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.


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