Updated: Sep 14
Coming back to the game seriously at twenty-three I had (and still have) aspirations of fulfilling my childhood dreams of playing on a major tour. However, I needed (and still need) to make a living in the meantime since I like to eat food everyday and prefer to have a bed to sleep in at night. I knew about Ian Poulter's route of working as a Golf Professional while improving his game in England before transitioning to the role of a Professional Golfer on the Challenge Tour and eventually the European and PGA TOUR. This route seemed the most realistic to me, as it would reintroduce me to the golf world I had almost completely abandoned. Plus, free golf! If you're wanting to give professional golf a good whack, consider this route as well.
I was lucky. Through friends, I found a position at a wonderful club in my area and began as a starter/assistant golf professional. However, I soon realized a horrifying fact-- I feared playing golf with the members at my club!
Why would I fear playing casual golf with a member?
I suppose the fear was rational. As the new pro on the staff, I wanted the membership to take me and my dreams of playing on a tour seriously. And having so much rust on my golf game, I feared they would think of me as a hack. For this reason, I avoided playing with members at all costs the first few months at my club as I tried to rebuild my game. I know for a fact that almost every club pro (and I would bet some touring pros, as well) have this fear from time to time.
However, avoidance can't last forever if you're looking to really chase your dreams. At some point you have to jump in the cold water. Luckily, our body and minds are usually able to habituate to the new environment and we become used to it.
The first time I played with a couple members, I was looping the course to check my tee sheet. A friendly two-ball asked me to play their last hole with them. They were insistent, so I obliged and took a 2 iron out (fearing my driver). CLANK. I hit the fairway... of the wrong hole... with a 2 iron. Awesome. I tried to finish the hole as quickly as I could and made a triple bogey 7.
What a great introduction to the club!
Looking back at that time period, I often slipped into the conversation beforehand about how badly I had hit my driver in college and how it was the reason for my struggles. This was a sneaky way to save my ego (probably pretty obvious actually). I thought if I warned them of this issue -- and also slipped in tid-bits about past successes and how I played for Texas A&M, that I hoped I could control the image they formed of me if I hit a drive miles right or left. Something I struggled with at the time would be ego-orientated thinking akin to this:
It is better that someone think of me as a championship golfer who fell from grace than a wannabe-tour pro...
I still struggle with this thinking. It's cliche, but true-- Golf is hard enough. Focusing on what story/image your playing partner (or member) is creating about you is draining, distracting and unhelpful. Still, this particular fear is one of the most common symptoms of using an EGO-mindset when approaching your golf game.
We should not play golf just for the ego. I would lie if I said it didn't feel good to play well in front of people. But that shouldn't be my purpose! My purpose should be to see how good I can get at golf. Period. Full stop.
While not playing with members the first few months certainly reinforced the idea that what people thought of my game mattered (which it doesn't -- there are no drafted players on the PGA Tour after all...), it did allow me to have ample time alone to explore where I was with my game (distraction free), and what needed to improve to give me a shot at competing in a few professional tournaments later in the year. I was able to find a coach I trusted, invest in a Data-Tracking System to get information on my game, and find where I had time to work on my game during my workweek so that I could improve. In other words, I was creating an improvement process that I could follow and trust in rather than practicing arbitrary things at random times and hoping to get better.
My ideal process looks like this:
1. What is my outcome goal/dream? Write it down or remember it in your heart.
2. Get data: Play 54 holes (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday for me in the early AM is my best chance because of my work schedule) and use my stat-tracking system.
3. Put my initial data into a spreadsheet or a table. 4. Send two swings Wednesday night (Face-On and Down the Line) to my coach with the Data Spreadsheet. 5. Work the rest of the week on what we decide needs improvement. 6. Repeat the next week.
At the end of the month, I'd ideally like to summarize all the data into a table and look at what parts of my game afford the biggest opportunity of improvement. I then talk with my coach about what I can do the next month to improve these areas. From this conversation, I make performance goals and then process goals (aka practice goals).
Since I have begun following this improvement process, it has become easier to focus on personal improvement as the name of the game rather than what people might be thinking of me. My childhood swing coach Art Scarbrough (the late Dick Harmon's assistant instructor) used to say if you were good enough, they can't keep you from getting on the tour. As a young professional, I love this perspective. If I average 70.0 or better in 2020, it will be hard to not find a tour to play on the following year. In golf, it is all about your score. It's a beautiful thing to be so in control of your own destiny. What people say about you matters very little. So why do we care?
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