My Golf Journey – Overcoming my fear of playing with strangers

Golf is Hard

It is common knowledge that golf is hard and anyone who plays the game knows that anxious feeling on the first tee. New or less skilled golfers often describe golf as intimidating and pray they avoid cringe-worthy moments in front of other golfers. And for women golfers add the crap shoot factor of possibly being paired with men who do not hide the fact their round was just ruined by your presence in their foursome. For me the anxiety created from feelings of intimidation often felt overwhelming. And, for years I let my anxiety of playing golf with strangers keep me from enjoying the sport I love.

Source of My Fear

As a young girl I watched golf on television but it never occurred to me that I could play golf because I didn’t know anyone that actually played the game. In my late-twenties I met my ex-husband, a golfer with an eight handicap, and my golf journey began.

My ex-husband went on a business trip to Japan. He was gone for a month so I got clubs and took lessons. Besides teaching me swing basics, the golf pro gave me tips for playing with my husband (e.g., play fast, pick up your ball after your hit your drive and hit your second shot from where your husband’s drive lands) and for my last lesson he took me on the course to teach me golf etiquette.  Above all the pro told me “Don’t be that golfer that plays slow, takes too many swings, or is clueless about what is going on around them.” I knew exactly what he meant because my ex-husband would complain about “that golfer” when he talked about players in his Tuesday night golf league. All the tips were great but the message “don’t be that golfer” was probably not the best thought to put in someone’s head who already had a tendency to care too much about what other people think.

In the beginning I only played with my ex-husband and he was very supportive when we played alone. I played fast, ready golf and I had excellent golf etiquette. However, when we were paired with other golfers, my ex-husband made me feel uncomfortable. On the first tee, he would excessively reassure the other golfers that I wouldn’t slow them down, or he would pick up my ball even if I was not slowing anyone down. I have one clear memory of a golfer whispering to me, “Don’t let your husband pick up your ball. You’re doing fine and not holding us up. Play your own game.” Instead of feeling grateful for his support, I just felt embarrassed. Of course, these experiences sewed the seeds of my fear of playing with strangers.

After my marriage ended, I only played golf with two female friends. My fear kept me from playing golf when my friends were not available. At one point I joined a women’s golf association hoping for the opportunity to play golf in a less intimidating environment. Unfortunately the few times I played, the women in my foursome were seasoned players and not very welcoming. Instead of finding women in the chapter that were more welcoming, I just felt stressed and went back to only playing with my two best friends. Even with my friends, if a stranger joined our group my anxiety went through the roof.

I moved to a new state for a job and did not know anyone. I knew if I wanted to play golf I had to address my fear. I knew “getting out of my head” was part of the solution but telling myself not to worry wasn’t going to cut it.  I needed something tangible to focus on to improve my game which would boost my confidence and hopefully reduce my anxiety. My tangible issue, a reason I felt I could work on, was the lack of distance in my game.

Create and Work a Plan

My plan was simple. (1) Find a good teaching pro and I defined “good” as someone I felt comfortable with and who taught in a way that fit how I learned. (2) Practice what I learned in my lessons. (3) Force myself to play with strangers.

I found a great pro, Mike Havay at Quail Brook Golf Course in Somerset New Jersey. I knew from my first lesson he was a great fit for me because he was honest about the work it would take to meet my goals. As we worked together that first day he explained the first swing change he wanted me to work on in four different ways, after which Mike said to me “you are a very visual learner.” Bingo!

Basically. we had to completely rebuild my swing. I was not offended when Mike described my swing as a “typical beginner women’s swing” (even though I had been playing golf for a number of years). My swing was over-the-top, steep and all arms. My driver and woods went about the same distance (and not very far) because I wasn’t creating any power.

I worked hard at rebuilding my swing. After each lesson with Mike I would sit in my car and put notes into my phone. I would go to the range after work to practice before my next lesson. In the off season I would swing a club in my house. By the end of the second golf season Mike told me it was time for new clubs! I was so excited because I knew that meant my new swing was consistent.

During the time I was rebuilding my swing I joined the local chapter of Executive Women’s Golf Association (EWGA) which was the golf association I had joined but never really participated in while living in Boston. I played in the Tuesday night league and attended a few weekend outings. I also joined the golf club at work and forced myself to play in work golf outings which was very stressful because many of the staff played college golf. Playing in my first work golf outing I was paired with a woman that played from the back tees, hit her drive 230+ yards and had a 0.7 handicap. I hit my drive about 130 yards (with roll) and my handicap was 34. Talk about triggering anxiety!

You would think that after two years I would be completely cured of my fear. I had made great strides! I had no stress playing with golfers I did not know at work or in my EWGA chapter. I even played competitive golf (e.g., EWGA championship events and work championship events). But the reality was I still could not get myself to signup for a tee time as a single.

Every week in my lessons, Mike reassured me that I was a good golfer and I just need to go play with strangers. He said you may get paired with guys that don’t want to play with you but that’s not about you (they’re just jerks) so don’t let them get in your head. He told me to remember every golfer has a bad shot, a bad hole or even a bad day. That’s just golf and no one is judging you. If anything, most golfers just hope they don’t catch a struggling player’s bad mojo and find their own game going south. The only thing golfers hate is the same thing you hate – slow players or players that display bad golf etiquette. After his mental coaching, I took the leap and booked my very first tee time as a single.

Weeks later I was taking a lesson with Mike, two men in a golf cart (making the turn) stopped and said “Hi Catherine! Remember us? We played a few weeks ago.” Then they said to Mike “She’s a lot of fun to play with but don’t make her any better or she’ll beat us!”  They drove off and Mike said to me “In all my years of teaching I have never had any golfers stop and make comments about one of my students. And certainly not male golfers about a female student. You need to realize how big this moment is for you.” I just laughed. Looking back at that moment, I now recognize it was a big deal.

Results

As golfers we always look at our numbers. I track greens in regulation (GIR), putts and other parts of my game to discover areas to improve but how I play (my score) is really the ultimate measure. I typically shoot in the mid-to-low 90s but twice this year I broke 90 (breaking 90 was a goal I set for 2017).  I also set a goal to get my handicap to 18 this golf season and I exceeded that goal (handicap chart below).  I am thrilled with my numbers but overcoming my fear is my greatest result!

My Handicap History 2017

This year, four years after I made my decision to address my fear, I have no anxiety going to the course and playing as a “single” or being paired with men to fill out a  foursome. Sure I have the first tee jitters that most golfers feel but that’s normal. I have bad days and feel a bit embarrassed (and frustrated) when I play poorly but I know all golfers have those feelings when their game leaves them.

The overwhelming anxiety is gone. I feel excited to get to the course. It saddens me that I still have to face the “cold shoulder” when I get paired with some men but I don’t let it get in my head. After a few holes the guys usually get very chatty with me trying to make up for the blatant disdain they displayed on the first tee. And, playing more as a single I have experience more nice guys that like playing with women then men that jump to conclusions about playing with me just because of my gender.

One last important metric – rounds played. The active golf season for where I live is April 1 to October 30 or approximately 30 weeks. In 2013, I only played 12 rounds of golf compared to 2017 in which I have played 40 rounds of golf. My 2017 rounds could be inflated because of the great weather this year – playing golf in November and the handicap season was extended to November 15. The point is, I played!

 

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“Lydia Ko goes Pro” video gets four stars

It has been many months since my last post because I have had a lot of life changes in the past nine months (no, I did not have a child).  I have moved to a new state for a dream job! As we all know with a new job and a big move other things fall to the wayside.  But now I am more settled in my job and new home; and of course fall is here (so less daylight hours to play golf), which makes it a logical time to focus on my blog.

I wanted to start with something light and fun!  And Lydia Ko’s announcement that she is turning pro is just the ticket!  I read that she decided to release a video rather than do a press conference and sure enough she tweeted out to her followers the link to the video on October 22.  Here is the video for your enjoyment:

I give the video four stars because it is entertaining (Lydia speed golfing) and shows her personality (e.g., she laughs a lot); and it certainly beats a boring press conference video.

I have said in a previous post that I am not a fan of the younger and younger players we see in professional events.  And that a player like Michele Wie is a cautionary tale because she is only 23 and struggles to find her game.  But, Lydia Ko seems to be a very poised and talented young women.  Ko has won a number of professional tournaments and made history winning the CN Canadian Women’s Open in 2012 and 2013. As the press has pointed out, Ko has left over $1 Million in money on the table as an amateur.

Now we just have to wait for the LPGA Commissioner, Mike Whan, to approve her request to waive the rule requiring LPGA professionals to be at least 18 years old.  The waiver is a  “fiat accompli” given the popularity of Ko, the fact she has already won multiple professional events as an amateur, and Whan waived the age requirement for Lexi Thompson after she won an LPGA event.

As a professional, Ko will face a new kind of scrutiny because everyone will be watching to see if she falters under the “pressure” of being a pro. Time and time again a young amateur golfer is hailed as the next “Tiger or Annika” and seems to lose their talent (or maybe free spirit) as a professional.  Only time will tell if Ko is able win as much as a professional as she did as an amateur.

Hopefully, she will have a smooth transition from the “darling of the amateur ranks” to a regular pro on tour. Bottom line, I know I will be watching to see how she plays in her first tournament as a professional.

Michelle Wie’s 2013 season is off to a rough start

Michelle Wie is a very popular LPGA player.  She really made her name as an amateur and was viewed as the golden girl who would help rejuvenate the struggling brand of women’s golf when she turned pro in 2005 (note: her LPGA Rookie year is 2009.)  Fast forward to 2013 and Michelle Wie is still a popular player on the LPGA tour but she has not achieved the “greatness” bestowed on her as an Amateur.

In the press this week Michelle Wie spoke about all the hard work she had done during the off-season — working on every part of her game.  Unfortunately at the Women’s Australian Open this week Wie missed the cut by 2 strokes or 1-over par.  That might not seem bad but it is awful compared to the leader (after two rounds) at 15-under par.  So Wie starts her 2013 year where she ended her 2012 season — missing cuts.

2012 really was a horrible year for Wie. She played 23 tournaments and missed the cut 10 times.  We could state this in a positive way and say she made the cut (or played the weekend and earned money) 13 out of 23 times (or 56% of the time) but that is still awful.

Let’s look at some statistics for the last three years.

Chart of Stats for Wie

Michelle Wie has never been a great putter and in 2012 she had no confidence.  She would stand over a putt for an eternity and still miss it.  Wie has always been long off the tee (she is ranked 4 in overall driving distance) but being long does not matter when you look at Wie’s greens in regulation (GIR) and driving accuracy statistics which are poor.  In general, the statistics I have looked at indicate that many of the top players have GIRs between 72% and 76%. The top players also have putting averages below 30 (the really great putter’s have averages between 25 to 27).  Let’s look at Wei’s statistics against two other American stars.

Stats Comparision ChartOne last comparison (for fun) — Michelle Wie was in the LPGA rookie class of 2009.  Another member of the 2009 class, Jiyai Shin.  Shin won the Women’s Australian Open this week beating Yani Tseng (#1 Ranked women golfer in the world) and Lydia Ko (#1 ranked amateur golfer in the world).  Shin is also the current RICOH Women’s British Open Champion.  In 2012, Shin played 18 LPGA tournaments and made the cut in all 18 events. In 2010, Shin was the #1 player in the world rankings for 16 weeks.  Shin is a serious contender in 2013.

Will Michelle Wie ever achieve the success of, Jiyai Shin, her LPGA rookie year classmate?  Will Wei regain some of the glory of her amateur career?  Will she find the success so many people expected of her since turning pro?  Only time will tell but it crossed my mind today that maybe time is running out for Wie to achieve “greatness.”  Given Wie is only 23 years old that might seem like a ridiculous statement but the LPGA is full of young talented players so it is easy to jump to the conclusion that Wie may have missed her time to dominate.  My hope for Wie is that she finds her game soon.

2013 PGA Merchandise Show – Morning Drive and LPGA News

The ability to follow the PGA Merchandise show from the comfort of your own home is amazing!  I am here in the cold Northeast (seven degrees this morning) and seeing updates on Twitter, Facebook, Ustream and more.

The Golf Channel Morning Drive show and the LPGA both started tweeting early in the morning that big announcements were coming.  Given I am a fan of both, I was curious to see what was “big” to each organization.

Morning Drive Announcement

The Morning Drive show is expanding to seven days a week.  Great!  They are adding to the cast.  Most of co-anchor additions make sense because they have been on the show or are members of the golf channel.  The one odd addition is Ahmad Rashad. He is an NBC broadcast “star” so I get that but what does he know about golf?  I guess we will find out soon.

The other big reveal was the new set of the show.  Below is a photo of the old set.

Morning Drive Set

TV Screen Shot of Holly Sonders on Morning Drive Set. Click image to Enlarge.

Now one thing I always liked about the current set is that it seemed “cozy” and had lots of golf memorabilia and “chotskies” on the set.  I also think the intimate feel of the set added to the relaxed style of the co-anchors.  It never felt like a “formal” news show like the evening recap show, Golf Central.

The Golf Channel provided a photo gallery of the new set.  If you click on the photo below it will take you to a cool time-lapse video of the construction of the new set.

Click on Photo to see a time-lapse video of the construction of the new set.

Click on Photo to see a time-lapse video of the construction of the new set.

The new set and staff is a clear indication of the success of the show.  I will keep an open mind but I hope what I loved most about the show does not get lost in the new high-gloss set.

LPGA Announcement

In a previous post, The LPGA’s Marketing Challenge, I noted some concerns about the tour’s perception in the American market.  Basically, the LPGA is a global tour but the American market needs a new star which I felt was Stacy Lewis.  I am happy to see that the tour is now promoting Stacy Lewis.  Stacy certainly made it easier for them by winning Player of the Year.  I am happy to see the management at the LPGA finally embracing Stacy Lewis as a tour star.

The LPGA also deserves credit for figuring out a way to capitalize on the statement they have been emphasizing all year that they are a “global tour.”  I was thrilled with the announcement of the “International Crown” by the LPGA.  It is a new match play tournament that will debut in 2014.  The tournament will be 8 countries vying for the crown. I also like the promotional video.

And to my point earlier about promoting Stacy Lewis, there is a nice video of Stacy talking about the new tournament.

I like the International Crown for two reasons.  First, the LPGA did not just follow the PGA tour and create a “Presidents Cup” for the ladies.  The Presidents Cup is the USA against the rest of the world (minus Europe).  Second, it ties nicely to the fact that golf will be part of the Olympics in 2016 and what do we all love to do during the Olympics? Cheer for our country.  The fact fans love to cheer for their country should make the International Crown a big hit among golf fans; and hopefully, bring new fans to the LPGA.

Daughters of the PNC Father/Son Challenge Golf Event

When I turned on the TV Saturday and saw the PNC Father/Son Challenge on NBC I thought this will be a nice relief from all the horrible news on TV this week.  In the opening recap of early play, of day one, I was delighted (O.K, thrilled) to see a father and daughter team in the lead. I even tweeted about it.

Image of Tweet about PNC Father Son Challenge

I am not against father/son or mother/daughter specific events but it was wonderful to see that in a sport that some people label as “sexist” there are professional events that have evolved to have both sexes participate.  Another event is the Wendy’s Three Tour Challenge so check it out next year if you have not seen it.  The PNC Father/Son is unique because it really is a family event. There are grandfather and grandson pairings; father and stepson pairings; and even some caddies are family members (wives, mothers, sisters, brothers, father-in-laws, etc.)

For the purpose of this post, I thought it would be fun to focus on the daughters of the PNC Father Son Challenge.

The Father/Daughter Teams

(1) Bernard and Christina Langer – Bernard Langer won the Father/Son Challenge in 2005 and 2006 with his son, Stephan.  Boy, no pressure on Christina!  Christina is a talented golfer and is a freshman on the golf team at Florida Atlantic University. It really was a father daughter event with Bernard’s other daughter, Jackie, on the bag.

(2) Fuzzy and Gretchen Zoeller – Gretchen is a former college golfer and in 2009 she was the caddy on her father’s bag at The Masters.  There was an interview on NBC and Gretchen was talking about her father and it was wonderful to see Fuzzy’s reaction to his daughter’s declarations of respect and love.  It was also interesting to watch her play and see that the “apple does not fall far from the tree” – she was animated and fun to watch (just like her Dad).  Watch the PGA Tour video recap (35 second mark in video) to see Gretchen’s bird imitation!

Final Scores

The father daughter teams did well but neither won the tournament.  The results are that the Zoellers tied for sixth place with the Nicolas and Furk teams and the Langers finished in 10th place.  The Zoellers also had low round of the final day with a 60 (the Nelsons also got a 60).

The winners were David Love III and his son Dru.  They beat the Nelsons by one stroke which was nice because the Nelsons beat the Loves in 2008.  This is the first year the tournament has been played since 2008 so the Loves waited a long time to beat the Nelsons.  The Nelsons have won three times (2004, 2007, and 2008).

Watch the PGA Tour Monday Backspin Video Recap for a nice overview of the Tournament.

LPGA Q-School Stage III Results

The grind of Q-school is over for the ladies and congratulations to the women that got their LPGA cards for 2013!  For anyone following my blog you know that I have been following the LPGA Q-school since stage I.  After stage II I reported that I would be watching four players in Stage III:

  1. Moriya Jutanugam (Thailand) – One of the top amateur players in women’s golf.
  2. Brooke Pancake – Winner of the 2012 Collegiate Women Sports Award for Golf.
  3. Anya Alvarez – A player from the 2012 Big Break Atlantis.
  4. Christina Kim  –  LPGA Professional that has been on tour for 10 years, is very popular, well-known on Twitter, and struggling with her game.

Note: On September 4, 2012, I wrote an overview of the LPGA Q-School.

LPGA Stage III Q-School Results

Stage III of the LPGA Q-school was held Nov 28 to Dec 2, at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Florida.  They played two courses, the Champion & Legends.  The full results give the scores for all five rounds and the final positions. The top 20 get full-status on the LPGA tour for 2013 and players finishing 21-45 get conditional status (so they may get to play a few tournaments but not many).  If you want to see a good list of the 20 players to secure their cards read the Golf Week Article.  Here are how the four I followed finished:

  1. Moriya Jutanugam – Tied 1st place, total score 347 (13 under par). As a winner she will forever have the title of medalist honors for Q-School!  This is a good omen given that past medalists include Stacy Lewis (2012 Player of the Year). I am not surprised she won since she has been one of the top amateur players this year.  But, she did not end with a solo win.  Jutanugam shares the medalist honors with Rebecca Lee-Bentham (who was a rookie on the LPGA in 2012 but needed to go to Q-school to retain her LPGA status).
  2. Brooke Pancake – Tied 11th, total Score 356 (four under par). I’ve been following Pancake since her last year in college (because I liked her name and now I am a fan of her game).  It will be fun to watch her during her rookie year in 2013.
  3. Anya Alvarez – Tied 54th, total score 363 (four over par). Unfortunately for Alvarez she did not get her tour card.  Shooting 75, and 75 the first two days was not a great start and even with a 69 on day three she did not recover and shot 74, and 70 to finish out her week.
  4. Christina Kim – Tied 39, total score 361 (one over par). Kim only had one good day during the week.  Round 2 she shoot a 67 (but the rest of her scores were 72,73,74,75 – not in that order).  But Kim fares better than Alvarez because of her career she will play with sponsor exemptions too.  I wasn’t sure how sponsor exemptions work so I tweeted a question to Stina Sternberg, Senior Editor, Golf Digest, covering women’s golf.  As Sternberg explains, Kim won a conditional card (for finishing in T39) but that does not help a lot.  But she gets in to at least 6 tournaments on sponsor exemptions; and can play in USWO (United States Women’s Open) qualifiers to get into the US Women’s Open.
Image of Twitter Conversation with Stina Sternberg

Twitter Conversation with Stina Sternberg

Results for Big Break Alum

Anya Alverez was not the only Big Break Alum in Stage III.  There were two other players at Q-school from past Big Break shows.

  1. Kim Welch – Tied 11th, total score 356 (4 under par).  Welch was the winner on Big Break Ka’anapali in 2008 so it just shows how hard it is to make it on to the LPGA tour.
  2. Kelly Jacques – Tied 17th, total score 357 (3 under par).  However, Jacques (from Big Break Ireland 2011) had a more heartbreaking end to her Q-school.  Jacques ended in seven-player tie for the final four spots in the top-20 so she had to go into a playoff.  Unfortunately she did not win one of the 4 spots and only got conditional status but it is still a great accomplishment.

Final Thoughts

The LPGA Q-school is great golf drama and I wish it had been televised on the Golf Channel.  I know it is expensive to televise golf but I think the final round would have been exciting for golfers to watch on TV.  At a minimum, I would have liked the Golf Channel to have more video from each day.  After all, the Golf Channel did show clips from the PGA Q-school on Golf Central each day.  Perhaps next year the Golf Channel will give air time to LPGA Q-school.  Given that the PGA is changing their process for next year and getting rid of Q-School for the PGA tour — maybe, just maybe the LPGA will get the spotlight next year.

LPGA Q-School Stage II Results

In my post on the results of Stage 1 of Q-School, I reported that I would be watching four players in Stage II:

  1. Moriya Jutanugam (Thailand) – the winner of LPGA Q-School Stage 1
  2. Brooke Pancake – winner of the 2012 Collegiate Women Sports Award for Golf
  3. Jaye Marie Green – runner-up to Lydia Ko at 2012 US Women’s Amateur
  4. Shannon Fish – the only one of six Golf Channel Big Break Atlantis contestants in Stage 1 of Q-School to move to Stage II of Q-school.

Note: On September 4, 2012, I wrote an overview of the LPGA Q-School.

LPGA Stage II Q-School Results

Stage II of the LPGA Q-school was held Oct. 9-12, at Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice, Fla.   The full results give the scores for all four rounds and the final positions. The top 70 plus ties move to Stage III.  The winner Katie Burnett shot 273 (15 under par).  Here are how the four golfers listed-above performed:

  1. Moriya Jutanugam – Tied 16th, Score: 288 (even par) – Moving to Stage III
  2. Brooke Pancake – Tied 20th, Score: 289 (one over par) – Moving to Stage III
  3. Jaye Marie Green – Tied 77, Score: 296 (eight over par) – Not Moving forward*
  4. Shannon Fish – T113th, Score: 308 (thirteen over par) – Not moving forward*

* These players do gain status on the Symetra Tour for 2013. The Symetra tour is the future’s tour for the LPGA.

Results for Big Break Atlantis Alum

As mentioned in my Stage 1 Q-School post, three players from Big Break Atlantis did not need to play Stage 1 of Q-school (they automatically qualified for Stage II).  The three players were Anya Alvarez, Marcela Leon, and Gloriana Soto.

Only Anya Alvarez is moving to Stage III of Q-school.  Alvarez shot seven over par and finished tied in the 63rd position.  The winner of Big Break Atlantis Marcela Leon, shot 296 (eight over par) and missed the cut by one stroke.  It should be noted that the Stage II preliminary field listed Gloriana Soto but it does not appear she participated in Stage II.

Stage III LPGA Q-School

The final stage of Q-School will be held November 28-December 2, 2012 at the LPGA International Golf Course in Daytona Beach Florida.  This will include the golfers from Stage II as well as current LPGA players that are hoping to improve their status (which determines the tournaments they are eligible to play in 2013).

Which LPGA players will go “back to Q-School?”  One LPGA player that has had a tough year and will be heading to Q-School is Christina Kim.  Kim has been on tour for 10 years, is very popular, and well-known on Twitter.  From a marketing perspective, the LPGA wants this “star” to have full tour status in 2013.   Who else will join Kim? I think we can all guess but I’ll be good and wait until the official list of participants is released to comment.