Sunday, July 27, 2014

Score With Your Wedge

In the past, I've shared Hank Haney's philosophy on winning.  It is simple and since I heard him say it, it has played out numerous times.  It goes like this:

Every time you 3 putt, miss a green from within 100 yards or take a penalty shot, you add a shot to the number you will need to win a tournament.

Since then, if we have had a player finish top ten, we often look at the mistakes on the card and find Haney's words played out in evidence.  Today's blog is focused on shots within 100 yards and turning them from mistakes into scoring shots.  Forget the missing the green part and think offense!  According to Mark Broadie's recent book, Every Shot Counts, about 20% of all shots on the PGA Tour probably involve a wedge.  That includes all shots within 150 yards and bunker shots within 50 yards.  I included the approach shots from 100-150 yards due to the distance the touring pros hit their wedges, which is about 130-135 yards.  There isn't a breakdown within those distances, so the shots from 135 to 150 got lumped in.  For an average junior or college golfer, the percentage would probably drop to 15%.

To start this discussion, answer these questions:
1.  How far do you hit a full pitching wedge?
2.  How often do you hit a full pitching wedge?
3.  Do/can you control your trajectory with your pitching wedge?
4.  Can you hit your pitching wedge less than full on demand?  In other words, if you hit it 120 yards, can you hit it 115 or 110?
5.  What is the gap between your pitching wedge and your 9 iron?  your gap wedge?

Now go through these questions for each wedge in your bag.  If you don't know the answers, put away your phone or computer and go out to a field or range where you can pick up your balls and figure out the answers.

Today's blog is focused on getting you thinking about your wedges as scoring machines.  Think of yourself as the quarterback and your wedges as talented receivers.  You could go so far as to name your pitching wedge Dez and your sand wedge Prime Time.  You get the idea?  You want to work on your wedge game and use it to play pure offense.  You want to be able to make the ball jump, run, spin, fly low or fly high.  Not only will your wedges not cost you shots, they will be your saviors when you are in trouble.  Did you need to punch out?  Now knock that wedge up close and get your par anyway!

What do great players do with their wedges? Let's hear from them directly.
Jason Dufner: How to Simplify Your Wedges

Greg Chalmers on Hitting 60 Yard Wedge Shots

Nick Faldo - 100 Yard Wedge Shots 

Graeme McDowell: How to Play the 100 Yard Wedge Shot

Freddie Jacobsen - One Hop and Stop

There is a similarity with all of these videos and that is simplicity.  If you listen, the words these guys use will lead you to add concepts to your wedge game.  Shallow, arms in front of chest, get to left side, stay forward, chest on ball, rhythm, simple, "go-to", etc.  Watch all these videos again and get a sense for the length of the swings the best in the world take to produce controlled wedge shots.  Watch their body movement and its relationship to the target.  Is it quiet or active?  Watch the length of the swings.  Are they long or short?  Watch the hands.  Do they have a lot of wrist cock or a little?  Listen again to Graeme McDowell talk about the difference between his 52 degree low control shot vs. his 58 degree high trajectory shot.  Most juniors that I watch have only the second option in the bag.  It's time to develop the low shot that you can name Dez or as Graeme says, that you can hit with your eyes closed.

How?  Here are some things for you to think about before your next practice session.
Great players hit wedge shots with a shallow swing.  Dick Harmon taught me this years ago.  It went against what I was learning in my PGA Training, but Dick knew what great players did and have always done.  He taught it very simply; hit your wedges with low hooks.  That image put in my mind how to work my hands through the shot.

Here is Andrew Rice, one of my favorite teachers who shares his knowledge online, talking about the shallowness of a wedge swing.

What Andrew is talking about and showing in the video is that great pitchers keep the shaft moving through the ball.   If you stop that video at :42, you will see the shaft still at a 90 degree angle, even though the ball has been struck.  The swing delivers the club with hands that players describe as held or firm.  Check out the chart below.  You will notice that the Attack Angle (deg.) for the PW is the lowest number of any at -5.0.  That means the club is working down through the ball and the shaft is leaned forward.  Think of it this way, if you have a 56 degree wedge in your hand and you hit the ball with -5.0 attack angle, the club's effective loft is 51 degrees.  That is a very simple explanation and there is more to effective loft than that one factor, but for our purposes, we will stay simple today.

The purpose of today's blog wasn't to tell you what to do or what to think, but to lead you to practice, experiment and figure out how to accomplish some of the things that the best players in the country do to hit great wedges.  Make your wedges the wide receivers of your offense.  SCORE, SCORE, SCORE!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On the Road to Mastery

Whether you are a junior golfer, a college golfer or a young professional, you might be on the road to mastery.  Do you know what mastery is?  Do you know how to achieve it?  Here is one of the best explanations of mastery that I've seen.  Take 11 minutes and watch it and then we'll start our talk about your travel down the road to mastery.


Here are some great quotes from Sarah Lewis' TEDTalk along with my ideas for how they relate to our journey in golf. 

"Success is a moment, but what we are always celebrating is creativity and mastery."

"Success is hitting that 10 ring, but mastery is knowing that it means nothing if you can't do it again and again."

Both of these quotes hit home for me as a coach.  In today's world of result oriented athletics, it is good to be a coach at a school that understands what we are celebrating.  We are in this for the long haul.  We want to achieve mastery, not just success.  On a smaller scale, I've seen and worked with players who truly understood that their success wasn't mastery.  This is a hard thing to watch, because our nature is to bolster spirits, build confidence and point at success as an indicator.  The very best players are hardest on themselves, because they understand they haven't achieved mastery.  As a coach or parent, you must witness this drive and support the journey, not blow smoke.  There might be contentment with the process, but until mastery is achieved, there can't be contentment with success.  Numerous players come to mind who were not content with the success they achieved, because they knew they weren't yet masters.  Somehow, we must help these players find happiness within the process while allowing discontent with their place in that process.

At times, players have looked at their success as an end in itself.  These are also tough times for coaches, because pointing out that a success was merely a blip in a long line of blips doesn't always go the right way.  This athlete is often getting her cues from outside instead of inside, meaning that approval of others, trophies and publicity are the goals instead of the indicators of progress.  This is success that is ego driven.  Part of the maturation process for players on the path to mastery is to set aside the ego and tap into the passion they feel for their pursuit.  If there is no passion or connection, mastery won't be achieved.  When coaching a player to look for cues from within and to be her own judge, it is easy to be perceived as not having appreciation for past success or for the trappings that accompany it.  It is important to continually reward process and catch that player making progress that wouldn't get anyone's attention but the two of you.   It's possible for these players to mature into people who don't rely upon my approval or anyone else's.  They will know that results can be celebrated for the moment they provide and those moments are important, but they don't define the player.  Instead, they learn to define their games based upon their own standards.  This is a skill that players often learn in college.  College is a time when players have many more voices to decipher and a higher standard of competition.  It can be learned earlier or later in a career, but it is very important if mastery is the goal. 

Michelangelo's famous painting in the Sistine Chapel of St. Peter's Basilica shows an unrequited reach.  Couple that with his quote; "Lord, grant me that I can desire more than I can accomplish." and I believe you will see that he was a true master.
If golf is your passion and you want to play it at the highest level, then mastery is probably part of your vocabulary.  What does it mean and how can you strive for it?  Robert Greene believes that mastery comes from the following:
Intuition, level of effort and desire and connection to the game are the differences in masters.  You are a unique being with a calling.  Do you follow your inner voice?  If you listen to your calling and build the skills needed, you can turn your calling into mastery.  "Channel that natural excitement and interest you have in the right direction..."
From: An interview with Robert Greene, author of Mastery, a New York Times bestseller.  Here are some other relevant points he makes in this interview and in his book.   

You can't be afraid to make mistakes or feel suffering.  That is what will lead you to what works.

You can learn by what you hate as much as by what you love.

These are just a few of the highlights I pulled from the 30 minute interview.  I would urge you to watch it to listen to a person who is truly a studied expert in the science of mastery.  After listening to Greene speak on the importance of building skills, I began to relate that to the success or failure of players working to get to golf mastery.  Why do certain people seem to emerge on tour without much success along the way while others are successful at each stage yet fail to achieve mastery?  There are countless golfers on the PGA and LPGA of whom you know nothing about.  They weren't college All Americans or stars on the AJGA.  How did they reach the highest level without the successes of others?  On the other hand, we can all name top juniors who failed in college.  We can think of numerous college All Americans who struggled for 10 years on mini tours before giving it up.  What leads to two diverse outcomes for talented young golfers? 

There is a skill set for success at every level of the game.  When people look at golf mastery, they often see the physical skills that the pros possess.  However, the evident skills, such as driving the ball long or putting well are only a small percentage of what is needed to succeed as a golf professional.  Junior golfers are learning physical skills, course management, competitive skills and mental game skills.  This is the period of time that they learn both control over their game and creativity in their approach.  They must control their motion, the ball's flight, the distance the ball travels, their emotions and their strategy.  To move past control is to create.  They must learn to create shots, match shots to terrain or situations and create their temperament and attitude.  These skills will continue to develop long past junior golf, but these skills are the foundation for the next stages.  

To play college golf well and continue on their path, they will need to learn independence, self-reliance, preparation and time management.  For the first time, they will be in charge of their own leisure time, as small a window as that might be.  They will make decisions daily that effect their path to mastery and be forced to prioritize tasks and desires.  Along with this new set of skills, they are continuing to develop the skills learned as a junior golfer.  However, if they missed out on some of those skills, such as emotional control or creating varied shots, they will have a tougher time in college.  As coaches, we often see freshmen who are inept at problem solving within their swings or games.  They have had a lot of guidance and haven't learned to go through these steps on their own without a pro or a parent.  What the coach has to say is different and confusing from what they've heard and they don't have the skill set to assess if it is right for them.  These players will often return for their sophomore season with this skill intact, because they figured out it was needed for their success.  With this skill, they can listen to coaching and decide if it works for them or not. 

Young touring pros have another set of skills.  They must learn how to deal with uncertainty and become adaptable.  They become nomads with the only constant being the game and the relationships with the other players and tour staffers.  They have no idea when the next check will come or what it will total. For the first time, most are now in charge of both their leisure time and their work time.  They must book their own flights, find housing and figure out when, what and where to eat.  If they didn't learn independence in college, simple tasks such as laundry or budgeting will set them back.  Every stage of becoming a master golfer builds on earlier stages and the more that players decide to have ownership of the skill sets of each stage, the better the chance they will succeed at gaining mastery. 

Often times, well meaning parents and coaches take over certain skills in different phases of development.  While trying to help the golfer reach mastery, they are actually prolonging the process by delaying important learning.  The best example is perhaps the simplest.  If a young athlete makes a mistake, allow her to think it through and process it on her own.  Our need to point out mistakes, correct them, coach the player and create change is exactly that, our need.  Players who are allowed time on their own to make their own adjustments following mistakes are learning to rely on themselves, analyze their play, be adaptable and self-correct.  If our voice overcomes their voice, they may never develop it as is needed for mastery.

"Mastery is not a commitment to a goal, but to a constant pursuit." Sarah Lewis

These quotes might explain to us why Tiger, Padraig Harrington and Curtis Strange all made swing changes after they won majors.  The hardest person to please is the person working toward mastery.  What seems crazy to observers seems as merely part of the process for those players.  Their success was merely part of the pursuit; a moment in time. 

Another facet of Ms. Lewis' talk made me think of the great players who seem to be flawed.  She talks about the Spirit Line, which is a deliberate flaw that Navajo potters and weavers place in their work.  It provides them with a "way out" and also a reason to continue.  Think of the difference between two masters of golf, Tiger and Bubba Watson.  Tiger seems to use perfection as his path to mastery, while Bubba seems to use the Navajo Spirit Line as a way to stay on his journey.  He doesn't see himself or his swing as flawed, but the fact that we do provides him with an out.  He revels in his mistakes for the  opportunity for recovery and the creativity it calls for.  Tiger's goal seems to eliminate mistakes entirely.  Both are masters and both reached their mastery in their own way and on their own terms.  There is no one way. 

"As people become masters, they are truly one of a kind.  You need an open, fluid, adaptable energy.  You exploit opportunities.  Rigidity stops you from growth.  You need a fluid spirit." 
Robert Greene

"We build out of the unfinished idea, even if the idea is ourself." Sarah Lewis

Good luck to you if you are on a journey to mastery.  I'm on one myself and I hope I'm not halfway there. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Definition of Competitive

Today's blog began as a conversation on a plane ride.  Everyone loves to talk golf and our conversation turned to Jordan Spieth.  When asked what I believed separated Jordan from his peers, my answer was competitiveness. My fellow passenger commented that all tour pros are competitive and that alone couldn't be the deciding factor. While I would agree that all are competitive to have made it to that level of play, all things in this world lie somewhere on a scale and Jordan's competitiveness seems to be a 10.

Jordan Spieth

Think of the many variables needed to be the best at any sport. There's work ethic, persistence, resilience, strength, focus, speed, athleticism and on and on and on. One of these many traits is competitiveness. While you can measure speed or tally the hours worked, you can't measure competitiveness.  How can you even describe it?  Here is a glimpse into true competitiveness.  Our team once had the good fortune to spend a day with Fred Shoemaker, a golf professional and mental game coach. He shared with us a scenario to gauge our mental game. It goes like this:

What if:
You were on the 1st tee of the biggest tournament of your life to this point.

Annika Sorenstam on the first tee at Colonial in her PGA Tour debut.  Imagine the nerves!

Stop and consider your thoughts, emotions and actions.

What if:

You top your tee shot and it trickles off the tee and ends up 30 yards from you in the rough short of the fairway.

Stop and consider your thoughts, emotions and actions.

What if:
You go on to win the tournament.

Stop and consider your thoughts, emotions and actions.

The person who is a 10 on the competitiveness scale would have the same approach to the first two scenarios, whether or not she knew she would go on to win. It's an attitude that keeps the player in the present doing the best she can with what is in front of her. After the topped shot, there might be some anger, chagrin or frustration, but it's fleeting and addressed. If a player is a competitor, she moves on and tackles the task at hand, which in this case would be the 2nd shot from rough.

At a recent golf camp, I presented this scenario to the junior golfers. One of the golfers told me that anger and embarrassment were natural and automatic reactions to that scenario and wouldn't change given the known outcome.  While this was clearly true for this junior golfer, it doesn't need to be true for all or for you.  If we look back at Fred's presentation, it was based on his desire to teach the idea that every shot is unique and not to allow one shot to effect the next.  His scenario allows for so many reactions and outcomes, but only the truest competitor would remain consistent in the first two "what if's" without knowledge of the third. This is what I see in Spieth. Even though we both live in Dallas, I have no first-hand knowledge of this, but it's a quality you actively look for when recruiting and coaching and one that is recognizable.

If a player walks off the tee determined not to top another driver, he would be in a reaction mode to that first swing all day.  If a player walks off the tee determined to fix his poor swing, he is now in a mechanical mode vs. a playing mode. If a player walks off the tee embarrassed by his shot, he is allowing the swing to define him as a player. If a player walks off the tee angry, he stays in the past.  If a player walks off the tee worried it will happen again, he is in the future. A competitor stays in the present.

True competitors are rare.  Seve comes to mind. He was often far from his target yet determined to make birdie. He was never concerned with the question, "How did I get here?" But instead was always thinking, "How do I get out of here?"

Seve Ballesteros never worried about where his ball was, but only about how to get the next shot in or close to the hole.

How can you move a player up the scale toward a 10 as a competitor?  If you were to teach competitiveness, how would you do it?  Here are some things I see competitors do on the golf course. These things can be coached, copied, modeled and rewarded.

Head up, eyes open, and an outward awareness.
Short-lived or no reactions to poor results.
Focus on how many vs. how.
Sense of momentum and opportunities.
Bounce backs.
Vision of success and audacious in its pursuit.
Descriptions such as gritty, grinder, magician, tenacious, phenom, shot maker, etc.

Just as intense and excited on the 18th tee as she is on the first tee.

Here are ways to hold yourself back from becoming a great competitor on the course:
A focus on weaknesses instead of strengths, mistakes vs. opportunities.
Judgment based on swing feel or purity of contact vs. ball flight to target relationship.
Allowing the mind to wander to the past or future.
Inward thoughts reflected by head down posture and squinty eyes.
Descriptions such as better range player, streaky, hot and cold, inconsistent, talented, etc.
Plays to avoid trouble and fears failure.
Strings mistakes along. Dwells or tries harder and plays make up golf. 

Body language that reflects results.
Allows mistakes in one area of the game to effect others.

All skills can be learned and improved. It takes dedication and discipline to make a change. You can learn from what Jordan Spieth does so well. You can become a better competitor on the golf course.


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