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.
A 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.
He 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.