Are you trying to learn or maintain?

The title begs a simple question.  It is the time of the season where it is most beneficial to really define your goals for the rest of the year.  Is it time to maintain and test your current skill set or is it time to continue improvement.  For most of us, we never are honest with ourselves and actually ask ourselves this question.  So, my aim is to ask you some questions as part of an awareness quiz for what side of the line you stand on.

Are you ready to maintain and commit to playing “your game” for the rest of the year.  Well, do you have anything to get ready for?  Are you playing in any tournaments?  Do you have a competition or a trip that you are preparing for?  If so, maybe it isn’t the best idea to embark on a massive swing change.  Part of this preparation phase is to simply acknowledge where you stand and analyze your current shot dispersion.  One of the best ways to become aware of your current skill set is to book a session on Trackman or with one of the golf professional staff.  There are multiple ways you can test yourself to find your strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.  Basically, we’ll be able to not only tell you things like average carry distance, but also average dispersion (left/right) and any outliers that can pop up (the big miss).  You can use this data to know what to spend the bulk of your practice on as well as play “your game” more effectively.  For example, I found out that my tendencies are to miss my short irons left and my long irons a little right.  So, when I’m playing a short shot and the pin is on the left corner of the green, I know that it is prudent to not aim at the flag.

We are always improving – that is a desire of the human condition.  However, it is imperative that you know when you should be seeking massive change and when you should be refining your skills through intentional practice sessions.  If you are content with your playing ability and can shoot scores that make you happy if things fall in to place during the round, I would say there is little need to change anything too drastic.  If you are really unhappy about your game and your inconsistencies, I would venture into the world of golf instruction to gain new perspectives and practicing habits that will allow for personal growth on and off the course!

Earn your way up or out!

Practicing golf is not easy. It is specifically not easy to enjoy. It is my job as Coach to provide new ways to see things and to provide environments for my students to learn. In this vain, I love to create training environments that “gamify” practice – in other words, make practice fun by playing GAMES!
One of the easiest games you can create yourself is what I call “earning your way up or earning your way out.” The objective is simple – create a task that has a progression of easy to difficult. Then, define success for each “rung of the ladder.” For example, you can start with putting at three, five, seven and nine feet. You say that you need to make 4 out of 7 putts from three feet in order to attempt the five footer. Then you need to make 4 out of 7 putts from five feet to advance longer again. If you fail the task from five feet, return to the three foot putt. This way you are training with a little bit of pressure as each putt matters! I would start by setting a timer for 10 minutes and see how far you can get. I guarantee you will feel pressure on the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th putt at each distance!
Another simple game I have been implementing with a lot of my students revolves around simply making solid impact with the ball and dissociating with precise results. Most of us feel better about our golf swing when making solid contact so earn your way up to a full swing by starting small. Similarly, you are given four balls and need to strike at least three of them solid to move to a longer shot. Start with chipping, move to pitching, then punching and finally a full swing. You can work up this ladder with all your clubs and hopefully be hitting the ball more solidly in no time!
Try anything to stay engaged in the process of practice and you will not only enjoy it more, but you’ll also get a whole lot more out of your practice!

Paving Asphalt

Getting back into golf season is kind of like repaving a road. Hang in there with me…
It is important to evaluate the deep cracks and potholes left over from a volatile winter off-season. Perhaps, we can negotiate these hazards and drive near, over or around them, but sometimes we cannot. Perhaps we take a quick golf lesson to plant some flowers in those deep potholes (like they do in Ecotopia). Eventually, there will be a stressor that reveals those holes in the pavement (i.e. playing in a club event, etc.) like a deluge of rain washing out the flowers and leaving a gaping hole in the road.
So, I ask you, how deep are your potholes? Sometimes they are not very deep and will not get worse. Every now and again, we reach a critical breaking point when we need to do some excavating and repaving. Remember, this is a process. It is important to be mindful not only when you are excavating, but also choosing who will be pouring the asphalt into the pothole. There is a process of pouring (coaching and receiving instruction), smoothing (grooving new motor patterns), compacting (practicing smartly), making the new material flush with the old (integrating it into a swing), letting it settle/seal/dry (patience during the entire process), and finally being ready to drive on the new road (taking the motion to your game with confidence).
Be aware of where you are and where you want to go. If the road that you choose requires paving some potholes, contact your local, friendly PGA Professional and come up with a roadmap to high tail it to your destination!
Also, keep in mind that all roads need paving at some point!

Made vs. Holed Putts

This “tip” is more of me urging you all to start thinking a bit differently on the putting green. How often have you hung your head in disgust when a putt misses the hole after you have made what you think is a great stroke? Guess what? Golf isn’t fair, and I hear life isn’t either. I will agree that there are very few sounds better on this earth than a little white (or neon green, red, purple, etc.) ball falling into a cup. However! There is little that we can do to control what that ball does after it leaves our putter face. Many will argue with me if fate and destiny truly exist, but to be scientifically objective about the situation of a golf ball rolling on a green, there are many different variables working for and against that ball going into its rightful home.
The following mindset is one that will start alleviating the unnecessary stresses we all put on ourselves to get that ball into the hole (in fewer shots). Start delineating between “making putts” and “holing putts.” Know that you have the ability to “make” every putt. It is simple. Roll your ball on your intended line with your intended speed. If you do that, you have “made” the putt. Whether or not that ball goes in the hole is a completely different issue and one that sometimes you are accountable for (chose the wrong line or wrong speed, failure to acknowledge grain/dew/other condition, etc.), but very often, you may not be accountable for (imperfection in the green, etc.). When we get obsessed about “holing” every putt we see, we immediately believe we are a poor putter if the putt we hit does not go in the hole. This can often lead to a downward spiral of putting confidence and many poor economic decisions of buying new putters or regripping, etc. (we in the golf shop don’t mind these irrational buying decisions).
So…. it is a great time to get out to a practice green and start committing to making every putt. Refrain from hitting putts for the sake of hitting putts and react positively or negatively if the putts go in or if the do not go in. Go through your process on every putt. Decide if the putt is uphill, downhill, sidehill or a combination of multiple slopes. Pick a path and a speed for with the ball to roll on that path. Make every putt. At that point you can learn where your strengths and weaknesses are, objectively. Do you have a tendency of over-reading break? Do you have a knack for leaving putts short? When you commit to making every putt, you can find your truest shot pattern and be objective through the learning process. Use this shot pattern as feedback and soon enough, you will be holing more putts, guaranteed!

Down Under Par

An overall reflection of golf seen in Oceania…
For the past two months, I have been travelling around the Southern Hemisphere and no, the ball doesn’t go down into the hole counter-clockwise and I was not attacked by any hoop snakes or drop bears.  I have learned much about the culture and the game of golf down under.  Given the context of these articles, I’d like to reflect upon how the game is played.
Golf is simple.  It is a challenge and it is an opportunity.  It is meant to be played with others, but against yourself.  It is meant to be enjoyed with fresh air and to be talked about amicably with friends afterwards.  It is meant to be laughed at.  It is meant to be a game.
Golf is also serious.  It provides an honest competition that is equitable to all that participate.  Therefore, people that play this game here seldom make excuses and are highly congratulatory to highly adept play.
It seems to have been learned that learning comes from within.  It comes from objective observation of the present moment.  Learning what you do well and when and where you need to focus more attention.  Aussie golfers seem to be very Socratic in that most know that they know very little, but are open to knowing more (a very “empty cup” Zen student approach).
So, I conclude my thoughts and implore you to take a position ready to learn.  Learn from every putt, from every sliced drive and from every chunked wedge.  Gain insight and humility from every pure strike and snake holed.

Coaching vs. Instructing

We spend hours, days and weeks trying to perfect a dynamic motion, spending hundreds if not thousands on instruction and equipment. I’m stuck in a pickle here, as most of my income is directly tied to instruction, so as to not sound completely hypocritical, I will explain myself.

Instruction allows for a person to do as little as possible on their own in order to achieve a different result (think of all of the directives you have heard in regards to keeping your head down, hitting the inside of the ball, keep your left arm straight and your right elbow into your right side, etc.)  Does that add to your knowledge base or just give you thoughts about the components of a better swing?  Do these thoughts allow for freer play during a round of golf or do they automatically restrict your swing if things start going south?  If a swing produces a good result, it must’ve been because of the cue in the forefront of the mind, right?  If a swing produces an unacceptable result, what caused it?  That is very difficult to answer for a student that craves cues and technical directives.

I’m tired of hearing as a coach – “what did I do on that one?” or “what went wrong there?”  It is an unproductive task to explain everything that is happening in a golf swing that is not “technically sound.”  As a friend of mine recently uttered, “he who hits it the least, wins.”  It’s not about knowing that the backswing produces a variable plane (especially if you can keep the ball in front of you), but it is about how aware you are of your surroundings and how the club is traveling around your body.

My job is coaching – I see myself as someone who can facilitate learning for others to do on their own!  Coaching allows a gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) push towards self-discovery.  This process allows you to understand a cause and effect relationship between the motion of your body and the flight of the ball.  Experimentation leads to knowledge and learning the path of least resistance to your success.  So, put in some time, experiment, and dig it out of the dirt!