Genesis Scottish Open

The Renaissance Club



Tour Intelligence

Fixing tour players starts with more basic stuff than you might think

Earn small victories with rock solid fundamentals first

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Justin Rose lines up a shot on the driving range during a practice round prior to the U.S. Open Championship at The Los Angeles Country Club.

Harry How

When a player comes to me for some kind of change or intervention, it's usually for one of two reasons. It's either because they're struggling or they're trying to recover from an injury.

In both cases, their game isn't where they want it to be. And the conversation often goes a lot like it does when you start dating someone. Consciously or unconsciously, the player goes into a sales job where they might represent what they're doing in a way that isn't necessarily what's going on. It might be an attempt to show something far more positive than reality (a lean toward potential), or it might be characterizing something as a massive crisis (a cry for immediate help). The reality is somewhere in the middle.

There's no ill intent there. It's more the nature of it being difficult for very competitive people to allow themselves to be open and vulnerable. As the coach, it's my job to not judge the book by its cover. It's to be able to get through that facade and try to cut to the main issue as quickly as possible. It's building trust, being honest and making it clear that everyone's interests are aligned. In general, the more experience and success a coach has had with other players, the more the player is willing to let themselves be vulnerable.

What happens next can make or break the relationship. I've found that going into the fundamentals at the start—and focusing on getting those basics really good—has been the most productive path. Things like aim and alignment, as Justin Rose is working on in the photo above. My favorite analogy is how UCLA basketball coach John Wooden used to start by training his players to put on their socks and shoes properly so they wouldn't get blisters. That was the foundation of being able to practice hard without limitation. Those kinds of tasks might seem elementary, but when you're doing them well, it makes building on them easy.

If you start right away with the big, complex problem—the "cooler" conversation—that invariably requires a complicated and nuanced diagnosis, there's the potential for confusion right off the bat. And then you can get caught up in minutiae that isn't productive or helping the player get to where they want to be. The player is essentially drowning in big words and complex solutions, even if the intention is good.

Starting with some building blocks helps you and the player earn some wins together early and see some progress to keep running with. It's about making a simple diagnosis, having direct communication with the player and offering a very specific charge about what to do. When you have a good process like this, the strategies about what to do next are very simple.

This might sound easy, but it can be a challenge to pace a student who wants to move ahead faster, or even to rein yourself in and resist the temptation to distribute everything you know. This is where experience (positive and negative!) really comes in: the ability and the discipline to control the cadence of the work. To manage the flow, so to speak.

Whether you're working with a coach or working on your own, you can take this same building-block approach. You're going to improve in a more sustainable, durable way if you're working on one straightforward element at a time. If you introduce a lot of new stuff all at once, you're going to struggle to identify the variables that are making things change.