Thursday, June 30, 2016

5 Things

The five things I love to hear from my players and recruits:
1. Coach, I ran out of holes today.
2. I can't wait to play.
3. What'd you see that can make me better?
4. I learned a lot today and I'll be better tomorrow.
5. I love my team.

The five questions I ask my players:
1. What do you need to do to be prepared to play?
2. What is your focus goal on the course today?
3. What's the best you can do from where you're standing?
4. Do you see your shot?
5. Did you have a good time out there?

The five things players want to hear:
1. Thanks for giving us all you had today.
2. I loved watching you play.
3. Your body language was fantastic today.
4. You're a great team player.
5. I'm proud of you.

The trick for all of these spoken words is mindset. Players and coaches need to have enthusiasm for the game, for the competition and for the work involved in preparation. Players have to work to earn the words and coaches have to recognize and praise good things. The energy and emotion needs to be positive.

Henry Ford wasn't talking golf in this quote, but he might as well have been.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Changing Levels

Last week, I spent three days at Blessings GC recruiting young players and then traveled down the road to the LPGA tournament for two days.  The AJGA held a junior all star event, which represented some of the 13-15 year olds in the nation.  The players' skill levels are very high and they scored well on a tough course.  However, they can still learn from the pros and how they manage their games and scoring.

The LPGA players hit only about three drivers in 18 holes.  They played for position and large targets.  When distance led directly to scoring opportunities, they would pull driver, such as reachable par 5's.

On long par 5's, the groups were all within a few yards of each other after two shots.  They all put themselves at angles that made the hole most accessible.

Whenever a pro wasn't in position on a hole, she made only that one mistake.  If possible to hit a good trouble shot, she did it, but if not, she played to a safe spot and went from there.  She never added a missed green or three putt to the hole.

The pros putt every putt the same.  Whether the putt is for eagle or bogey, they roll the ball at the proper speed and had short putts left if they missed.

The pros were content with a ten footer after short siding themselves.  And, they made a lot of those ten footers.

The pros have wonderful distance control on their irons and wedges.

The pros kept the same pace, attitude and focus on all 18 holes.

The pros made very few unforced errors.  In other words, they rarely three putted, missed a green within 100 yards or took penalty shots.

The pros make mistakes just as all of us do on the golf course.  However, they can usually recover from their mistakes and get out of the hole with par or bogey.  They manage themselves and their games well.

If you're a young player reading this, go through the above checklist and plan to be great at these skills.
1.  Have a game plan that puts you in position on each hole and allows you to play to big targets.
2.  Be one shot ahead of where you are to assure that you'll have a good angle to the hole.
3.  Take your medicine and get a putt for par when you're out of position.
4.  Learn to control your speed on the putting green from any distance or on any slope.
5.  Recognize when you're in a tough short game situation and leaving yourself a ten footer would be a good shot.  Learn to keep your momentum by making these ten footers.
6.  Learn to control your distance control with your wedges and irons.
7.  Maintain a great attitude, consistent focus and a steady pace for 18 holes.  Don't waver, don't let down, don't react to mistakes, don't rush or dawdle - learn to maintain.

These are the things that seemed to make the biggest differences in scoring between the junior players and the pros.  As I said, the skill levels aren't that far off, but consistency in scoring is the goal for all and the juniors can learn a lot from the LPGA players.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Energy Bus and Me

About two weeks ago, I finished reading the Energy Bus.  It's the second or third time I've read it.  It's a quick read and a simple book, but one of the most profound books I've read.  I set it down and decided I was all in.  I was going to share it's ideas and pass on the knowledge gained.  What I forgot to do was really take it to heart myself.

Here are the ten rules from Jon Gordon's book, The Energy Bus:
1. You’re the Driver of the Bus.
2. Desire, Vision and Focus move your bus in the right direction.
3. Fuel your Ride with Positive Energy.
4. Invite People on Your Bus and Share your Vision for the Road Ahead.
5. Don’t Waste Your Energy on those who don’t get on your Bus.
6. Post a Sign that says “No Energy Vampires Allowed” on your Bus.
7. Enthusiasm attracts more Passengers and Energizes them during the Ride.
8. Love your Passengers.
9. Drive with Purpose.
10.Have Fun and Enjoy the Ride.

The book is a few weeks in the life of a character and it goes through the ways his life got away from him and what he needs to do to get back on track and live up to who he can be.  As I said, it's simplistic and condensed, but it rings true.  When I read it, I liked it.  It's hard not to, because we all want positivism, love, enthusiasm and a purpose.  Yesterday, I had some time to think and I mean really think.  I thought about our season and my leadership.  I thought about how I was looking at all that occurred.  I thought about my friend M.L. winning the Championship.  I thought about what I wanted and the relationship between discipline and motivation.  In other words, I thought about where my bus was headed.

When I read the book and got excited, I failed to truly embrace the #1 rule.  I wasn't taking responsibility for me.  I got too involved in results and not enough in process.  I allowed negativity to waft and joined in.  I didn't show 100% trust for each and every player on the team, thereby eroding trust in all.  I allowed behavior that I didn't like to happen without correction, but resented it.  Oh boy, I have a lot of work to do to be a good driver.  Thankfully, I have some great people already on my bus.

Here are my vows for myself and for our bus next season:
1.  Take responsibility for where the bus goes.  100%!
2.  Keep my vision for my life in mind.  I want to do this job I love until I'm 65.  That means I need to get into better shape and stay in shape.  That means I need to accept facts, such as tiredness, aches and pains and set them aside.  That means I need to get busy reaching my goal of winning an NCAA Championship through harder work, higher standards and sincere positivism.
3.  Allow the team to set their vision and purpose and support and live it.
4.  Stay positive.  We are going to develop a culture of positivism.  There will be no room for complaints of pairings, greens conditions, wind, rain, tiredness, aches and pains, travel problems, upcoming tests, roommates, teammates, bogies, putting strokes, sore feet, etc.  You get the idea.  I have an idea of how we can do this in a fun way.  I'm as bad as anyone, so you can bet this will be a tough chore.  David is one of the best people I know about not complaining, so he can be a great role model for me and others.  Our strength coach, Marc Soltis actually tracks the number of days he goes with no complaints, so he is another role model who can help us.  I will know if I'm transformed if I start tracking unspoken complaints instead of only what comes out of my mouth.
5.  I'm not going to say the rest will be easy, because I know it won't, but the love and enthusiasm is there.  I love my team and I have endless enthusiasm for coaching.  I simply need to take 100% responsibility for our direction and be a good leader.  If I don't like our direction, I'm the driver that needs to make a change.  If I don't like our energy, it's probably starting with me.

I'm still going to share this book with the team, but I'm going to work to live it myself first.  It's funny how you attract into your head what you need to consider.  A bunch of stuff has been hitting me in the face lately.  This quote from Dr. Rob Bell:  "If you want to change the way you feel about somebody, change the way you treat him."  This writing by author Richard Paul Evans.  A short interview with Matt Kuchar during a rain delay yesterday when the interviewer asked him how hard it was to stop for weather after birdieing 3 of the last 4 holes played.  Kuchar said, "I'll figure out a way to make it a good thing.  That's what you have to do, you have to flip things to your favor out here.  Always."  He went on to talk about the good snacks at the Memorial.  This TedTalk showed up on my phone app.

There are signs everywhere that I need to be stronger and better as a leader.  I definitely need to quit pushing things away that are energy vampires in my life and get rid of them.  I need to rely on motivation and allow it to provide discipline.  So, here's a vow to be better.  I'd like to say it starts today, but it actually started two days ago.  It will be a daily, hourly, minute by minute struggle.  But I can always start over, right?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Wedge Work

Hey junior golfers, it's summer and time to build those calluses.  After watching a lot of golf this spring, my suggestion is, work on your wedges.  It's the key to your scoring.  Why?  It allows you to get it close to the hole when you're close to the green.  It allows you to recover if you have to knock it out of trouble.  In other words, when you're playing great, wedges help you score and when you're struggling, wedges help you score.  They are the great equalizers in your bag.

Frank Hartwick did this stamping on one of our player's wedges. He's an artist!  We want our players to be artists with the other side of the club, too.  

Here are the problems I see with young player's wedge games.  (This is based on many years of observation while recruiting and coaching).
  1. You swing your wedge the same way you swing your driver.
  2. You hit all of your wedges sky high.
  3. You aren't very good at controlling your distance, spin or trajectory (see #2).
If any of the three problems listed fit your game, you probably have a lot of motion and leg drive on your wedge swing.  STOP!  Think of the difference between a big league pitcher throwing a fast ball and a champion darts player.  When you hit wedges, you want to throw darts.  Here's a link to Phil Taylor, one of the best ever.  If you check it out, you'll see a quiet body with a lot more weight on his left side, a nice hinge and a release.  You'll also see him take dead aim and focus.  Now, here's a link to Jake Arrieta's form.  He's one of the best pitchers in the game today.  Here, you'll see more motion, more leg drive, more rotation, more hinge and more speed.  

Hitting the inner bullseye in darts means hitting a target 1/2" in diameter.  It takes precision.  Hitting the strike zone means hitting a space roughly 2 feet tall and 1 1/2 feet wide.  You get the idea?  That target is a lot bigger.  Hitting a wedge at the hole for a reliable shot at birdie means hitting it within a 6 feet radius.

Hitting a driver usually means hitting a fairway that is often 30-40 yards wide.  Here's a link to a shot of Jordan Spieth hitting a wedge within 6 feet in competition.  Now, check out this link to a driver swing from Jordan Spieth.  Study these two swings and you'll see big differences in length of swing, footwork, head movement and follow through.  The first swing is for precision, the second is for power.  Jordan is a lot like Phil Taylor in the wedge shot in that he puts a lot more weight left and has a quieter body.  

In order to control your golf ball, you must be in control of your entire club.  Too many juniors focus on what the club head is doing, but you need to be in complete control of the handle, the shaft, the head and the face.   Here's a link to Jason Day hitting a low wedge.  You can see that he's clearly in control of the entire club.  His finish position shows his hands lead the club head through and the face of the club looks at the sky.  He didn't allow it to release or turn over.  Here's a link to a montage of his good shots at the 2015 provided by the same youtube channel (1 Step to Better Golf).  Again, you will see many different lengths of swing, many different speeds and differing control of the shaft through the shot.  It's a clinic!

When I watch most junior golfers, I don't see much difference in their wedge swings, which means they aren't able to control their swing speed, swing length or club through the shot.  These are all skills that are needed to be able to hit any shot in golf, not just wedges.  The best in the world hit very few short irons or wedges using a full swing and full effort.  If you want some inspiration, check out this link to a great montage of Jordan's shots at the 2015 RBC.  He hits a lot of wedges and you'll see many different lengths of swings, different ball positions and great club control.  This allows him to control the trajectory, distance and spin of each shot.  

So, what to do with your time?  Here's a practice regime you can do as often as you can.  Remember, blisters can be covered with tape!  Great players have calluses for a reason; they work hard until they get it and then they work hard to keep it.

Daily Wedges:
9 Ball Game - Use only 9 balls for this drill.  If possible, use a practice green to judge ball's reaction and spin.  Goal:  Hit 3 balls high, 3 balls medium and 3 balls low.  Each shot is worth 2 points. You get a point if you match your shot with the desired trajectory and a second point if the ball ends up within a flagstick of the hole.  Perfect score:  18.  Pro score:  15+  Top Am:  12-14  Top Junior 10-12.

Do this with each wedge in your bag and choose a different yardage each time.  Work from short swings to just short of a full swing with each wedge.  Sometimes on the course, you can hit low spinners to get close to the hole and sometimes you need to use high trajectory to get close.  You need all shots to be a complete player.

The 9 Ball Game will make you a better player.  You can track how you do and go back to yardages that weren't very good and figure out how to make them better.  When you consistently get to 13 or 14 from a distance, start adding variables such as uneven lies, rough and elevated greens.  When you learn to control your golf ball from anywhere, you will have a competitive advantage.  

You might be tempted to dump a bigger pile of balls instead of using just nine.  Fewer balls increase your focus.  Picking them up right after hitting them gives you good feedback.   Fixing 9 ball marks is a lot easier than 40.  You will tend to move to new yardages and hit different wedges if you use small sets.  More is not always better in golf.  Learn to control your ball with any wedge from any distance.  The way to do that is to keep your sets small, pay attention and work, work, work.

If it's raining outside, here's some homework you can do.  Watch the youtube series from Titleist called Exploring the Short Game.  Here's a link. You get to hear how the best in the world hit shots around the green with their wedges.  It's a great tutorial.  Notice the lengths of their swings!  You can also check out some of the Trackman videos that outline ways to control the swing to create spin and trajectory control.  Here's a link to Andrew Rice.  Here's a link to Chuck Cook. (Great line in this video of keeping the top of the club over the ball through impact.)  Here's a link to Nick Faldo. (This is basically Nick doing the 9 Ball Game with a Trackman for feedback.)

Keep it simple and have the goal of greatness from any yardage with a wedge in your hand.  If you want to win, this is a key component of getting it done!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

You Are Enough

It's Game Day and your preparation is complete.  Whether or not you've done all you can is moot.  How your body feels doesn't really matter.  Your ball flight is happening.  Your mental game is chosen.  What happened yesterday is in the past.  In other words, it's GO TIME.  What is the very best attitude you can have on Game Day?

Yes, it's true.  What you bring to the competition is enough. If you can embrace that simple spirit within your heart, you will play golf with heart.  That isn't to say that every day you will have your best game or even a good game, but what it means is, you'll have enough presence to play the best you can.

If there is one thing I've learned as a coach, it is to communicate this one thing to players.  Each day when you tee it up, what you have is enough.  However, few players hear it, feel it or grasp it.  Instead, from the moment the player hits the course, the concerns are often focused on questions, such as "Do I have it today?" "What will happen?" These questions begin the journey away from "What I have is enough."  The journey continues with thoughts of what isn't happening.  Further down the road of doubt comes comparisons to others.  The path ends with the player's self talk actually arguing against her capabilities instead of embracing them.

We are drawn to players who embrace this simple statement of I am enough.  They seem to do so much with what they have on the course.  They don't always have the best game, but at the end of the day, they have the best score.  Their quotes are often about character instead of golf shots.  They keep it simple, they accept their own efforts, they love the challenges, they compete and then at the end of the day, they walk away knowing they did all they could.  The reason we're drawn to them is, they are rare.  Here are some quotes from some golfers who knew that what they had was enough when they teed it up.

Champions across time have all known that their success depended upon their preparation and their mindset.  They've all found a way to love the game under the most pressure.  Most of all, they know that the thoughts they feed their mind will create their round as much as any shots they hit.  When they get to the first tee, they know deep down that what they brought is enough and who they are is enough.  They have faith in themselves and during that four hours, they don't question themselves; they play the game.

So, how can you do this?  Decide today how you want to think when you get to the range to warm up.  If a question pops in your head that you can't answer or don't want to consider, simply have a mantra ready to say to yourself.  It can be as simple as, I am enough or I love to compete.  It can combat the questions with set answers, such as "let it go and move on now" or "I the can think about that later, but now I'm going to enjoy the day and play the game."  Whatever it is about golf that you love, keep it in mind when the questions pop up.  Know that the best in the world hit bad shots, so you certainly will, too.  Understand that you will face challenges and your focus and courage in the moment is more important than the outcome.  Be yourself! It's enough today!


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