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.
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!