Archive for October, 2009

Behind the scenes

A couple of days ago I spent some time with a very successful coach from another sport whose job is now to support a variety of different sports. It was no surprise that we came to talk about the process of reviewing performance and how we find out what to work on in order to improve this performance. Everytime I speak to anybody from another sport about this I get this feeling that we golfers just have not thought this through. It is not that we do not try. Lessons with coaches, scorecards and statistical analysis software are all valuable tools in finding the key to improvement. But when you see things like the combination of video and computer analysis ( used in team sports and the kind of information that can come out of that you go – oh, maybe we are not that advanced after all.

One big issue in golf is how to capture performance. Stats in golf is often thought to be the ‘be all and end all’ when it comes to recording performance. Some methods certainly are a lot better than others but the problem for all of them is that they are only descriptive – they will only tell what happened and not why and under which conditions. That is what the video does in football.

When we video in golf we tend to do it of the golf swing, a tiny little part of the performance. What we should be spending a lot more time on is capturing the whole performance, i.e. I) what were the tactics (course management) like? II) what made you make the decisions you made? III) would you make the same decision again, and if not what would be a better one? IV) did you execute your decision in the way you wanted, and if not how would you change? V) were there any correct decisions that you could not execute, i.e. are there technical limitations that you could do with working on?

In all of these questions feedback is needed to improve. Where can we get the feedback? Well, if your coach is not there then the only way will have to be to get somebody to carry a video camera and follow every shot. And in today’s day and age – that is actually not that difficult!

Winning – doesn’t happen in a straight line

Castellon Masters on the European Tour and an old winner is back again. Michael Jonzon last won in 1997 and was rapidly heading towards Q-school following this year after a season without much to call home about. But along came Sergio Garcia’s tournament, the last one Michael would get in to for the year and – Bam! He is a winner again.

Michael is not the first one, nor will he be the last one to go through something like this. One question that needs asking though is what happened between 1997 and 2009? Very few players that have just won would slow down or not want to go on to greater things. Quite common instead is that they try even harder and put more effort into their improvement. The big question though is whether they do the right thing.

Very often the quest for becoming a better player would involve some sort of technical intervention. Sometimes it is almost a complete re-design of the golf swing that has just won. The idea is obviously to come out on the other side, better than what you were going in. Does that happen? Sometimes perhaps. Is Michael Jonzon a better player 2009 than 1997? Quite possibly. Is he better than what he could have been with a different strategy? Well, there is the million dollar question!

Meeting with a Pro

I have been to Worksop today. In many ways this was quite an experience. A not very big town, somewhere in the middle of the country, with a golf course that is bound to surprise you because it is actually really good. Worksop is, and have always been, home to the World number 5 and newly crowned Portugal Masters Champion Lee Westwood. Today Lee’s challenge was of a different sort as he took on the England squad around the 18 holes at his home club. Lee was kind enough to spend a day with the players that are hoping to one day challenge him for real and it was a day with a true professional these guys got to experience.

He could have chosen to arrive just in time for tee off and he could have just fiddled around the 18 holes without any real effort. The England players would still have loved the opportunity to spend time with a true World Class player. But Lee did not. Over an hour before tee off Lee arrives dressed as if he was out for a day with his most important sponsor and with golf shoes shiny as a newly cleaned window. After a quick introduction with the guys he was off to the driving range for a proper warm up. On the first tee it was Lee that asked what the game was. During the round he was the one shouting “how many under are you guys?” across the fairway. He was not going to give any shots away.

When the day came to an end nine England players had had an experience that money could not have bought them. They had fired numerous questions at somebody who was more than happy to answer and share his experience and the knowledge that he has worked so hard to gain over the years. I wonder how many thousands of pounds Lee actually gave to the English Golf Union today in terms of his time? What I do know is that paying for it would have broken our budget in a heartbeat!

And who won? Well not even the World number 5 could catch Matt Nixon’s 7 under!

Tough day at the office

Imagine you are having a bit of a tough time at work. Perhaps the year has not gone as you hoped for and perhaps you have been a bit out of form. At work your boss has come up with the brilliant idea to produce a ranking of the employees and towards the bottom of this list, just where the boss thinks the number of employees in the company for next year is about right, there is a cut line. Rank below this and you will have to compete for your place in the company with a number of hopefuls that have just come out of university. If these are the facts you face then your employer is probably the European Tour or the PGA Tour (or perhaps the Ladies European or the LPGA tour).

When Ross McGowan (below) won his maiden victory on the European Tour his England team mate from the 2006 World Amateur, Oliver Fisher, made a bit of a mover back towards his old good form. Oliver has had a tough year and in his third year on tour he currently sits just below that dreaded cut line. Another good week last week, when Lee Westwood so handsomely won out in Portugal, lifted him to 125 on the ranking list and now the rest is completely up to him. One more tournament to go in Spain before the tour heads out east and Oliver may not get another start after that. One of the challenges in golf is that it is very difficult to forecast what you need to do. In a lot of other sports you would know that winning would give you three points and unless the team you are chasing don’t do the same you are catching up. In golf there are 150 players in the field, everyone is after a share of the purse and hence you more or less need to be a mathematician to understand what you need to do. Or perhaps that is a good thing. All you can focus on is what you can do yourself. Stick your head down and do it!

Laptop heaven

What do you do when your laptop stops working? I wonder if mine has had a severe case of burnout… A number of keys on the keyboard has given up on me and therefore one thing that I certainly have not done is to update the blog. I had it all lined up with something about how sweet the victory is. I know that there has been a couple of times when I have made reference to Swedish players winning on the major tours around the world on the same weekend. Well this weekend it was England’s turn, at least in the men’s game. Ross McGowan won on the European Tour in Madrid having shot a stunning 60 in the third round. On the same day John Parry took his first victory on the Challenge Tour. For John this could be a break through moment as it took him to number 12 in the Challenge Tour rankings where the big goal is to get within the 20 that get their hands on the much wanted European Tour card for next year. For Ross, with the European Tour already being his place of work, a win places him in a very different category and he will be able to plan his golf life much the way he wants it.

Ross McGowan celebrates winning the Madrid Masters Photo: AFP

Ross McGowan celebrates winning the Madrid Masters Photo: AFP

I spoke to Ross today and asked him how you go about shooting 60 with two bogeys on the card. Funny enough he said “it was not that special really”. He said he started off hitting it quite close and holing some putts. A couple of long ones really got him going but having just two putted 10 for a birdie he dropped a shot on 11 and did not think that 6 under after 11 was that good. This of course changed a bit by the 5 under on the last 4 finish. I asked him if he felt he had been in the zone. He said “not really, it was like I wasn’t really aware of anything. All I kept focusing on was to hit the next shot close”. To me, that is a pretty good recipe to get into the zone!

The other thing Ross said which I have heard from other winning players before was that he almost pulled out of the tournament before it started. He said he had picked up a cold the week before (thanks to the fresh breeze at St Andrews one would expect!) and his preparation had been as bad as ever. He had gone to bed early every night and his only focus was to make it through the tournament. It is quite amazing what lowered expectations can do for your performance!

Into the Dragon’s Den

One of my favourite shows in British TV is the Dragon’s Den. On tonight’s Dragon’s Den on tour one of the guys pitching for business was a young race car driver. He had brought his car and a whole bunch of trophies to the den and the dragons all seemed quite impressed and interested in getting involved. Right up to the point where it was revealed that at the level where this guy was competing at the moment, there was no money at all to make. So what the Dragons would be investing in was a bit of a lottery ticket that might pay off in a few years time, when this guy would be racing formula 1. Does anybody see the similarity to a certain other sport? The dragons in the end chose not to invest in this guy and it made me think of two examples I have seen over the last couple of days where players find ways to promote themselves. A Squad invitees Matthew Southgate and Tom Boys both run a very informative blog where they tell the world about what they are up to. it may be that they have not got thousands of readers today but what a great way to prepare and practice for the future!

Somewhat delayed I have just published a new Peter’s Monthly. Check out the Monthly section on the right for the September edition!

The difference between learning and teaching

Michael Hebron has for long been a pioneer in the golf industry. He was the man behind the first Teaching and Coaching Summit in the US and his work in changing his coaching from teaching (telling) to providing learning opportunities (discovering) has been ground breaking. Thanks to Steven Orr of the Scott Cranfield Academies some 40 coaches from all over the UK have had the chance to spend time with Michael this week. Yesterday was a pretty special day where the seminar with Michael went on between about 9 and 16 during the day. I guess in most professions people would have then gone back to their hotels, gone sightseeing or taken the opportunity to do some shopping while waiting for dinner and bedtime. Not golf professionals. Most participants stayed for a drink at the golf club which turned into a three hour discussion on coaching and the development of both golf and golfers. This was followed by rushing to the dinner place where a further four hour discussion took place. The topic? Well, you guessed it.

I might be very biased but I have a feeling that this is pretty unique and it makes me wonder where this thirst for knowledge comes from. Many of the coaches in golf would have had the same drive as players, wanting to be the best that they can be, and it may be that this drive just transfers into their coach role. Because it is certainly not financially driven or based on wanting to become ‘a big name’. It is about wanting to get better and somewhere down the road, being the very best that you can be. Most of us know though that this ambition will stay with us for as long as we are around and we will probably never get there. But as a source of motivation – it will do just fine! Perhaps something for the world’s financial institutions to look at…

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