Staying Connected While Keeping Your Distance

First let me say, I hope you are all staying safe and are well. I hope your family and friends are also safe and well. I hope we all get through these challenging times unscathed. And when we do, we emerge with cleaner closets and organized basements. We’ve purged the unused clothes and home goods we had stuffed in boxes and we’ve donated them to those in need. I for one will be embarking on all those things and hope that my life is a bit lighter afterwards. Mostly, I hope you are all ok.

So many of us are longing for the social connection we may have once taken for granted. The get together for drinks, a coffee, a bite to eat or a quick 9 after work.  While the former is not possible right now due to the stay at home recommendations, the latter might still be possible. If it is, we can rest assured that golf is the only sport built for social distancing. Why?  Well, golf  is really a solitary sport. You play without a team or a squad. You are alone in your thoughts when you’re out there. You alone are battling the golf course and the conditions you find yourself in. The performance of others does not, nor should it, impact how you perform. You set your own goals. You manage how you play, the clubs you choose for the shots you’ll make and the decisions you make for each situation you have. You manage your response after those shots. You’re your own best cheerleader. You are doing it all. While we do play golf on our own, we do it with our friends and family. If we can play, or when we can play, here are a few ideas that will help you maintain your distance and enjoy your friends.

1 – Keep your distance – 6 feet apart is the new safe distance and an easy thing to do with your golfing friends. Besides, the garlic lover in the group won’t feel like he/she is being avoided. Everyone can now have garlic!! Wahoo!

2 – Don’t Shake Hands – Give your friends an enthusiastic wave or even a bow…be creative here because, why not you’re finally out of the house!

3 – Avoid touching the pin – Hopefully the golf course will help with this one but altering the cup depth to keep the cup exposed but if not, everyone gets the 3 footer!

4 – Avoid sharing tees – while we are all generous in helping our friends meet their equipment needs (there’s always someone in the group who doesn’t have any tees) remind them before they get to the first tee to load up on the essentials.

5 – Avoid picking up other player’s clubs near the green – A quick “hey, don’t forget the 5 wedges you left by the green.” That will surely do the trick.

6 – Avoid sharing clubs – Your playing partner always wants to try your stuff, you always let them but inside, it really bugs you. Now you get to say, “sorry Jim, no can do” and you are totally OK doing it.

7 – Drive your own cart if you have to drive – You always wanted to be the driver but Joan always insists on driving. Not any more. You’re in the driver’s seat. You can drive as close to your own ball as you like or leave the cart 30 yards away. You have the control and may never be a passenger again!

8 – Bring your own water, snacks, sandwiches, tuna fish, sardines (all fish items are now ok given the 6 feet apart requirement), …the options are now limitless. Just bring what you need to maintain your hydration and nutrition while you play.

9 – Have some hand sanitizer of wipes for the restrooms – enough said there

10 – And finally number 10….Smile, breathe and enjoy this amazing game and the company of your friends. We will get through this and when we do, we will be grateful for being with our friends and family and the hugs will be HUGE!

 

 

 

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Goal Setting At The Start Of The Season

How do you set your goals for the season?

When I get together with my students at the start of the season, one of the first questions I ask is, “what would you like to achieve this season?” The conversation usually unfolds with a reflection of the previous year, the goals that were set, what went well and what could have gone better. We also talk about how we want to build off the accomplishments of the previous year and continue the trend of whole game improvement.  Once we know the game plan, we’re ready to go!

Goal setting is a key component to framing your season and getting started on the right foot. It takes some thought and it also requires honest consideration of the amount of time you have to spend on your game for both practice and play.

This leads me to a follow-up question to goal setting, “how much time do you have to spend on golf and how does golf fit into your life?”  This is an interesting question and I think at times, a tough one to answer, but it helps us set goals that are both realistic and achievable. I’m a firm believer of realistic goal setting with the caveat that we can always raise the bar during the process!

Imagine if the response to the question went something like this,  “I love the game, I love to play, I work crazy hours and I really only get to play on the weekends. I don’t have time to practice because I’d rather play…I want to go from a 32 handicap to a 20 this year.” This is a very busy person who obviously loves the game and wants to improve but has set a very lofty goal. Considering the time they have available for golf, reframing their goal is key to helping them improve and enjoy the game even more.

Achieving your goals is based, in no small part, on the time and effort you have to give to those goals. So let me ask YOU the question, “What golfing goals would you like to achieve this season?” It’s worth taking some time to consider what you want to achieve for the season, where you see your golf game going and how you plan to get there. Do your best to be as honest as you can with yourself about the time you have to spend working with a coach, practicing your skill development and getting out to play. Golf is a fantastic game and everyone at every skill level can improve and play better. If you have a specific goal in mind, you can achieve it with a good plan. Whatever you do and however you do it, you want to have fun and enjoy the process. Isn’t that what life is all about any way? So, set some good goals for the season and enjoy the journey!

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Watching The Players at The Range: What Can We Learn From the U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club

If you have a chance to get to Salem Country Club this weekend, consider making the trip. You’ll see some fantastic golf displayed on the beautiful Donald Ross designed course. It’s truly a gem. You might also want to stroll down past the Media Center along the 2nd fairway to the driving range. It’s a great place to watch the experts hone their skills.

Whenever I’m at a professional tour event, I always spend some time at the driving range to watch the players practice. There’s always something to see. Now, there are a lot of different swings out there on tour, some are fast and others slow. Some swings seem to have an overzealous loop at the top while others seem to be a simple back and forth motion with no bells and whistles. While the differences in swings may vary, their practice station set ups at the range have a common theme, Alignment Rods.

Alignment rods are tools found in almost every professional golfer’s bag.  When they go to the range, they pull them out of the bag and place them on the ground like it’s a religion.  Here’s a picture I took while at the practice round this past Tuesday. Tom Kite, an accomplished tour player with 19 Tour wins in his career and clearly a player with a solid well established swing, is using an alignment rod. He wasn’t the only one, his fellow pros to his left, right and all the way down the range also had them down on the ground.

Tom Kite Range

The pros use them to help confirm their target, body line relative to target and ultimately to support their intended swing. Alignment is one of 3 Pre-Swing fundamentals that influences how a player swings the club. It’s something that I think every golfer should focus on before they make an effort to hit the ball where they want to hit it. Alignment is a huge contributing factor to the path of the swing and the club face as it relates to that path….right or wrong.

Here’s a segment I did with Damon Hack on Morning Drive on the Golf Channel this past February. It goes over the 3 Pre-Swing Basics that I believe are major factors in how we swing the golf club and alignment is the final key.

 

3 Keys to Pre-Swing Basics: Grip, Posture and Alignment

After you watch the segment, you’ll start to notice how the tour players take their time with the basics for each and every swing. And if you stroll down to the range at The U.S. Senior Open this weekend, you’ll see that they’re all believers in the same religion, that of ” The Alignment Rod.”

Enjoy!

Cathy

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Golf Is A Lesson in Letting Go Of The Past And Thriving In The Present

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been playing along just fine and on the 5th hole, after a fantastic drive, you miss hit your next shot and it’s nowhere near your target. It ends up in a deep green side bunker.  You can’t believe it and you’re mad. As you take out your sand wedge and hop into the bunker, you’re still stewing about the shot that got you there. Your first attempt at getting out of the bunker fails. Your stress level goes up along with your heart rate and tension level.  The second attempt doesn’t quite make it to the green. Finally the third attempt lands you on the green some 40 feet away! It’s absolutely the fault of the previous shot!! You still can’t believe that you missed the green in the first place!

If you dwell on the past shot,  “the woulda, coulda, shoulda syndrome,” then the shot you’re about to make will suffer because you’re not “present enough” to be successful. Your attention is elsewhere, therefore you cannot be fully present to execute to the best of your ability. The past is truly the past and we can’t do anything about something that’s already over. Yes, we can learn from it to improve performance for the next time we’re in a similar situation, but we cannot change what has already occurred.

I was inspired to write about this topic after recently watching two of my students achieve victories in their respective events. Although their tournaments differed greatly, they demonstrated amazing determination and presence as they each went on to win.

The Ferncroft Country Club Men’s Club Championship

Two players finish the event in a tie. They go immediately to a 3 hole aggregate playoff. It jeff puttingwas the third and final playoff hole.  All Jeff had to do was par the hole to win the tournament. He hit his second shot just over the green while his opponent’s second shot found its way to the putting surface. Jeff looked his chip over, stuck to his routine and executed the shot. He ran it past the hole more than he had planned. By no means was it a tap in putt. His opponent made a two putt for par, now all eyes were on Jeff. And it was a gallery! Jeff stuck to his routine and drained the putt for the par and the win! He could have easily stayed in the past and been frustrated over the chip that ran past the hole, but he didn’t. He let it go and was absolutely present for his final putt of the match.

The Drive, Chip And Putt Sub-Regional Event Girls 12-13

sydneyThe three disciplines for the contest provide the contestants with opportunities to earn points. Drive it in the 40 yard wide fairway and you earn points for how far the ball travels. If you’re out of the grid, zero points. Chip it in the hole, or in the rings that surround the hole and you rack up points; the same for the putts. Each player gets three shots then moves on to the next skill. Driving is first up, and Sydney’s strength has always been her driver. She can bomb it!  The first two drives she hit didn’t stay in the grid. Two shots, zero points. She shook them off, stayed with her routine and the third drive stayed in. She moved to chipping and it was as if driving never happened. She focused, stayed with her routine and earned points on each of the three chips! She did exactly the same with the putting. Her final score was 88. She won the chipping category, placed second in the putting category and won the overall contest in her age group!

Both players did a fantastic job of staying present for each and every shot. What a treat it was to watch! Congratulations to Jeff O’Connor, winner of the Ferncroft Country Club’s Men’s Club Championship and Sydney DiGiulio, winner of the Sub-Regional Drive, Chip and Putt Competition! Well Done!!

 

 

 

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Improve Your Score With A Better Mindset

claret jugThis week, we may have the opportunity to watch history unfold. Jordan Spieth heads into The Open Championship having won the first two majors of the season. He is playing some great golf and I can assure you, it’s not just about his swing. In fact, his mindset and self-talk has played an even more critical role in his success over these past few months.

If you happened to watch Jordan Spieth’s interview on media day at St. Andrews, you would have heard him talk about his game plan for the week, what he was going to focus on or what he might change if anything.

He talked about spending some time on the range hitting shots with a focus on controlling trajectory. He mentioned he wanted to be able to flight the ball down when he needed to in order to keep it low into the wind. He also wanted to work on hitting it high so he could go after pins if the conditions were right.

But mostly, he talked about the mental side of his game. He was going to stay present, take it one shot at a time and through the process, he was going to be patient. He was going to visualize his shots and execute them to the best of his ability. This is by far the best part of his game plan.

Yes he is a skilled ball striker and a very good putter, but it’s the mental side of the game where he really shines. This brings me to a quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” Henry Ford I find this quote superbly applicable in golf. In Jordan’s case, when he steps up to every shot, he thinks he can!

When he says he is going to visualize a shot, he is seeing it go exactly where and how he wants it to go. He is in a positive mindset. He is intent on having a positive outcome.

This is something everyone can do regardless of handicap. Having a positive mindset is a key component to having a positive outcome.

Take for example, a par three that has water in front, sand to the right and deep rough behind. The distance is something you can easily attain using a mid iron or hybrid. In fact, you had a similar yardage on a previous hole and made a beautiful shot on to the green. Yet you step up onto the tee and proceed to dump it right into the water.

The challenge people face with the par three is not that they can’t hit a shot the distance required to get it onto the green, it’s that their self talk and visualization is negative. It shifts to an “I can’t” mode. This impacts the ability to stay present for the shot. It also affects the ability to commit to the swing. When the self-talk goes negative and sounds like this, “I hate this hole,” “I’m always in the water on this hole” or you dig in your bag for the water ball, you’re setting yourself up for a poor outcome.

What if you changed your self-talk and visualization into a positive? “This is the perfect distance for my 6 iron!” “In fact, I hit a fantastic 6 iron two holes ago this exact distance!” “It was one of my best swings of the day!”

What if you visualized the shot going high into the air and landing onto the middle of the green? I can promise you, if you shift your thinking to what you WANT to have happen when you play, you WILL have a better outcome. Change your belief system and your self talk to what you intend to do.  Not only will you improve your play, you will have a more positive feeling about the whole experience and enjoy your round of golf even more.

 

 

 

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The Beginner’s Guide To A Round of Golf

Let's Play

Time For Golf

If you have a golfing family, it’s very likely that “family time” may consist of getting together on a Sunday afternoon for a round of golf. Of course, it is very likely that food will be involved immediately following the round, but until then it’s off to the first tee for the family gathering of the week. Golf is a great opportunity to spend several hours together and even catch up on the week. The kids can show Mom and Dad how far they can “bomb” their drive and the parents can show their kids the finer points of raking a bunker. In any case, it will be an enjoyable afternoon for all…at least that is the plan.

The enjoyable round of golf with the family might take a turn to the “less than enjoyable round of golf” for the family member who is the beginner of the bunch. Everyone who has been trying to coax the “beginner” to join in on the fun, are likely to be card-carrying members of the handicap system of the USGA. They’ve been playing golf for a while and really love the game. They know that once the “beginner” gets going, they’ll love it too! They are probably right on the money…they know the “beginner” and know that they will love all the aspects of the game. There’s the social aspect of course, the natural beauty of the surroundings and they know the “beginner” loves being outside…and the walking..the”beginner” LOVES to walk. They walk everyday! Why not walk on the golf course? Then finally, there’s the game of golf itself. Playing golf is AWESOME!

The “beginner” has gone to the range a bit here and there, maybe even taken a few lessons and of course has received many suggestions from the card-carrying family members on what to do to hit the ball in the air. They’ve even snuck out on their own to the local par three course just to get their feet wet. Finally, the “beginner” says, “OK…I’ll go play” and off they go to the course. Suffice it to say, that the young guns in the group BOMB their drives hundreds of yards off the tee…the older more experienced player launches irons shots high into the air where the ball seems to always come to rest somewhere on the green and not too far from the pin. To the “beginner”, they all make it look so easy! The “beginner” takes 2 or 3 shots just to reach the first shot of one of those bombs off the tee. Then, another couple of shots to reach the green and then there is putting!

The experienced players roll the ball into the cup in one or two strokes! Amazing!! The “beginner” may take 2, 3 or sometimes 4 putts to hear the sound of the ball fall and land at the bottom of the cup! After a few holes, the “beginner” is thinking, “this is depressing, it takes me forever just to get to the green, then when I finally DO get to putt, the ball seems to avoid the hole at all costs!”…”And people go on vacation to do this?” In the meantime, the family of players encourages the “beginner” throughout the round, they tell them how well they’re doing for a “beginner” and yes, it takes time but you’ll get it and when you do, you’ll really love it! If this sounds at all familiar, you are not alone.

Of course, I happen to agree with the golfers in the family…once you have a good plan for your improvement, you will get better and you will love it! However, in the process of your improvement you want to have a way to play with the “golfers” in your family that allows you to have expectations that are meaningful to you and realistic to your skill level. Once you have a way to play with them, you’ll enjoy your time on the course far more than you thought you could. Here are a few ways to play in the weekly family golf outing all the while gaining experience on the course.

Pick A Drive – If you hit your tee shot and it is less than desirable, pick the best tee shot of the group and play your next shot from there. You’ll likely be further down the fairway and you won’t feel like everyone is waiting for you to catch up.

Par Plus 2 – If you do decide to play your own tee shot then your goal is to reach the green in par plus 2. That means you want to reach the green on a par 4 in six shots…if not, pick up your ball and drop it on the green about three feet from the hole and make a putt.

Scramble – This is a great one if everyone in the group is a beginner. Everyone hits their tee shot then everyone plays from the best tee shot of the group. Continue playing that way until you reach the green. Then everyone plays his or her own ball once it’s on the green.

If you really do want to play golf with the family, then finding a way to make it feel better when you play is key. Find a teacher you like to work with and stick with it. Map out a game plan for your short term and long term goals. Set some expectation that are realistic to your skill level now and know that you can and will modify those expectations as you get better. There is a universal sliding scale of goal setting in golf that exists for each of us, and it’s always on the move. We are always raising the bar and in golf and it can be raised again and again and again. That’s the beauty of the sport…there is always room for improvement. The funny thing is, when you set your goal to reach a par 4 in four shots, and you realize that you’re doing just that…you raise the bar right then and there! And that my friends, is exactly why golf is the best game in the world!

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What We Can Learn From Jordan Spieth’s U.S. Open Win

Photo credit:USGA Twitter feed

Photo credit:USGA Twitter feed

First things first; Congratulations to Jordan Spieth on a tremendous win at the U.S. Open! He did an amazing job at playing his own game to the best of his ability each and every day. Hats off to an amazing display of staying the course. And what a course it was!

The phrase, “It was a grind” was an understatement for this year’s major. There were comments flying from everyone, on air and off, regarding the conditions of the course, the layout, design and of course the greens. It was, according to some, a tricked out links style course, a ridiculous choice for a major, a place where no one would want to return…the list went on and on and on.  The chatter was so prevalent that it prompted a comment from Jack Nicklaus, who said something to the effect of how he loved to hear other players complain about a course as he figured for everyone who did, it was one less guy he’d have to beat that week.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing about it for quite some time as the dust settles post event and more people weigh in. In the end however, someone was going to take home the trophy regardless of layout, green condition, wind direction, good bounces, bad bounces and misread putts. Someone was going to be the winner and that winner, was Jordan Spieth.

Any USGA event is known to be an absolute test of skill and mental fortitude. The United States Open Championship is the penultimate test. In fact, if you’re not someone who is exempt from qualifying, you’ll  have to survive qualifying at a site that is set up under the direction of the USGA; where the rough is difficult, the length is long and greens are fast. All of which is a mere glimpse of what to expect if you move on to the Championship.

Jordan Spieth  didn’t complain about the course or its condition, he accepted it for what it was and he just played his very best. He put on an excellent display, not only of his ability to execute shot after shot, but his ability to stay present. He knew that if you were focused on the things you couldn’t control, such as the course, the conditions, the layout etc., your mental energy would be elsewhere.

To win at an Open, the golfer has to play to the best of his/her ability, accept what the golf course presents and play in as “present” a state as possible. There is no going back on shots of the past and shots that could have been.  They are absolutely over and if you are playing in the present, you are on to the shot at hand, focused on what you want to do and how you want to execute. Jordan had a mindset that allowed him to do just that. It was never more evident during the final round. He birdied the par 4 16th hole then arrived at the par 3 17th with a 6 iron and proceeded to block it right missing the green.  He finishing the hole with a double bogey. This could have easily derailed him but he stayed present. There was nothing he could do about the par 3, it was over. He had to move on to his next shot which he did, along with each shot thereafter. He stayed the course, his course and was clearly as present as ever during each and every shot during the final hole.

If there is a takeaway from Jordan Spieth’s win, it’s that the mental side of the game is critical to every player’s success. It’s not about hitting that perfect shot, not when you are playing. It’s about playing at your best, whatever that means for you at that moment in time and being absolutely present during each and every shot. There is no past or future when you’re out there trying to put up a good score, there is just the now. So next time you go out to play, do your best to take it one shot at a time and focus on that one shot, it’s the only one that matters at that very moment.

 

 

 

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