From coach Christopher Smith

In response to my blog yesterday about my experience at Bandon Dunes and training in general, golf coach Christopher Smith had a few thoughts he wanted to express:

“””In response to Dan’s comments on his recent (and first) experience at Bandon Dunes, specifically in regards to his practice, training and learning of putting thus far in The Plan:

It was a humbling experience to say the least.  You could knock the ball on the green exactly where you were aiming but they were so firm that the ball would roll out 60 feet down a double breaking hill.  The only way to pace it was by judging the pace of the previous green, but I swear every green had a drastically different pace so you would try and hit a downhill tap putt and it would either roll 20 feet or 20 yards.

My take: actually, all the greens are mowed and maintained in the same fashion.  What varies widely on terrains like one finds on the links at Bandon Dunes, and what Dan (our barely 18-month old golfer) has yet to taste, are greens of this size, with the elements of grain and wind.  And, having played nearly all of his golf to this point in the soft and sometimes “mushy” conditions of the Willamette Valley, the firmness of the courses on the Southwest coast of Oregon, as with all links courses, was obviously an aspect Dan had not dealt with yet.  As I mentioned to him just after his rounds via text, there are many single digit index playerswith far more experience than Dan that head to courses of Bandon only to find they have a hard time breaking 90…

As far as putting goes, I was completely unprepared for this challenge and it makes me think that the first 5 months of my training routine was wrong.  I spent 5 months just on putting greens “learning” to putt, but the only thing I really learned was how to roll a ball on one specific type of grass and on very specific breaking greens that after a week or so I knew the break.  So, I didn’t learn how to putt in the sense that you need to know how to putt in a true competition. 

My take: Dan spent the first 5 months learning the essential skills of putting, so that he could then implement these skills in all environments and conditions.  Learning to read greens, start a putt on the intended line and control distance are at the heart of all good putting.  Without those specific skills, one cannot become a good putter.  Again, Dan’s disconnect with the putting surfaces at Bandon is directly related to his overall lack of experience on such greens.  100 foot putts.  Putting from 30-60 yards off the green.   Understanding the terrain (things will break towards the water, in general).  Those are but a few of the ‘ingredients’ that one deals with at Bandon – and usually NOT at one’s regular golf course.  In addition, it’s important to point at the much of Dan’s practice and training was in fact geared for transfer to the golf course, and specifically in competitive situations.  He (we) steered away from “block” or “bulk” practice while he learned the basic skills, and introduced many games, drills, tasks and pieces that would help him when it really counted.  That being said, there is in fact NO substitute for competitive experience, and Dan certainly has a lot of ground to make up in this area, compared to players of his age (or even much less), who have been playing competitive golf since a very early age.  The takeaway: make your practice matter as much as possible, with consequences, like in competitive golf.

Right when I left Bandon I wanted to write a blog about how I thought the first year of my training routine was done wrong.  I think that because of my complete lack of knowledge of the game of golf, when I began I didn’t know what I was practicing and I was only gaining specific knowledge of limited styles of short course work.  And because of this approach, I’m good at putting on the bent grass that grows in NE Portland.  Last time I checked there weren’t many majors in that neck of the woods, so are the hours that I put in translate-able into the larger game of golf?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  I did, though, feel ill prepared for this course and if I could do the first year of training over I wouldn’t do it the same way.  BUT..  And this is a big but, I realized that it doesn’t do any good to regret the past and the only thing you can do is look forward from here on; think about what you can do down the line, not what you didn’t do in the past.  I want to share that I think way too much time in my routine was spent on putting and chipping when I didn’t fully realize what I was trying to accomplish, but I am not dwelling on this because I know now a lot more about where I need to go and what I need to do and that’s what I’m thinking about; not what has happened in the past but what I can do in the future.  That is the important place to put your thoughts and put your mind.

My take: One has a lot – usually five hours or so – to contemplate when driving back to Portland from the Bandon area.  Naturally – and one must always question in order to progress – Dan couldn’t help but wonder after his dismal putting performance if he’d done the ‘right things’ in his first year of training.  To reiterate, our goal with Dan’s putting, short shots and eventually his full swing, was to build the basic fundamentals and skills so he could then apply those skills in all conditions.  Just like an athlete must build the physical and mental skills so as to apply to whatever sport they may play.  Since Dan spent the majority of his time learning and practicing in the Portland area on bent grass greens (most majors and tournaments ARE played on these surfaces, FYI – only the British Open and a handful of other events are played on links style courses), he naturally is better on such surfaces, and struggled on what Bandon offered.  That’s why the best players in the world often head to the U.K. weeks prior to The Open Championship: to accustom themselves – even with all the skill and experience they already possess – to the unique conditions of links golf.  Dan, in all his wisdom of 18 months of golf, showed up at Bandon the night before, warmed up a bit and off he went.  Really?  Not sure what his expectations were, but time to reel them in…

To conclude, Dan’s routine early on was all about building the skills and fundamentals of putting, chipping, pitching and full swing, all whilst in context specific situations as much as possible, so that he could then use them when he needed them on the course.  It’s no different than teaching a beginner skier to turn, snow plow, etc. on the bunny hill before taking them to the top of the mountain.  Should you do the opposite – and I know of people who have gone this way – the newbie skier becomes frustrated, discouraged, and maybe even injured.  Yet importantly, that skier probably will find a way to get down the hill, but with poor technique/fundamentals and skill that will have to be recreated later on.  Instant gratification and success often equals long term failure.  Dan’s plan has a longer term vision, so short term ‘failure’ (we like to consider these learning opportunities and feedback and fluctuations) is a welcome part of the process to a large extent.

If one cannot start a ball on line, control one’s speed with putting, consistently produce good contact with the short shots and full swing, then it really doesn’t matter what type of course one plays on, it’s going to be a struggle.  Was Dan totally out of his comfort zone at Bandon Dunes?  Absolutely.  Does that imply that his training, practice and learning methods have been ‘wrong?’   No more than Rory McIllroy questioning his own training background after shooting 80 on Sunday at the Masters this year – then blowing away the field at the U.S. Open a few weeks later.  If Dan’s ways were so wayward, would he be a 12 index right now playing with a half set of clubs and nothing longer than a 21 degree hybrid?  I think not.  Were his expectations out of whack at Bandon Dunes, what with his relative lack of overall experience, especially on a links layout?  Affirmative.  Do we all need to integrate a greater variety of situations, conditions and pressures into our practice so that we can then transfer our skills to the course?  Absolutely.  I have a sneaking suspicion that Dan’s next venture to Bandon Dunes will be a little different…””””

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