golf illustrations

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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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.

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?

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.


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.

golf hmm... thoughts

Two Rounds of Golf in 6 Days?

That hardly seems possible. Having not played much over the previous 3 years the thought of playing twice in a week is a complete novelty.

The truth is I really love golf. If I ever won the lottery I’d buy a golf course and live right in the middle of it. When I retire (just 40 years from now!) I’ll be that crazy guy in the golf cart who plays all day and drives his cart home.

Sunday I played with a co-worker at Steele Canyon. The company for the round was clearly the best part of that day! That type of golf course doesn’t match my style of play. It’s a novelty course which is unbelievably hard. Lots of elevation change from the tee, blind shot after blind shot unless you are in the landing area the designer envisioned, and greens that are elevated and sloping. Even when I’m playing my best this type of course eats me up. I wonder what the course designer was thinking when he made this course? “I want a course that costs a lot of money, makes people lose a tons of balls, and reminds people that they need a day job to support their golf habit.” We had a great time but the course was much harder than I was ready to thrive at! I never play well in a scramble because I’m always hitting shots that don’t fit my game… for whatever reason I just never got anything going. Maybe when I get in better golf shape I’ll go back and it won’t be so hard?

Yesterday, I got invited to play with Kevin. I really like playing with Kevin… we can relax and just have a good time. Plus, he likes to play stroke play… something I enjoy much more than best ball. We met at a little course called Cottonwood. This course is much more to my style of play. It’s pretty much wide open. And even when there are trees and stuff you can almost always muster a recovery shot. The greens are big and its a course that is forgiving! That’s really the only hope I have for having fun on a golf course right now.

I don’t know if I’m finding my game just yet, but last night there were shadows of it reappearing. A few shots actually did what I expected them to do. I’ve wrestled to have a draw on my shot without resulting in a hook… or even worse, a snap hook. As usual, iron play is returning before the woods. I feel kind of stupid pulling out a 3 or 4 iron off of every tee. But I’d much rather be 200 yards out in the fairway than “maybe 260, maybe 60… it could go anywhere.” In order to get those shots in play I’ll need to spend some time at the range. Yet there were a few holes yesterday where I strung together some shots and got things going.

Eleven. That’s the number that sticks out to me. I took an eleven on a par five. That is the result of not playing within the limits of what I can do right now. I got buried off the tee and tried to play a recovery shot over a maintanence shed and a line of trees. I hit that shot as good as I could… just not high enough and it clipped a tree and ended up OB. I hit another tree with my next shot. Then tried to make up for it and hit a shot fat. You know its bad when you are lying 9 on the rough next to the green.

On the course you try to foget an eleven as soon as possible. But when I’m thinking I need to work on my short game or go to the range and hit a bucket… eleven is a good number to remember. That and the knowledge that I had to chip and putt for par on the last hole to break 100. That’s a long way from grinding out the boring 82′s in Romeo.

family golf hmm... thoughts

The weekend that was

This morning my back and arms are sore, my legs feel heavy, my eyes don’t want to open… signs of a very cool weekend. I took the weekend off. For the first time in a long time I actually completely disconnected from work. It was much needed.

Last month Kristen scored some great tickets to San Fransisco on Southwest. We jumped on the opportunity to get away! We were really good about getting away without kids in Michigan, but moving 2500 miles away from that network has meant we haven’t had family or church family around to hook us up with some getaway-ability. We made this one happen.

Kristen and I have been to San Fransisco before. First in 2001 we spent a couple weeks in the bay area. We did a lot of the toursity things down in San Jose, Santa Cruz, Napa, and a day-trip to Alcatraz. Then when we lived in Oroville we did some more quick trips around San Fransisco to the parks and driving across the Golden Gate bridge. But we had never really stayed in the city or did anything beyond the true tourist stops. So we intended to change that.

dsc_0009We flew in Friday afternoon and made our way into the city on BART. After getting lost a couple of times we made our way to Japantown. I’m getting more and more “anti-chain” and while the Hotel Kabuki is part of a larger company it is still a one of a kind place. It was as Japanese as I’d like to go without going to Japan. When we checked in the manager told us that since we were hear for a romantic getaway he was upgrading us to a suite. (Always leave a comment when making a reservation!) So he put us in this funky suite with a living room and a bedroom seperated by these fun sliding panels. The kicker for us was that the room also came with a sauna. I never knew I wanted a sauna in my hotel room before… it was a lot of fun!

After checking in we went on a walk in classic Adam and Kristen style. We had no idea where we were going and 90% of our intention was to get lost. So we walked up Filmore Street, had lunch at a place called LeMed, and then got royally lost and tired walking around Nob Hill. San Fransisco is laid out like a grid, so you can never truly get lost. Plus, with iPhone’s in hand all you really ever have to do is open up Google Maps. We walked until we were tired and went back to the room to chill and recharge. (Literally, our batteries died!) Later we went out for a dinner. We started at a wine bar then wandered up and down Fillmore Street a few times before deciding on a Thai place. Literally, we walked until our legs could take it no more!

Saturday morning we got up early and met Dave & Justine for breakfast at a little diner. It was fun to hang with them. When Dave stayed with us in December he was completely miserable with his internship and San Fransisco in general. It was fun to see the 180 transformation… amazing what romance will do to a situation! We lingered around at breakfast, enjoying our visit, but finally had to end it when Justine had to go to work.

From there, we checked out of our hotel, explored the Kintetsu Mall (a treat all its own full of places to eat and unlimited Japanese boutiques, totally worth it!) Then we jumped back on the bus and headed to Union Square. Since that wasn’t our scene we kind of went nuts on the transit system for a while. First we took a cable car over to Fisherman’s Warf. I have always wanted to ride a cable car and it was actually more fun than I had imagined!

Again, Fisherman’s Warf wasn’t our scene. We’ve already “done that” and it’s a total tourist trap. So we jumped on a streetcar and headed out to The Castro. As a straight couple that may seem like an odd place to hang out! But it was a total blast. It’s ecclectic and fun. Since it was Saturday afternoon everyone was out and about, chatting on the street, walking dogs, and basically just enjoying a perfect Saturday weather-wise. We had an awesome lunch at the Anchor Oyster Bar before heading back downtown.

From there we just got on more cable cars and explored. We hiked up the famous Lombard Street curvy road deal and took a ton of pictures. Completely exhausted, we rode the cable car back to Union Square, bought a couple souveniers for the kids, and got back on the BART for the trip home.

We got home about 11 and promptly crashed after saying goodbye to Mandy and Jon. (Who earned their saint stripes by watching the kids… who had quite a good time without mom and dad around!)

Sunday morning, I skipped church and played in a golf scramble with Tic. Tic is leaving YS later in the summer and as much as I enjoy his company I knew this would likely be my last big opportunity to spend a chunk of time with him. We played horribly. Each of the people in our foresome had a few good shots, one fantastic shot, and roared with laughter all day until we finally finished at +2. It completely capped off my weekend!

So that was my weekend unplugged. With a big week ahead it was fun to fully do a weekend where we went all out all weekend. I invite you to check out our pictures from San Fransisco. More importantly, I hope you get the opportunity to unplug and get away with the one you love soon.


The return to golf

I’m excited about getting back to golf.

Earlier this week I snatched up the opportunity to play 18 holes with a new friend. Wow, did it feel good! I should correct that, it felt good to my soul to play… but my body thought I was nuts.

Ditching out of work early I met Kevin over at Cottonwood. It’s a nice little muni on the south side of El Cajon. As I drove to the clubhouse I got a chance to see a number of holes and felt pretty good about the simple layouts. Not a shooting gallery and not a resort. Perfect for where my game is after 3 years off!

I had meant to go to the driving range on Sunday… but the Chargers game stole my daylight and it didn’t happen.

So there I was on the first hole feeling like a complete nimrod. Literally, the ball could go anywhere. I assured Kevin that anything could happen… this wasn’t going to be pretty.

Long ago I learned that golf is a mental game merely executed with muscles and bone. If you let pride or ambivelence get in the way you’ll always play terribly and have a miserable time. Instead, I try to play the game at least semi-intelligently. For me that meant embracing the obvious. Forget the driver. (The hardest club to play in the bag.) It also meant that I needed to find 2-3 clubs that I was comfortable with and just take my medicine with them.

That strategy worked for the most part. Predictably, when I tried to hit the 3 wood off the tee it sprayed violently. This forced me to hit crazy shots from awkward distances, around trees, over other tee boxes, etc. After a few holes I just resolved to teeing off with an iron and things improved from there.

Kevin was a lot of fun to play with. We have very different games. He has a low ball trajectory that is mostly straight. Thankfully he was infinitely patient and had a good attitude that my shots have a high trajectory and tended to spray all over. It was pretty funny because we’d go over to his ball in the fairway… then go try to find mine off in another fairway or the rough.

All-in-all it was a good day. With a couple mulligans I can somehow say that I broke 100. It wasn’t pretty unless you count hitting some crazy recovery shots and snaking in a few putts in the 15-20 foot range.


A true test

17th @ SawgrassFew holes in golf bring so much fear as the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass. It’s all mental. At just 137 yards the par 3 should be a slam dunk. For most PGA Tour professionals they would hit this large green 95 out of 100 times. It should be an automatic par or birdie.

So why is this hole consistently one of the hardest in golf? Well, the green is completely surrounded by water. The island green rattles the nerves of the most tested names in golf. Woods, Michelson, Els,
and Garcia all quake as they approach the hole.

Leaders have won the tournament on this hole and leaders have lost the tournament on this hole. It is one of the few holes that TV commentators keep a running, career tally of how players have done on the hole. Phil Michelson is +15 on the hole in his professional career.

They key to the mental anxiety of this hole is an island about 60 yards to the right of the tee box. This acts as a visual trick. Players eyes lie to them about the hole based on that island tree. Players who ignore that and ignore the sucker pin on Sunday’s do well just hitting the ball 140 to the center of the green.
Players who come to the hole looking to make a statement or take a risk are often rewarded with a new ball and a pitch from the drop zone.

It’s the same in life. Life often puts a sucker pin and a floating tree to distract you from you. Those who succeed admire the game, admire the sucker pins temptation, and the floating tree is just an amusement.

What’s your sucker pin? What’s your floating tree?

family golf

Buick Open Date

TigerKristen and I made a return trip to Warrick Hills yesterday to watch the third round of the Buick Open. It was a lot of fun to traverse the grounds as a spectator. Here are some highlights.

A place to sit We spent the early part of the day trying to find a place to get a good view. Generally, we sit on the grass… but the rains the other day left the ground too wet to comfortably sit. So… we made our way to the "beer hole," the 17th. This is a very nice little par 3 and it’s virtually surrounded by stands. We sat there from about 1:30 PM-5:30 PM. We managed to see darn near everyone. The stands were great for their comrodarie too. I talked to an old timer for quite a while and then a couple other people later on.

John Daly, super Detroit Tigers fan
At the "beer hole" John Daly and his group waited their turn to hit. Daly is one of the PGA Tours favorite players and draws quite a following. A "beer guy" himself, Daly planned to suprise the local fans with a little local knowledge. Just before they hit, the entire group swapped their hats for Detroit Tigers hats. The crowd went nuts. Then, just for good measure… Big John knocked it stiff. More screams and high fives.

Off the hizzle On the 18th hole, Kristen and I joined the mob of people following Tiger Woods. (We’re talking something like 10,000 people following one guy around a golf course… crazy!) We found a place along the ropes of the left fairway. I peered around a tree to watch Tiger tee off. I saw it leave the clubface and take off down the fairway. Then I saw it start to make a familiar driving hook around the tree that I was looking through. I’ve got that shot in my bad too… it’s ugly. You heard a "Ooo" as the ball thumped a guy along the ropes about 50 feet past us. The guy had covered his face to protect himself… good idea. The ball pelted the back of his hand and bounced into the fairway. As Tiger made his way over there he put on the Tiger smile and apologized. He was a class act, he told the guy he was sorry that he got hurt. He gave him a signed glove and shock his hand. The guy who got plunked said, "Go get ’em Tiger." Of course, TW took advantage of the fairway off the hizzie and dropped it on the green 7 feet from the hole and grabbed his second straight birdie.

Great day, better time with Kristen Is that enough said? We needed a whole game all by ourselves.