How Well Do You Play The Golf Course?

Hundreds of years ago those hearty Scots were seen sliding large chunks of granite on frozen lochs in the winter and attempting to manipulate a small, feather filled ball into holes in the ground in the highlands of their beloved piece of an island in the North Atlantic in the summer. These were the origins of the sports we now know as curling & golf.

At first glance curling & golf seem like oddly different offsprings of the same culture but one only has to spend some time with each to learn why they have much more in common than they differ. To my mind their most striking similarity is “experience”!*

In an era when the average age of elite athletes is in the low 20’s and in the case of a sport like gymnastics, you’re a veteran at 16, the average age for events like the Brier & Scotties and on the P.G.A. & L.P.G.A tours is north of 30 years of age. Why? Experience! It’s the one thing as coaches we can’t teach. But I want to draw another similarity between curling & golf in this post. It’s about the way we approach the challenges each poses.

Let’s begin by thinking about a golf tournament. Do Phil Mickelson & Tiger Woods really feel that they’re playing against one another and the rest of the field? No! Their focus is not on their competitors. It’s on the golf course. The pre-tournament practice rounds are designed to provide the players with an opportunity to learn the subtle and sometimes not so subtle nuances of the golf course. One of the best examples of this is Augusta National, the site of the golf season’s first major tournament, “The Masters”. Professional golfers will tell you that despite great technical skills, one plays well at “The Masters” only after a number attempts to win the coveted “Green Jacket”! You need to experience playing the unique undulations Augusta National provides to learn how to adjust your game to the plot of land, once a garden nursery in the middle of Augusta, GA. It’s been said by more than one “patron” attending “The Masters” that the golf course is the real competitor. Television does not do justice to the uphill, downhill & side hill lies with which one must contend.

A golf course lives, breathes and changes. A round played in the morning when the course has been freshly prepared can be a very different place in the late afternoon when the grass, especially on the greens, has had several hours to grow, all the while following the sun as it makes its way across the sky. A putt might be with the grain on a green at 0900 but against it at 1500.

The scoreboard merely reflects, in an objective manner, the relative success the players have in playing the golf course. If the two protagonists mentioned earlier in this post finish one, two in the tournament standings with scores of 280 & 282, it doesn’t mean one beat the other by two shots, it means one “played the golf course” two shots better. There IS a difference!

What does this have to do with curling? I see way too many teams concerned about their opponent? “Oh, we’re playing that _____ team!” No you’re not! Well, I know on the draw sheet or league schedule your name and theirs indicates you’ll be on the same sheet, on the same day at the same time but you’re really not playing them any more than they are playing you. Like golf, your common opponent is that sheet of ice. Lucky you if you feel that all the sheets of ice at the venue are identical but I’d hazard a guess, each one is at least slightly different. Very much like that living, breathing golf course, a sheet of curling ice is very likely to change as the game progresses. There’s no grass to grow and follow the sun, but the pebble changes, and sometimes dramatically as the ends count down. I wrote about this in an earlier post entitled, “The Case of the Reversing Ice” (12/05/12).

When a golfer steps up to the ball to play a shot, he/she’s in complete control. So are you when you step into the hack to play a shot. The golfer uses visualization. He/she sees the shot successfully completed before stepping up to the ball. You should see your shot successfully completed before you step into the hack. The golfer will, or should, have “one swing thought”. You should have one “delivery thought”. Both of you need to “trust” your skill set then just do it!

The scoreboard at the away end of the sheet only reflects, at any given time, how you’re dealing with the challenges of the ice compared to how your opponent is dealing with them. The score at the end of the game simply is a summary of how well you played the ice as opposed to how well your opponent played the ice.!

At various times in the game it’s a good idea, no, a great idea, to stop and ask yourselves, “What’s the ice telling us?”. The ice will always “talk” to you. Listen and don’t argue. And, the message might change so ask yourselves that question regularly.

When your skip takes charge of the house following a shot by your opponent, your team is in complete control. You select a shot. The brush is placed as a target and the weight of the stone is indicated. One player delivers the stone while two teammates judge the weight and prepare to brush while the skip/third assesses the course of the shot and provides guidance. It’s all about making the shot! Where your opponents have placed their stones is not as relevant as you might believe!

This was brought home to me at a very early stage of my curling career back in Galt (now Cambridge) ON, when one of the older members took me aside and said, “Billie (don’t even think about it), it doesn’t matter where you have placed your stones, when the other team is about to play its shot, you’re defenceless!”. I didn’t fully understand nor appreciate what he meant but I do now. He was right.

The attitude you have re. the challenge of the game I feel is huge. If you’re going to approach that challenge obsessing about your opponent then it will surely affect the way you (sing. & pl.) play! If, on the other hand, you see the challenge posed by the “golf course/curling ice” as the measure of success, then I feel it’s a more appropriate way to approach the game.

How well do you play the golf course?

* Experience doesn’t mean you’ll make fewer errors but it will reduce and sometimes completely eliminate the negative effects those errors have on your performance.