Junior Golf: A Championship Mentality

In today’s Monday Mulligan we will take a look at how champions think and act. It is different from how 2nd place and below approach competition. ( image jennleforge.com)img_0135

As an alum of UT, The University of Texas at Austin, I enjoy following UT sports, especially football. So 1 of the most exhilarating times of my life was watching the 2005 National Championship game against USC, The University of Southern California. I just finished watching a most interesting and insightful show on The Longhorn Network, called Longhorn Legends on the Couch. It featured 6 prominent participants from this game: head football coach Mack Brown, quarterback Vince Young, tight end David Thomas, offensive lineman Kasey Studdard and defensive backs Michael Huff and Aaron Ross.

Let me briefly introduce to these guys. Mack Brown-UT head coach who had a bunch of winning teams, Vince Young-IMHO the most exciting player ever in college football with 837 yards of total offense in 2 consecutive Rose Bowl wins, David Thomas-UT all-time leader in catches for tight ends and a Super Bowl Champion with New Orleans, Kasey Studdard-a great offensive lineman in college and the NFL, Michael Huff and Aaron Ross-both Thorpe Award winners as the best defensive back in college football and Ross also has 2 Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants. High achievers, no doubt!

As I thoroughly listened and enjoyed the nearly 3-hour commentary along with the broadcast of every play in the game, several recurring themes appeared. In no particular order: David Thomas 1st brought up how Mad Dog (UT strength & conditioning coach Jeff Madden) always had them running the stadium, running for the 4th quarter. The result in Thomas’ own words, “We never got tired during a game!” Later it was reinforced more than once, that Vince Young never got tired and rarely broke out in a sweat during a game. He was always faster than everybody else at the end of the game! Please note he was pretty much faster than everyone else during the whole game. FYI being in great shape is as important at the end of a golf game as it is in football! Conditioning counts!

2nd thought: everyone knew it was a National Championship game, but they refused to obsess over that, instead focusing on it’s still just a football game and let’s just play the way we know we can play. We’re good enough to win this game, so let’s go do it! Again, focusing on process rather than outcome. If the process is good, the desired outcome will follow. Same with golf!

Coach Brown mentioned about VY: “Vince, 1 of the best things about your game was your ability to keep your eyes downfield while you were moving around, looking for a receiver or where to run.” This is extremely tough folks and only the most gifted players can pull this off because to look downfield means you also must be aware of what’s coming at you that you can’t see. Scary stuff! In golf the equivalent is looking for the safe zone where you want your next shot to end up, seeing the whole picture then focusing only on the safe zone when you visualize the shot.

Last, for today at least, let’s talk about confidence. Both teams were undefeated and were accustomed to winning. Both were loaded with great athletes. Here’s where great coaching showed up. In the pre-game preparation, the Longhorn coaches knew this would be a tough game and they told the defense that they would have to make a big stop late in the game in order for UT to win. When you initiate that mindset in advance, it prepares the player for a positive result. Texas scored to make it within 5 points, trailing 38-33 with 3:58 on the clock. As UT kicked off, Vince Young was going to each defensive player telling them, “1stop, just 1 stop and we’ll win the game!” You see VY believed he could score on every play from anywhere on the field. He was always calm and unflappable, a very desirable leadership skill.

On a 4th down with 2 yards to go, USC gave the ball to the previously unstoppable LenDale White and yes UT’s defense rose to their expectation of making a big stop and tackled him short of the 1st down. UT got ball on their own 44-yard line with 2:09 to play. You could see it on the coaches, players and fans of USC, they knew they had lost the game. They had not stopped Vince Young to this point and could not stop him now. On a 4th down and 5 from the 9-yard line, VY ran the ball in, untouched, to take a 1-point lead. UT went for a 2-point conversion and made it. Final score UT 41 USC 38. Vince Young scoring the winning touchdown, photo courtesy of thecomeback.com.image

So where is your junior golfer’s mind? Is he calm and unflappable? Well that’s tough at any age. Does he see the safe zone or the unsafe zones? Please help him see only the safe zones. What are his expectations? Does he expect to win? Does he expect to have a few big numbers on his scorecard? Does he have enough golf conditioning to be able to perform well the last few holes of a tournament? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, I hope you will have them soon. Your junior golfer’s expectations may be very different from yours. Getting together on the same page is important.

See you on #1 tee expecting to play well… Sam

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