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.


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