With an elite stable of PGA clients under his tutelage, including last year’s U.S. Open winner, Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan, and, of course, Tiger Woods, the 39-year-old Canadian has emerged in recent years not only as golf’s most exciting and sought-after swing doctor but also its most progressive thinker and philosopher. For athletes of any stripe, here’s a free lesson.
What value does a coach really bring to the table for an athlete?
If you look at a Tiger Woods or a Michael Jordan, 98% of the stuff they learned has been straight through trial and error. As a coach, you just want to create the environment that still allows them to learn. In the PGA, the golfers are kinesthetic geniuses. If you look at the golf swing, most of it is happening in two one-hundredths of a second. When a player says to me, “This is what I’m feeling,” I’m not interested, because the time frame is too small, and they couldn’t logically explain what’s happening. So you have to be the voice of reason, and what happens is that “keep it simple, stupid” method of coaching. Sometimes people don’t need to do mental gymnastics in order to understand important points.
Speaking of the mental aspect of the game, can you make yourself fearless?
When you hear sports psychologists say the key is to get to this Zen state of flow or whatever, I disagree with that. I think, with a lot of athletes or people in the business world, they’re too busy trying to become something rather than accepting who they are and trying to maximize who they are. I’ve read the autobiographies of all these amazing people who changed the world, whether it was through business, technology, race relations, religion, you name it—their whole lives were just a function of how much pain they could endure. Life is hard. Fear is important.
But as an athlete, is it important to go into competition fully confident, expecting to win?
Expectations are poison. Say I play a golf tournament this week and I expect to win it, right? That means that all the external factors and variables that go into my score, that I don’t have control over, have to go my way. If I expect to win and I win, then cool—I accomplished my goal. If I don’t, it’s so much more painful. To an extent, positive thinking can be just as harmful as negative thinking. Believe me, there have been plenty of athletes who’ve succeeded and excelled, even won gold medals, when they were totally not confident in themselves.
How do you take that next step in performance and gain control over your fear?
No resistance. Realize that when you’re on the golf course, on the basketball court, or in the gym, you’re starting to hear all those demons in your head; just realize that they’re only arbitrary thoughts that are driven from your state. They don’t even mean anything. They’re just a function of your mood.
What’s more important: the drive or the short game?
When it gets to the PGA Tour level, ball striking trumps putting, big time. Look at the NFL. The guys in the NFL have the best hands, but I’ve seen a lot of guys in the CFL who are unbelievable wide receivers; the fact of the matter is, they just were never ever going to beat out a defensive back running a 4.3 40-yard dash. So, with ball striking, you start seeing elements of uniqueness of speed and power and leverage. If you take some of the top 10 putters in the world, statistically they’re ranked around 62nd in the world overall.
What can a golfer at any level do right away to improve his ball striking?
Increase power. Power is a function of being able to have the pelvic area go from flexion into extension. I watch a lot of young golfers in the gym training like bodybuilders. Like with every other sport, golf has gone in the direction [of strength]. There aren’t many short hitters coming out anymore. They all look like they could’ve either decided to play quarterback or golf.
What’s the role of fitness in the golf lifestyle?
The human body was not designed through evolution to rotate at high-peak speeds, 150 times an hour. That’s why in javelin, golf, and baseball, there are a lot of lower-back issues. There are many elbow, shoulder, and hip issues in golf. It’s obvious we weren’t supposed to rotate at 700 degrees per second. The lumbar spine isn’t supposed to rotate at all. Like Olympic lifting, I think, if you utilize the ground, your glutes, and your whole posterior side from your ankles to your traps, you’ll produce power more efficiently, so you won’t have to overuse your shoulders and your arms.
Have you learned from coaches in other sports?
Definitely. I’ve watched a lot of [former NBA coach] Phil Jackson’s news conferences. He deflects the attention onto himself and away from his athletes, and I think that’s important. [Legendary UCLA basketball coach] John Wooden was just a man of principle. I don’t think he really taught Kareem Abdul-Jabbar how to play basketball, just like I’m never going to teach Tiger Woods how to play golf. Wooden got his team to tie their shoelaces and be on time for class. In the big picture, you end up with a lot of success if you just do the small things in the process all the time.