Category: Students of the Game


Today, a student approached me and shared a story with me regarding something he witnessed on the driving range earlier at another golf course. There, the golf instructor was giving a lesson to a young lady who seemed to be just picking up the game. My student discussed how he could tell the lady was somewhat new to golf, and had many questions about the fundamentals of golf. The professional, apparently having a prior agenda for this student, wasn’t even answering her questions and was having her practice motions she didn’t seem comfortable with making. Little explanation was given and she seemed displaced and clueless.

Although this professional is a good player, this does not necessarily mean that he is a good instructor. Playing the game and teaching are two different worlds within the game of golf and that must be remembered when both giving and receiving instruction. Just because someone is a great player does not automatically make them a great instructor, and just because someone isn’t a phenomenal player, doesn’t mean they cannot be an outstanding golf instructor.

When a lesson is being taught or received, here are three key-elements that must be evident

1. Proper Communication

Good communication is a foundational block of all relationships, be it parent-child, husband-wife, or student teacher. An instructor needs to choose their words extremely carefully to communicate precisely what they wish, and the student needs to communicate honestly and verify a certain level of acknowledgment and understanding. If there is not proper understanding, improvement will be achieved solely on a combination of luck and trail-by-error.

2. Simplicity

Golf can be very detailed and it can be extremely basic. Simplicity is a term that spans not just a way of communication, but also the process that is built through hours and hours of practice. Information can be conveyed in a simple, thorough manner. Goals can be outlined in a simple manner. Frustrations and concerned can be explained by their most basic elements. Golf information can be a bit overwhelming, be it swing dynamics, club fittings, or mental approaches and the more clear-cut the information can be explained, the better off all parties will be.

3. Create Solutions

Notice I did not use the word “fixes”. Some golf professionals will provide “band-aids” to swing flaws and never address the root of the problem. This “quick-fix” may work in the short-term, but by never addressing the root of the problem, the player will only be able to reach a certain playing ability before the “band-aid” falls off and they are left searching for more answers. Solve the root of the issue, and this will pay great dividends in the long run.

If you are a golf professional, be sure to keep these methods in your mind when you are seeking a golf instructor, be sure to find a professional who exemplifies these key traits.

What other areas are imperative to a successful lesson? Please share stories, thoughts, or suggestions.

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Although putting is often viewed as the least glamorous aspect of the game of golf, it is where the majority of shot are taken by the vast majority of players. Understanding the important role putting plays in lowering scores requires adequate dedication to what makes someone a good putter. Here are three tenants that all good putters follow, and if you aren’t in their league yet, here is a great place to start.

  1. Know your Stroke

Do you prefer to putt straight-back straight-through, inside-square-inside, inside-square-square, or Billy Mayfair (the last not being a suggestion for anyone other than the man himself). Understanding your desired putting method will go a long way to help you find success on the green.

  1. Know your Putter

Are you putting with a heel shafted putter, face-balanced mallet, or something in between. Depending on the method of stroke you wish to use, certain putters are weighted to be used in certain fashions, so understanding your method as well as the technology found in putters is imperative to being consistent with the flat-stick.

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice

Many players love to go practice at the range, but they spend the majority of their time slashing at drivers and trying to hit the range picker, than spending quality time on their short game and putting. If you want to be good at putting, just like anything else, it requires focus, attention to detail, and a substantial amount of practice. Practicing putting is one of the fastest ways to lower your scores, especially if you are just starting out with the game.

Find a method, find a putter, find the practice green and you will see results that will impress even the longest hitters in your group!

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This blog is not dedicated to the infamous flop…shot. Although it is playoff season right now in the NBA and one might think this blog is dedicated to the likes of Vlade Divac, Manu Ginobili, or Robert Horry (and could be rightfully so), this blog is hopefully going to help you hit the (rarely) required, but very enjoyable flop shot.

The flop shot scares many players as it requires a large swing to move the ball a relatively small distance. However, if you can remember to keep these 3 simple pieces of advice in your mind before you hit your flop shot, you will have a much better chance of hitting a quality golf shot that lands closed to the pin, and manages to stay outside the parking lot.

  1. Don’t Scoop!

Nearly everyone today carries a 58* or 60* wedge, or at worst case scenario a 56* wedge. These wedges already have a tremendous amount of loft on them already and by opening up the face to the target you are adding even more loft. Because of the extreme loft, you need to make sure you strike the ball with a downward blow and do not try to scoop the ball or lift it up into the air.

  1. Less is More!

Be sure you don’t use a wedge with a lot of bounce for a flop shot, as you need the sole of the club to slide through the ground. If your wedge has a lot of bounce and the sole has not been grounded down at all, the bounce will often make the club literally “bounce” off the ground making the flop shot extreme challenging and requires perfect timing.

  1. Open Up

When taking your stance, be sure to have the ball slightly forward of center in your stance and open up your stance so your feet are roughly 30* open to your target line. Be sure to swing along the line of your feet as well. By opening your stance and swinging along the line of your feet, you are able to “cut-across” the golf ball, adding spin and allowing you to hold the face open longer.

Remember, the flop shot is a great asset to a golfer’s arsenal of shots, but one must practice and be sure to have the right approach for the given shot at hand. Unlike Manu, don’t fake it and be sure to warn your playing partners if you attempt it without much practice!

Different techniques or suggestions for hitting the flop-shot? Let me know!

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I was reminded in a recent lesson that helping one understand the roots of their golf mistakes/compensations, is extremely important to the student’s ability to grow and develop their golf skills further. My student who has improved rapidly, has great golf ability, with little knowledge behind him. His game is not bogged down by theories or swing thoughts, rather a do-as-I’m-told mentality. Which, for a teacher is great, as the student is often able to improve rapidly, but one must be careful to make sure the student has ample knowledge to self-reflect and try to solve problems that may come up during a given round.

One of the most common mistakes made by golfers is in understanding the reasons behind why a ball curves a certain way. There are two distinct areas that affect the ball-flight of the golf ball, and those are the angle/position of the face, and the swing path.

A simple explanation of a golf balls flight is that wherever the ball starts is  based on the initial swing path of the club, and wherever the ball curves is the angle of face. There are extreme circumstances where the angle of the face is so severe, that the path does not have as much an impact as one would originally believe, but usually, the club path determines the initial starting flight of the ball, with the face angle resulting in the ending position of the golf ball.

And why is this so important? Understanding why your balls curves the way it does tell you much about your golf swing and what areas you may need to improve in. If you grew up in the Midwest or Nevada, players can get away with hitting 30-yard hooks or slices, but that game does not transfer well to many courses in the Bay Area, or traditional, tree-lined golf courses.

Being able to start the golf ball on an intended line is imperative to being a successful golfer. Study your ball-flight, and work to make the face square and swing on plane. Remember, the ball doesn’t lie!

Any thoughts or suggestions on how to improve swing path or work on ball flight? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

I’ve often heard the saying “Knowledge is power”, and always wondered to myself, ‘Really? What type of power is found in knowledge?’ Is it the power found in a Chevy 350 big block engine found in some of my favorite cars, is it the power to persuade a group of individuals, or is it something entirely different?

To contradict the common belief, knowledge itself, is actually not power. If knowledge was indeed power, than we would see those in academia running the world, or at the very least, running against the likes of Donald Trump for President. Instead they can often be found wearing the same sweater over and over again, as they argue using circular reason, never reaching a finite conclusion. In fact, often times knowledge has the ability to paralyze, as people are not able to function around certain concepts or ideals.

Power then, is actually derived from the process of applying knowledge within a given framework that facilitates change. If no change has taken place, than no new power has been derived or even transferred. This change can be manifest in different forms, (belief systems, functional actions, desires, etc) but without having the knowledge behind the process, there lacks a void that can never be wholly filled.

So what does this have to do with golf? Simple, without a proper knowledge and understanding of the game of golf and what it encompasses, one will never be able to demonstrate the “power” needed to become a good golfer. The power I am referring to is not the ability to hit J.B. Holmes-esque 350 yard drives, but rather the power to change your golf game for the better. There is not one perfect golf swing, or one perfect way to play the game of golf. This often frustrates people, but is also what makes the game so great!

The great golfers of every generation, from Tom Morris to Bobby Jones, from Arnie and Jack to Tiger and Phil , they all had a vast knowledge of the game and used that knowledge to play to the best of their ability.  Not any of the players I mentioned swing remotely the same, but they all are Hall-of-Famers, and they all had the knowledge that allowed them to create a process, which allowed them to play their best golf.

We should all learn something from these great golfers and that is that knowledge, when combined with a process seeking to maximize one’s strengths and minimize one’s weaknesses, is what all great golfers (and leaders) have in common. Seek knowledge, but in a way that facilitates your growth as a person and a golfer!

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By now, those of you who follow the PGA Tour closely or even watch SportsCenter are aware that Kevin Na made a 16 the hole-nine during the first round of the Valero-Texas Open. That is a story in and of itself worth noting, yet he also had the unfortunate (or fortunate depending on your perspective) circumstance of being mic’d for the Golf Channel’s coverage of round one.

Let me precede the following that I am a huge fan of golf, was definitely impressed with how Kevin Na handled himself yesterday, and I try to look for the best in people. I will also be the first to admit that we all have our bad days and that if we were judged solely on our poorest actions, we would all be left alone to self-destruct.

With that being said, I have not been a fan of Kevin Na for quite some time. Although I have never spoken with him personally, I have been around him on several occasions.  Two specific instances that occurred several years ago, (one when I was playing college golf in Southern California, the other when caddying on the PGA Tour) have caused me to severely question his attitude and relational skills to the public. I understand he must face a tremendous amount of pressure from a variety of sources, but that pressure should not be an excuse for poor behavior (or performance).  He is a famous athlete, children look up to him, and he should do his best to set a proper example for all of his followers.

With that being said, I am impressed with how he handled the debauchery that occurred on the ninth hole yesterday and we can all learn from how he handled a difficult situation.

  1. Laugh at Yourself

When you make a mistake and compound it several times to the point of certain embarrassment, you can either remain angry for an indefinite amount of time, or let it go. A great way to let go is to laugh at the situation and mistake made, relieving the nauseating feeling in your stomach and accepting what just occurred. The quicker you can let the situation go, the quicker you will be able to learn from your mistake and use that knowledge to achieve a greater level of success.

  1. Stick to what got you there in the First Place

If you have achieved any level of success in your current position, you have developed a process over time that has allowed you to reach this success. This process is paramount to your success, and although alterations may be needed along the way, there is no reason to “reinvent the wheel”. Kevin Na is not on the PGA Tour because he commonly smashes drives 350+ yards or hits his driver off the deck. He is on the PGA Tour because of a solid wedge game and deft putting stroke. Had he remembered that, I guarantee you he would have taken a 16 out of the equation!

  1. Finish Strong

Being that Na made 16 on the ninth-hole, he had nine holes to decide how he was going to respond. He could have quit by either walking off or just mentally checked-out, tried his best to play well or landed somewhere in between. Na performed very well on the back-nine as he carded three birdies against zero bogeys. This determination and perseverance will serve him well in the future and is a great example to follow.

I am hoping that what we witnessed on Thursday was a more mature Kevin Na that has learned from his seven years on the PGA Tour. He is on one of the world’s largest stages and has the opportunity to make a tremendously positive impact on lives worldwide. Let’s hope he makes the right decisions on and off the golf course in the future – always keeping his driver and his attitude in check!

Any thoughts, comments, or personal interactions regarding Kevin Na? I’d love to hear them!

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Life is full of sadness and disappointment, sprinkled in with moments of great joy and jubilation. We all have memories of various events throughout or life that trigger certain emotions. But where do those emotions come from and why are they so prevalent in our way of life?

Everywhere in society today people are expressing themselves in unique ways and children are being taught that if it “feels good”, they should do it. This leads the entire world up to personal interpretation and allows the masses to run their desired course. Expectations are what our emotions are derived from, and our experiences constitute the majority of our expectations.

Take this past weekend at Augusta National. How many people out there dream of playing Augusta just one time in their life, let alone are privileged enough to play for a chance to win the Green Jacket? Many of us would be thoroughly satisfied walking the grounds during a practice round. Yet for others, such as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and the majority of the field in this past Master’s expected something more out of their trip down Magnolia Lane this past Sunday afternoon.

Expectations are often built upon a combination of past experiences, beliefs, the influence of others, and self-imposed pressure to please yourself and others. Expectations in-and-of themselves are not inherently bad, but our view of expectations and the weight we place on them can have devastating consequences in life. When our perspective on life changes along with our self-value strictly because of expectations, those expectations, are more harmful than anything else.

Expectations can be used as motivation to maximize a person’s ability. BUT, if a person puts their self-worth and value in any expectation and they do not succeed, well then we have a real problem. If they do succeed, then their expectations will increase to a point where they are eventually unachievable, and their world will collapse under the weight of expectation.

There are various levels of success and various levels of expectations. As long as expectations are used as positive, motivating forces to spur someone onto make the most of their ability, then the expectations are helpful. However, once a person is so focused on what is expected of them and nothing else, they often lose sight of the true purpose of their efforts (doing the best they can), and this lack of foresight causes things to quickly unravel.

Like most things in life, an excessive amount of anything does more harm than good, and the same is true for expectations. We must encourage our students, children, family, and community to excel, but not at the cost of self-worth or respect.

If you can keep expectations in check, no matter if you blow a four-shot lead shooting 80 on Sunday afternoon at Augusta National, or never even have the chance to set foot on the grounds, you will maintain yourself worth and character, and in the end, that is how all of us will be remembered.

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It is often said that there is nothing like the back nine at Augusta National on Sunday afternoon, and this Sunday was no exception. What started out as a probable landmark victory (if there ever was such a notion in golf) for Rory McIlroy quickly turned into one of the most memorable and Masters Tournaments in recent history. In the end, Charl Schwartzel triumphed as the victor with many worthy opponents within striking distance.

With a four-stroke lead to open the round, many believed it was McIlroy’s to lose, and eventually he did lose it. Charl Schwartzel did play a fantastic round of golf, but had McIlroy played the way he had been playing all week, the tournament was well within his grasp. Unfortunately for McIlroy, his grasp quickly slipped, and he allowed a half-dozen other players the opportunity to make claims on the coveted Green Jacket.

There was so much excitement between, Tiger, Adam Scott, Bo Van Pelt, Geoff Ogilvy, and Jayson Day that once the sun had set at Augusta National, I could not help but a bit confused as to what I had just witnessed. What started as a one man show quickly became a sprint to the finish and then boom – just like your first hole in one, it was over before you realized what just happened..

I am genuinely happy for Schwartzel, however I cannot help but feel sorrow for McIlroy. Sure, he has money, fame and all the perks that go with being one of the best golfers in the world, but in the end, he wants to win. Money cannot buy him a Green Jacket – not the one he wants anyway. He had been extremely outspoken about his preparation being tailored directly for the Masters, and the first three days, he showed everyone some amazing golf. Unfortunately, on this fateful Sunday afternoon at Augusta, and the only day that truly matters, he was not able to retain his place atop the leader board.

I was intrigued to see what his response would be after the round, and I believe the way he carried himself after shooting 80 was more impressive than any of the golf he played. He answered the questions with patience, respect, and showed tremendous composure after such an agonizing day.

I’ll remember Schwartzel for winning this Masters, but I will remember McIlroy even more for the composure and class he showed after the round. I hope all of us handle defeat, in whatever area of life this might occur, with such grace and humility. Losing is tragic, but what is even more tragic is not learning and growing from the experience. My hope is that all (including Rory) will be able to use what is learned through defeat to catapult us onward to success in the future.

 

Mind Games

 

At first glance, golf appears to simply be a game consisting of the swinging a club at a little white ball. However, much of person’s success at this game rests in their ability to control what is occurring in space between their ears.  The longer a person is around golf, the quicker they realize that without having a strong mental framework, they will not be able succeed at the highest level. This applies to a weekend golfer playing once a month, or to the touring professional who makes a living from playing the game.

Two of the most colorful golf commentators on television, Johnny Miller and Ian Baker-Finch, both went from winning a major – the zenith of a professional golfers’ career, to sitting behind the booth analyzing the shots of their former competitors. No golfer, touring professional or otherwise, is immune from the mental aspect of golf.

Retief Goosen, winner of states that “…what has turned my golfing career is my mental toughness.” A major champion, who has searched diligently on ways to improve his game, finally came to the conclusion that his mental toughness and ability were the keys to his improvement and continued success on the golf course.

Also, Bobby Jones, one of the greatest American golfers and amateur players of all time stated that, “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course…the space between your ears.”

If professionals who have dedicated their lives to playing and learning the game of golf conclude that the mental aspect of golf is vital to their success, isn’t this an area that all golfers should devote some serious attention to?

If you are a golfer looking to improve your game, I strongly encourage you look at your mental approach to the game of golf and determine the areas in which you need to improve. Some of you may be confident, which is great, but overconfidence can lead to poor decision making, which then leads to poor shots and ultimately higher scores. I’ll be reviewing some books in the future on the mental side of golf, but if you are looking for ways to improve your game, you must not overlook your mind!

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Now some of you may need to get your mind out of the gutter. Yet others of you may rather be stuck in a gutter, than utter this horrific, five letter-word. It is a word that is often forbidden on the golf course and referred to by many different names in many different languages. If you have spoken it on the golf course, you  will have been undoubtedly shunned by your playing partners. This word has also been known as,  “The Laterals”, “ The Hosel Rockets”, and “The El Hosels”.

Living in a climate where it snows most of the winter, I was grateful to play in my first pro-am of the year today. Having spent more time on my snowboard than on the golf course over the past 4 months, I was looking forward to playing golf, fully prepared that my game would likely be marginally at best.  I had a good (insert fun) team of amateur players and it was just nice to have the sun shining on our faces.

I hit the ball surprisingly well on the first four holes, and although I missed a few short birdie putts, I managed to be -1 under par. I hit a mediocre tee-shot on the 5th hole and left my second shot short of the green, where I had to play a delicate pitch. That delicate pitch was quickly replaced with a bunker shot as I strait (insert 7-letter S-word here) my 15-yard pitch and after barely avoiding collision with one of my amateur players, rolled into the bunker that was  a45* angle to my right. There was a brief moment, of shock, horror, awe, and thankfully, laughter as one of my team members quite eloquently stated with a Coors Lite in his hand, “Well that was a (insert other 5 letter S-word here) shot! “

This was the beginning of my demise that would last the majority of the round. I could not help but analysis why/how I was able to hit such a shot, and my mental aptitude for the remainder of the round was of minimal success. I was able to hit some good shots, but my focus was on trying to understand what had occurred several holes prior.  At the end of the day, I finished four shots out of the money, and was left thinking about what might have been…

Let this be a lesson to you all. One bad shot, in and of itself, will not kill or ruin the chances of playing a good round of golf. However, if the bad shot lingers in your mind for any amount of time longer than it takes you to reach your next shot, (for me it was 5 seconds and only about 12 yards!), than the negative effects of that shot has a much greater impact than what is recorded on the scorecard. The sooner you can move past focusing on your poor shots, the sooner you will start playing better golf!

 

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