Friday, December 15, 2017


Where do you place your awareness?  This is a gigantic question, because there are so many things, thoughts, people and conditions to be aware of in any given moment.  Your choices might be your key to success in your next round of golf.  Let's go through some scenarios of the importance of awareness.

You step to the first tee of the US Girl's Junior.  There are about 25 college coaches milling about, a woman in a blue blazer holding a clipboard, ropes, signs and a bunch of players waiting their turn.  The wind is blowing hard in your face and the afternoon sun is hot.  Your name is called and it's your turn to peg it.  Where is your awareness?

  • Have you noticed which way the wind is blowing?
  • Do you feel rushed?
  • Are you thinking about the coach of the school you really want to attend?
  • Do you see your dad out ahead standing expectantly?
  • Did the first player in your group take forever standing over the ball?  
  • Are you focused on your routine?
  • Do you have a game plan that includes your target on the first hole?
  • Can you feel your heart beating quickly?
  • Do you take a deep breath and get yourself centered?
  • Are you in your own bubble?
  • Did you remember to grab water, sunscreen or a snack?
  • Do you have your notes and hole locations?
  • Are you still thinking about how you hit it during you warm up?
After all my years of standing on the first tee waiting for that player I'm going to set off after, I've seen all of these scenes played out in group after group.  So much of a young player's success is based on experience, but your experience doesn't have to be the actual situation you are in at the moment.  You can prepare for the first tee of the US Girl's Junior by becoming great at your process whenever you play.  You can place your awareness where you choose and it can be consistent no matter the situation.  Here is an outline for you to start getting ready for the 1st tee of the major you have coming up.

Be aware of:
  • The time.  Make sure you have time to warm up your body, go through your routine, stop in the bathroom,  mark and compare your golf ball, grab a water and feel calm when your name is called.  
  • The conditions.  Take note of the wind on the driving range and think about whether or not it's the same as it was on prior days.  Is the course firm or soft?  Are the greens quick on the practice green?  Is the wind strong enough to affect the ball on the greens?  Is the bunker sand wet?  Then when you get to the first tee, make sure to take note of the conditions there, too.
  • Your body.  Are you loose or tight?  Are you pumped up and jumpy?  Are you focused?  Are you feeling centered and rhythmic?  Are you breathing deeply or from your chest?  
  • Your equipment.  Have you counted your clubs?  Are they clean?  Do you have your umbrella?  Have you marked your tournament golf balls?  
  • Your surroundings.  Take note of the teeing ground area.  Check in on the possible distractions so there are no surprises.  If you are on the 10th tee, know how much time it will take to get there.  Note the yardage you're playing from each round.  
  • People.  Who should you allow in your bubble?  Can you acknowledge people without losing focus?  Does anyone bother you and if so, what's the plan for dealing with them?
  • Your game plan.  Know where you want the ball.  Weigh the conditions and your feel with the path to your target.  
  • Your tendencies.  Perhaps the most important awareness you can have.  If you tend to rush when you're nervous, you can have a plan to go through your pre-shot routine slowly.  If you tend to grip it tight when you're on the first tee, you can put a moment in your routine to check your grip pressure.  
This is a lot to be aware of, which is precisely why you need to pick and choose how to deal with each thing on the list.  You can have a routine of cleaning and counting your clubs after you hit your last shot in warm ups.  You can take out your course notes when you arrive on the first tee and note the wind direction and how it compares to the days before.  Everything on this list can be surprising, off putting or a distraction if you don't have a plan for it.  Everything on this list can cost you shots or lower your score, depending on how you approach it.

There really isn't anything you want to be unaware of in your day.  If something helps you, you want to make sure to place it in your routine.  If something distracts you, you want to plan for how you'll deal with it.  However, you want your awareness where it will help you most when you step up to hit your shot.  This is the problem I see the most.  Players are often still fidgety or rushing when they step up the ball.  Their target looks are quick or even non-existent.  They often seem as curious as to where the ball goes as are the spectators. In short, they hit their first ball with more hope than focus.  

Where you place your awareness is based on your preparation and priorities.  Pay attention to how you handle yourself on the 1st tee of your next event and what helped you.  Keep a journal and keep the thoughts, actions, focus points and routines that helped you.  Also pay attention to what distracted you or made you uncomfortable and plan to alleviate it or handle it differently next time.  If you make your routine great, nothing will shift your awareness from the things that truly help you focus.  

This blog was about one moment on the golf course, the first tee shot of the day.  It was chosen because many find it to be the toughest shot they hit.  However, the process used to prepare for the first tee is the same that great players use for all of their shots.  They choose what they want to be aware of and allow that awareness to channel their energy in a way that helps them succeed.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Choices We Make

We've been having a great off-season.  This team is focused, hard working and coachable.  Our trajectory will continue to rise.  We have been working one-on-one for at least an hour each week.  The sessions have been varied with each player picking skills they'd like to learn or improve.  Yesterday, I spent an hour with one of our players on the putting green.  I think I'm getting as much out of these sessions as the players are getting.  One thing that I've learned is, when we work one-on-one, our communication is a lot better and we get to the root of problems or roadblocks within a skill.  These hour lessons need to stay within our framework in-season as well as in our off-season.

Yesterday, my player wanted to work on visualization in putting.  We had done this in October while working on pace and lagging putts high and slow.  In other words, we want our long putts approaching the hole from the high side and moving slowly.  It had been eye-opening for this player.  We worked on visualizing the putt in real-time.  One way that we do that is by having the player see it in her mind's eye and counting the seconds it will take to roll from the putter face to the hole.  She then putts it while I count it out to see if her prediction matched what she produced and what she needed.  This player got a lot better at this skill quickly and it immediately showed up in her lags.  Instead of struggling with the pace, she had a lot of tap ins and a few makes.  As we talked through the process, her inclination was to focus on the end speed as the problem when she was off with the pace.  Instead, we talked about seeing the delivery speed as she visualized instead of only the end of the putt.  That is one of the skills that improves when counting out the time a putt takes to roll.

As this skill improved, we varied the putts and looked at uphill, downhill and double-breakers.  Each presented new challenges to her.  As we talked through things, I noted that when she was unsure or confused, she took longer to walk into the putts and struggled with pace.  She admitted that on those, she was uncommitted.  That caused me to change our focus.  The second half of the lesson was about commitment.

We went to a fairly straight six footer and I asked her to close her eyes and putt.  When she did I asked her to tell me how much trust she had on a scale of 1-10.  She answered 3.  When I asked why a 3, she said because her eyes were closed.  We repeated this with her eyes open.  She then told me 8.  I asked why and she said she wasn't 100% sure of the line.  Now, we are getting to the heart of the problem.  Uncertainty is leading to a lack of trust.  We repeated the exercises, but this time I asked her to trust the putt at a level of 10.  We started with her eyes closed and it went in dead center.  We did it again focused on a sparkly place on the ball and again, it was dead center.  She didn't make every putt, but she did putt much better.  I was there to hold her accountable and ask for feedback after each putt.  We started moving around the green again and she was able to notice when she wasn't at a 10 in trusting herself.  When that occurred, instead of simply hitting the putt uncommitted, she stepped off, put her trust at it's max and stepped back in to hit the putt.

You see, trust is a choice.  She tried to argue that it wasn't at the beginning.  She pointed out that a really tough putt naturally lead to a lack of trust.  I argued that all putts have a beginning line, a correct speed and an end goal of the hole.  Those three things are consistent and judging the difficulty of those three things is simply not needed.  Instead, judge only the factors themselves.  She then said it is sometimes tough to trust after a poor result.  While that may be true, the best manage to do it.  They hold themselves accountable to being in a state of mind that helps them be their best.  They monitor their actions, they keep their minds quiet and they trust themselves.  So often you see a great player make a big mistake and follow it with an even greater shot.  A flubbed chip followed by a chip in.  A wayward tee shot followed by a provisional that looks like a laser.  Great players use their mistakes as wake up calls and learn from them.  Mistakes don't scare them or cause them to lose trust.  Instead, they are reminders to trust more and dive deeper into the process.  Allowing results to dictate your level of trust will cause your mindset to go up and down like a yoyo.  Trust is always your personal choice.

By the end of our session, we were both smiling and having fun putting.  She told me it felt good to trust and that her visualization made the putting feel good too.  She is reading Zen Golf by Dr. Joseph Parent and that book reinforces what we've been working on.  She is getting consistent messages from us, the book and our sports psychologist, Carrie Stewart.  She is learning about herself and her tendencies and learning to manage and offset them.  She is allowing herself to play athletic and competitive golf instead of mechanical, perfection based golf.  As a coach, it is so much fun to work with players who love the game enough to want to stretch themselves and trust us enough to make these changes.  Teaching is a blast when you are surrounded by learners!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Compete By Managing These 3 Things

              Body Language
                           Head up, shoulders back for awareness & confidence
                           Act, don’t react
                           Set your pace
              Self Talk
                           Stay in the Now
                           Be your best friend
                           Have a personal goal
                           To Plan
                           To Self
                           To Shot

Your Game
                           Choose your aim point on every shot
                           Conservative targets, aggressive to those targets
                           Attach to it and see it
                           Know your lengths
                           Control your lengths
                           Choose based on average not best
                           10% vs. 90% Rule - Can you hit the shot 90% of the time?
                           What is your GO club?  With what club can you go at tough targets?
                           Remember the basis for scoring = putter  

The Golf Course
              Have a Plan for the course
                           Choose targets that help you score
                           Be aware of slopes, winds, conditions
                           Know the greens and go pins vs. no pins    
              Be prepared and organized
                           Course Notes
                           Know yourself and play within yourself
                           Figure out how to be yourself on the course.
                           Have some fun - It's called "play"!
                           Compete - Do the best you can with what you have.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Trial and Error vs. Errorless Learning

Blogging has been a great way for me to think through ideas or observations while sharing with others.  I've decided to write a book, so I've been blogging a lot less lately and spending time putting my thoughts in order for a book.  Blogging is more fun, because there is no central theme I have to follow.  I can write about any aspect of coaching or teaching golf that I'm exploring.  My book is more specific and is aimed at coaching golf in the 21st century and competing on the golf course.  

One of the first subjects that has me stalled is the idea of errorless learning.  B.F. Skinner proposed in the 1930's that errors weren't necessary for learning and we could instead teach children based on specific prompts that ask for behavior, which when given is rewarded.  I'd imagine that it is this idea that lead to our grandparents shaking their heads and proclaiming us all a bunch of softies without discipline or direction.  I know that is a broad sweep, but imagine the change in approach this brought to parenting.  My grandmother didn't reward me for doing the right thing.  It was simply expected and if I did the wrong thing I was punished.  Along comes Skinner and he basically tells educators, parents and the world that we have it all wrong and could be far more effective as teachers if we diminished expectations, gave clear instructions both physically and verbally and rewarded what we asked for.  Prior to his findings, there was more reliance on trial and error, modeling, apprenticeships and as I like to call it, "learning the hard way".  

From Skinner's model of learning, there emerged a paradigm that our children could be taught instead of learning on their own.  If allowed to learn on their own, they would be making errors and then either seeking to correct them or living with them.  Yes, this works, but wouldn't Skinners' way work better?  Imagine you bought a small sailboat, such as a Hobie Cat and decided to learn to sail without instruction.  Within this goal of sailing lie many skills from learning to tie knots to tacking to learning to flip the boat upright when you make an error and it tips over.  Which of these skills would be better taught with errorless learning and which would be better taught through trial and error?  Would you eventually learn to sail?  Would learning the hard way make you a better or worse sailor?  Would or could learning on your own lead to autonomy or even expertise?  Who knows the answers to these questions.  I'm certain there is a championship sailor out there who was self-taught and plenty of others who got tired of flipping their Hobie Cat over in cold water and simply quit.  Sailing instruction would hasten your learning and make you better at the individual skills of sailing.  But would it make you a better sailor overall?

Now up the ante and imagine the pilot of your next cross country flight who was taught to fly in an errorless manner.  You might imagine that this makes sense since an error while flying can result in a crash.  Yet, airlines spend a lot of money and time on building realistic simulators to train their pilots for the moments in time when there is a catostrophic failure of some sort.  Airlines have learned that there are two types of pilot errors; tactical which points at a pilot's behavior and operational which points to training errors.  They have gone past providing a simulator to providing instruction in both areas.  They do so by adding realistic and more importantly, stressful situations within the pilots need to perform.  Check out this excerpt from

"The benefit of a flight simulator is that it allows pilots to internalize their new knowledge. Instead of memorizing lessons on the blackboard, they were forced to exercise emotional regulation, learning how to stay calm and think clearly when bad stuff happens. (I've been in these realistic flight simulators and let me assure you - they can be terrifying. After I crashed my jetliner, I left the simulator drenched in sweat, all jangly with adrenaline.) The essential point here is that pilots were the first profession to realize that many of our most important decisions were inherently emotional and instinctive, which is why it was necessary to practice them in an emotional state. If we want those hours of practice to transfer to the real world - and isn't that the point of practice? - then we have to simulate not just the exterior conditions of the cockpit but the internal mental state of the pilot as well. For far too long, we've assumed that expertise is about learning lots of facts, which is why we settled for the "chalk and talk" teaching method. But it's not. True expertise occurs when we no longer need to reference facts, because we already know what to do."

So, my question is, should our young golfers spend more time with instruction and on the range working on expertise or should they spend more time playing golf and competing?  Maybe they would be best served by letting them play Tiger Woods PGA Tour on their X Boxes.  The thing that I do know is, when it comes time to hit the drive in the fairway on the final hole with a 1 shot lead in a big event, no teacher will be there to do it for them.  It's the player's responsibility to figure out the club, the target, the conditions, the juices running through them and the moment to pull the trigger.  It is  both simple and complicated all at once.  It is reliant upon the information taken in, the decisions made based on that information, the state of the decision maker and the physical moves made based on the goals decided upon.  The more it's done, the simpler it gets.

As with all things, learning is probably a balance with each of us coming in somewhere on the spectrum of self-taught to trained by others.  Tiger was taught from a very young age by a golf pro.  At age four, he began taking lessons from Rudy Duran.  When he played the US Junior, he had Dr. Jay Brunza, his sports psychologist, on the bag.  Lee Trevino, on the other hand, learned his game by himself.  Here's what he had to say about it, "When I learned a shot, I wanted to know why. And I would test things in practice until I knew exactly why. That's how I earned my confidence."  

As a coach, I think of it as going out versus going in.  I try to figure out if a player I coach goes in for help or out for help.  That way I can help them when they tip too much in one direction or the other.  I have players on the team who tip completely different directions.  The one who is almost completely self-reliant gets caught up thinking through her motion, her play, her mistakes and her next move.  That is what has lead to her success, so you can't take that action away from her, but you need to teach her a different type of awareness and evaluation so she doesn't get stuck inside.  With one of my current players, we simply talk about what the ball is doing instead of what she is doing.  That allows her to move from introspection to competition. 

She is unique in today's world of instruction, experts and answers.  Most players we recruit have been taught every skill they perform in the game.  Back in the day when I still played competitively, I was paired with a phenom.  She was a young player from a golfing family who had the best instruction money could buy.  We were playing an Open qualifier.  She hit a fantastic shot out of the trees that started out low and cut to the green.  I was impressed that a young player could hit a low cut so I asked her how she learned the shot.  Her reply was that she had simply been told by her caddy, who was also her pro, to set up a certain way, aim a certain way and swing a certain way to make the shot happen.  Had she been there alone, I'm not sure if she could have or would have hit the same shot, but with instruction, she hit a fabulous shot.  

Neither way is the right way.  Errorless learning is still learning.  Could that phenom hit that same shot under pressure on her own in a year's time?  If she retained the process she went through then yes, she could have.  If she simply took directions and then forgot them, then no, she wouldn't be able to reproduce it.  And that is the question at hand.  How well do our "taught" students retain their knowledge?  From my perspective, not too well.

How do we teach retention to players who are taught in an errorless setting?  That is our challenge.  This setting is one of prompting and fading (Skinner, 1958).  The golf pro prompts a swing and then gives positive feedback when it is done.  Eventually, the need for the feedback fades.  However, most of our players are learning their games on the lesson tee, not on the golf course.  They aren't used to learning through trial and error, but through prompts, direction (often hands-on) and positive feedback.  Mistakes on the golf course are often not related to strategy, state of mind, conditions, course presentation or club choices.  They are instead related to not delivering on a prompt that they received on the lesson tee.  It is such a widespread problem that we now have experts to teach strategy in the same way the players learned to swing the club.  Clear prompts, specific directions and positive feedback for success.  It makes sense to me that errorless learning has spread to all the skills needed to play the game.  However, my goal is to teach these players to use more trial and error in their learning.  I want them to simulate tournament play by playing meaningful rounds of golf and getting off of the driving range.  I want them to learn to feel their swings, produce different ball flights, make adjustments, figure out the real cause of a bad score and have self-awareness.  I want a balance between BF Skinner and my Grandma's ideas of learning.  I want players who understand how they learn and how to learn more.  They will do it not through more reliance on prompts and directions, but through an understanding of what produces errors and how to correct them.

On and on this goes.  We can't figure out why our players don't learn from their mistakes and why they feel like failures when they make mistakes, but we aren't teaching them self-reliance, self-efficacy, self-awareness and accountability.  I'm pretty sure this isn't what B.F. Skinner visualized when he transformed how we learn.

Here are some of the websites I looked at for this blogpost.  I'm not making any cites as I would if I were publishing for publication, but my thoughts aren't coming from nowhere either.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Age and Coaching

Age and coaching get better with each passing season.  I know it might be hard to believe that age gets better, but for me, it does.  It has given me a clear idea of what I want, what I love and where I'm going.  Mostly, it has allowed me to get a firm grasp of what is important.  As you age, you begin to lose people.  You lose your parents, friends who go too soon, heroes you had growing up and extended family who were the foundation of your life.  It wakes you up to a sense of urgency as well as slows you down to enjoy people and time with them.  In that way, I have a firmer grasp of what's important.  I don't worry too much about what isn't important to me, either.

My second year of coaching -1993.  We played well at the Betsy Rawls, which is always fun.
L to R: Kristina Edfors, Isabelle Rosberg, Aurora Kirchner, Jamie Hullett and Lisa Allee
I stay in touch with all of these young ladies and they still make me smile.

How does that relate to coaching?  It gives me a perspective of watching countless young ladies go from hesitant, giggling high schoolers to successful young women with family, careers and purpose.  The years in between, I try to help them find their way.  We use golf as the common ground and it is a very steadfast pursuit that teaches all the lessons needed in life, if the player chooses to learn them.  It teaches self-reliance, resilience, focus, work ethic, positive mindset and most importantly, failure and how to handle it.  My job is as a guide through these years.  Here is what we do (golf), here is how we do it (with excellence and intention) and here is what results (performance, character and clarity).

As a coach who just turned 57, I still want to react to failure as I did when I was 25.  I want to run from it, then pout about it and then act like I'm above it and then decide to forget about it.  However, that way of being didn't allow me to do much but stay in the same cycle.  I can't go so far as to say I embrace failure, because I still am not a good loser, as my father often told me as a kid.  I say that he "told" me, but I could say goaded me, teased me, taunted me or admonished me.  He knew it was my hamartia and that I needed to face it or it would get the better of me.  At 57, I can say that failure in any way is like my alarm clock.  It wakes me up to what needs changing, doing or understanding.  It is part of life and important.  I pay attention.

In coaching, we fail as a team and perform poorly.  I fail as a coach to teach or support in a meaningful way.  Players fail to do the right thing.  We all fail to communicate on a level that allows connection.  Accounting tests are failed.  Wake up calls are failed.  Speed limits are failed.  There isn't a day that goes by without some type of small failure.  Each and every small failure is isolated and means nothing.  That is what I've learned through experience.  None need to be permanent.  None need to point to bigger problems.  None need to be significant.  That is unless we make the ultimate failure and choose not to learn from them.  As a coach, I've learned that it is important to point out what specifically went wrong, what can be changed to get it going right and how it can be done.  For all of us, there needs to be a solution based approach to what we are doing and a focus on what we want to happen.  There needs to be an acknowledgement of the failure in order to learn from it.  There needs to be separation of what we do from who we are.

Seeing my players go on to happy lives is the best part of the job.
Elena Villamil and Jarret Shook were married at Our Lady of Covadonga in Northern Spain and I was lucky enough to attend.

Seeing my former players is always a treat and coupling it with a Guinness is even better!
Here I am with Danielle McVeigh in Dublin.  What a great one she is!

In my first year of coaching, my AD was Lynn Hickey.  She told me at our Southwest Conference Championship that the small problems I didn't take care of during the year would become big problems under the pressure of a championship round.  She told me this as I watched a player implode on the very first hole.  She was right.  However, it still took me time to be a brave enough coach to confront the small failures that needed acknowledgement; the slips of character that lead to the destruction of a team; the failure to prepare that leads to poor performance; the lack of respect that leads to a breakdown in relationships or the simple failure of being confident when there is no reason to feel that way.  The idea of keeping the peace or doing what is easy in the moment has no value to me as a 57 year old.  The more I age, the more I know what I want from myself, from my players and from my team around me.  That isn't to say that I get it, but it is to say that I will work tirelessly for it.  It is easy work, because I love it.  It is hard work because there is not a clear path to success, nor even a clear definition.  We've had years when we haven't won, yet the team clicked together, everyone was accountable, the work was put in and we all were better at the end of the year.  We've also had years where we had great results, yet selfishness was a common theme and it was every woman for herself.  Learning takes place in both situations, but to be a part of a small, close group of women who support each other allows learning to take place at a higher level with respect and communication at the core.  Those are the years that allow us to build character, relationships and wonderful memories.

The smiles we share on the golf course is the most common, yet the most special of enjoyments in the job of coaching.
Here I am sharing a smile with the woman with the million dollar smile, Brigitte Dunne.

Building relationships, networking and camaraderie and also wonderful parts of the job.
Neither one of these two players played for me, yet I feel close to them and supported them whenever possible.
Julia Boland and Casey Grice.

So, here's to being one of the few old coaches out here these days.  I finally feel like I know what I'm doing and I'm enjoying it more than ever.  I love my team and David and it feels like one of those years when we can really create strong team character, strong relationships and wonderful memories.  I think we can also work toward great results, but that part can't be the focus, it needs to be simply the result of our work, focus, support and vision.

Happiness as a coach!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Toughness Matters

Last week, I wrote a blog about getting caught up in problem-solving and the move I've made away from that in my coaching.  I've since deleted it and replaced it with this blog, because I've now seen the response to our week.  This philosophy isn't anything new.  If you read any of John Wooden's books, you'll soon realize the same ideas espoused and perhaps if I'd read more closely at a younger age, I would have caught on sooner.  However, I will say that I've now embraced it fully.  Even though we had a tough finish last week, we aren't going to stop what we are focused on and change our course.  Instead, we are going to do what we do and make it even tougher.

One year for our convention we went on a cruise.  I remember doing a coach's roundtable at that cruise and talking about tournament strategy without problem solving involved.  In other words, we worked to form game plans, mental strategies and sound games that would match what the course offered us in the way of scoring.  When things went wrong, we didn't necessarily look at the hole or the shots on the rough holes, but the game plan, the mental strategy and the skills.  Of course, that is still problem solving, but it is aimed at long-term growth instead of short-term gain.  I had a lot of coaches question that as ignoring the actual problems.  It was a very unusual way of looking at strategy for many.  However, if you want your players to become independent thinkers who are ready for the next step, whether that is the tour, business or family life, they need to understand that strategy is long-term and day-to-day events can't become knee jerk reasons to change your path.

We are very young this year and our scores have been up and down. I needed that reminder myself last week.  What are we lacking?  My two answers were short game and mental toughness.  We designed a very tough week of practice.  Most of the learning done, would be done the hard way.  We made scores double, triple and even quadruple to highlight weaknesses.  Not one player complained, talked about fairness or even failed to embrace it as a great way to play.  As a coach, I'm blown away by the great attitudes I saw and by the aptitudes for learning and growing.  The week has done it's trick and we got a little better than we were when we played poorly at UT last week.  I'm certain there will be more up and downs, but the scale is headed the right direction and this team will become great before they are finished.  Even though we have time since we have no seniors, there still must be a sense of urgency.  Four years flies by!

Working with a young team is a good thing if you can introduce your philosophy, have them embrace it and start to work hard on long-term growth.  Telling them that they lacked those skills wouldn't do much for them, but showing them by how we played our qualifiers has done the trick.  They rose to the challenge.  They toughened up or realized they lacked it and worked hard on short game and wedges.  They've asked for help, they've made adjustments and they've talked through what might be holding them back.  This won't lead directly to under par rounds, but it will allow them to be better than they were last week and that is the goal.

Onward and upward and a reminder to myself that tough practices make sense.  It's time to go back and grab some John Wooden books off the shelf and remind myself of what I've forgotten.  Toughness matters!

Just in case you're a golf coach who has a team who trusts you, here is our qualifier schedule this week.  I relented by not doubling the score of the first three holes today or the last three on Sunday.  At least I haven't yet.  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

My Gentle Teacher

My dad was a good man.  He passed in 1998 and I still miss him a lot.  He had a smile that lit up his eyes and he had bright blue eyes.  He was a hard working, but gentle man.  He had so much love for his family and he taught me so many lessons that I think about daily.  One of the most important lessons he taught me was to give my best.

Me and my dad, Gene Sutherland in 1983

Giving your best sounds very simplistic, but I knew as a teenager what that demanded.  If I had a bad day at basketball or golf, he would ask me one question.  "Did you give your best?"  He was a man of few words and when he asked this he would look me dead in the eyes.  No matter how bad my day was, if I looked him in the eyes and said, "yes" he would accept it and smile at me and say "that's all you can do."

That quick exchange might signal an easy give and take, but it was anything but easy.  In fact, if I had let my temper get in the way on the golf course or if I dogged it at basketball, I couldn't say yes.  It was hard to lie to my dad.  He seemed to know the truth, so lying was going to lead to disappointing him.  I learned early that it was better to be truthful and talk through my actions or inaction than to lie and disappoint him.

The simplicity of his question is often what's missing from young player's games.  The importance of scores, rankings and wins often makes acceptance hard to find.  Young players focus on the bottom line to the point that they often repeat their mistakes over and over, because they don't learn to give their best and accept that it was enough on any given day.  If you are a basketball player and you have a rough day, you might have teammates who get hot or someone who helps on defense when you get beat.  In golf, your rough days are simply rough days.  Your bad shots have to be chased down and played.  Your scores have to be posted.  No one is around to bail you out.  It is probably why golf was my favorite sport of the many that I played growing up.  The sense of accomplishment after a good day is unmatched in any other sport.

Back to my dad's question.  What if you asked yourself that question when you played?  If you did, what would lead to a yes or no?   For me as a young player, it was about my attitude.  Did I get disgusted with my scoring and start messing around?  Did I get angry and give up on myself a little bit?  Did I focus on what I could do with each shot?  These were the questions I learned to ask myself before I answered him.  These were my measures of whether or not I gave my best.  It never had a thing to do with the physical shots I hit, but always with how I reacted to the shots.  His question helped me accept rough days and to understand what lead to good days.

My dad was a basketball coach and what he effectively did with that one question was hand me the ball.  He was never the judge of my effort or score.  He always allowed me to be that judge.  He always accepted my answer, too, whether or not he believed it.  His disbelief showed and that was the disappointment I mentioned earlier.  That was harder for me to face than shooting 80.

This blog post might be more for the parents who read my blogs than for the players, but I think either would benefit from the same mentality.  Lots of players are eaten up with poor results while they are playing the game.  It is impossible to give your best with that mindset.  A focus on results changes your game plan, your confidence, your touch and your reactions.  You can hear people talk about process all you want, but if a double bogie sends you into a tailspin, you aren't thinking about your process out there and you aren't giving your best to the next shot or the day.

What if we all just took a deep breath and asked each other, "Hey, did you give your best there?"  Then, look that person in the eye and demand an honest answer.  Golf is a tough game and there will be many days when your best will fall short of good scores, wins or even your expectations, but by not giving your best, you will never know what you could get done.  Allow your son or daughter to be accountable for his or her best.  Players, give your best and accept the outcomes.  Tomorrow, you will have another chance to give it.

The last paragraph I'm writing is for those players who gave me their best as their coach and I didn't accept it.  I was caught up in results too.  I'm sorry for not recognizing your sincerity, your effort or your ability to do all you could with what you had.  I promise I will do better at doing my best as a coach and accept your answers just as my dad accepted mine.  By allowing my players to be completely accountable without question, they can actually understand the acceptance needed to do it.  Off we go into our first competition.  I'm going to ask my team to do their best.

Link to live scoring at the University of Tennessee's Mercedes Benz Invitational

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Commit to Learning 24/7

You want to be a learner.  You've watched Carol Dweck's videos and you know how important a learner's mindset is to you.  (Here's a link, just in case you haven't.)  You might have also read Grit by Angela Duckworth or Lynn Marriott's and Pia Nilsson's new book Be A Player, which both give Dweck's research a nod.  You know exactly how to act when you want to learn a new golf skill.  You are a champ at practice and evaluate results so you can make the proper adjustments.  Then you go out to play.

You miss a 3 footer and you lose your mind.  You hit two drives right and your focus becomes hitting perfect shots.  You get caught up in results, what isn't happening and what your swing or putting stroke needs to do to be better.  The learning mindset is great for the range, but when you are keeping score, it goes straight out the window.  If you can see the hole in your peripheral vision, how can you possibly accept a miss?  If a poor shot costs you one or two shots, you can't let that happen again! 

Instead of losing your mind and reacting to poor shots with anxiety, you can design and practice a post-shot routine that allows you to evaluate and decompress.  In other words, you can think it through and chill out.  Was it great?  If so, don't get too high or excited, because you will have to do it again in 5 minutes.  Was it horrible?  Same deal!  You have to find it and hit it again or worse yet, you have to get another ball, mark it and put it in play.  Either way, the round goes on.  How can you calm yourself?  How can you best prepare for your next shot?  Here's how:

Start with simple questions.  

1.  Did you prepare for the shot/putt and feel good about your decisions?
  • Yardage, target, shot shape, club choice, conditions, read, slopes, etc.
2.  Did you have a good pre-shot routine? 
  • Visualization, rhythm, commitment, balance, target choice, etc.
3.  Did you hit the shot as planned?  
  • Rhythm, balance, tempo, target awareness, tension-control, etc.
Everyone pays attention to different things to play good golf.  Some need to feel centered and connected.  Others need to put their hands on the club in a certain way.  Another player might need to be completely into the visualization of the ball flight.  Each person who plays the game is slightly different than the next.  It's up to you to figure out what your keys for greatness will be when you play.  When you do figure it out, make it an important part of your plan.  In other words, if feeling centered is important to you, focus on that both in your pre-shot and post-shot routines.  The point of a good post-shot routine is to ask the right questions.  

What are the right questions?  Questions that allow you to be a learner.  Questions that allow for awareness and adjustments.  Questions that fit in numbers 1, 2 and 3 above!  From asking and answering these questions, you can be aware of what you have done and what you need to do going forward.  You can make adjustments, change your focus, choose different targets, play the shot shape that is showing up today, spend more time in preparation, lower your center of gravity, walk more slowly, swing more smoothly or commit more deeply. 

The questions you ask yourself are huge.  Stay away from mechanics unless you had a plan to focus on a certain move.  Some people do well with a swing thought and you might be that player.  However, most players have a better chance of going low with a focus on the ball and target vs. the motion or positions of the swing.  Stay away from questions that have no answers, such as "what is wrong with me?" Stick with specifics and a plan for your post-shot routine.  Keep your awareness in front of you and make adjustments that will help you on the next shot.  The answer you want is one that leads to an action, not more thoughts.  

Commit to a learner's mindset whether you are on the practice range or the golf course.  Don't allow results to change your attitude or approach to the game.  The better you are at using competition as a learning environment, the sooner you will set pressure and perfectionism behind and be open to what your possibilities are on the course.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Be a Player and Get on the Bus!

Another year has started and once again, I'm amazed at the energy and enthusiasm of our team when they arrive on campus.  Our job as coaches is to channel the energy and keep the enthusiasm flowing.  These two tasks are our daily challenges and important tasks.  In the course of a year there are ups and downs, injuries, bad days, missed trips, double bogeys, failed exams and exhaustion.  The task isn't to make these things better, but to learn to take them in stride and rise to the next challenge when the alarm goes off for morning workouts.  There are a lot of great things happening in our lives, too.  There are breakthroughs, learning, fun galore, laughter, A's, rounds in the 60's and the most important to me seems to be the camaraderie we feel.  Learning to be a team is new for each group and one of the most important processes in life.  Working together is such a satisfying feeling.

We kicked off our year with the typical lllllooooonnnnnggggg meeting on Monday.  We had four speakers in who covered everything from rules to concussions.  We went over our rules and scribbled initials in our gear.  Then, the good stuff started.   The team talked about what we want our culture to look like, how we will build it and how it will show up in our daily lives.  We had a nice dinner and we finished up with the team's presentations of our summer reading.  The freshmen read the Energy Bus by Jon Gordon.  Whenever anyone joins us, that book best represents the behavior we want to see from them.

The freshmen did a great job of acting out the 10 rules needed to fuel life and our team.  They had fun and worked together and communicated the ideas to us.  They clearly got the point of the book and made it come to life.  Then the upperclassmen presented Be A Player by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott.  Each of the four players took three chapters to present and it somehow seemed as though each got the chapters that fit them the best.  They talked through what they got from the chapters and how they are putting it into practice with their games.  They brought the book to life by relating the words to their own actions, desires and abilities.  It was impressive to watch the players all take ownership of what they want their teammates to know and work toward.

On Tuesday, we had our first practice.  It was designed to be fun, competitive and focused.  We played our Horse Course, which is a 9 hole par 3 that is very challenging and a wonderful playground for us.  All the players started together.  If a player made par, she moved on to the next hole.  A birdie allowed the player to skip a hole.  A bogey or higher meant walking back and playing the hole again.  The first player to the 9th hole won.  Ana Paula Ramirez birdied the 8th to win it.  She and freshman Lauren Chappell teed it up on the eighth together, but Lauren's par didn't keep her in the competition.  This is a great game, because while Lauren was playing the 9th hole, David, my co-coach, birdied 8 to pass her by.  You are never safe and never out of it.  There was a lot of drama at the end of the game!

Then we moved into the short game area for a 3-hole challenge.  Faith Summers finished last in the Horse Course game, but her short game shined and jumped her all the way to 2nd in the overall points. That is about right for this crazy game.  Some days are tough, but when the short game shines, so do you!  It was also great to hear Faith tell me she was using Be A Player ideas as she played.  The champion was David!  His short game coupled with his strong finish propelled him to the win.  We also had a team competition and he and his partner on Team Yankees won the whole thing.  Congrats Lauren and Dave!

The team came back to campus looking like they worked hard on their games and their fitness this summer.  They did their reading and it seems like we are all "all in".  I thought I'd blog about our start just to share what we do and how we do it here at SMU.  One of my goals is to get the players to think differently.  I want them to ask questions that lead to growth and allow them to excel individually.  I want them to believe in themselves and feel strength in facing challenges instead of anxiety over results.  I want them to understand that there is no such thing as failure as long as they keep moving forward.  I want to keep their enthusiasm high and their love for the game intact.  I want us to be ONE as a team.  I think we are going to have a good year!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Perfectionists, Read This!

Today, I was scheduled to recruit in North Texas, but my player's plans changed, so I have some bonus time on my hands and I get to do some writing!  Here is the question I've been pondering for quite some time:  Why is it that perfectionists get better by leaps and bounds in the game of golf and then hit a wall?  I've seen it happen, I've coached a few through it, but I never really got to the core of the problem.  I think I have now.  As with all I know, I learn it from someone else, whether it's a book, a great teacher or from one of my students.  I'm smart in that I pay attention and put 2 + 2, but I'm not as smart as most of the folks I listen to or learn from.  I'm saying that, because I want you to understand how today's epiphany came about.

Here is a list of what's bouncing around in my head right now:
Grit by Angela Duckworth
Barking up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker
Two golf books that both told me one big message:  Look at data and don't take anything for granted!  Better Faster by Corey Lundberg and Matt Wilson, High Performance Golf by Henry Brunton
A seminar by James Sieckmann and finally, Lynn Marriott's and Pia Nilsson's new book, Be a Player.

The epiphany I had is, perfectionists are always focused on self and not on other controllables.  When it comes to golf, that means they rarely make the obvious adjustments.

We had a junior camp this weekend with seven good, young players.  I noticed from them what I often notice with my own players; they perform a skill well, but with a poor result and fail to make any notable adjustments.  In fact, given 5 balls and a pitch shot to hit, they will often put all 5 shots in the same area of the green without getting the shots any closer to the hole.  This weekend, I questioned the players about what adjustments they could make and where their awareness was while performing the tasks.  Each player missed the most obvious adjustments over and over.  When leaving a shot short, none said to grab less loft.  Instead, they made the task about how they performed instead of the tool in their hand.  We were lucky to have an LPGA player assisting us this week.  Casey Grice was one of our teachers and added so much to our camp. When asked what she would change, she almost always went with an outside factor, such as club choice or aim point.  Granted, she admitted to also being a perfectionist and learning much of this the hard way over the years.  In my experience, a lot of players never learn and that might be the difference between earning a tour card or ending a career earlier than anticipated.

If you're a perfectionist, you can choose what you want to perfect.  The most common subject in your brain is probably you and what you're doing.  What if you changed the subject to the ball?  Tomorrow when you go practice or play, pay attention to it's flight, bounces, spin, trajectory, roll and pay even closer attention to it's final resting place.  While watching the junior golfers yesterday, I noticed some didn't even watch their pitch shots roll out.  That is a red flag that they are mainly concerned about what they are doing and not concerned enough about the ball.  Their inward attention discounts green firmness, winds, grain, landing spot and spin.  One of my favorite coaching reminders to my players is, "Make sure you spend your time outside yourself today instead of being inside yourself."   They know that I mean to pay attention to what's happening and not get stuck in their own heads.  If you do that, you can stay aware of what's happening and give yourself the best chance to make the proper adjustment.

Here are some scenarios you might recognize:

You warm up on the range and you don't feel great.  It might be that chicken salad sandwich you ate. Who knows.  What you do know is, you aren't hitting it as strong as normal.  Do you walk to the first tee and vow to use one more club all day or swing harder?  Simple choice.  Which would serve you best?  Probably vowing to use one more club, because you could keep your rhythm.  Which would most perfectionists choose?  Swing hard, because my 7 iron is supposed to go 150!  The words "supposed to" are very important to perfectionists.

You are working on chipping on a 3-tiered green.  The first five shots you hit don't make it to the third tier.  Do you hit it harder?  Do you move it back in your stance?  Do you change your landing point?  Do you go get less loft?  Do you try to hit it better?  Are you even paying attention to where it stops?  The first four choices are actual adjustments.  The last two aren't and while they might seem funny to read on paper, they happen a lot.  Of the first four choices, the first two are you-related and the second two aren't.  The very simplest adjustment would probably be to choose less loft, but when we work with our players, that is often not considered.  Our goal as coaches is to get our players to make the simplest adjustment first and to consider outside factors first.

You are on the 18th hole and tied for the lead.  The wind is behind you, the hole is back and you're pumped up!  You have a stock 8 iron to the hole.  What do you pull?  If you are aware of the conditions, the hole location, your tendencies and your current state, you'll probably pull a 9 iron and still get it close.  If not, you'll pull the 8, fly the green and later complain about how you hit an 8 iron 15 yards farther than you thought you could.  Perfectionists like to focus on the facts as though they dictate actions. However, all facts are wrapped in layers of context.  Decisions on the golf course are all situational and dependent on more than yardage.

There are a hundred more examples possible, but you get the idea.  Perfectionists read Grit by Duckworth and focus on these types of quotes:  "as much as talent counts, effort counts twice."  Funny enough, Angela Duckworth also wrote this in her book Grit:  "giving up on lower-level goals is not only forgivable, it's sometimes absolutely necessary."  You won't find a lot of people putting that quote on twitter.  Perfectionists think that more effort is the answer.  Instead of switching to a 9 iron, they just need to hit that 60 degree wedge better!  If you place your focus on what you're doing, how you are doing it and how well you are doing it, you have the triple crown of inner focus.  If you decided to change your focus to what the goal is, what the ball does in relationship to that goal and what had the greatest effect on the ball, you will have adjusted your thought process to sometimes include what you do, but often it will focus on green firmness, club selection, wind or spin.  In other words, you will begin to give your own actions less power and consider all factors that might affect the ball.

While we are talking about the power of more effort, let's talk about the power of positive thinking.  In our culture, we teach kids that success is the goal and positive thinking is a key to reaching success.  That puts my perfectionist golfer next to the green hitting 10 chips to the same area of the green (not by the target) instead of watching one, adjusting, watching the second, adjusting again, etc.  She thinks if she does better with her chipping motion, tries a little harder and thinks more clearly, she will be successful.  She comes to this conclusion from us, her coaches, her teachers, her parents and her peers.  She's heard from us that she needs to stay positive, be persistent and resilient, yet she hasn't been taught to be aware and make good adjustments.  Thank you Pia and Lynn for writing a book (Be a Player) that I can hand out to my players about this very subject.  It helps me teach it and it helps me learn it better, too!  Kids are taught form instead of function.  They are over-focused on what they do and only somewhat focused on what the ball does.  I hear them talk about other players with funny swings a lot and then I remind them that the funny swing just beat them.  Give me five players with funny swings and a focus on the ball and the hole and we will go win championships!

When I ask our campers what they want to do better with their mental games, I hear them tell me things like "get out of my own head" and "quit comparing myself to everyone else".  Yet, we aren't teaching them to be aware and focus on the outside factors that lead to controlling ball flight and roll.  We don't celebrate their uniqueness or creativity.  We compare them to others constantly.  Why in the world do these kids follow us when what we are offering them isn't what they want?  If we are going to grow the game, let's grow champions, too!  Let's all do a better job of paying attention to function instead of form.  Let's accelerate our junior golfer's learning and efficiency by pointing out what the balls are doing far more than we point out what they are doing!  Let's give them what they ask for!

Heidi Grant Halvorson is a leading researcher in goal setting and success.  Here is a 25 minute video about this type of mindset.    It is valuable when you have the time to watch it!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Effort or Process?

Imagine you live in an old house.  The windows are sticky and heavy.  You go into your room to open the window and get some fresh air.  You fully expect the window to stick, so you give it all you have and sure enough it won't budge.  You step in a second time and try harder.  Your face is red with effort.  You step away a second time only to realize you failed to unlock the window.  Doh!

No matter how much effort you had put into that sticky, heavy, cumbersome window, you weren't going to move it.  You went into it with the notion it would be hard and it lived up to it.  You moaned, groaned and maybe even cursed your old house.  Your preconceived notions made your expectations, but you failed to follow a process.  The first step to opening any window is to first unlock it.

Many players approach golf in much the same way.  They step onto a tough golf course ready for a fight.  They are braced and determined.  They forget their process and play defensively.  It doesn't have to be a tough course that causes this approach.  Some players will take this approach after a tough warm up session or a rough day leading into the round.  Whatever the reason, they don't approach their game with openness, peace or a commitment to the process.

Golf is a game to be played.  It is about feel, intuitiveness, playfulness, creativity, joy, nature, action and fun.  To approach your round as though you're girded for battle is to put on armor against all of these aspects of the game.  I often hear players talk about mechanics, grind, battling and toughness. As a coach, I know there is a time for these things when things aren't going well, but I certainly don't want these approaches to be our standard.  I want our players to play with freedom and flow!

Just think of the words you associate with the word grind; tedious, crumble, hard, work, effort, bear down, etc.  If I were recruiting kids to play golf, these aren't the words that would attract them to the sport.  Why did you start playing?  To play or to grind?  And that is just one of the popular words used to describe golf as though it is a tough battle.

If you want to play your best golf, prepare to PLAY.  Embrace the PROCESS of choosing a target, visualizing the shot and letting it go.  Be AWARE and OPEN to the day, the conditions, the course and your fellow competitors.  If you make the game about your effort, you will feel tired and beaten after your rounds.  If you make the game about freedom and flow, you will simply run out of holes.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Your Mindset is Valuable

Have you ever played great golf and things seemed easy and then all of a sudden, everything got hard?  It has happened to all of us who've played competitive golf.  I can remember a tournament round when I was all over the flag.  My swing felt smooth and I was in control  Then, I grabbed the wrong club on an approach and flew the green.  My mistake wasn't isolated.  It led to more mistakes.  All of a sudden, my swing wasn't smooth, it was jerky.  I didn't feel in control.  Instead, I was reactive, angry, nervous, embarrassed and quite simply, a mess.  BOOM!  One swing changed everything.  Actually, the swing was good, one decision to hit a 7 iron instead of an 8 iron changed everything.  It put me in a hazard and caused a double bogey.  In hindsight, my bad decision created many more bad decisions, because my mindset changed.  I let one shot effect many.  If I had anticipated a poor shot and how to act after it happened, I would have been able to continue after the double with a smooth swing and a chosen mindset.  Instead, I shot myself in the foot.

In other words, I caused myself problems.  Even though I had played seven good holes, one shot threw me off.  I was only as good as my last shot.  I allowed it to define me instead of allowing my preparation, my experience or my good shots leading to the mistake to define me.  Have you felt the same loss of mindset?  When you did, did you get fearful?  Did you play away from trouble?  Did you get tight?  Did you lose your rhythm?  Did you lose your confidence?  Did you start thinking about mechanics?  Did you shoot yourself in the foot?

You can blame your downward spiral on choosing the wrong club or a bad swing.  You can point clearly to the moment things changed for you, but, all the blame in the world that points at the shot, the bounce, the decision or the distraction that started the spiral isn't really the moment you shot yourself in the foot.  That moment is when you allowed that result to change your mindset.  

You will be challenged every time you tee it up on the first hole.  No round of golf will be easy.  You will never play an entire round of golf with perfect swings, shots or decisions.  There will be mistakes, mishits and poor choices, not to mention bad bounces or wind gusts that you didn't control. Since you know this going into your round, why would you let any of those occasions change your mindset?  

Before you play your next competitive round, decide prior to teeing it up what your mindset will be.  You can choose to compete with complete acceptance of what happens and  move past whatever it is, whether good or bad.  You can choose to have patience and a sense of humor.  You can choose to be completely focused on the shot at hand as though it's the first of the round.  You can choose to connect and commit to your targets.  Do you get the idea?  You can choose whatever you want for your mindset before you even tee it up.  The trick is, when you get a bad bounce, make a poor decision or hit an errant shot, remembering your choice and focusing on keeping it in your mind.  If you are always reactive to results, you will only be as good as your last shot or putt.

Over the years, there are certain things we repeat to our players that we hope allows them to have "actions" instead of reactions when things aren't going well.  Actions are planned and happen because you chose them.  Reactions are reliant upon results and happen like dominoes.  

  • When you are out of position, get back into position!  
    • That sounds super obvious, yet when players get in trouble, they rarely look at the easiest way to get the ball out of trouble.  Instead, they look at the hole and work to route the ball that direction.  
    • Mindset is helped by a plan.  This is a simple plan to follow.
  • When you are in trouble, figure out how to get a putt for par.  
    • If you get a putt for par, you might make it.
    • If you get a putt for par, you will most likely make bogey and you can cover it with a birdie coming in.  Doubles and triples are tough to cover.
    • Mindset is helped by simplicity.  Remembering this simple rule of get a putt for par will help you hang on to your chosen mindset.
  • You're allowed one mistake per hole.
    • See above.  If you get a putt for par and you jam it past in your desire to make it, you will invite a three putt into the equation.  Two mistakes per hole almost always means double bogey.
    • Keep your self-talk on action and your chosen mindset.  Talk yourself through the situation calmly and choose an action that won't lead to another mistake.  Think conservative.
    • Even though there is no such thing as erasing a shot or even making up for it, players try to do both things.  When they've made a mistake, they take bigger risks to rectify the situation and usually end up multiplying their problems and shots taken.
  • When you make a mistake, take a deep breath and give yourself a few options.  
    • Good players take a bit more time after a mistake.  Poor players feel hurried, rushed and pressured after a mistake.  
    • Give yourself options so you're actively choosing the right next step.  Many times when players get in trouble, they get tunnel vision and see only the pin.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Pendulum Stroke

It's recruiting season and I've already had the opportunity to watch a lot of junior golf.  One skill that always stands out as an area of separation is speed control in putting.  If you put the top putters on tour at 10 on a scale of 1-10, even the best juniors are roughly around 6. If you give a top junior a fairly flat 35 feet putt, she will probably roll it within 2-4 feet.  However, if you add tiers, big slopes, bumps and rolls, the distance left will go up with each feature.  Here are the reasons why and some ways you can accelerate your progress and move up the scale to putt like the pros.  I included a few videos about putting that I hope you find helpful!

  • Lag putting - The goal is to take your practice to the golf course.  Here are some ways to accomplish this goal:
    • Use one ball.  Give yourself one shot to get it right at practice just as you do in tournament play.
      • In practice, slow down your pre-shot routine and identify each feature that could effect your putt's break or speed.
        • Here are some possibilities:  slopes, tiers, bunker complexes, grain, wind
        • Look around for drains or signs of water flow to understand how the green was built to rid itself of water.  It will be faster toward the water.
      • Play games that use closest putt as the way to get points.  
        • Move around, choose tough putts, make if fun.
        • Compete with another player or compete against yourself.
    • At practice, find some big slopes or tiers.  Put some tees down to give yourself targets. 
      • Pay attention to how long it takes for a ball to go up sharp hills.  This will help you visualize and also understand where balls break when you have to give them some speed to get up the hill.
      • Now do the same on downhill putts.  Count out how many seconds it will take for the ball to go down the hill.  This is once again for your ability to visualize.  If you can see the speed it will travel, you will be able to start rolling the ball to match your visualization.
    • On the golf course, divide your putts into halves or thirds.  This will help you identify what will happen on long putts.  
      • Start at the hole and visualize where the ball needs to fall in and the direction it will have to travel to get there.  The speed will be the slowest here, so the break will be important
      • Figure out how to get to that point halfway there.  When you get better at this or on super long putts, break it into thirds.  
      • Know that your ball will begin breaking as soon as you hit it, so make sure you aim above your "break point".  Many of the putts I see when I recruit never get high enough to go in.  Think high side and slow at the hole.
    • Don't be typical.
      • This is something I say to my players.  If you stand on one hole for four or five groups, you'll notice that most players will have the same reactions to certain putts.  If the hole is guarded by a bump or tier, most players will roll the ball to the bump and then the ball will work away from the hole.  Occasionally, a player will see what needs to happen and get the ball above the bump so it works toward the hole at the end of the putt.  Figure out how to be THAT player.  
      • To be better than typical, you have to be better at paying attention.  I see a lot of aimpoint happening, but that is only a part of the equation. Your eyes need to be active from 50 yards out and looking for big picture features.  Then you need to look around your putt's path and figure out what effect anything on the path will have on your ball.  Sometimes it will be a bunp from a bunker complex or a drain just past the hole on the left.  Everything will have an effect.  
      • When you visualize, make it vivid and fun.  If you see a drain left of the hole, imagine it's a magnet and your ball is attracted to it.  Or, see your path with different colors.  Blue is fast and grey is slower.  You can see whatever you want to see!
  • Putts inside 15 feet - The goal is to match your speed with your break.  We all know these putts are the ones that give us momentum or take it away.  They are the birdie putts resultant from good shots or the par saves after tough up and down shots.
    • Matching your speed to your break is once again pretty easy on straightforward putts, but add grain, wind, speed or geographical features and they become tough.  Practice when it's windy!  If you aren't used to grain and will compete on a grainy course, go out in the evening when the grain is the most pronounced and spend a lot of time learning how to let your ball ride the grain. 
    • Get great at controlling your speed inside 15 feet.  This is about a combination of mindset and rhythm.  Great putters have great rhythm and a pendulum stroke.  That doesn't mean your stroke needs to be fast or slow, but in rhythm.  In other words, the putter's swing has a center and the transition is smooth and the same no matter the length of the stroke.  As for mindset, the best stroke in the world won't help you if you get squinty-eyed whenever you have a 10 footer for birdie and then 4 or 5 feet coming back.  Every putt is worth one shot and the ability to make the next one is the key to low scores.  If you could play a round of golf with no 3 putts, how many shots would you save?  Roll the ball with nice rhythm to within 1 foot and you'll make fewer mistakes.
    • Reading greens is reliant upon speed control.  Put a quarter on the green and putt to it from 2-15 feet until you can get the ball within a putter head on each putt.  When you can do that, your green reading will improve.  The reason for that is, your feedback will be good.  When you miss a putt, but you've putted it with the right speed, you know why you missed it.  It was too high or too low.  Breaking the putt down to missing only one factor is a huge step for most junior golfers and an outstanding goal.
    • Your tempo is the pace of your stroke.  Brandt Snedeker has a quick tempo and Jordan Speith has a slower tempo.  Rhythm is your sequencing of movements.  Your rhythm controls your mechanics and the roll of your ball.  It should remain the same on all putts.  Ask yourself these questions:  Does your putter always have the same feel in transition?  Do you keep your hands moving through the putt?  In many cases, I watch juniors change their rhythm if putts are uphill or downhill.  That means the sequence gets off.  You simply don't have time to overcome a mistake in your putting stroke.  Rhythm mistakes show up in poor distance control as well as starting your ball off line.  Practice in different conditions to assure that your rhythm is maintained.
      • If you release the putter on a quick downhill putt, that is a rhythm problem.  It also adds speed to the roll.  Fear or cautiousness can't effect your sequence of motion on the greens.  
      • If you have a quick transition because a putt is sharply uphill, that is a rhythm problem.  Quick transitions can cause a lot of mistakes, including hitting down on the ball and causing it to pop up.  This bleeds speed off of your roll and you will come up short.
    • Once again, think high and slow on your putts that break.  So many putts never have a chance to go in.  They are below the break point right off of the putter face.  The ball will begin breaking immediately!
      • Set up a gate drill on a 10 footer that has a lot of break and you'll get the idea very quickly that you're aimed well off of the hole.
      • See where the ball will enter the hole and draw a big thick line back to your ball.  Then start your ball on that line.
I hope this helps you as you work to improve your scoring.  Putting has become more of a science lately with great systems in place such as Strackaline and Aimpoint, but before you can truly use the science, you have to be great at awareness, visualization and vision.  You have to see enough putts to anticipate what any putt will do when you compete.  Even the pros are occasionally fooled, but not too often.  They and their caddies are the very best at paying attention to what's important and using the information to read greens.  I'll finish by saying if you have a habit of blaming your misses on your stroke and dropping your head down to think about what you're doing, you're losing ground and will quickly become "typical".  Most misses aren't stroke related.  Instead, they are related to speed control, poor green reading and poor awareness.  Thinking about your mechanics during a round reduces your ability to pay attention to what is around you.  If you get nothing else from today's blog, get this:  PAY ATTENTION!

Enthusiasm or Dread

We had a great camp with 10 junior girls this past weekend.  We focused our time on how to practice, how to prepare for competition, how to ...