Commandment #2

I’ve seen it for years, players automatically pegging it up in the middle of the tee box on every hole without any thought. Then after the drive ends up in the woods or a hazard, the golfer usually curses and takes a few moments to rehearse his backswing, thinking his swing was the problem. Guess what? More times than not, the swing wasn’t the issue. But every time this happens during his round, the player continues to question his swing mechanics and tries to fix problems that aren’t there. Late in the round when his confidence is somewhat eroded you can almost count on a big mistake being made on an important tee shot.

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The real problem was that the golfer did not consider the angles of the golf hole. On each tee shot you need to ask yourself, “Where can I miss and still make par? Where is the big mistake?”

The solution is simple: Pick a side. Tee the ball up on one side of the tee box or another to create the best angle to play the hole. And, there is always a better side.

Tee the ball up on the side of the hole you wish to avoid. This allows you to hit away from trouble and dramatically decrease the odds of making the big mistake.

When I see someone tee up on the wrong place within the tee box, I can usually tell you where the ball is going to end up before the shot is hit. Some people think I’m a wizard or something, but it’s just years and years of seeing the same predictable mistake repeated thousands of times.

Something that many golfers don’t realize is that one of the tools that golf course architects use is illusion and deception. Course architects will create angles that make golfers feel uncomfortable. This is a golf course’s best defense against giving up a score. Bunkers, hazards, the direction of the holes (doglegs, etc.) aren’t there just to look pretty; they are there to create doubt and fear.

Stand behind some of the tee boxes at your home course. Notice that many aren’t aiming you down the middle of the fairway. Sometimes they are actually aiming you toward the trouble.

Using the tee box to your advantage is one of the easiest of The Commandments to apply. I’ve seen it change a decent college player into a very effective one. This Commandment is so important because you apply it on every hole BEFORE you have ever hit your first shot. If you commit to using this strategy you’ll be amazed how much more effective your tee shots are.

Golf is a game of misses. You are going to miss some of your targets; even the pros do. If you allow yourself room to for your imperfection, you’ll be okay. If you regularly have to reach into your bag for another ball, you won’t have much fun.

“The Commandments” – an Introduction

About six years into my career as a college golf coach, I noticed a trend: golfers tend to make the same mistakes in tournaments year after year. It got to the point that I could predict with great regularity the error a player was going to make before it happened—an error that would either wreck his hole or change the course of his round. Seeing these mistakes year after year became increasingly frustrating, especially when my own guys were making them. Most of the errors I noticed were not swing related; surprisingly, most were strategic, stemming from poor decision-making or from a lack of awareness on the course.

commandments stoneEventually, I had enough and began writing down my observations. Before long I had a list of the most common errors I saw golfers make in tournament play. Determined to teach my team to avoid making these common mistakes, I started sharing the list with them. I knew that if I could teach my team to recognize these “traps” that players from other teams were falling victim to, we would have a decided advantage when competing.

Thus, The Commandments were born. I have been teaching my team to play The Commandments for about a dozen years now. My players even carry a copy of The Commandments with them every round. We talk about them just about every day.

There are eleven Commandments on my list—eleven things I ask my players to do, or not do, every round. Again, none have to do with swing. Surprising, I know. My guys have learned that the fewer commandments they break during the round, the greater their chances of shooting a great score—even if they don’t hit the ball well. Because of these playing rules our teams have had a lot of success. Once my players buy into using them during play, The Commandments become the glue that helps our players and team achieve great things. The Commandments give my players rules and structure to guide their decision-making and to help them stay patient, which translates into fewer careless errors and a less stressful round.

Over the next few years I will introduce each of The Commandments to you. I know that if you follow them, they will make a big difference in your score. And the best part is you don’t need to get golf lessons.

The Littlest Shots Make the Biggest Difference

If you’re like most golfers, you spend most of your practice time on the range, and finish up with a few quick minutes on the practice green. I believe everyone should reverse that and spend the majority on your practice or warm up time on the practice greens and less time beating balls. If you look around your club you’ll notice that the best players hang out around the practice greens a lot. If you want to be one of the best players at your club I would suggest you do the same.

COG 11 Ball Drill

At least half of your shots during a round come from on or around the green. Most of the time it’s the quality of the Little Shots that determine the quality of your score. You could improve half of your game simply and quickly by improving your skills around the green—without going through swing changes or investing money in lessons or equipment!

Many years ago, my wife and I spent our honeymoon in Scotland, the birthplace of golf. We drove from town to town seeing the sites and enjoying the Scottish culture. Almost every evening, almost everywhere we went, we noticed townspeople of all ages practicing putting and chipping.

COG 11 Ball Drill

Practicing your short game is a great after-dinner activity. I find it very relaxing. Late afternoon and evening is the most beautiful time of day, and there usually aren’t many people around to distract you so you can get in some quality practice.

It beats sitting on the couch, or trying to squeeze in a quick nine and being frustrated by poor play. Try investing time instead of spending time.

Here are two great drills that will help your short game. You only need a dozen balls and if you spend an hour or two a week doing these drills you’ll see real results.

I know these drills will help you score better and enjoy your rounds more.

Chipping Chopsticks

I see golfers struggle with the short game (chipping and pitching) more than any other part of the game.

I call the short game The Big Eraser. Reliable chipping and pitching will erase mistakes that are made with approach shots. It’s a fact that you’re going to miss greens. Even pros miss five to six greens per round—so that means the average golfer will miss even more! It’s frustrating when you can hit the ball 400 yards in 2 shots, yet it takes 4 more shots to get it in the hole from 30 yards. If you want to lower your handicap you have to have a solid short game. Chipping and pitching are crucial for scoring.

There are two common mistakes I see most golfers make that sabotage their short shots. One is ball position. Many golfers’ ball is way too far forward in their stance. This is setting up for failure. If this is your ball position, you regularly hit shots around the green fat or thin. That is why your confidence is low. So from now on, put the ball in the middle or even a little back of center in your stance because you want to hit the ball while the club is moving downward. Just like in the photo. You’ll get instant results.

photo 2sm photo 1sm

The second mistake I see is a stance that is too wide. Watch the pros. Usually on pitches and chips their stance is very narrow, unless they have a crazy lie. The pros take a narrow stance to eliminate any lateral movement. Shots around the green are finesse shots and shifting weight on this shot is counterproductive. I can tell you all of the technical reasons why this works but instead of boring you, just set up like in the photo and be amazed how instantly your chips and pitches improve. Also, notice the shaft leaning forward in the YES photo. That is essential for hitting quality shots.

And remember one more thing: with chipping and pitching, everything is opposite.  DOWN = UP. If you want the ball to go up, hit down. Don’t scoop or try to lift the ball in the air. If you do try to lift the ball into the air, you will often mishit it.I tell the golfers I teach to try to hit the part of the ball that you can’t see.

Chipping Chopsticks Drill

I came up with the Chipping Chopsticks drill to help my students improve their chipping. And yes, you will need chopsticks. (You can get them at the grocery store. Just go to the area where they sell sushi. They’ll be lying around there and they’re free!)

photo 3sm

photo 4smStick a chopstick in the end of your grip. When addressing the ball for a chip, if you are set up properly you won’t see the chopstick, because it will be in line with and covered up by your forearm (see photo). When you do this drill, at no point should you be able to see the chopstick. This shows that you kept your left wrist firm. If you can see the chopstick you’ll know you let the left wrist break down (scooping) and the chopstick will be visible and now pointing at your back shoulder. That is BAD.

So now you know why you hit poor chip shots. With very little practice you will be hitting beautiful crisp chip shots and saving strokes.

A Golfers Biggest Hazard, Part 2

In a previous post (A Golfers Biggest Hazard, Dec. 2012) I wrote, When you prepare for a round of golf, you should make a mental commitment — a commitment to accept whatever happens, good or bad, and in the words of Winston Churchill, “Stay calm and carry on.” 

golfers biggest hazardGolf is a tough game. If you want to enjoy it you need to be equally tough. Golf can and eventually will beat you up mentally. Every golfer goes through tough times. As I have said to every golfer I have coached over the years, you must embrace the struggle. The crazy thing about the game we love is that we can hit hundreds of shots perfectly, but if we hit one poorly at the wrong time it can make us doubt everything we do. A golfer’s memory seems to be very long when it comes to remembering the negative, and very short when remembering the positive. I’ve seen it more times than I can count: One of my players is going along great and all of the sudden he hits a poor drive or misses a short putt and for the remainder of the round, and perhaps for weeks after, he doubts his ability. Now he is totally distracted from the task at hand – playing golf. As he wonders what happened and why, he hits more poor shots, and as his score goes up his confidence goes down. And so the spiral downward begins.

I prefer to take a more philosophical approach. I believe golf is a living, breathing thing. It can sense fear and weakness, and when it does, it will devour you. The only way to prevail against the beast is to remain upbeat and optimistic and as you do, the beast will go away and then golf will reward you.

I believe, when you struggle, golf is actually trying to teach you something. Golf has a great way of exposing your weaknesses. For instance, if you’re like many people, you struggle with chipping. So, what inevitably happens during your round? You miss greens and have to chip. If you practiced chipping more it wouldn’t be such an issue, but it is human nature to avoid practicing what you’re not good at. Instead of avoiding the weakness you should practice to overcome the weakness. So, in essence, golf is giving you exactly what you need – opportunities to chip! Golf always exposes you.

In the December 2012 post I told the tale of Makenzie Denver, a young man on my team who learned the importance of not giving up mentally when things got tough on the golf course. If you haven’t already I encourage you to go back and read the story. It’s a good one that can help all golfers.

CoachandDenver crop1Denver, probably my most talented player, struggled during his freshman year with staying mentally engaged when he had tough rounds. When things got tough he would mope and sulk believing he was a victim and the only one golf was picking on. This cost him strokes. Afterward, when looking at the leader board, he realized that if he would have stayed mentally tough during the round and hung in there and fought hard, three things would have happened: 1) he could have helped our team more; 2) individually, he would have finished high in some important events; and 3) he would have gone away from the tournament with no regrets. As Ghandi said, “Full effort is full victory.”

This past March we were playing at the Jekyll Island Intercollegiate on the coast of Georgia over spring break. It’s a very important event. In fact, it’s the largest tournament in NCAA golf.

In the first two rounds Denver played okay, +1 in the first round and +6 in the 2nd. Not bad considering the winter we had in the Northeast and the fact it was the first time we had seen grass in four months.

In the final round Denver got off to a solid start, parring the first two. The 3rd hole is probably the easiest par 4 on the course — just a 3-wood or hybrid off the tee, and a short pitch of about 60-80 yards to the green. Denver hit some poor shots, and ended up with double-bogie on the hole. On the very next hole, a tight par 4, he followed up the double with an eight. Yep, a snowman.

During all of this I was on another part of the course with one of my other players but knew what was happening because the tournament had live scoring and I was watching the gruesome events unfold on my phone. Denver was now 6 over par after four holes—not the start he was looking for or in anyway imagined. I didn’t rush to go see him right away because I knew he’d be okay. We had been working on turning his weakness into his strength for a more than a year now and I knew he had the tools to stay “up” mentally and accept the adversity and move forward.

I caught up to him on the par 3, eighth hole. The first thing he said to me with a smile on his face was, “Did you hear what happened?”

I told him, “Yeah, I heard.”

We laughed about it and told each other, “Lets get some strokes back.”

Denver was in a great frame of mind and I stayed with him for most of the remainder of the round. His attitude remained terrific and he fought like a champion. After his disaster on the 3rd and 4th, he played the rest of his round 2 under par to finish at +4 for the day—really respectable. In fact, he came back to tie one of his playing competitors and beat the other.

Denver 1 crop

Golf isn’t always about winning. Many days it’s about salvaging. Golf always teaches you something, especially on the hard days, but you have to be willing to endure pain in order to get the reward. Denver had already learned the lesson and because he didn’t panic, mope or sulk, golf rewarded him. He didn’t have to win or shoot the lowest score to demonstrate his greatness. A lesser player would have quit mentally. Not him. He earned the respect of the young men who played with him; not only that, they learned a lesson from him — how a champion responds when things get tough.

I was an extremely proud coach that day.

The Bill Parcels Interview

Recently I had the distinct privilege in asking some questions to NFL legend, and newly inducted NFL Hall of Fame member, Coach Bill Parcels.

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Coach Parcels is universally viewed as one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. He was a head coach for 19 years, most notably with the New York Giants where he won two Super Bowls. He also coached the Patriots, Jets and Cowboys. He is the only coach in NFL history to take four different teams to the playoffs.

This year Coach Parcels was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame and just days before I conducted this interview he was honored at halftime of the Broncos v. Giants game (Manning Bowl 9/14/13) where he received his NFL Hall of Fame ring.

Here is how the Coach of Golf would assess Coach Parcel’s game: Coach Parcels hits a nice ball. He plays to about a 12 handicap. The thing that strikes me about Coach Parcels is how dedicated he is to practicing. I see him practicing or playing just about every day. Most days when practicing he usually spends a good one and a half to two hours hitting balls. That is pretty impressive for a man of 73 years old.

Our interview took place at Saratoga National Golf Course in Saratoga Springs, New York where he is a member.

CoG: Congratulations on a great year Coach.

Parcels: Thank you very much. It has been pretty special.

CoG: What is the best part of your game?

Parcels: Probably my wedge. I feel very pretty confident with wedges in general. The rest of my game stinks.

CoG: What do you like most about playing golf?

lip3s-1-webParcels: Well, I think it is wholesome. I think it tests you every way possible. It tests you physically, mentally and emotionally. I think it’s a good barometer for where you are in life.

CoG: You practice a great deal. What are you working on?

Parcels: Well, I like practice. I’ve always enjoyed that aspect of the game and really almost all the games that I’ve played. I like practicing. I am trying to alter a few things. You know at my age now you have to make a few adjustments so most of the time I’m trying to take the club away with a little more width, that kind of thing. I would like to hit it a little farther. I keep losing distance. Also, I don’t want the ball to go left. I hate seeing the ball go left.

CoG: Do you find any parallels between golf and football?

Parcels: Well, I think there are a lot of mental comparisons you can make because in football, physical aspect of the game aside, mentally you have to be able to withstand disappointment. I think in golf you have to have that as well. If you can’t, or are not willing to move on the next play or the next shot you’re not going to do very well.

CoG: What is your favorite course?

Parcels: I’m not an expert or anything but my favorite course is a private course in Richmond, Virginia. The Kinloch Golf Club.

CoG: Who is your favorite golfer?

IMG_2161Parcels: I tend to like the older guys. I really like Ray Floyd and Lee Trevino. More recently I really liked Payne Stewart. Now I guess Tiger Woods. I don’t think there is much not to like about him.

CoG: Have you ever had a hole-in-one?

Parcels: No I haven’t. I’ve been close. I’ve had a few on the edge. I had one over the edge once but it just wouldn’t drop.
I’ve had a lot of eagles on par 4’s though.

CoG: What is your best round ever?

Parcels: I’ve shot some 73’s and 72’s. I’ve never been under par though.

CoG: If you coached golf what would you focus on teaching your golfers?

Parcels: Hmmm. I guess I would like to see my golfers focus on control- control in every aspect of the game. I would like them to hit it far but in the end I would teach them to keep the ball in play. I would also teach them to control they’re emotions. Like I said earlier, you have to be able to leave mistakes behind and move on. You always have to be looking forward to the next shot.

Thanks, Coach.

It’s Always Darkest Before the Light.

Recently a player on my team experienced a major breakthrough. It’s a great story that could help many golfers, so I thought I’d share.

I have a player on my team named Brett. When I arrived at Skidmore College last year and assessed the players’ talent, I found Brett to be good from tee to green. He was a solid putter, but in two areas rated very poor:

1. Brett’s golf self-esteem was non-existent. He always believed the worst would happen on the golf course, and it usually did. Rarely did I see him get any amount of joy out of playing golf. Golf was a chore. He reminded me of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.

2. Brett’s short game, in a word, stunk. And that’s saying it nicely. He was dreadful when it came to pitching and chipping.

Whats wrong with this pitcher?So, we got to work. We spent a great deal of time over weeks and months working on mechanics and attitude, and we saw some progress. But even though he put in a lot of work, his confidence remained fragile. He had a deep seeded fear of chunking shots and thinning shots over the green, and if it ever actually happened, his confidence crumbled like a house of cards. We’d have to start all over again with fundamentals, drills and repairing confidence. This was the pattern all of last year and into the beginning of this fall season.

We had our first tournament a few weeks ago. Playing on the “B” team, Brett was playing well in the first round. I saw him at the turn and he told me he had hit every fairway and green; however, on the back nine, he began missing greens. His score went up quickly, and he shot a disappointing score. The next day was worse. The previous round eroded any hope of success. Needless to say, his score was really bad.

The next day at practice, Brett showed up with a “solution”: a left-handed wedge. Brett plays golf right-handed. It was clear he was a desperate man. He told me he was sick of going through this, and he was willing to try anything. I told him I respected him thinking outside the box, but I didn’t think that this was a viable solution. I suggested something that we had tried for about fifteen minutes last spring. He hadn’t been in a place mentally at that point to try something new, but now his mind was open. Here was the opportunity.

He tried it willingly. And within an hour his whole life seemingly changed. Within twenty-four hours, he was like an entirely different human being. I think that day was the first time I had ever seen Brett’s teeth at the golf course. Brett is quick with a smile off the course, but on the course you’d think his cat just died. I didn’t recognize this guy! He was having fun! There was hope! He called it, “a miracle!”

I watched him practice with amazement. Pitch shot after pitch shot floated beautifully through the air, landed softly on the green and cozied up close to the hole. Each shot was struck beautifully and effortlessly. Brett’s body language was completely different. He was relaxed and fluid–not the tense ball of doom that I had witnessed for over a year.

Over the course of the next week he challenged teammate after teammate to chipping and pitching contests (in the past he would have never done that), and won!

Before:afterOk, so what was the cure? Look at the photo closely. Did you catch it? I had Brett go left-hand low on his chips and pitches.

Why does this work? Because many times a right-handed player will carry all of his or her stress in the right hand. When that happens, the right hand squeezes the grips and stabs at the ball when under pressure and the left wrist breaks down. Reversing the hands neutralizes the right hand and allows the left hand to pull the club through the shot. Since the left side is the weak side for righties, you’ll be more prone to swing the club with the body, because you won’t be able to squeeze as much with the right hand.

I don’t recommend this for everyone. But hey, we exhausted all other options. In golf, there is no one right way to do things. The ultimate goal is be effective. I approach coaching the same way. Each player is a riddle and every riddle has a solution.

The other moral to the story is this: Desperation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Until Brett was desperate, he wasn’t brave enough to embrace something new. When someone isn’t willing to try another approach, one thing is for sure – improvement is impossible.

I really respect Brett for his bravery. It’s nice to see him happy, confident and excited to play. This could turn his entire college career around.

If You Don’t Want to Choke, EAT MORE !

I believe nutrition is the single most important factor that most golfers fail to consider when preparing for competition. The topic isn’t talked about much, and if something isn’t talked about, it’s not a priority. Well it should be, so let’s talk about it.

When I recruit a young man I spend a long time talking to him about all aspects of his game. We talk about putting, driving, iron play, etc. We also talk about how he plays, what he thinks about while playing, what usually happens when he plays well and what goes wrong when he plays poorly. When he plays poorly many times he explains the situation like this:  The round starts out very well, then about the 14th hole everything begins to unravel. The young man doesn’t really know why, he just knows that he chokes at the end of rounds—usually in tournaments.

scorecard1The first thing I ask is, “How much do you eat out there?”  The answer I usually get is either, “Nothing”, or “I had a pack of crackers during the round.” I hope to God that I don’t hear, “I had a hot dog at the turn.” That one drives me nuts.

I then ask, Do you know how many calories your body burns during a round of golf when you walk?

At this point I get either silence or a shrug. They usually have no idea.

Well, for all of you out there, the answer is right around 2000! That’s almost a days worth of calories!  I know, right? Surprised?

The reason he finished poorly is pretty obvious to me. He simply ran out of fuel.

Almost every golfer that I’ve ever coached prior to their experience with me operated at what I call a Calorie Deficit. I have discovered that teaching a player to eat may be just as important as teaching them the swing.

PrintYoung people are calorie burning machines. I know very few moms who have sons that don’t eat constantly and in great quantities. Yet these same young men go to the course to play or compete and do so with no food in their bag and by the time they have hit balls and played, they will have gone six hours without eating, maybe more. I ask them, “Aside from sleeping do you ever go 6 hours without eating?” Of course not. Yet while doing an athletic activity they starve themselves of the fuel they need to compete at a high level! This makes no sense.

Let’s say you were going on a trip in a car. One of the first things you would ask yourself is, “Do I have enough fuel to get me where I want to go?” The same question needs to be asked prior to a round of golf or even more importantly, a round of tournament golf.

One of the biggest reasons golfers “choke” stems from a lack of food in their belly. Simple as that.

When you lack fuel it not only affects your energy level (blood sugar) but it also affects your ability to make sound decisions. The brain needs fuel just as much as the body in order to operate at an effective level.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying—don’t go and pound down 2000 calories prior to your round. That would be equally disastrous!

foodMy golfers always eat a ton of healthy snacks while on the course. This always comes as a shock to my freshman. Most aren’t used to eating at all. As I tell them, “you’re not eating because you are hungry, you are eating to maintain your optimum performance level. If you wait until you are hungry to eat, it’s too late. Chances are we’ve already lost strokes out there.”

When we compete we eat something every 2 to 3 holes, but never garbage! (hot dogs, hamburgers, candy bars, chips, sodas, etc.) Those items are loaded with fat and will cause your blood sugar to spike and then dive. Eat things that will help you perform like the athlete you are! You want to maintain a consistent blood sugar level. My team eats apples, bananas, nuts (excellent) beef jerky, any dried fruit like raisins, trail mix, and a good energy bar like a Cliff Bar or something.

A few years ago I had a golfer from England named Tom. We discovered he played his best when he ate 6 apples a round. I called him Apple Tom. He would eat an apple every 3 holes. He won a lot of college events and became an All-America.

During your round you will need to consume 2000 calories to match what your body will burn.

This is one of the most important lessons my golfers learn from me their first year. When they go home for the summer and play in their local events, state amateurs or national events I usually get a call after the tournament and hear stories about their successes not failures.

I like happy endings.

Happy 80th Dad!

The Dottie Pepper Interview

I recently had the honor of sitting down with the LPGA legend and NBC Sports golf commentator, Dottie Pepper.

UnknownThroughout her career she has been known as a intense, fiery competitor. Few athletes have a more fitting name.
Her passion has kept her at the the top of her profession(s) her entire life. Dottie had an impressive amateur career and in college Pepper was a 3 time All-America at Furman University. During her LPGA career, Dottie went on to win 17 times, including two major championships. Her nineteen under par performance at the 1999 Kraft Nabisco Championship is still a record. Dottie played on six Solheim Cup teams amassing a career record of 13-5-2, winning 70% of her matches.

Injuries ended Dottie’s playing career prematurely at age 38. In 2004 Dottie joined NBC Sports and went on to become one of the most respected on-course commentators ever to walk the fairways. In December of 2012, Dottie decided to retire from broadcasting to move on to new projects both personal and with the PGA of America. And, oh yea, she’s an assistant captain on this years Solheim Cup Team.

As we stood in her kitchen I asked her some questions about her childhood.

CoG: You were raised on a farm. What are some of the chores that you had to do?

Pepper : Our family had a turkey farm in Saratoga Springs, New York. Each year we had about 45,000 turkeys. One thing that most people don’t know is that turkeys are terrified of thunder storms. They freak out and they’ll all try and pile on top of each other. They’ll suffocate each other! So every time there was a thunder storm we would have to go out into the barns with brooms and chase around 45,000 turkeys and to try and keep them away from the corners, piling on and killing each other.

As we moved to her office we shifted the conversation to golf.

CoG: What did being an on-course commentator teach you about the playing and competing that you wish you knew while you on tour?

images-6Pepper : That it’s not rocket-science. It really isn’t.
I think as a player you over-think situations. Where when you take a half a step back, it becomes a lot clearer. Part of the reason why is that because when you are observing the game emotions aren’t so involved and so over driven. All of the sudden the light seems a lot cleared and the options seem a lot bigger and much more obvious. It’s just not as difficult as we think it is.

CoG: Name someone you have seen that we don’t yet know about who you think will be the next big thing on the PGA and the LPGA.

Pepper : On the PGA Tour, as an analyst you’re not suppose to be a fan, but I really am a fan of Bud Cauley. I really think this kid is going to be a rock star. There’s a mentality passed along from his dad who was a NAVY Seal. This kid goes out there—no excuses—and gets the job done. He’s one of only seven players to ever to earn his card through a few sponsors exemptions. That alone puts him in elevated territory. Mechanically his swing is great and he’s found a veteran caddie. Now he’s learning how difficult it is to play that many weeks. Because in college it’s a pretty scripted fall, pretty scripted spring, then in the summer you’re of on your own to figure out where you want to be to make sure you’re prepared for the next season. Well guess what? This IS the season. It’s all the time. I think that has been his biggest adjustment.

On the female side, I would look out for another Alabama product, Brooke Pancake. Terrific kid. Great story. Her dad passed away early so she’s been on her own and had to mature faster than most kids have had too. She was a top-notch student, plus a great player as well. She’s got the qualities to in her first few years to make a Solheim Cup. She’s that good.

CoG: For a high school golfer, male or female, what single piece of advice would you give them to be a successful collegiate golfer?

photoPepper : I would tell them to not just play golf. I would tell them to take advantage of the other sports, individual or team, and use them not only to keep their high-school experience complete, but for cross-training. It benefits golfers in so many ways. Golfers can get bogged down with the psychological aspects of the game, because it is slow. Where if you’re on the ski team, or football team or baseball, whatever, there is an instant reaction that ends up helping in golf. A break from golf is healthy. Myself and other professional golfers that came from up north did other things in the winter—we skied, bowled, played hockey, whatever. We played other sports in the winter and that probably helped our longevity.

CoG: Same question about college golfers wanting to go pro—what advice would you give?

Pepper : I would stay in college as long as possible. I really would. It’s not just about where your golf might be. It’s where you are as a whole person. In learning how to get around the country or how to interact with other people. Whether it’s your roommate, your teammates, whether it’s alumni, whatever it might be, I would take that time not only to enjoy the college golf experience but the college education and social experience as well. I see so many players who are in such a rush to get out on tour. I think that is a mistake.

CoG: If you could change anything about your playing career, would you?

Pepper : I’d be more sensitive about playing so many events. When I was at my best I played thirty-five weeks a year counting the LPGA and the “silly season” stuff. I developed some nagging injuries because of that, that later turned into chronic injuries that ultimately led to my playing career being cut short.

CoG: What is your craziest, favorite story you have about your playing career?

Pepper : It was in Japan at the end of the year. I made a 3 week trip over to play in a week of pro-ams and two events that we played that were on the LPGA schedule. We had what we called an “R. I. rule,” meaning “readily identifiable,” when it came to food in Japan. The last night of our trip me and two other girls went to this fabulous restaurant in Tokyo and we toasted the fact that we made it the entire three weeks without breaking the “R. I. rule.” As soon as we did, the shrimp in the basket sitting on the grill moved. They were alive! We all screamed! On cue they started jumping around in that basket. It was so gross!

CoG: Same question about your announcing career. What’s your craziest, favorite story?

Pepper : It was at the 2008 U.S Senior Open at the Broadmoor in Colorado. In the 2nd round during a couple of commercial breaks we hear rumblings that a bear is loose on the course. I ask the guys, “Where is he?” They say he is a couple of holes away, no big deal. Well don’t you know, about five minutes later we have just come back from a commercial break and I see this thing and he is going so fast coming across this hill, down underneath through a bunker and then up over a rise and then directly at me! (See photo.) He was so big and so fast and so gorgeous. The next week a guy from the USGA presented me with a bear that was made at a local shop. Roger Malbie’s comment to me was, “Kid, that was a bad day to wear white.”

dottie and the bear

Coach of golf commentary: What I like most about this image is that Bernhard Langer (yellow shirt) is just standing casually observing with hands on hips as Dottie Pepper is about to be eaten by a bear!

CoG: Are there any rules in golf you would change if you could?

Pepper : I really don’t like the anchored putter ban, to be honest with you. I really don’t. And here’s why — (the argument) is being used as a “practice round” for (the future argument about) the golf ball—the ball that many believe goes too straight and too far. I think the they (USGA and the R&A) picked their easier fight to see what the reaction was going to be.  Knowing that there was a stretch that we are currently in where three of five major champions have won with a putter using the anchor-style method, so dramatically changed what was coming out of the USGA. In May of 2011 Mike Davis is on record, on video saying, “I’m not worried about it,” when there are no demonstrable numbers coming out saying that this method makes golf so much easier. Why, less than a year later, it is now so bad that the R&A is involved and looking at a ban? Just draw back the golf ball! They let that issue with the golf ball get so far ahead of them and so far gone, that I think they had to pick this fight to see how hard that fight would be. I think that’s essentially why I’m against it. I don’t like the way (the anchored putter) looks, but if it was that easy, if it made that big a difference, everyone would be doing it. It takes a different skill set to be able to operate that thing. It has to be fit properly, it takes a lot of practice to make it even work okay. I didn’t like the smell of it (this fight when it started), and I still don’t.

CoG: What is one thing that no one knows about Dottie Pepper that they should?

Pepper : Wow, hmmm…That I have a very green thumb. I love my gardens. I volunteer at the local florist. I work in the back room. I love it. That’s my thing that nobody knows. If I had to have a business to stay home all the time, that’s what it would be. It totally captivates me.

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Dottie now lives in her home town of Saratoga Springs, New York with her husband, David and their dog J.P.

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Bogey Tees OffWith  co-author Scott Fuller, Dottie wrote Bogey Tees Off (Volume 1, A Lesson About Being Truthful) in 2012. The children’s picture book, illustrated by Kenneth Templeton, is available at amazon.com in both hardcover and paperback. If you order the book through the New York State Golf Association website NYSGA.org $5 of each sale goes to the New York State Golf Foundation.

A Golfers Biggest Hazard

It’s been a long layoff but the last half a year has been a whirlwind. After 15 years of coaching at the same college it was time to take on new challenges. I took a new coaching job 1000 miles away from my previous school. I accepted the head coaching position at a very well respected college in the Northeast with a storied golf program. But with that came a total upheaval of myself, my career and my family. Now that I am all settled in it’s time to get back at it.

Somehow I thought that the problem that I will write about in this post was unique to my previous team but now after coaching a new team which is so far removed from my previous one in terms of geography, interests and personalities, I know now that this issue is universal.

golfers biggest hazardA golfer’s biggest hazard is the willingness to mentally quit during a round of golf. For some reason, golfers go into a round of golf not expecting adversity, and when it inevitably shows up, they are shocked and saddened and too many times unable to cope. Like in the illustration, they willingly jump off into the abyss of despair, where there is no recovery and the penalty lasts for the remainder of the round.

Somehow golfers believe that every shot will be hit perfectly and that golf will be easy. That is not reality, not for any golfer at any level. Golfers fail to remember that golf is a struggle. Golf is the equivalent of salmon swimming upstream. It’s hard. It’s hard almost every day.

When you prepare for a round of golf, you should make a mental commitment — a commitment to accept whatever happens, good or bad, and in the words of Winston Churchill, “Stay calm and carry on.”

Staying calm and carrying on no matter what is the only good option you have. Some days are easy, most are hard. You must remain positive and fight with everything you have until you arrive at the clubhouse. Otherwise, you’ll be miserable, you’ll make your playing partners miserable and you will be guaranteed you will shoot a miserable score.

I know all of you have watched Tiger’s top 10 shots on the Golf Channel. Did you notice that none of those shots was from an ideal position? Only one of shot happened from the middle of the fairway, and he hit that shot in almost total darkness.

The point is, one of the reasons he’s been so successful is that he believes with every fiber of his being that something good will happen even when he is in a tough spot.

I have a great example from my own team this past fall. One of the freshman on my team is named Makenzie. He is a fine player and I believe he will be a superstar, but as with most freshman, he has a lot to learn — especially when it comes to keeping his head in the game during tough rounds.

Our last tournament of the fall season had us playing in the Golfweek Fall Preview in Florida. This is an account of his final round.

He had high expectations, too high. When I saw him on the range, Makenzie was upbeat, “minting it” as he says, and was telling me he was going to tear it up.

So, I caught up with him on the 7th hole, a par 5. I thought he has just played his 2nd, but I then learned that it was his 4th shot. His 2nd shot had gone out of bounds. He was completely despondent because after finishing his 7th hole with a double, he was now seven over after seven holes. The round was not going at all the way he had envisioned. I could tell he had mentally checked out and he had no fight in him. If I had given him the option he would have walked off the course. I told him, “Sorry dude, I don’t get to substitute like in other sports. You’re stuck out here and have to make a decision to make. Are you gonna try or cry?” It’s something I say. I told him, “We can still salvage this round!”

On the 8th tee he hit last so we had time to chat. I got his mind away from his troubles and told him how much I thought of him as a person and a golfer. I reminded him how beautiful this part of Florida was and how blessed he is to be able to play college golf.

makenzie action wedgeHe hit a nice approach, but he ended up leaving a really difficult 36 footer that was down hill and broke from right to left. We laughed a little walking up to the green. I told him stories of other golfers I coached through the years and how they made something out of nothing. We read the putt from every angle and what do you know, we made it for birdie! Big smile on his face! He was back!

On the most difficult hole on the course, the par 4 ninth, he played the hole well but ended up 3 putting from long range for bogie. Just like that, his world was coming to an end. I said, “What is so bad? You’ve just played the last 2 holes at even par after a terrible start! So I continued to make him smile, telling him funny stories about coaching and golf as we played the par 4 10th hole trying to get him to smile and what do you know, we made a really good 18 footer that broke from left to right for another birdie!

Once again, big smiles, life is good. Unfortunately, he bogeyed the par 5, 11th and was once again in the pooper. Total despair. Life sucks! Golf hates me! After more cheerleading from me, he made a routine par on the par 3, twelfth. I reminded him that he had just played the last 5 holes at even par and that he’s doing fine. But now I had to leave him to go check on other members of my team. I had him promise me that he would remain optimistic and upbeat. He assured me he would be fine.

I caught up with Makenzie again as he was walking from the 13th green to the 14th tee. His life was over! He had just triple bogeyed! All of the fight was gone. There was nothing left. He was now 10 over par.

At this point, I’ll admit, I had had enough! I “coached him up,” as we say in the biz, albeit firmly. I told him he had a decision to make — this time, it wasn’t as much about this round, but more about what kind of player he was going to be. I challenged him, “You’ve got to decide right now, is golf tougher than you, or are you tougher than golf?”

I had his attention. Once again, I told him that if he had total 100% belief that something good was going to come out of this, it would. And if he didn’t, it wouldn’t. Whatever he decided would happen, would actually happen. Now, he was completely on board. We then took a moment to map out the final stretch 5 holes. I thought we could birdie 3 of the last 5. He completely bought in, and Makenzie went on to birdie 14, 15 and 16! He had completely erased the triple. Now he completely refused to let his mind have a single negative thought. We were now on the 17th, probably the best chance for birdie but ended up making a tough par after pretty much chopping up the hole.

He played the par 4, 18th perfectly and made a 10 footer to finish out his roller coaster round. We hugged and laughed. He birdied 4 of his last 5 holes and 6 of his last 11. Makenzie played the last 11 holes at -1.  He shot +6 for the round and ended up helping our team.

Ironically, not once did we talk about swing during his round.

It wasn’t the most impressive round ever shot — a 77. But for him it will be the springboard that will propel him to be a great player. As we stood there watching the others in his group putt out, he had his arm over my shoulder thanking me for my help and telling me how much he had learned.

When his career is over I can assure you, that’s will be one of the few rounds he’ll remember. The one where he made something out of nothing.

If you never give in and jump off into the pit of despair, you too will have great stories to tell.

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