use their 3 wood when they need to draw the ball.

With a mowing pattern such as this, it would be easy to see your target and whether or not you were successful!

2.  Bunker Day.  Hit into one bunker per hole.  Choose the bunker before you tee it up.  Vary the targets between fairway bunkers, bunkers close to the hole and bunkers across the green from the hole.  This is also a good way to work on ball striking, because hitting it into a small bunker takes a good shot.  Keep score and see how many extra shots you need to get it into the bunker. 
Tip:  Which bunker shots were you the best at hitting close?  Work on the shots that gave you trouble and use your knowledge when attacking hole locations in the future.

Symetra Tour professional Casey Grice hits from a fairway bunker.

3.  One More.  Play a normal game from the tee, but on your approach shots, pull one more club than you would normally pull.  If you feel like it's a 7 iron, pull a 6.  Learn to hit knockdowns and to take a bit off a shot by gripping down, taking a smaller swing, controlling trajectory or hitting a cut.  If it seems easy to do, drop down 2 clubs.
Tip:  Take note of how you can best control your distance and if swinging with less pressure on getting the max distance from your club helps or hurts you.

4.  Short/Long.  When you get to the green, drop a ball short side (off the green, but as close as possible to the hole) and long side (on the opposite side of the green from the hole.  Get both up and down.  Keep track of your success.  Use your results to figure out how to practice and how to attack certain hole locations.
Tip:  Give yourself tough lies and tough looking shots to challenge yourself as you would in a round of golf.

5.  One Person Best Ball.  Play two balls and after both shots, choose the best and play two balls from there.  Continue until you hole out.

6.  One Person Worst Ball.  Play two balls and after both shots, choose the worst and play two balls from there.  Continue until you hole out.

7.  EWNS.  This is a good game to play in a practice round to give you a feel for greens.  It takes some time, so use it only when no one is behind you.  Drop 4 balls in the middle of each green.  Putt one ball to the front, one to the back, one to the right and one to the left side of the green.  Your goal is to get it as close to the fringe cut as possible.  It will give you a lot of good reps at learning the speed of the greens and a quick feel for the uphill and downhill slopes on the greens.  If you are just out playing golf, it is a great way to work on your distance control.

8.  Call Your Shot.  Before each shot, call it.  Example:  I'm going to hit a high cut.  I'm going to start it at the tree to the left of the pin and cut it right into the middle of the fairway. Here is a clip of Jim Furyk and his caddy Fluff preparing to hit a shot on the 17th at TPC Sawgrass.  There is not talk of where he doesn't want to hit it or even talk of where he does.  It is simply the yardages needed to get to the green, to the hole, what it's playing with wind and what it would take to get over the green.  Simple, precise, and clear.
Tip:  REALLY LISTEN to yourself.  This is much harder than it seems on first glance.  Many players talk about what they don't want.  Example:  I don't want to be in that bunker on the right, so I'm going to aim down the left side.  This is not about what you DON'T want.  As soon as you start talking out loud before your shots, you will understand how much mind power you are giving to what you don't want.  Imagine driving to the mall by stating where you aren't going to go.  "Today, I'm not going to go to school or the pool.  I think I'll drive to the mall."  Silly right?  Lots and lots of useless clutter that detracts from your goal.  Be clear.  Be simple.  Be specific.  Focus on what you will do.
Many players have a hard time being definite with their language.  Example:  I'd like to sort of start the ball on the left and have it work back into the fairway.  I want to hit it high.  At no time should you use the words I'd like, I want, I hope, I wish, or I might.  It should always be I WILL.

9.  ABCD.  This is another great game if you have some time on the course.  This is especially good for your ball striking and control.  On every approach shot, hit a ball to the front right, back right, back left and front left.  Hit shots!  In other words, work the ball into the areas.  Change clubs as needed.  Fix all of your ball marks!  It is called ABCD, because when you chart courses in practice rounds, you label them the same way.  For example, at Pinehurst #2 this week, there are many pins at which players can't aim.  In fact, just hitting the greens will be tough.  Here is a great interview with Chuck Cook on the Golf Channel on the challenges of planning a round at Pinehurst #2 and how he and Payne Stewart approached it in 1999.  Payne hit only 41 greens that week and carefully planned his "misses" to be in areas where he could get the ball up and down.  Course management is all about knowing your level of control, knowing the areas that will produce good scores and committing to the plan you set before you reach the first tee.
Tip:  This is a great way to learn to hit shots and will help you with your course management as you take your lessons learned into competition.

Payne Stewart graduated from SMU and this picture of him is on the wall of our office suite.  It is a great reminder of the possibilities we have if we work hard and follow our dreams.

10.  Match Play.  If you are a great golfer, play straight match play against the course.  Par is a push, birdie wins you the hole and bogey is a loss.  If you are new to the game, choose a bogey as a push, par or birdie is a win and a double is a loss.  Beat the golf course!  It is your ultimate opponent any time you tee it up.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Summertime & Goaltime!

Summertime!  I've had a nice break from blogging, but not from learning and discovering.  I'm well into quite a few books and we will make some changes next year in our direction as a team based on the summer's reading.  Subjects?  Meditation, statistics and Bruce Springsteen!  The books are 10% Happier by Dan Harris, Every Shot Counts by Martin Broadie and Bruce! by Peter Ames Carlin.  All are good reads.  The first is a layman's guide to the whys and whats of meditation.  Dan Harris is a journalist who you can catch on Good Morning America.  The second is a guide to statistics and what was learned from Shot Tracker on the PGA Tour.  The third is a story of passion, dreams, talent, hard work and the ultimate success of Bruce Springsteen. It's a varied list, but I'll explain.

Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier

Why meditation?  The things that often hold us back aren't talent, ball striking, or putting.  My team is loaded with talent.  They can hit it and they roll the rock.  Instead, as a college coach, I see my players struggling with time-management, balance, stress, awareness and mindfulness.  Their self-talk is often out of control (monkey mind) and their ability to be in the moment is constantly challenged.  We play at NCAA's for a chance to reach the Championship during Finals Week, as do many teams.  All of these skills are tested the most at the most important time of the year.  Yet, these skills aren't taught specifically.  Yes, we talk about it and we design drills to focus attention where it needs to go, but we are still dancing around what we need.  To play at the highest level, we need focus, awareness, a positive attitude and a good physical game.  The more I explore meditation, the more I think it might help us teach the first three skills needed and take some of the pressure off of the physical game. 

As for the stats, I will need to spend an entire blog on Mr. Broadie's book.  It is eye opening in some ways and explains what I know in other ways.  Broadie debunks the myth that the best players are the best putters.  Instead, all have their own strengths that allow them to win on tour.  I completely agree that all players rely upon their strengths to gain a win, yet I also don't see many bad putters out there.  I'm only half way through the book, so I won't write any more until I've read it through at least once. 

As for Springsteen, his biography could just as easily be Tiger's.  He knew he was going to be a star long before he got his first gig.  He coupled that vision with an intensity of focus, a deep passion and a penchant for hard work.  I'm only on the second album (big black disc that spun on a turn table and played music for you young folks) era, but I love reading about his life.  There is much to learn from successful people from all walks of life, but rock stars lead interesting lives that are fun to peek into.

The rundown of reading is superfluous to the blog I wanted to write, but it leads into one of the tenants I'll talk about.  Whenever you get a break from competition, it's a good time to take a deep breath and look at what's happening.  It's the time to ask yourself a lot of questions, such as what have I been doing well?  What do I need to improve on?  Am I on track with my long-term goals?  Do I need to adjust any of them?  What short-term goals will help me reach my long-term goals? 

Here is what I asked my players for this week:

Summer (short-term goals)
What do you want to accomplish?
How will you work to do it?
How will you measure your progress?
Who will keep you accountable?
What will it look like when you achieve it?
Long-term goals
What do you want to accomplish in the next year or two?
What do you want your golf legacy to look like?
What is your dream for you and for your team?
What will you do to work toward these goals?
How will you measure your progress?
Who will help you?
What will it look like when you achieve it?
This is a good start to thinking through your goals.  I used it myself.  At the end of the season, I thought about what we can do better as coaches, what we can do better as a team and what I can do better as a person off the course.  I've stuck to my goals in the last category and it is a process that is much the same as a golfer faces.  I've had success and also gotten stuck.  It's hard to see my progress and my discipline is sometimes fleeting.  Yet, I'm still plugging.  That is really the answer; keep plugging.  

Let's walk through a goal you might have for yourself and really look at it from all directions.  
"I want to be a great putter."  That is a goal you might embrace.  How will you know if you're a great putter?  You can keep stats, such as number of putts made or the distance of putts made in a round.  You could look at 3 putt avoidance or 1 putts made.  You could track how close your ball gets to the hole on all putts or how closely your read matched the roll of the ball.  There are many ways to figure out improvement and you should use more than one.  
Now that you figured out a goal and a few ways of tracking it, you need to set aside the numbers and think about the process.  How will you improve?  How will you practice?  Who will help you?  How will you think?  How much time will you allow?  Putting involves aiming and starting the ball on line, distance control and green reading.  You will face putts of all lengths, uphill putts, downhill putts, left to right sliders and right to left putts, too.  Each of those skills will need to be addressed as you work toward becoming a GREAT PUTTER.
Finally, you have to think like a great putter starting now.  Visualize yourself making putts.  Think like a great champion on the green.  Champions aren't putting to avoid 3 putts, they are putting to make it.  They have fantastic awareness and even better confidence in their abilities.  Thinking like a great putter will take as much work as the physical practice and it all takes discipline and habit formation.  
Now it's your turn.  Set a goal or two.  Think about your dream and bite off a little bite that will help you reach it.  Figure out what it will look like when you achieve it.  Find someone to help you on your path or to keep you accountable.  Then work hard on it and don't give up! 
Goals are often slow to show progress.  True mastery takes time and patience.  Stay true to your goals and believe in your ability to achieve.  If you fail or fall back, you can make excuses, tell yourself a story or blame others, but in the end, the real answer is to recommit and get to work.  The commitments you make to yourself are the most important commitments to keep.  Good luck!


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