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

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Consistent Practice

This week, we had two structured practices that were very similar.  One of my goals with practice scheduling is to produce mastery of skills.  If a game, challenge or drill is reintroduced, it allows players to measure their improvement and make needed adjustments.  Three areas that we focus on when we have structured practice are putting, short game and wedges.  I'm pretty sure this is consistent throughout college golf.  So, what differentiates who actually makes progress and improves?  Skill building and mastery are two answers to that question.

Here are two 90 minute practice schedules that allow you to build skills and the mastery needed to score:
Day One:

8-8:30   On the a green, play a competitive game.  Here it is:  Putt 15-45 footers.  If the ball goes in, you get 5 points.  If it is high side and past the cup, you get 3 points and another if you make the next putt.  If it is low side and past the cup, you get 1 point and another if you make the putt.  If you are short, you get 0 points, but you can earn one if you make the next putt.  Play to a total or play against a teammate.
8:30-9:00  Hit 3 shots from a variety of situations around a green in the short game area.  Take away the closest and furthest shots and putt the middle one.  You must get 10 up and downs to finish.  If you finish before 9, play a match on up and downs with a teammate.
9:00- 9:30  Put 10 balls down in piles at 5 distances.  20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards or on the fives if you prefer.  You must get 10/10 on the green, 5/10 within 10 feet and 2/10 within 5 feet.  If not, repeat the distance.
Putting: same game as Tuesday, but this time keep your putts between 10-30 feet. 15-20 min. Then please putt 50 5 footers from at least 5 tees around the cup. Let us know how many you made out of 50.

Chipping: play a match against one or more teammates. Drop the ball, pick tough shots,closest to the hole wins. First to 10 wins. 1 pt. for closest, 2 pts. for chipping in.

Wedges and bunkers. Same as Tues. with piles of 10 balls. 3 piles in the bunker going to each flag and 2 piles at the distances of your choice with your wedge.  10 on the green, 5 within 5 feet and 2 within 2 feet from the bunker.

These games are challenging, engaging and give you feedback which will help you improve.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Distance Control with the Putter

One of the most important skills to hone as a competitive golfer is the ability to control your distance on the putting green.  When your speed matches the need of the putt, you have a greater chance of making the putt.  That sounds like the most obvious statement possible, but it isn't always understood by players learning to score.  Players are often caught up in the end result of making the putt and they don't always give themselves the best chance.  A putt rolling at the proper speed has a higher chance of falling in.  Here is Masters Champion Jackie Burke showing a great drill for speed control.
He putts three balls at the hole at three different speeds.  The first just drops in the front edge, the second goes in a bit stronger and the last with some pace.  Before you can effectively control your speed from 20 or 30 paces, ask yourself, can you control your speed from 5-10 feet?  Start your practice with this exercise.  It is great for visualization, decision making and speed control.

Now, take the same idea to a 10 feet breaking putt and pay attention to where you need to play the first ball that barely gets to the hole.  It takes a different aim point than the final putt that goes in with pace.  I love it when Mr. Burke tells Steve that only bad putters hit the back of the cup.  The reason a golf professional who has won a major would tell you that is, there are few straight putts in this world.  If you are playing a putt with break and hit the back of the cup, it will generally spin out or pass by the hole over the lip.  Anyone can match speed and break if they hit it hard and straight, but that is a risky way to live as a golfer.  If you want to score with your putter, you will learn to match your speed and break and see the ball fall into the hole, not hit the back of the cup.

When you feel good about controlling your speed from 5 feet and then on a breaking putt from 10 feet, move back to 20 feet.  Break the putt into two sections and understand that the first 10 feet will have some break to it, but the second 10 feet will be more pronounced, because the ball will be traveling at a slower pace.  Here is a drill to help you make more putts from 20 feet.  Put a quarter on the green at the half way point of a 20 footer just inside the point you believe the putt needs to travel. Roll some putts on the line at 2 speeds.  The first with the putt barely making it to the front of the cup and the second putt with pace that will carry the putt about 2 feet past the cup.  Was the quarter in the right spot for both putts?  This drill will help you understand how important speed control is in the art of green reading.  Now do the same for a 30 footer with the putt broken into three equal sections.

Here is a game that is great for making more long putts:
Putt 15-45 footers.  If the ball goes in, you get 5 points.  If it is high side and past the cup, you get 3 points and another if you make the next putt.  If it is low side and past the cup, you get 1 point and another if you make the putt.  If you are short, you get 0 points, but you can earn one if you make the next putt.  Play to 21 and move around and play another teammate after each match. 

We played this game at practice on Tuesday and then on Thursday, we moved the distance to 10-30 feet.  Our goal is to learn to get the ball to the high side and give it the best chance of going in.  You can leave a putt short and be much closer to the correct speed than if you run it past, but for the drill, we are still focused on giving the ball a chance to go in.  You can play this game alone and play to a total.

Here are some things that great putters do well.
1.  Steady head.  Speed control is reliant upon a consistent motion.  If your head moves through the shot, your center is disrupted and you will lose the feel of a pendulum stroke.  A steady head may seem like a mechanical fix, but it is usually a result of where your intention is when you putt.  Keep your intention on something abstract, such as the black dot that replaces the ball after it rolls or a little song in your head as you putt and your attention will be in the now instead of in the future on the result.  It's obvious to your mind that you want to make the putt, so let it go and find a softer place to go with your mind over the ball.
2.  Roll vs. hit.  Great putters roll the ball.  The ball is struck with a motion that is smooth, flowing and rhythmic. 
3.  Acceptance.  Watch the greats putt on Sundays and you will see plenty of putts that get away from the pros.  They watch it calmly and are preparing for their next putt.  When I watch young players, I often see a lack of acceptance which doesn't prepare them for a calm and focused effort on the next putt.  Ask yourself if you are watching your putt roll or if you are judging yourself for the putt you just made?  

Here are some of the best putting or sharing their secrets:
David Leadbetter on length of stroke
In Bee Making Putts (A+ speed control)
Faxon on being instinctive
Nike pros on putting (don't do it all, pick out what helps you!) Also, notice that no one talks about results in this clip.
Gary Player on Putting (learn to listen)
Seve Holes an Incredible Putt


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