What makes a player great? What makes a great player? These are two completely different questions and one of the things that separates them is the player's responsibility in the answer.
So many people in today's golf world are happy to share what makes a player great. There are Trackman experts pointing to combine results. There are sports psychologists pointing to mindset. There are swing coaches pointing to perfect plane. There are putting specialist pointing to green reading systems. There are coaches pointing to the success of past players coached. There are course management specialists pointing to dissecting the course. On and on it goes. For parents of young players who are striving for success, it becomes a chore to figure out which of these experts to invest in and rely upon to lead their youngster to success. For all of us in the business of performance, it is a constant struggle to keep up with the latest technology, teachings and physiology breakthroughs to compete with others and not lose ground by simply not paying attention.
The real cost of all of this expertise doesn't only come in the dollars spent accessing it. It also comes in the buy-in to the promise of success. In today's world of experts pointing to their past successes, junior golfers are lining up to get some of whatever that person is selling. Paula Creamer might have been individually responsible for the rise of girls attending the IMG Academy. She flourished in their system to the point that she didn't need the seasoning of a college career to compete on tour. She walked straight from the US Jr. Girls to the US Open. Paula's success lead other players to enroll and benefit from the teaching and system in place at IMG. They've had many great players over the years, but few if any are at the caliber of Paula. She was and is exceptional. Then there are the players following the promise of Paula's success. Victoria Tanco was one of the finest young players I've seen in the recruiting process. She had length, skills and moxie. There were many of us college coaches watching her play with great interest. Instead of heading to college, she chose the route that Paula chose. While Paula flourished on a very tough road, Victoria hasn't. She is still young and has a world of opportunity in front of her, so her story is still being told, but her story will have a few years of struggle to learn from before she again finds the top of the game.
Almost all great players have a dark time in their career. It might be one hole, like Jordan experienced at the Masters this year or a full round, like Rory experienced in 2011. Some players struggle through an entire season and some bounce around every level of professional golf for years. Golf is a very tough game. Your opponent is the course and it simply doesn't hand you anything in the way of mistakes or poor defense. If you're hurt or tired, you need to go earn your paycheck just as though you're fresh and healthy. There is no bench, no supportive teammates and rarely a coach bolstering you. You are out there on your own in all conditions and it's up to you to find success.
Tanco believed in the promise offered by another's path. She had an abundance of talent and success. She followed the plan the experts laid out for her. However, every player must find success using her own model. The experts won't be there on the first tee, you will be there. Their advice is important, but it must be made your own. They won't be there when you shank it in the water at the Players or when you've missed 9 cuts in a row, like Knox or Hahn. You, the player, will be standing there dealing with a million emotions and needing to dig a little deeper to find the courage to hit the next shot or to play the 10th event to win. Great players rely on themselves more than any expert. They simply believe in their own promise more than the promise offered by a new teacher, a new putter or a new system. When players struggle and buy into others promises, it will take longer for them to find themselves.
The things that make a player great don't necessarily make a great player. That has to be up to the player. Pleasing the best teaching pro in the country by making great swings means nothing when you are hitting a hybrid to a tucked pin in a 3 club wind. Swinging the club well and swinging the club to perform in tough conditions under pressure are two completely different skill sets. Pleasing your pro means you spend a lot of time on the practice tee. Pleasing yourself with low scores means you spend a lot of time figuring out what is holding you back on the golf course and addressing it determined effort. The bottom line in golf is your score and making it as low as possible each and every time you tee it up.
If you're a junior golfer striving for greatness, my advice is, quit believing in the promises of others and start believing in your own promise. Go buy the book Grit by Angela Duckworth and figure out if you have the stuff needed to be successful as a player. Quit worrying about what it takes to become a great player and start working to become a better player daily. Practice deeply and learn yourself instead of learning what others are selling. The better you do that, the more you will be able to see all the promises for what they are; empty. Look to yourself now and promise yourself that you'll do what it takes to reach your goals and nothing less. That is the only promise that is important in the end.
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