Archive for November, 2008

Sweden and Team Sports

When Sweden in 1991 won the Dunhill Cup (then viewed as some sort of unofficial World Championships for three man teams) and the World Cup the legendary Swedish TV presenter Goran Zachrisson said something along the lines of ‘yes, this is great bit it is not the big break through of Swedish golf’. He was probably right and in a way I guess you can say that Swedish men’s golf is still waiting for its big breakthrough; A Swedish male golfer has yet to win a major.

There is something about Sweden and Team Sports though and perhaps in particular team golf. On Sunday Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson proved the case with an impressive 63 in the final foursome of the World Cup in China. Perhaps it is the social-democratic society we all grow up in that gives us the ‘everything for the team’ ethos right from the word go? 2009 is quite an astonishing year for Swedish team golf with victories in just about every team event that has been played: European Boys’ and Girls’ Championships, European Ladies’ Championships, World Championships for women and the World Cup for men. The only gaps were the World Championships for men (3rd) and the European Men’s Championships.

In another team event, The Tailhade Cup in Argentina, an England Team with Luke Goddard and Matt Haines had a reasonable chance to capture the title on Sunday. Holland proved the strongest team on the final day though and ran away with the trophy shooting an impressive 137 in the last round. Because of bad weather the Tailhade Cup was shortened to 54 holes. Full results can be found here.

Coaches’ meeting

Just returning from three days at Arcos Gardens in Spain and a meeting with my group of coaches. The idea this time was to spend some quality time together to share specialities and learn from eachother. Each coach had been given a task in terms of something to present to the others. Gary Smith talked about short game, Graham Walker about on course coaching, David Ridley about putting, Hugh Marr about profiling players and Paul Ashwell about range games. We had an incredibly productive time and it is amasing to see what happens if you lock a group of highly qualified coaches into a room. Just make sure you feed them regularly and none of them is going to want to come out for at least a week. Dr Paul Schempp in Athens, Georgia, who does research on coaching expertise, has always said that the beginner coaches learn best from books while more experienced coaches learn from seminars and presentations. Expert coaches learn from talking to other people. I think he is right!

Coming back from Arcos once again I have to remind myself of how lucky we are to have access to these facilities. To have a place where we can do exactly what we want without disturbance is priceless. And in all honesty, we have two places like that. Woodhall Spa as well!

The difference that makes the difference

One of the sessions at our upcoming Christmas Camp I have entitled ‘The difference that makes the difference’. The idea is that a player who just recently played World Class amateur golf and is now climbing the ladder in professional golf will come and share his experience of the difference between the two environments. Oliver Fisher, who just this last week made the headlines when leading the field halfway into the tournament as the European Tour visited Hong Kong, is lined up to be there. Oliver shot 64 in the last round on Sunday. His long time friend from the amateur days and rival, Rory McIlroy, shot 65 and by that made it into the play off. Here is two teenagers living their dream and showing the more experienced players what golf is all about. I wonder what Oliver and possibly Rory would say about the difference? Is there a difference?

When the Tour Qualifying came to its conclusion the other week two just graduated England Internationals, Dan Willet and Chris Wood sailed through comfortably to get their tour cards. As they start their first season on tour, which nowadays means about the following week, they will have a good chance to find out for themselves if there is a difference. Having said that, they probably already have a pretty good idea after playing a number of events on tour this year. Willet is coached by one of our National Team Coaches, Graham Walker, who is the best I have seen so far when it comes to practising the competitive elements of golf. After all, that is what golf is all about. I remember one player on our squads a couple of years ago who really struggled with the small competitions and tests that were set up. He just could not find the motivation to try and beat his peers and was more interested in working on getting his golf swing ‘right’. Was that a difference that makes the difference? Well, he is at least not yet on the European Tour!

This week it is the coaches turn to practice to compete when we visit Arcos Gardens for two days of sharing ideas and developing coaching strategies at the first class facilities just outside Jerez. As usual Ashley, Martin and their team will take excellent care of us. I just hope they have sorted the weather out!

Changing habits

Just spent the afternoon in a meeting with a company called My Sport. They have developed a pretty interesting tool. A sort of a Facebook for Sports and for coaches. Their biggest customer at the moment is athletics where quite a big number of coaches have taken up the opportunity to interact with their athletes in a slightly more sophisticated way, rather than just relaying on the old phone and perhaps pen and paper. Here is a chance to do online video, live chats, online training programmes, diary and season planning which all can be seen by everybody involved with this athlete. I would say that is quite a neat thing as one of the biggest problems in sports is that people at various levels are trying to give their best advice to the athlete who many times ends up very confused.

Will this change sports and particularly golf? I am not sure. What I do know though is that the first thing that needs to change is the habits of the coaches. Not many golf coaches would even think of working with their players in this way. That could be a big loss for the sport! See more on My Sport’s website.

Is this an English thing?

England has just beat Germany, 2-1, in tonight’s friendly football played in Berlin. The win made it five in a row for Fabio Capello’s side on a night where, according to the BBC, almost everything went right for the England coach, and I would have thought for the England Team.

It is quite interesting then that when talking about and analysing the match afterwards the ITV chose to begin by showing the mistake of the match. England Captain John Terry and keeper Scott Carson clearly messed up when misunderstanding eachother to hand Germany the equaliser. But after all England won and actually played a really good game. Was there no other slightly more positive part of the game they could have shown? There is no doubt a time and a place to learn from mistakes and address the weaknesses but after winning I would think that is not the place to start!

Challenging for the World no 1

The question has been asked for some time now. Who is going to challenge Tiger for the World number 1 position? Perhaps it is because Mr Woods is still recovering from his knee problems and being fully aware that the difference is ridiculously big still – I have a feeling that the threat might come from Spain. Sergio Garcia is starting to show some of the potential that a lot of people have seen in him for many years. After winning the first tournament of the Race to Dubai I have a feeling that there are reasons to look out for the Spanish matador during next year.

Where do you start a journey towards ending up anywhere near World number 1? We have all heard the stories about Tiger hitting golf shots on TV as a 3 year old. What about Sergio? Well, as a 12 year old he won the Club Championship but he waited until 14 to win the European Amateur and to make the cut in his first European Tour event. In 1996 he first showed up on my radar as a young lad on the Spanish team that beat my Swedish team in the final of the European Boys Championships. It took him until 1998 to win the Amateur Championship and thanks to that he earned his invitation to the 1999 US Masters where he finished as the low amateur. In 1999 he had played in 28 professional events as an amateur before turning pro following the Masters in April. In his second tournament as a professional, his first on the PGA Tour, he finished 3rd in the Byron Nelson Classic. Pretty impressive!

I do wonder though if the most impressive performance I have seen from Garcia is not the shot out of the tree on 16 in the PGA Championship were he challenged Woods for the first time. Remember it?

I have a feeling some of that magic has been lost along the way but I am sure that if Sergio can get a bit of it back then Tiger better come back sooner rather then later!

Swedes 1, Scots 0

OK, I admit. I have stolen the headline. Alistair Tait had it in his column on where he basically gave the first round to Sweden, in a comparison with Scotland, a country of similar size. Alistair gives examples of how Scottish golf once was very strong in the professional game while Sweden in the late seventies had two players on tour. Scotland actually had 23. Today Sweden has got 23 players in the top 100 in the World while Scotland has – 0.

One thing that I would like to discuss over a drink with Alistair is his sentence; “There is no Swedish system per se”. I wonder what he means by that. What is a system? Swedish sports and Swedish Golf is built up in what seems to be a pretty unique way with a strong volunteer leadership at the grassroots level in clubs. Alistair himself comments on the welcoming attitude in clubs which is then followed by an extensive junior competion structure all the way through clubs, districts, regions and nationally combined with coaching stretching all the way through. Clubs form the foundation of everything and they take great pride in developing their juniors. The Federation is a Governing Body of golf and hence accept the responsibility to take on initiatives that stretch from young children and far into the professional game both for men and women, many of the together with the Swedish PGA. Most of the Swedish National Amateur squads spend the bulk of their year in college in the States as that is where they can get access to both facilities, weather and competition (yes, Swedish winters are even worse than the Scottish ones…).

How can that not be a system?

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