Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Learning and Change

After 22 years as a head coach, you'd think I'd have this, right?  Nope, still learning.  We've adopted a new stat program this year and it's been eye-opening to me.  It's causing me to change the way I think about putting.  Before I start, I must apologize to Wanda, who in fact had it right years ago.  Wanda is her nickname, used to protect the righteous.  She often left putts short; lots of putts.  So, being the smart coach I am, I would implore her to get them to the hole.  Now I know that the best putters on tour are the best because they control their speed.  That means that from 30 feet, they will leave almost 30% short.  Why?  If you're great with your speed, that means the ball will finish close to the hole.  From 30 feet, it's pretty tough to be precise.  Leaving yourself one or two feet is the goal.  I know, I know, the goal is making it, right?  Dave Pelz tells us the perfect speed would put the ball 18" past the hole. What I've learned from Scott Fawcett is, 3 putt avoidance is more important to scoring well than making birdies.  The funny thing about that statement is, I knew that fact, but I didn't translate it into the "how" of playing golf, or more specifically, putting.  Check out this blog I wrote in 2014.   If the goal of your putt is to putt the ball 18" past the hole, then your long misses will be 3-5 feet past the hole.  That means you open yourself to a three putt and the possibility of a bogey or more.  Here are three simple drawings I did of bell curves with a hole represented.  The first is with the hole positioned with the ball going 18" past, the second is with the ball going to the back of the hole and the third is with the ball going into the middle of the hole.
This bell curve is with the accepted 18" past speed.  Where will the majority of the putts miss?
This bell curve is with getting the ball to the back of the cup.  This is probably how you would like to putt on putts 10-20 feet.  

Going back to the blog I wrote in 2014, I noted the two obvious keys to winning on each and every tour.  Hit greens and average fewer putts.  Scott Fawcett's game management system advocates the same.  It's one thing for me to notice trends and talk about them, but it's another thing entirely to coach players to do the things needed to avoid mistakes.  I was noticing the right things and coming to the right conclusions, but needed a paradigm shift to make the changes to my coaching.  From here on out, my words will be "control your speed" instead of "get the ball to the hole".  Those are two completely different messages.  

I've already started working on this with some of my students.  One of those students is a great lagger of long putts, but is notorious for banging her shorter putts past the hole.  We worked on controlling the speed by sticking a key in the ground dead center of the hole and forcing her to hit the ball in the sides of the hole.  It worked!  She started by making none.  The balls sailed past the sides of the cup.  As she worked and adjusted her speed, the balls started to get sucked into the hole.  At least that is what seems to happen when the ball hits the hole at the right speed.  The harder you hit putts, the smaller the hole becomes.  In other words, for the ball to fall at a speed too high, it needs to be dead center.  Great players like her are used to getting by with hitting the ball too hard, because they hit most of their putts dead center.  When they don't or when there is a bit of break that comes into play, the ball won't fall.  Here's a graphic from Geoff Mangum's website with this idea broken down.  You can check out his page here.  Good stuff!  I greatly simplified his studies, but go to his website and learn from the best.  Just look at the pictures to imagine the amount of time the ball needs to drop and then picture it off center.  That third ball is the one that's going to miss.  That's the one that the parents see all the time and tell me things like, "she's not getting any to fall," "she's all over the edges," "she keeps lipping out."  It's not bad luck and no amount of patience will fix it.  Instead, the player needs to control her speed.

So, our goal going forward is to continue to build skills to score lower and lower, but we will now be incorporating a new paradigm.  It feels kind of weird to coach in a way to avoid errors; like I'm coaching only defense now.  However, if I look at this as how to form a winning strategy instead, then I'm simply learning and changing.  That's how growth occurs.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Trinity Forest - A Great Coach

Some of you might know that we were invited to be members at Trinity Forest Golf Club, a new course in South Dallas.  That invitation is a game changer for SMU Golf in so many ways.  This course is sweet!  When I say sweet, I mean one of the finest I've been on and I've played most of the best.  When you're out there, you have the same feeling you have at Cypress Point or The Old Course.  Its a special feeling that's hard to explain.  You might think I'm exaggerating, but the vibe is the same to me.  The course is hard and fast, so you have to pay attention.  If you take a shot off, you'll make a bogey or worse.  It happens fast.  With that being said, my players talk about how fun it is to play each and every time they play it.  It's a joy to tee it up there.

The Mustangs walking down #18 deep in conversation. #family

As a coach, I'm thrilled.  A good golf course is the best teacher in the world and in ways you might not imagine.  First, it's not completely about how you hit it out there.  Good ball strikers do have an advantage, but good strategists have a bigger advantage.  You have to play the course as you play chess.  You must know your moves for the hole before you tee it up.  If the hole is cut short right on a green, it will be crucial for your approach to be from the left.  Position is important.

Distance control is also important.  If you need to land a ball 10 yards short of a green, then that is the spot you need to land it.  15 yards short and it will be short.  Five yards short and it will hit a ridge and roll over the green.  The golf course is built to either help you or punish you and your job is to figure out how to get help.  What ridges and rolls will take the ball to the hole?  What ridges and rolls protect the hole and send your ball the wrong direction?  Figure that out and it's worth a few shots.

Next and maybe the best thing to watch as it develops is the ability to use the ground vs. the air.  Using the air or using your 60 degree wedge means you have to learn to land it on a dime and hope that you've predicted the roll out and spin perfectly.  If either prediction is a bit off and you hit it well, you'll still face a 10 footer.  If you hit it poorly, you'll face the same shot again, either at your feet when it rolls back to you or over the green.  However, you can bump a 9 iron or putt from off the green and have a good shot at predicting the path the ball will roll on and anticipating the speed.  It has already increased the team's skills and imaginations as they've figured out how to get the ball rolling at the right speeds.

#13 fairway on a misty morning.

Another wonderful thing that the course has taught is that bounces are bounces.  One of my freshmen came off the course on the first round of qualifying and told me she had a lot of bad bounces.  I told her she wasn't going to score well with that attitude.  The sooner she figured out that bounces aren't good or bad, but simply bounces, she would learn what to expect.  By saying they were bad bounces, she made them seem random and wouldn't make the proper adjustments to avoid those areas in the future.  She hit every shot that bounced so she better figure out how to hit those shots differently.  She listened, learned and soon used the bounces to her advantage.  The ability to take complete responsibility for your score is a big step to greatness.  It turns mistakes into moments for learning and takes excuses out of the equation.

This blog is focused on how the golf course can make our players better, but there are other ways our new facilities will help us.  The learning center that will open soon will enhance our ability to teach mechanics with all the latest technology.  Our players can learn their swings and understand what makes them great and what causes misses.  The short game area will hone their wedges and bunker games offering four greens and lots of room to hit any type of shot into the green.  The bunkers even have different types of sand so our games travel well.  The short course, named The Horse Course is probably the best thing.  It's a nine hole course with the longest hole setting up at about 145 yards.  You can also play longer holes by teeing it up on one and playing to the 2nd.  It's already showed it's benefit to me.  I went out one day with two players to work only on mindset.  The goal was to hit each shot and see it go in.  There could be no thoughts of how - only a vision, a commitment and a shot.  We talked about each shot in the simplest of terms, we envisioned the proper speed for the shot, whether off the tee, around the green or a putt.  The second time around working on mindset, one of the players had a hole in one - her first.  That wasn't a coincidence.

My thanks to Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw for designing a course that mirrors the game; it's endlessly fascinating.  It is challenging, fun and fast.  You have to pay attention and as a college coach, that might be the best lesson it could possibly teach.  I also learned an important lesson as a coach.  Make sure your team plays on the worst days, because that might be what you face when you host.  Our tournament days came with a lot of rain, which was a first for us.  We weren't prepared for the adjustments needed.  Hey Ladies, if it's pouring, know that you'll be playing from now on.  Pony Up!

Players putt on #18 at Trinity Forest during our inaugural invitational.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Road to Confidence

We are often a misguided society these days.  We greatly want our children to be confident and successful, so we hand them awards, accolades and recognition for the smallest of effort.  Yet, true greatness takes great effort.  There is a lot of failure in greatness.  There is also loneliness, silence, sweat, resolve, disgust, frustration, calluses, soreness, sun burns, bug bites, shanks, tops, hooks, lip outs, beat downs, worst-day-evers and tears.  Greatness, the kind achieved by Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa or Jack Nicklaus, didn't happen because those players were the most confident.  It happened because they had the sort of drive and desire that could handle that long list of things they dealt with on the way to greatness.  Their parents probably supported them by telling them tomorrow is another day and here's a band aid.  Really, that's about all that's needed when kids get down.  Add an ice cream cone and the mood change is complete.

Parents often ask me questions with the idea that there is a right way or a wrong way to capture success.  The worry that their kids are in the wrong tournaments or not high enough in the rankings.  They worry about what other parents are saying and doing.  They look at the recruiting process as an end-sum game that they might lose out on.  They're in a hurry, they're worried, they're pushing their kids and they don't know why.  They do know they want their child to be ranked high, because that leads to college scholarships.  They know they want their child to get a full scholarship to that school, because that's where the best players go.  They know that success is measured, because we've all been told that a million times and they're working so hard to figure out what measurement is the most important.

Here's the deal folks, golf is a great game that takes a lifetime to master.  Everyone goes along at their own pace and finally wins when they've figured out that what they have is enough if they trust it for 72 holes.  Sure, I know that makes it sound super simple, but honestly, the road to greatness and winning is this:  add skills, keep score, figure out what isn't good enough, add skills, keep score, figure out what isn't good enough, add skills, keep score, figure out what isn't good enough, etc.  Kids who start adding skills at an early age have some advantages and might figure out how to win at an early age.  They might have one skill that is superior to all the other kids their age and they capitalize on that power or putting to win.  As they move up the food chain, they quickly figure out everyone at the next level has that skill, so now they need to find other strengths and shore up some weaknesses if they want to win at this level.  It isn't about confidence, it's about skills.  The confidence comes from the knowledge that they can learn, they can improve, they can compete.  Those are the keys to walking down the road to greatness.

So, if you're a parent and you want your child to be great, quit worrying about the awards, the accolades and the recognitions he/she is getting or isn't getting.  Instead, figure out who can help your child add skills to his/her game to help him/her win in her age group.  When that happens, push them up and let them fail.  Point out what the other kids are doing better than them.  Help them have the confidence that they can learn new things.  They can improve their skills. They will learn to compete at the next level.  That is what confidence is for and what will propel your child to success.  Learning is painful.  You look foolish when you try new things.  You get blisters when you change your grip.  It will take a lot of bad shots before the good ones happen.  This is when your child needs confidence.

How do you help with this confidence?  You tell them that tomorrow is another day and you hand them a band aid.  You might even swing by for an ice cream cone before dinner on the way home.  You support the effort and don't belittle the results.  You praise the steps made and you never compare them to the players ahead or behind them.  You urge them to work harder even with a blister.  You notice how resilient they are and you mention how proud of it you are.  This is how you grow confidence.  Not with trophies, but with support.  Not with recognition, but perspective.  Not with admonishment for poor scores, but praise for great attitudes.  Confidence comes from noticing and rewarding character, hard work, helping others and sportsmanship.  Confidence is not built from results only.  Everyone who works hard toward a dream will find their confidence at their own time and it won't be because of results, but because of the time that went into making the results happen.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Modus Operandi

mo·dus op·e·ran·di
ˌmōdəs ˌäpəˈrandē/
  1. a particular way or method of doing something, especially one that is characteristic or well-established.

One of my players had the opportunity to play a round of golf with two LPGA professionals this fall.  She told me that it helped her a lot.  I asked her how and she answered that they stay the same.  They putt the same whether for par or for birdie.  They don't change their body language after a mistake or get more aggressive.  They seem to be casual between shots and focused in the shot.  She said they both did the same thing the entire round and both acted like true pros.  

Successful pros have a modus operandi.  They have a systematic way of acting, thinking and playing.  They move between mindsets and ways of doing things throughout their week.  Here are some examples:

Learner's Mindset
Great players are always striving to improve.  They want to learn new skills and sharpen and expand what they have.  The game of golf is endlessly challenging and fascinating and it's a perfect game for a player with a penchant for growth.

From Mindsetworks.com

Awareness Mindset
Part of a pro's preparation is to constantly adjust to new golf courses.  They need to figure out the conditions, the grass, the bounce, the rolls, the wind, the speed, the sand and the logistics. The more quickly they learn and adjust each week, the greater their chances for winning.  They play and practice with a heightened awareness and pay close attention to what's happening to the golf ball.  They pay close attention to what they see and feel.  

Competitive Mindset 
On game day, great players give all they have to the shot at hand.  One of the best sports psychologists in professional golf sums it up nicely here.  Dr. Bob Rotella's checklist of the ten things that the pros do in competition is spot on.  They aren't all doing all things well at all times, but when they are, they will have a shot at winning.  Here is a link to his game day checklist.  

Problem-solving Mindset
Posting a score is the best feedback possible.  After a round, there needs to be thought that examines the good and bad and leads back to the preparation phase.  What strengths helped you?  How can you keep those sharp and use them effectively in the future?  What weaknesses held you back?  How can you improve them or play to avoid them?  This is a time for reflection, for honesty, for statistics and for feedback.   

How are you doing at moving in between these mindsets?  

Many players I've seen over the years get obsessed with problem-solving and can't seem to stay away from that mode.  In the middle of a competitive round, they begin to wonder what's going on, what needs to change, why they're messing up and how they need to hit the next shot. They've lost the competitive mindset and moved into problem solving.  

Allowing a problem-solving mindset to take over preparation isn't healthy either.  It reduces awareness in practice rounds and slows adjustment to the needs of the week.  At practice, it places focus on what's wrong instead of the goal for learning.  

Each mindset has it's place  The pros have learned to move between each to ensure their success. It takes discipline and self-awareness to do this successfully.  Here are some things you can do to improve your skills in choosing and staying in the proper mindset.

  1. Have a plan!  Decide what sort of day you need.  If you're headed to practice, embrace a learner's mindset.  Think about what skills you will work on and how you will  do it.  Make each shot important and be aware of what you learn.  Relate it to your goals.
  2. Keep a journal.  Write down what you did when you played great and see if you can develop positive patterns.  Keep track of bad days simply to understand what made it bad.  If you learn to separate yourself and your emotions from your score, you can learn to coach yourself in a positive way that allows you to create the circumstances that allow you to be successful.  
  3. Be symbolic.  Wear a "learner's hat" at practice.  At a competition, wear your best gear that you save for this day.  Clean your clubs the night before a competitive round and go through each hole's plan as you do it.  When you need to problem solve, go to Starbucks and order a cup of tea.  Confine your problem-solving to a place and time.  Figure out your symbols and triggers and have fun putting them into place.  

Work on your mindset and be in charge of your Modus Operandi as you work to become a great player.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

All You Need is Love

There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn 
How to play the game
It's easy........

All you need is love, all you need is love,
all you need is love, love.  Love is all you need.
Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love,
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love.  Love is all you need.

Do you know this song?  It's a classic Beatles song from 1967 written by John Lennon.  I know you probably weren't born yet, but you should still check it out.  It's on youtube!  But what does an old song have to do with you becoming a great golfer?  EVERYTHING!

First, you need to love the game to be great, because it takes hours, days, weeks, years; heck it takes lifetimes to play it well.  Next, you better love a challenge, because becoming a great golfer isn't easy.  Third, you need to love being in the moment, because that's the space of time when great golf is played.  Finally, the most important love is the love you have for yourself.

You need to love yourself unconditionally.  Unconditionally means on both good days and bad days.  Learning the game almost always means you learn the hard way.  You mess up a lot and you figure out how to quit doing that thing and then you mess up another.  You're going to hit hooks, slices, shanks, tops and maybe even whiff it.  It happens.  You're going to make really boneheaded decisions, sometimes on the same hole.  You will probably two chip, three putt and do something even worse, like hit the wrong ball.  It all happens, but hopefully it only happens once or occasionally.  If you keep making the same mistakes over and over, that means you're not learning.  Often, failure to learn stems from not loving yourself.  

Sure, that seems like a stretch, but in order to learn, you have to forgive yourself and accept the mistake.  You have to face it and vow to replace it with something different the next time you face the same situation.  It's the same with your fears.  Sure you have fears of dribbling it off the first tee.  I did it at St. Andrews on the Old Course with 40 or 50 people watching.  It happens.  If you have some love for yourself, it makes it a lot easier to laugh at yourself for your downright goofiness.  However, if you don't have that love, you know that your mistakes confirm your worst thoughts and feed your fears.  Instead of learning from them, you spend your time working to build yourself back up emotionally.  

Golf is a tough game if you think you are your score.  Golf is something you do, not who you are.  If you think you are your score, you will always be reliant upon your last shot for your mindset.  You'll feel confident and high as a kite after stuffing it into 4 feet for birdie and then hang your head low after missing that 4 footer.  Your self-talk, whether it's positive or crummy, will rattle around your head, but it won't reach your heart.  Love lives in the heart.  

Have you heard of players who play with a lot of heart?  No matter what sport you play, playing with heart means the same things.  It means you never give up on the chance you have or on yourself.  You compete, you play hard & you do the best you can with what you have!  The thought that you aren't good enough can't be heard because your heart is busy screaming "I can do this!"  You can see it when a player plays with his or her heart.  They show it off!  Here are a few examples.

Kathy Whitworth

Jack Nicklaus

Lorena Ochoa

So, how do you get on this path to playing great golf?  You start by learning to love who you are.  If you need to be a better person to do that, then get busy.  Find gratitude for your gifts.  Look to a higher power.  Give of yourself to others not as fortunate as you.  Be a positive force on your team.  Do what you say you will do.  Be a nice person for no reason.  Whatever it takes for you to build self-belief and love.   Taking that step toward the goal of love will allow you to accept your mistakes much easier.  It won't keep you from getting angry, frustrated or disgusted.  You'll still have all the negative emotions that happen on the golf course.  However, you can remind yourself that it's ok, because it's a hard game.  You can give yourself a pep talk instead of degrading yourself and you can go on.  Then, at the end of the round, you can think clearly of what cost you shots and go to the range to work on those things.  Mistakes will be things that help you improve instead of proof of your failures.

If you're working hard and not seeing the results you think you should be seeing, maybe it's time to do more than think with your head.  It's time to get your heart on your side and give yourself the love you deserve.  Warning:  Loving the game, the challenge, the moment and yourself will all help you on your path toward greatness, but it will make the losses hurt even more.  It's a good hurt though.  It's that hurt you have when you know you gave it all you had.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Next and Big Step

We've embraced a positive attitude as a team this year and it's made our journey great.  As a team, we read The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon and I must say we have complete buy-in and understanding of how important this commitment is to our success.

We've seen the effects with our communication with each other, our togetherness, our will to succeed on the golf course and overall attitudes with small tasks.  In the book, we've learned that Energy Vampires (negative people) are to be avoided at all costs.  We all vowed not to be that person. Now it's time to take the next and biggest step, which is to put a stake through the heart of the Energy Vampire in our own hearts and minds.

In our team meeting on Monday, we had a quick chat about how we were doing with our purpose of FAMILY.  We all reported feeling very good about our interactions and having each other's backs.  However, when we did a quick circle of how we're doing with the ideas of Jon Gordon, we discovered that there are still Energy Vampires that live within us.  Our next and biggest step is to put them to rest.

Do you have an Energy Vampire living within you?  Are you positive with yourself?  Do you provide yourself with uplifting self-talk?  Do you encourage and support your own efforts?  Do you spend your time on the golf course focused on what you want to happen or what isn't happening?  The bottom line is, do you believe in you?

You can check out Jon Gordon's article here.  Better yet, purchase the book The Energy Bus.  It will change your life if you allow it.

Energy Vampires as defined by Jon Gordon do the following:
Negative comments: "Did I tell you how much I hate my life and work?  Did I tell you what so and so did to me?  Did I tell you how nothing goes right?
Dream snatching:  "You can't do that.  "You'll never succeed at that."  "Are you living in a fantasy land?"  "You should do this instead."
Shrinking devices:  "What is wrong with you?  "Can you do anything right?"  "Why did we hire you anyway?"
Team Destruction:  "We'll never make it."  "It's Joe's fault."  "Everyone is clueless."

As a team, we will quickly recognize these comments if we hear them and then easily dismiss them.  We're trained to give no power to Energy Vampires.  However, what happens when the Energy Vampire lives within us?

As we read the book and discussed it as a team, we envisioned Energy Vampires coming from the outside, but we've quickly learned that we have some habits that allow the Energy Vampire that lives within us to lure us off the Energy Bus.  If you notice Mr. Gordon's writing above, you'll notice that most of the explanations for how Energy Vampires work are through questions.  What questions are you asking yourself in a round of golf?  What questions are you asking yourself in life?  Think through these and understand their power.  Here are some examples and some statements with which you can replace these insidious questions.

  • Why can't I make anything?  Replace with:  I'm rolling it nicely and I'll get another chance on the next hole!
  • What's going to happen today?  Replace with:  I feel prepared and I'm up to whatever I face on the golf course.
  • What's wrong with me?  Replace with:  I'm learning new stuff all the time!  Sometimes I have to learn the hard way, but that's ok, because I'll be better tomorrow.
  • What's my problem?  Replace with:  I'm not perfect, but I'm going to act like a champion no matter what happens today!
  • I wonder where this shot will end up.  Replace with:  I see my target, I feel my swing, I can trust myself completely to hit the shot.
  • I'm so dumb.  Replace with:  Wow, that cost me some shots, but this bounce back is going to be stupendous!  
  • That was a bad hole, I need to make up for it.  Replace with:  I have a great game plan and I'm going to take it one at a time and follow it today.  No need to worry about the past or future.
  • I really need to go low today!  Replace with:  I'm going to do my very best with each shot I face today.

The funny thing about being an Energy Vampire is it's sometimes based on long held habits or ways of thinking.  One of my players broke down crying after playing good golf last week.  When I asked her why, she answered that she'd spent the round holding her frustrations in all day and they just bubbled over.  I was really proud of her for working hard to be a positive force for her teammates out there and for working to follow our goal of staying positive.  However, if she was fighting frustration, she wasn't truly being positive.  She was putting her energy to fighting negativity, which is different than being positive.  She told me she had an incredible ball striking day, but made absolutely no putts.  We've all been there, right?  Those days when nothing falls are tough to take.  The ability to stay positive means you focus on what you're doing well, your opportunities and take something good away from each hole.  Touring pros are awesome at this skill and it shows by long stretches of pars with a few bogies followed by a string of birdies.  They are very skilled at not looking for patterns when they play but instead looking for the positive and the opportunity.  

The important thing about that last sentence is, being positive with yourself is a skill that you can learn and work to make a habit.  First, you have to recognize how and when you are your own Energy Vampire.  Then you have to turn the tables on that Vampire and kill it with positivism.  Finally, you have to make that attitude a habit.  Simply fighting the negativity isn't enough.  You have to take the Next and Big Step and fuel your ride with Positive Energy!!!


Monday, October 3, 2016

Moving Away From Fear

Are you playing golf with fear?  Here are some signs that might signal fear in your game:
  • You plan your shots/day by what you don't want to happen
    • "I don't want to hit it left into the water on this hole."
    • "I don't want to leave this putt short."
    • "I don't want to embarrass myself today."
  • You have a hard time committing to your target.
    • At the top of my swing, I lose my focus and steer it away from trouble.
    • I can't get comfortable over the ball or settle into my set up.
    • Whenever there's trouble left, I seem to tighten up.
  • You're watchful for signs of trouble.
    • You warm up with anxiety and try to hit every shot perfect on the range and make every putt.
    • You get down after a mistake, because you know it might signal problems.
    • When you get in trouble, you press to get free of it.

What is the opposite of fear for you? Security.  You need to feel secure on the course in order to leave your fears behind.  What allows you to feel security?  Acceptance.  You must accept that you won't be perfect, but that doesn't mean you can't still be great.  You must accept that your nerves are normal and signal that your game is important to you and not that you might fail.  You must accept that you will have challenges and know that you have enough character to overcome them.  

If you've decided you need to be brave on the golf course, you may be channeling bravado instead of actually finding security.  Bravado is usually a cover for insecurity or fear.  The players who are secure in their games and in themselves as competitors have a calm confidence that comes from their acceptance.  Every great player in the game of golf commented on how humbling the game was, how often they failed and how they would never truly master it.  Within this acceptance of their own shortcomings came security.  

Mark Twain
Here are some tools to help you if you're feeling fearful instead of secure on the golf course.
  • Preparation.  You can't work too hard.  Tackle your weaknesses that you know you possess so they don't emerge at the most important times.
  • Game plan.  Understand your strengths and play to them.  Figure out a way to negotiate any golf course in your own fashion and stick to it under pressure.
  • Pay Attention.  Listen to your self-talk and channel it the way you need it to go.  Choose your targets by stating to yourself what you want.  Be a positive force in your own mind and heart.
  • Vow to have strong pre-shot and post-shot routines.  See your shot before you hit it and commit to the picture.  Accept whatever you did and let it go after you've hit, whether it was great or poor.
  • Anticipate Challenges.  Know that you will face problems, mistakes, poor shots and bad bounces.  Know before they happen how you will handle them and welcome the chance to show your grit.  
  • Enjoy.  Remember that you're PLAYING a game.  Embrace the nature, smile at the fun, enjoy some conversation with your fellow competitors and keep your head up.  Don't forget that golf is a game.

Playing golf with fear is no fun.  Find the security you need through acceptance of what you take into the game.  Do your best on each shot and find the joy in playing this great game.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Kyle O'Brien Stevens - A True Champion

Kyle O'Brien Stevens is a great lady and a great golfer.  She was a Mustang and she won the 1979 National Championship as both an individual and as a member of the winning team.  She's quite a competitor and also a great friend to the program.

A few years back, she came by to address the team.  It was a fantastic speech and she gave me her notes.  Here is a recap for all to see.  Within it are some great pieces of both advice and insight into how a Champion's mind views the world.

Four Keys to Championship Play (Kyle Stevens)

1.  Be grateful for EVERY opportunity that has come your way in all areas of your life.

  • Parents, family, school, teachers, coaches - No one succeeds alone.  Thank them often!
  • Golf is an incredible game that you're gifted to play, so respect it.  Know it is a game and that it is bigger than all of us!
2.  Have really SPECIFIC SIMPLE goals.

  • Step by step improvement in specific areas is key.  Know your strengths and know your weaknesses.  Know EXACTLY how to keep your strengths intact and know EXACTLY what to work on with your weaknesses.  (This is where gratefulness and respect enter into how you practice).
  • Commit to IMPROVE!! Don't "hope" to get better.....GET BETTER!!  This fits in with committing to the goal no matter what it is.  Ex:  you notice you aren't finishing well....examine your rest habits, your diet or lack of, work outs, problem areas playing, your thoughts (where is your focus?), etc.
  • Pick out the little things to improve upon and the big things will handle themselves.  This applies to every area of your life, because if one area is not disciplined, it bleeds into the others.
  • This is the biggest issue I see with your age group.  You aren't having "fun" playing.  Sooooo serious all the time about everything.  REALLY!!!!  This goes back to the grateful point.  You are so fortunate to be where you are so ENJOY it!
  • WORK HARD/PLAY HARD  Nobody worked harder or smarter than I did, but also, nobody had more fun than I did or than our team had.  When it's time to shut if off, do it.  Spend time with people who are positive, fun to be with and in a different world than yours to help you do that.  
    • RESPECT AND ENJOY YOUR TEAMMATES!!!  Desire to be the best on your team, but at the same time, desire your teammates to do even better.  EVERYONE WINS!!  #1 point is to  be a GREAT teammate.  I always wanted my peers to respect me more than anything and I always want people to say that knowing me made their life better.  This point goes in all areas of your life as well.
4.  Commit to a WINNING ATTITUDE!!!!!!!!
  • I think this was our greatest asset as individuals and as a team.  We did NOT settle for anything less than our best effort.  Are you settling for something less than your best?
  • What your mind conceives, your body will achieve.  Do you really believe that?  Using all the info above as your foundation and understanding that your MIND IS YOUR GREATEST ASSET!!  It will either help or hurt you depending on your THINKING.
  • FOCUS is simple.  Each shot/execution/Class Behavior = Success!!!!
The 1979 National Championship SMU Women's Golf Team

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Bounces are Bounces

A quick blog this morning about teaching playing the game and about how important thought process is in learning to score.  One of our freshmen declared that she had a ton of bad bounces on day one of qualifying.  I hear this from parents often when I recruit, too.  A bounce is a bounce.  If it's a bad bounce, it's probably due to a slope or a hard spot.  Sure, you can occasionally hit a sprinkler head and get a true bad bounce, but for the most part, you hit it to the place where the bounce occurred, so if it's bad, you caused it.

This is the ultimate test of accountability for a player, but it's important for learning how to play the bounce.  Our new course is very firm.  You have to plan for bounces, kicks and roll outs.  If you spend your time pondering why you're getting bad bounces, you won't be learning.  Forget the judgment and watch the ball.  Remove your emotions from the outcome and instead accept it.

A positive attitude means no complaining, no whining and no excuses and that includes bounces!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Teammate Scale

Click on the scale to see it in original size.

Today's blog is a picture of a scale we are using this year to help our players define where they are and where they want to be as teammates.  Our hope is that they strive to move to the left and that they hold each other accountable for behaviors that are found on the right.  We hope that it becomes both a useful tool for us and an important part of our culture.

It is also a very important tool for us as coaches.  It allows us to monitor behavior that is hurtful either to an individual or the team culture and put labels on it to talk about it with the players involved.

If you are a player in a high school or college program, here is an outline of what you need to do to move to the left.  If you are a coach, here is an outline of the character and actions to applaud when you see them and also the things to nip in the bud when you hear or see them.  I hope it helps everyone on their path to becoming a leader.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Risk is an Outcome

Whether or not you choose to take a risk often isn't based on strategy, but instead, it's based on emotions.  If you think of all the emotions you have on the golf course during a round, you can list many.  Check out Plutchiks Wheel of Emotions and you can probably think of where you were on the wheel during your last round of golf.  A lot of players make the complete circle in a round of golf.

Young players have a lot to learn to compete at the highest level of the game.  They have to learn the physical shots, the mental game and how to put their emotions in a place to help them, not hurt them.  When coaching young players to be emotionally strong, my question to them isn't "How can you avoid that feeling?"  Instead, it's "What is the opposite of that feeling?"  You truly can't control your emotions, but you can choose to channel them the opposite way.  If you don't believe me, think about hitting a shot into the water at an important time in a round with onlookers.  Tell me you could control the disappointment or anger that would well up inside of you.  To not feel those things would mean you didn't care enough.  However, once you recognize the disappointment or anger, you can choose to move to the opposite side of the wheel and feel acceptance and trust.  If you can make this move in an instant, you will be emotionally strong and your strategy will come from a place of strength.  That is a goal young players can make when they play.

That brings us back to the idea of taking risks on the course.  Many young players who take risks are doing so because of weak emotions.  Look at the peachy part of the wheel above and notice the anticipation + anger = aggression.  This is a classic place of decision making for golfers under pressure.  Neither anticipation nor anger are "in the moment".  Anticipation is an emotion based on the future and anger is based on the past.  You are angry for hitting an easy 8 iron into the water and you are thinking about your score and holding the trophy.  Those two things = aggression.  If we can choose our emotional state and allow that to lead our strategy during a round of golf, we would choose the lime-yellow portion of the circle:  joy + trust = love.  It is in the moment, it is surrounded by acceptance and serenity..  In golf terms, that means positive emotions allow you to make strategy choices in the moment, not based on past results or worries of performance or score.

You might think it's crazy to think about love or joy after dumping that 8 iron, but you can do it!  You can love the challenge, you can love digging deep, you can find joy in making a bogey, you can find joy in acceptance or you can simply remember how much you love the game of golf and the joy you feel when you play it.  This is all within your control.

Risk isn't a good thing or a bad thing.  Understanding when to take a risk during a round of golf is a crucial part of learning to win.  Risk is only a bad thing when it comes from weak emotions.  That turns risk into aggression instead of strategy.  Our goal as coaches or parents shouldn't be to control our players game plans to the point where they aren't the decision maker when it comes to risk, but to help them understand if their decision making is coming from a place of strength or weakness.  Strong emotions are positive and keep you in the moment.  Weak emotions are negative and based on the past or future.  

If I could wave a wand and magically give my players an emotion, it would be one of acceptance.  Many of my players see acceptance as an emotion of forgiveness, but in my mind, it's one of honesty.  If a player is honest about what she is capable of on any given shot, she can accept the outcome of the shot.  Understanding that you can miss a four footer makes it easier to accept it when it happens.  It goes a step past forgiveness to understanding you aren't perfect and have nothing for which to forgive yourself.  The great players seem to understand this, which allows them to weather bad days without getting down on themselves or seeing it as carrying greater significance than just a bad day.  It's part of the learning curve for young players who want to be great.  It starts with flipping that switch after you hit that 8 iron in the water and it progresses to an attitude you carry 24/7.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Your Choices

Some years ago, I was called for jury duty.  It was in season and I was nervous that I would need to be away from the team for a long period of time.  I called a friend who was a trial attorney and asked him how to approach the jury selection process.  You know how coaches are; we all have a strategy for things.  His response to my question was fairly remarkable to me.  He said, "Don't worry Coach. The defense attorney will dismiss you.  Just make sure they know you're a coach."

I was a bit confused and asked him what that had to do with serving on a jury.  His response is the subject of today's blog.  He said, "You believe that people choose their actions and are responsible for their circumstances.  All coaches have that attitude toward others."  He was right, I did think that way.  As I've matured, I have more empathy for people with few options in life.  I now know that poverty or health can sway your path, but while those circumstances can make things difficult, the choices are still there.

Let's talk about your golf game.  That moment between an event and your response to the event is the moment that means the most to your score.  Some might argue that the moment of impact is the most important and I'll agree, it's pretty darned important, but the moment after is more important.  Why?  You will hit good shots and bad shots.  It's tough to be perfect on the golf course.  When Furyk shot 58 last week, one of my buddies said, "It shoulda been a 57."  There you go!  That's golf, the game of Shoulda.  Rarely perfect in any way.

So, back to the most important moment.  That decision when you decide on how to respond to what just happened.  It's your choice.  Some people think it's based on training, but training doesn't go deep enough.  I can train my dog Sweeney to sit when I hold a treat.  That's training, not choice.  Your response to what you do or what happens on the course is based on your choice, not your training.   When something happens on the course, you can react with emotion, you can pop into memories, you can use your imagination, you can direct your thoughts to the sky or you can find something humorous.  It can be positive or negative.  It can focus on the past or the future.  It can lead to resolve or collapse your shoulders.  It's somewhat amazing that one moment could have so much impact, but it does.

I told you that you couldn't train yourself to have one thought or reaction, but that doesn't mean you can't plan for what you want to happen.  Planning and training are also different.  Planning means you'll be proactive and decide prior to your round the responses you'll generate.  Training means you're reactive to stimuli, not proactive.  It simply doesn't work over time, because you're always susceptible to results.  Being proactive acknowledges your responsibility to choose and makes you the master of your attitude.

The best part of having the power to choose your response is, you can play to your strengths.  While we can't see what goes on in player's heads, we can watch their actions after shots and get an idea of what their plan for their responses is prior to play.  Older tour players are so practiced at it that they fall naturally into it and maintain positive attitudes with more ease than younger players who haven't taken full control of their ability to choose their responses.  Can you picture Matt Kuchar smiling after a bad shot?  His smile relieves his pressure and lightens the moment.  Can you picture Stacy Lewis tighten her lips and squint her eyes after a poor shot?  Her face might be showing us that she is getting more focused and determined.

Let's look at responses by great players as examples for a plan.
Many great players toss their putter in the air after a missed putt.  Could this possibly be significant of letting go of the putt?  It seems to me to be more than a coincidence.

Think of the energy you get from a fist pump.  It seems like Tiger was the master of the fist pump, but many great players have anchored good shots using some physical move.  Here's Lorena Ochoa with two great responses to a shot; fist pump and a smile!

Speaking of Tiger, he seemed to be a bit more reactive on the course than planned with his responses.  He had big highs and low lows.  His incredible record seems to back up his actions, but could he have been even better if he stuck to positive responses?

If you watch a lot of golf, you will see both proactive approaches and reactive responses.  A player looking at the sky after a shot or bad break could be saying a quick prayer for strength or admonishing the golf gods for their unfairness.  We can only guess by observing, but we want our responses to give us energy and focus for the next shot.  We very often watch players slowly lose their energy like a balloon losing air.  Their body language gets droopy, their heads drop and their facial features bend down.  Athletes maintaining their energy keep their shoulders back, their faces either happy or neutral and a little jump in their step. Great players have learned to rely on their plans, whether to laugh with the gallery or say a little prayer for strength after a poor result.  The result doesn't dictate the response, the player does!

Michelle Wie is lamenting something.  It could be her stroke, a bad hop, a lip out or some other result.  If you don't have a plan for your responses on the course, you are often playing a "wait and see" game of deciding how you'll putt by how the first few holes go.  Those are the players who call themselves streaky.  Players who are at the top of the leaderboard most weeks aren't streaky and aren't looking for results to make their days.  They plan ahead.

No one smiled more than Nancy Lopez.  This quote from her might give us a peek into why she smiled.  She talked to herself in a positive way instead of listening to the negative voices in her head. She had a plan for herself.  

Here are some more images of golfers.  You can quickly figure out which players had a plan for shots and which ones also had plans for their responses to their shots.  

Imagine we followed you around and took a picture of your responses to your shots.  Would your body look strong?  Look at the images above and the posture of the players.  Which look energetic and strong?  Can you fold those things into your plan?  Look at the players' faces.  Can you see joy, strength, stress, frustration, hope?  Look in the mirror and practice the face that helps you respond with focus, calm, energy or strength.  Remember, this is your plan, so you can present yourself with who you want to be.  It might be as simple as picturing yourself at your favorite place when you don't like what happened.  That little plan might be enough to keep you calm.  After reading this, spend a little time deciding on your responses in your next round and then remind yourself on each tee box to stick to your plan, just as you do with your physical game plan.  Happy Golfing!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Speed Control

This summer, two of the tournaments I attended for recruiting featured mixed pairings.  I was able to watch both boys and girls compete.  One thing that I noticed was, the boys were much better at holing putts between 5 and 15 feet.  The girls were at the same level as the boys from 5 and in and were also at the same level on long putts.  This is not a scientific observation, merely my thoughts as I watched all of the players and the differences I noticed.  It doesn't have much to do with the gender of the player, but with the skill set.  After noting it at the Stacy Lewis in Arkansas, I noticed the same could be said for some of the players who made it far in match play at the Girl's US Junior.  They also possessed the skill.  However, the vast majority of the players at the Girl's US Junior were about the same as the players at the Stacy Lewis.  They weren't very good at controlling their speed on putts that are between 5 and 15 feet.

If players can control their speed on longer putts and lag the ball well, then they do possess the skills needed to control their speed at other lengths.  That means that the differences are probably in effective practice, mindset and understanding the importance of speed control at all lengths of putts.

Here's a link to an article about Jordan Spieth's preparation for a round.  He works on getting putts past the hole, but within 3 feet.  He prepares for his round by working on his speed control.

After you read that, go watch this video on Jordan's skill set at controlling his speed on putts.

Before we go any further in this discussion, I want to talk about some offshoots at being poor in controlling your speed from 5 to 15 feet.  When you miss putts from that range, you start thinking you might have a flaw in your stroke, so you begin to work on your mechanics during practice or even during competition.  If you aren't getting accurate feedback as to why you're missing putts, you should know that mechanics isn't always the reason.  The second problem that arises from players with poor speed control is, they think they are poor green readers.  After walking with two of my players last spring on back to back days, I realized that they read putts quite well, but they weren't very skilled at delivering the ball to the hole at the speed that matched their read.  You cannot be a great green reader if you can't deliver the ball to the hole at the correct speed.

The concept of getting the ball to be slowing down around the hole is pretty easy to understand when you're 45 feet away from the hole.  You know you want to give it a chance, but the odds aren't great that you'll drop the ball in the hole.  So, you balance the idea of giving it a chance with keeping it close to the hole.  Most good players think 1' to 2' feet is an acceptable second putt from 45'.  Why then, isn't that an acceptable distance for a 2nd putt from 10 feet?  So many times I watch young players' putts lose steam and fall off the line when they are a foot or two from the hole.  They end up just low of the front edge or perhaps a bit past on the low side.  The read was probably perfect, but the speed of the putt ran out prior to the hole.  Other players I've watched get really jacked about having a ten footer for birdie and they hit their putt 3' to 4'' past the hole.  The ball holds it's line beautifully, but the line doesn't match the putt the player envisioned.

The boys I watched at the Stacy Lewis and the Wyndham Cup were very good at hitting putts that would be 1' to 2' past the hole when they were within that distance of 5' to 15'.  Their putts didn't run out of steam and break off before they got to the hole.  Nor did their putts motor past to stop 3 feet past.  These boys controlled their speed at 5', 10', 15', 20' and on and on.  That is probably one of the skills that has allowed these boys to be the highest ranked players of their age groups.

This week, I've heard from two of my players about speed.  One wrote to tell me she had a ton of birdie putts stop a roll short.  Another told me she lipped out so many putts.  Then today, I worked with one of my students who was rolling it great, but making nothing.  I decided the golf gods were clearly telling me to get busy and come up with a drill that helped players with this skill.  Here you go.

Speed Control Challenge:
1. Put a tee down at 10 feet.
2. Read the putt and decide on the aim point.
3. Put an aim stick down on the aim point you chose.
4. Place a golf ball 1 foot behind the hole; another 2 feet behind the hole and a third 3 feet behind the hole.  If the putt is left to right, place them in the middle of the cup on the line the ball would enter the hole or each slightly more right.  If the putt is right to left, place them in the middle of the cup as the ball would enter or slightly more left.

5. Using the aiming stick you placed when you read the putt, putt 3 balls that finish at the first ball if they don't go in the hole.  Did your aim work for that speed?  Did the balls hold their line?  Were you able to hit 3 balls at that speed?  Now do the same thing, but if the balls don't drop in the hole, they should end at the second ball that is 2' past the hole.  Once again, ask yourself the same three questions:  Did your aim work for that speed?  Did the balls hold their line?  Were you able to hit 3 balls at that speed?  Now finish by hitting 3 balls at the speed that puts them at the 3rd ball or 3 feet past the hole.  Ask yourself the same 3 questions.

6. If you continued to use the aim stick on all putts, how did the different speeds affect your putt's chances to drop in the hole?  Go through the same challenge, but this time, adjust your aim for each speed.

7.  Decide which speed is best for the hole holding the ball.  In other words, a putt that is traveling 3 feet past will go in only if it hits the cup right in the middle, while a putt hit at the speed to be a foot past will catch the hole toward the edges, not just in the center.

8.  Finally, after you decide which distance past is your optimal distance (probably between 1' and 2'), lay an aiming stick down behind the hole and make sure that all putts would be there if they didn't fall into the hole.

This video of Jess working on hitting putts that go 1 foot past if not in clearly shows the edge grabbing this putt.  If this putt were traveling at a higher rate of speed, she would probably have lipped the putt out.  On days that you are lipping it out, were you hitting them too firmly to catch the hole or too slow to hold their lines?

This might make sense to do with a tee in the ground instead of using the hole.  With a tee, you will get good feedback on speed on almost every putt.  However, I think it's important that you understand the role the speed has on both holding your line and on catching a piece of the hole and dropping in.  By using the cup, you're keeping it real.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A New Season Ahead

I love the changing seasons.  When I was young, my favorite time showed up with the deep, blue skies of October.  The reds and oranges of the leaves and the crisp air would signal that I would soon get to ski and skate.  Then, winter would slowly go away and golf would be right around the corner.  It was always exciting and I looked forward to all four seasons.  Now, my changing seasons mean the cycles of coaching and they excite me just as much.  I greatly needed a rest and a recharge this summer, but I'm ready to go now.  As I do each year, I looked closely at what I failed to do well last year and also what went well.  That process always leads to adjustments for the upcoming year.  The trick for me is to commit to what is needed and keep it in plain sight to remind myself not to fall into my habits of old.

Coaching is a unique profession.  You can take the job whichever direction you want to go.  You can make competition your purpose or focus on education.  You can value relationships or structure.  You can make recruiting the most important factor of your success or development of players.  Your job is created by your philosophy and work ethic.  It is also a job that can be reinvented with each new year and each team.  Once you find what works best, you have a blueprint for your culture and your program.

Our blueprint is pretty well set after over 20 years of coaching.  David has added so much good energy and good ideas to our culture and has helped shape us in new ways.  Constant learning and adjusting has also helped us grow.  I look forward to the fall now, not for the weather as much as for the fun we will have getting started on another year.

This year, the team is reading The Energy Bus prior to arriving on campus.  We will use the ideas in Jon Gordon's book to help us build a culture that we want to sustain in good times and bad.  Gordon is a big believer in character + talent = strong team.  I agree!  From the outside looking in, others might not understand our recruiting process, but from the inside looking out, it's clear.  We want players who love golf.  We want players who love their teammates.  We want players who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  We want players who will work tirelessly toward their goals.  We want players who aren't afraid to set high goals and hold themselves to a high standard daily.  We want players who excel in the classroom and the community as well as on the course.

Those are the people about to join us for the upcoming year and you can understand why I'm ready to get started.  Coaching is always easier when you haven't posted a score yet.  It is always great when it's simply about the sport.  However, real coaching starts when the scores are high or when the golf is the simplest thing in the player's life instead of the hardest.  In other words, coaching is about the person in front of you and all of her successes and failures; not just the ones on the golf course.  It's about love, support and positivism when it seems like you should be offering a kick in the butt and a harsh word.  It's also about offering harsh words when called for and asking for more; always more.

It's time for the last weeks of preparation before the freshmen start arriving and my head is whirling with what I want to do and the tone I want to set.  Luckily, there are people like Jon Gordon who help me get the ducks in a row and remind me what's important.  The work is piled up after 10 days of vacation, but it will get done in good time and I will be ready on the first day of classes.  I can't wait!


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