Posts Tagged 'Coaching'

Separate lives

The Lytham Trophy concluded on Sunday and after a pretty cruel couple of days over the Links. Jack Senior, Lancashire, finished on top of the leaderboard. Jack is on a good run and now holds the title in Egypt, having won the Egypt Amateur in the autumn, in New South Wales in Australia where he beat fellow country man Andy Sullivan in the final and since Sunday, at Lytham. Jack will no doubt be one to watch over this summer.

As so often before though my reflections after a tournament is not really about the winner. This time they are instead about two players that were not even playing. They were caddying. Matt Nixon and James Robinson both walked around Royal Lytham carrying a bag or pulling a cart. The reason they did this is that they are now professionals and have therefore joined another life. Matt got his European Tour card in December and has since made quite an impressive start to his professional career. James on the other hand has joined the Europro Tour and will need some good finishes to start climbing up the ladder. I can’t help thinking that it would have been quite nice if they could have played rather than caddied. Why is it that we have to have these incredibly rigid rules that stop the flow of players moving up and down the ladder? The ball does not care if you are an amateur or a professional. A Matt Nixon in the field would have given the young guns a real chance to test themselves against a tour player. In fact one that was one of them, in this field last year. And for Matt – I bet he would have made the best of a chance to play four days around an Open Championship golf course. No matter how grim the conditions were…

One for the future

Today I sit down to reflect over what to say when I open up the inaugural England Golf County Academy Conference tomorrow. The County Academies are in many ways the first step on the player pathway for young golfers wanting to progress. Many of those that in the future will be playing the professional tours will come nowhere near this step on the ladder though. In fact, when they are in their early years they may not even be thinking about golf. Somewhere along the way, if we want players that can play this game, we as golf better make sure that their paths cross ours. Traditionally that would be in a club environment to which the youngster is probably brought by parents or perhaps a friend.

In this day and age though times are quite tough for sports. There seems to be a lot of other things that call for attention and more often than not those things are definitely more accessible than sport. Many times you do not need to leave the comfort of your own house. In fact, you could play a lot of sport without doing that, thanks to things like Wii and other gaming tools. So how can we compete with this? I think it is actually quite easy. And at the same time obviously incredibly difficult because we are likely to be looking at something like a massive oil tanker to try to turn around. It takes a lot of effort.

So for the easy bit, we need:

1. Facilities that are, if not in the basement, close enough for youngsters to get to on their own;

2. Facilities where we can experience “the game” and not just parts of “the game”

3. Attractions in terms of ‘cool’ people seen in media playing the sport

and 4. the most difficult one of all – people who can help make all this the best thing since sliced bread and even more fun than the Wii at home.

And how is golf doing? Well, we certainly do not have the easiest of circumstances but I really think work is in progress…

This week it is the tee off of the European Team Golf season. The European Nation’s Cup at Sotogrande has become a real test early in the year. England is out for the third consecutive win with a team of Laurie Canter, Tom Lewis, Jack Senior and Andrew Sullivan. Should be an interesting week! And as a sign of what Amateur golf is often like I cannot find a single bit about this tournament online. Will keep looking and update when I can!

Back at Loughborough

Another year has passed and last week it was time to return to Loughborough University for the annual EGU Christmas Camp. As a way to finish off the year and look forward to what is to come in 2011 all our National Squads came together for three days of lecturing, physical and psychological training and team bonding. Running parallel to the players’ camp the Regional Managers and Regional Coaches had their own training camp focused on developing the programmes for the talented under 16 and under 18 players that are included in the England Futures programme. The Regional Programme has seen some dramatic changes take place in the last year and a half, thanks to the addition of the AASE scheme (Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence) which has brought in some £600,000 over two years. An amazing amount of money that is and no doubt something that would have never come about without the external input, i.e. the government deciding to increase the support towards apprenticeships. The fact that sports got a slice of the cake I think could prove very successful in terms of podium performances for England in years to come.

At this years’ Christmas Camp each squad was running tailor made programmes to meet their needs which were topped by a couple of sessions where everybody came together. Mike Ford from England Rugby delivered a very inspirational after dinner speech and on the last session of the three days, Gary Boyd and Chris Wood gave their views on getting to the European Tour and what they are focusing at the moment. The message? Loud and clear it was very simple – make your mind up on what you want and don’t let anything come in your way. Be the best that you can be! How is that for a New Year’s resolution?

The socializing approach to development

Two of my children sing in a choir. It is one of the most amazing choirs with a super-inspirational choir leader. Last night they did a concert, a Christmas one of course. As I sat there watching the concert, obviously with a tear running down my cheek, I thought to myself – ‘this is just the way sports should be organised’! There, in front of me stood my young children, singing from the bottom of their little hearts, but there stood also a whole bunch of other children, from 6 to about 16, AND a group of mom’s and dad’s who were taking part, just as lively as the children. To my ear some of those adults could have been selling records or performing on TV, had not been busy with this choir. That is how good they were.

Of course this is brilliant and I cannot for the life of me understand why we in sport has to have this big fixation at age. Especially not in a sport like golf where you are not exactly risking to be beaten up by somebody. Why do we have to compete at U14, U15, U16 etc? All that will ever create is a Champion who thinks he/she is better than he/she is as winning such a Junior Championship tends to send the signal that ‘you are good’. Not strange as in fact – you are the best. Only in your age group though and the fact that there are hundreds if not thousands that are better than you is easily forgotten. The other thing it does is that it limits the late developer as he/she will, guaranteed, think that the train as already left the station and no matter what I do I won’t be good enough. What I see in this choir is the  6 year-old’s who look at their older peers thinking – “if he/she can do it, why can’t I?” I also see adults thinking “she has got some potential, I will help!”. What a fabulous environment that is for development!

Two feet of snow

2 feet of snow

2 feet of snow

The UK is covered with two feet of snow. England has come to a more or less complete standstill and to be a golfer wanting to practice is not easy these days. I wonder what the young prospects are doing on a day like this? I spoke to Peter McEvoy the other day and we compared notes on what we used to do when the weather was really bad. Of course everything was better before, and all that… but, Peter said he had a tree at the driving range at Copt Heath where the rain and the snow could not get underneath. He stood under it and hit balls under the branches. He also cleared an area in the grass from where he could hit and continued to practice. I, on the other hand born and raised in a country where weather like this is the norm for 4 to 6 months of the year, remember how I hit balls into the garage. Yes, the ceiling in the garage was a bit too low so I could not stand inside and swing it normally. Had I done that I would have been fighting an even worse right to left shot than I am today… I put a matt outside in the snow therefore and had a net just inside the garage which I could hit into. Freezing cold outside of course but I could stand there for hours and hours.

I will never forget one of the first times I heard Kjell Enhager speak and he talked about changing perspectives; What are the benefits? Yes, what are the benefits of two feet of snow if you are a golfer???

Reflections of an autumn morning

As I wake up to an absolutely glorious September morning I come to think about golf’s calendar. Yes, I know that is sad but the bug of golf tends to do things like that to us. My thinking is that the weather in general is good for golf at this time of the year, the courses are never better and yet there is so little competitive golf to play in the amateur game. In the professional world the PGA Tour conclude with the Tour Championships next week, without Tiger Woods for the first time. In Europe the fight for next year’s cards is hardening and the Race to Dubai has yet to reach its climax. If there will be one that is. The Ryder Cup in early October should mean that the pro game feels interesting for a bit longer as at other times I remember the distinct feeling of ‘the party is over’ after the Tour Championship in Atlanta. Whether October in Wales will have any resemblance of a party remains to be seen I guess.

To come back to the amateur calendar I fail to understand why it is like this. We cannot wait to get started in the spring when temperatures are still freezing cold and the grass on the greens really has not started growing. In the summer any decent amateur can find about three tournaments a week to play in but come the end of August it is like somebody has pulled the plug once and for all. Hibernation sets in!

This of course is not in the best interest of the developing players and needs addressing. Perhaps something for the EU to get involved in???

Major week

This week is actually pretty special. Two majors are on at the same time! In the US the ‘across the pond Open’ is obviously something to look forward to, starting on Thursday. Lee Westwood probably could not have asked for a better way to prepare than winning the St Jude Classic in a play-off on Sunday. I have a feeling he will now go into the US Open with a stronger than ever belief in himself. One major that Lee never won though is the one that started in North Berwick and Murifield yesterday – The Amateur Championship. Lee had a solid amateur career, winning the British Youth Championships, The McEvoy Trophy and the Golf Foundation Age Group Championships, twice at the age of 15 and 16, but in fairness he probably turned professional before he really had a chance to compete for that very prestigious Amateur Trophy.

The first recognised Amateur Championship was played for the first time at Royal Liverpool Golf Club at Hoylake in 1885. It was part of the early Grand Slam of golf with the four majors being the Opens and the Amateur Championships on either side of the Atlantic. Things have obviously moved on since then but the Amateur Championship remains a fantastic event and whoever wins it is very likely to be a player with a bright future ahead of him in the game of golf.

The first stroke play round was played yesterday and before the end of today it is really difficult to guess what 64 players will make it into the match play stages. It seems scoring at North Berwick and Muirfield vary greatly between the two and as always with any event on these great old links, the weather will play a big part. Follow the action by clicking here.

From great to… not so great!

Golf is an interesting sport. The difference from one day to another can be like night and day. Most hobby golfers would know this from personal experience but even most elite players will probably share this experience. I was at the EGU South Eastern Boys Qualifier the other day. A fantastic event I have to say, where the 11 counties of the South East come with their top 6 under 18 players to try to qualify for the County Finals. 5 out of 6 scores count each round and no doubt there is a bit of pressure on to put good scores on the door. Towards the end of the day I ended up in a discussion with a couple of people around “why is it that a scratch golfer is all of a sudden a 10 hcp?”. Great question! Usain Bolt or any other top athlete in most other sports would very seldom show that kind of discrepancy from one day to another.

Looking at the results from Celtic Manor it is easy to see that Chris Wood had a very similar experience. A fantastic 65 in the first round to something a lot less special on the second day that saw him sink like a stone on the leaderboard. To me this is the great beauty of golf! The combination of physical attributes that will help you hit all the shots you can think of and the mental demands that are unlike most other sports. All it takes is a decision that is not quite 100%, a failure to commit to a decision that could have been right or one little distraction that gets to you at the wrong moment. This means a missed putt, a missed fairway or an unfortunate penalty shot. From there the viscous circle can get started. Every now and then though you will be able to break this circle. The key is to find out what you did then. If you don’t know – try to look at or speak to somebody else and steal his or her recipe!

To follow some of the action this weekend click the below links:

St Andrews Links Trophy 2010

Wales Open

Memorial Tournament

What it takes…

Wednesday and generally a bit of an “off” day in the competitive golf community. On tour this day is reserved for those that make the party possible – the sponsors – who all compete and enjoy themselves in the Pro-Am. For the players that is probably not the most productive day as I am sure they would rather be preparing and practicing. At the same time they are very well aware that if it was not for this day their pay checks would look very different. The amateur schedule nowadays is not very different from the professional one. Big amateur events tend to be played Thursday to Sunday or perhaps Friday to Sunday with a 36 hole final on the last day. The times of working a full week to then be able to compete on the weekend are more or less gone.

On a Wednesday like this I take a bit of time to look through the results of the recent tournaments. Two names stand out: Luke Donald (great diary if you click the link!) and Andy Sullivan. Luke had not won in a while and he has been through a bit of a difficult period with an injury that took longer than expected to come back from. Today he is playing the Pro-Am in Wales having come fresh off a great win in Madrid and an excellent second finish at Wentworth. Andy Sullivan is the player who seems to be winning everything, with a margin, in and around the Midlands. In more nation wide events he has, so far, found it a bit more difficult. Perhaps winning the Lagonda is a step in the right direction that might open the gates for him?

The question of what it takes to win is one of those discussions that can and will go on forever. I think it is something that needs practice just like driving, chipping and putting. Very often we hear things like “he can’t close a match” or “he bottled it down the last” but way too seldom do we really go into the kind of practice we could do to stop this from happening. Pressure is difficult to create or simulate but a little pressure is better than no pressure so there is every reason to try. When I grew up the competitions for ice-cream around the putting green at the golf club were just as important and full of pressure as any real competition. We need more of that stuff and we need players and coaches that are creative enough to come up with exciting and challenging activities!

Different paths

The European Tour visited Italy this last week and I am sure it was a big thing for the home crowd to welcome teenage superstar Matteo Manassero to his first event as a professional player. Playing the first two rounds with Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomery, Matteo handsomely made the cut and cashed his first check from playing the game. When the tournament came to a conclusion on the Sunday it was two players with completely different backgrounds that battled it out though;

David Horsey with an impressive amateur record playing for England and Fredrik Andersson-Hed with an equally impressive amateur record playing for Sweden. The only difference is that David’s record is pretty recent while Fred’s stem back to the early 90’s. Fredrik now won his first title on the European main tour, David has yet to win his even though he came close to catching Fredrik at the end.

As a study on what professional golf can be like Fredrik Andersson-Hed is a fascinating one. No less than 14 visits to European Tour qualifying school I am sure have given him some strength; 1992, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 00, 01, 05, 06, 08, 09. It is easy to think that anyone with any talent at all outside golf would have found a few reasons to turn to that rather than trying to pursue this career in golf. But not Fredrik Andersson-Hed. And now he has won on the European Tour and does not need to worry about returning to Q-school. At least not for the next couple of years. Well done Fredrik!

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