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Grip change

As a high school golf coach sometimes you have to help your students make major changes to their golf game in order for them to improve. 

Young, gifted, long-hitting golfers typically have a lot natural talent but have habitual bad technique. Maybe they are so flexible and have such amazing hand-eye coordination from baseball that they don’t have to take the club back at a consistent angle or keep their plant foot steady because they can instinctively make those corrections without even thinking about it at 115 miles per hour. By hitting thousands of balls on the range they have learned bad ways to hit the ball far. And their game is built on bad technique.

Those bad habits have lead to them to hit the ball a million miles in every direction. But that distance matters so much that they are far better than their peers with better technique.

The most common change you have to make is to the grip. Most typically young (right-handed) golfers have a strong right hand. (The left hand in the correct position, but the right hand is completely under the club, nearly useless on the backswing.) This allows most of their power to come from a strong left hand and the right hand whipping the club forward at the last second to generate maximum power and spin.

As a result, they make the golf team on power, raw talent, and likely a decent touch around the green. And a very good freshmen will make the JV squad or even the varsity squad on this raw talent because they can muscle their way around the golf course.

But as a coach you know that the strong right hand won’t take them consistently near par– a score which will secure them at the top level of the varsity. For 9 holes they might make it to the low 40s or the occasional 39. But to get down closer to par they are going to have to hit it straight more often and with a strong grip that will be impossible.

So, in the middle of an active season their freshmen or sophomore year, you need to start working on their grip for their junior and senior year.

It’s frustrating for the golfer because the change means they are less competitive. Their scores go from the low 40s to the high 40s or even into the 50s. (Scores they likely haven’t seen since 6th grade) They lose distance as they start swinging the club on a better plain, at a better angle, and the swing feels much less violent. The ball ends up places on the course they’ve never been before.

Frustration sets in.

And they start losing matches. Maybe falling from top of the JV squad down to the the freshmen team. Players they know they are more talented than start beating them.

It’s a test of their self-discipline.

Bobby Jones on GolfA grip or a swing change can take months of practice to master before it starts to pay off. It can take a lot longer if the golfer lets old habits sneak in to remain competitive. In front of the coach or on the range they will hold the club properly. But when they need to tee off on a par 5 they will switch the grip to try to power it down the fairway… and wild things begin to happen because they don’t feel natural in that swing anymore either.

It might seem like a little thing but if you make a dramatic grip change you have to concentrate just to hit the ball squarely. I’ve even seen players completely whiff when you first introduce the change. What used to be instinctive and feel completely natural now feels completely foreign.

As the coach you have to constantly encourage them during this change. “It will pay off. Don’t let old habits sneak in. It will feel more natural if you keep practicing it. You’ll be a better player if you stick to it.

What you learn as a coach is that the difference between being good enough to make the team and good enough to make the all-conference team isn’t just talent. It’s the ability to practice correctly, stick to making hard changes, and to be coachable through those changes in order to realize your potential.

Life is the same way

A lot of my success has come because of bad habits. But, just like a young golfer, I’ve had to learn that those bad habits have plateaus for my success. I can be successful to-a-point with the talents I have. The hard reality is that most of my long-term success hasn’t just come from bad habits or talent– it’s come from working hard to get past bad habits, and intentionally taking some steps back in order to learn the skills and techniques to go 3 steps ahead.

The same is true for you. The habits and skills you have today will only lead you to the success you know. In order to succeed further you’ll need to correct bad habits, rely less on talent and more on proven techniques. Most importantly you’ll need to remain coachable.

Just like in golf, success is a mental game. You’ll need to push through the frustration of taking a step backwards in order to take 3 steps forward.

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golf management Marketing

3 Qualities of Successful People

Photo by SearchNet Media via Flickr (Creative Commons)
I have a lifelong obsession with golf. It started in 2nd grade when my parents scraped together enough money for a starter set and a series of playing lessons at a local par 3 course. Even though neither of them were serious players– I guess they thought I’d enjoy it. And I did. A lot.

Don’t read that the wrong way. I’m not a country club kid. I’ve never belonged to a course where I got my own locker or had an account on file with the restaurant.

Instead, I grew up playing city-owned munis and family-owned courses. In middle school, my first membership to the local golf course cost my family $50. That also included an annual pool membership, ice rink membership, and anything else the Mishawaka Parks Department charged money for. I didn’t grow up playing with kids named Chip or Trevor. We were more of an Adam, Mike, and Tim kind of crowd. But golf was my obsession. All summer long, every day, I play 27, 36, or 45 holes of golf.

Here’s what I learned about success in golf that translates to life: We don’t have equal access to success

One fact that I love about golf, especially professional golf, is that anyone can become a professional in 7 days. Unlike any other professional sport on the planet I can start on Monday as a nobody and win a million dollars on Sunday. Just about anyone can enter a qualifier. And if you manage to qualify you are in the same tournament as the card carrying professionals on Thursday. And if you make the cut on Saturday, then manage to win on Sunday– they will hand you a big check and a Tour Card for the rest of the season.

Fat chance trying that in baseball, football, or basketball.

But that almost never happens. While there are several PGA Tour members who rose from poor backgrounds to earn their card on Tour I can’t name a single person who is currently on Tour who started as a Monday qualifier and turned a good 7 days into a career.

It can happen, but it is nearly impossible.

Instead, if you look at those who made it, you’ll see that their success is a combination of 3 qualities.

  1. Talent – Talent is the constant. Talent is the difference between learning skills well enough to be pretty good and being a winner. Over the years I’ve played with and coached hundreds of people. But when you walk the course with a person who has a natural talent for the game… it’s amazing. Most amazing is that these players can rarely describe to you the mechanics of what they are doing. They just try stuff and it works.
  2. Ambition/hard work – Talent isn’t enough. I’ve met plenty of talented players. Each high school team of 12-15 young men had 3-4 players with enough talent to take them to the next level. But if they aren’t single-focused enough they won’t advance in the game. An ambitious person never stops practicing. They putt in their living room. Hit wedges in their backyard. Keep a 7-iron and a bag of balls in their trunk to practice between meetings. They play 9-holes before work and chose vacations with great practice facilities.
  3. Environment/resources – This is the X factor. This is the difference between a good local golfer and a professional. They have access to amazing resources. In most cases, their family has invested in them from a very young age. They played in expensive junior tournaments. They have great equipment. They have great coaching. And it results in opportunities to get to even better tournaments, more finely tuned equipment, and the best coaching.

You can be pretty good, above average, with two out of the three. But you’ll never be excellent. There are millions of guys putting their clubs in their trunks right now who have endless talent and ambition but aren’t in the right environment with the right resources to make it to the next level. And this weekend will be full of guys who pull up their Mercedes at a country club, with access to the best environment and resources and absolutely no talent for the game.

I don’t care about golf. What does this have to do with you or me?

We each have something we were created to be amazing at. There is something in our lives that we have talent, ambition, and resources to be the best at.

Identify that thing… no matter how obscure the niche`… and you’ll find the success you know you deserve.

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golf hmm... thoughts

The Sucker Pin

17th hole at TPC Sawgrass | Photo by nsaplayer via Flickr (Creative Commons)

One of the hardest skills to teach a competitive golfer is what I call The Sucker Pin Principle.

A sucker pin is a pin placement that is inviting you to take a dangerous or unnecessary risk. This takes advantage of an aggressive player.

The sucker pin principle rewards the patient golfer while punishing the aggressive. Application of this principle is what separates a talented high school golfer from an all-conference high school golfer.

For most golfers sucker pins are irrelevant because they just aren’t good enough to worry about pin placements. But for competitive golfers on every hole they are not just trying to hit the ball on the green from the fairway or the tee box on a par 3, they are trying to hit the ball to the area of the green where the pin is so that they can try to score. (e.g. birdie the hole)

Sucker pins come mostly into play on a par 3 hole. If the greenskeeper wants to make a hole more difficult, he may place the pin to a comfortable distance, say 150 yards, but place it far to the right of the green near a bunker. The safe and smart play in that situation is to play the ball to the center of the green. But the aggressive player will be tempted to play to the right and flirt with the being in a short-side bunker.

When I coached high school golf I would always say, “Play to the middle of the green, don’t fall for the sucker pin.” In practice this was fine. Players would amuse their coach. But in a match, particularly if they had bogeyed the hole before, they were tempted by the opportunity to get a stroke back. The lure of an easy birdie would be too much, they’d go for it, inevitably miss the green, and bogey another hole.

If you watch golf on TV you will see that professional golfers pick spots on the course where they can be aggressive. But they show respect to certain hole and their pin placement, go for the middle of the green, and pat their caddy on the back as they walk to the next tee box with a par.

Commentators talk about it all the time. “He picks his spots well.” or “He manages the golf course like Seve.” “Golfers are attacking this pin placement today.”

More often than not, the golfer who picks his spots to be aggressive is going to win while the golfer who is overly aggressive is going to take too many risks, pay too many penalties, is going to lose.

If you watched the final 9 holes of The Masters this year you saw a case study in this principle. Tiger Woods climbed up the leaderboard, chose a spot to be aggressive and came up short. Lee Westwood tried to be conservative all day and he was too patient. But Phil Mickelson chose to be aggressive on the 12th hole (I screamed at the TV) and he nailed it and hoisted the green jacket.

The same principle applies in life. Life is full of sucker pin opportunities. Any major transaction in life is doubly full of sucker pins. You may just have to pay a price for your aggressiveness. But if you are patient and pick your spot, you can come out ahead.

Specific areas of sucker pins:

  • Work life
  • Parenting
  • Investing money
  • New ventures
  • Love interests
  • Friendships
  • Choosing the color to paint the house

What are sucker pins you fall for all the time?

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golf illustrations

Romans 7:14-20 Illustrated by Tiger Woods

This video illustrates this passage so well, doesn’t it? It’s shocked me to see people jump on the bandwagon against Tiger Woods. Shame on us for thinking for a second that he was less a man than you or I.

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”
Romans 7:14-20

I know there are a great number of strong Christian men on the PGA Tour, I hope that those guys get to walk alongside Tiger– loser to loser– and talk about doing life better.

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golf

Can Tiger Come Back?

It’s Saturday at the U.S. Open. Tiger, along with half of the field, have drawn the worst possible lot. Half of the field has played the first two rounds in near ideal weather while the other half has played with sloppy weather.

So, here we are. The leader is 12 shots ahead of the world’s #1 player. Is it possible for Tiger Woods to come back?

I don’t know if he can win. But this is likely Tiger’s gameplan for rounds 2-4.

Tiger’s goal for Round 2 will be to get to even par. He’ll attack the front 9 to try to get back to even as soon as possible. The back 9 will likely be tougher with thunderstorms rolling in. So there won’t be a chance to go low… but he’s a very talented golfer who can bear down and play par golf.If he can get it to even par, that will secure his position in the top 40 and he can start to let the conditions benefit him.

Tiger’s goal for Round 3 will be to get -2 and hope the weather turns on the leaders. The pressure and the golf course will start to weed out some who made it to the top after 2 rounds. Sad, but true. He knows if he can just hang out there he will land in the top 20 with one round to go. Of course, if anyone is capable of a 62 in Round 3, it’s Tiger Woods. That’d make for great TV but I don’t think it’s possible at Bethpage.

If he can get in the top 20 for Round 4, it’s game on. Time and time again the field comes back on the last day. You never know… he could shoot 68 and be right there late.

Can it happen? It can. Will it happen? That’s why the world is watching.