Archive for April, 2012

Learning the Value of Character on the Golf Course

About two years ago it dawned on me that I spent a ton of timing driving my kids to ballet and ski racing and softball and ski racing and tennis and ski racing….and well, you get the idea. So I decided that I wanted to learn a new sport and golf won the coin toss. I mean, more thought than that went into it, but it’s a sport that I knew I could play for my whole life.

My kids were learning through The First Tee, a program that I can’t say enough good things about. For starters, “Kids have amazing opportunities to go places and meet people they wouldn’t have access to without this program,” says Chris Dewar, director of the Northern Nevada branch of the program. “Money has nothing to do with it.” A four-week, eight-session program at The First TeeThe First Tee costs about $80, but no child is ever turned away for inability to pay. Dozens of kids from the Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows participate every summer for free. The program is funded by dozens of corporate sponsors, including The Coca-Cola Company, Fed-Ex, Shell Oil, Golf Digest and TaylorMade-Adidas and is largely supported by volunteers. The mission of the program is to teach “character education” through golf.

“I coached youth basketball for 14 years and we never taught life skills,” says Dewar. “I was always trying to figure out how I could make the kids better people, and that’s what The First Tee’s philosophy is all about,” says Dewar, who is also an LPGA golf professional. “If they become good golfers, that’s great,” she says, “but if they learn to use better judgement in their lives, that’s more important.”

“I wish we could get more kids earlier,” she says. “Golf is a sport of honor and integrity, and it’s a great tie-in to life.” In fact, golf is the only sport where players are expected to call their own penalties. “If someone cheats at golf, chances are they cheat in other areas of their life,” says Dewar.

I’m going to write more about this program, but I’m wondering what lessons you hope your kids learn through golf or any of their favorite sports?


The pain of discipline….vs. the pain of regret

Next to our kitchen table, there’s a white board where every week I put up a new quote that gives my family, ahem, food for thought. I try to find motivational quotes that aren’t too sappy and that inspire conversation.

I recently put up one that made me think about my years as a young athlete, but it also applies to a lesson that Rob and I are trying to instill in our kids with regard to school and sports (and cleaning their rooms) :

Sarah Bombell, Australian swimmer

This one really hit home with me. I have so many regrets about my years as a young athlete because I had the ability but not the innate drive that was necessary to play any of the sports I “loved”  at the collegiate level. I probably could have played tennis if I’d chosen to attend a Div. III school instead of a PAC 10 school (and home to the NCAA women’s tennis champions), but that’s beside the point.

I  loved tennis but not the way my brother did. Starting at about age 14, he played about 5 hours a day. Nearly year round. And he went on to play at Northwestern University. We had the same opportunities but he had the spark and I just didn’t. I was sort of…lazy.

Now I’m trying to learn how to play golf, which is the first sport I’m attempting to learn as an adult. And it is HARD. I need a huge dose of discipline. Every time I go out, whether I’m playing a round, hitting buckets, or I’m on the putting green, I try to work on improving just one thing, the way my instructor advises.

The regret I’m feeling now is that I didn’t go with my dad to the golf course on the weekends when I was younger!  What a wasted opportunity. When I started taking lessons, I was sure that eventually I’d be a single digit handicapped player. Two years in, I just hope that I’ll be able to shoot below 95 at some point in the next year!

Do you have any regrets about youth and sports? Any words of wisdom? What do you tell your kids about discipline?

Pro golfer Natalie Gulbis’ favorite yoga poses

A few days ago I wrote about pro golfer Natalie Gulbis’ love of yoga. She’s so convinced of the benefits of yoga — especially the way it builds strength and flexibility and balance — that she says she takes a Bikram class three or four times a week when she’s home in Las Vegas. When she’s traveling for tournaments, she packs a yoga mat and watches yoga videos via computer. “Yoga is necessary for performance and longevity in my sport,” she says.

Interested in trying some poses that complement golf? Here goes:

Warm-up for pre golf: Thread the needle

Why do it: It mimics the golf swing making it a perfect dynamic warm-up

How to do it: Begin on all fours in table pose. Stretch your right arm and torso towards the ceiling. Feel the stretch in the torso and hold for three breaths.  On your exhale slide your right arm under the left supporting arm, bringing your right shoulder and ear to the floor.  Focus on the stretch in the entire torso and hold for five more breaths. Switch sides and repeat on each side three times.


For balance: Warrior III

Why do it: Strengthens lower body and core; teaches you to move from your core and to activate your glutes independently. Both are essential for golf.

How to do it: Draw your navel towards your spine and engage your core.  Step one foot forward and lift your back leg off the floor. Lower your upper body towards the floor as you lift your back leg at the same time. Imagine that your body is like the letter “T”.  Hold for ten breaths and switch sides. 


To open the hips: Pigeon.

Why do it: to bring stability and balance to hips

How to do it: Begin on all fours and bring your right knee to your right wrist. Bring your right foot towards your left wrist.  Note: you should not feel any discomfort in your right knee.  If you feel any discomfort do not do this pose.   Slide your left leg back and feel the stretch in the glutes.  Hold for ten breaths and switch sides.

Pro golfer Natalie Gulbis’ secret weapon: yoga

Yoga and golf aren’t two words you typically say in the same breath. But believe it or not, yoga might actually be the ticket to fewer strokes. Or at least more powerful and precise ones.

Here’s why: Golf is essentially a one-sided sport. But you need balance and strength on both sides of your body to really make the ball fly. That’s why yoga is pro-golfer Natalie Gulbis’ secret weapon. “I was a gymnast so I really appreciate the symmetrical flexibility and strength that yoga gives me,” she told me during a telephone interview.

Natalie Gulbis does yoga for golf

Yoga also trains you to initiate your gluteal muscles independently, says Katherine Roberts, a yoga instructor and author of Yoga for Golfers. “This helps prevent two problems that are common for women golfers,” she says, “lifting up and out of the spine angle, or swaying and sliding through the swing.”

Gulbis appreciates the focus that her Bikram practice brings. “Having 90 minutes of quiet, when I get to work on my breathing is huge,” she said. “There is such a strong mental component in golf, and yoga really helps me with that.”

“In a sport that we like to say is 90% mental and 10% psychological, learning to breathe and focus is super important,” agrees Roberts, who teachers yoga to pro golfers and Major League Baseball players. “Yoga incorporates the body, the mind, and the breath,” says Roberts, “and that combo is what makes it ideal for this sport.”

Check back later this week for more of my interview and video of some of Gulbis’ go-to poses.

Do you do use yoga or pilates or other type of body work to enhance your golf game? How do you think it helps you?

Golf Rules

It’s transition time around here. Mt. Rose closed last Sunday and it’s time to break out the golf clubs.

A couple of months ago I wrote about how my son Liam suggested I ditch my writing career and become a police photographer instead. He made this observation because of my love of picture-taking….and my appreciation for rules.

It may be that one of the reasons golf is so appealing to me is that it truly is a game of rules. Of course the fact that there are so many rules can also make the game maddening. But guess what? There’s an app for that. Actually, there are bunch of apps for that! I’m planning to make my way through a few of them, but the one I downloaded for starters is the USGA’s Golf Rules. 

What’s most convenient is that you can search by topic or phrase and jump to the topic you have a question about. For example, if you’re wondering what to do if your ball is out of bounds, just search “out of bounds” and rule 27 will pop right up.

I’m always sad when ski season is over but I’m excited to get out to the driving range with my crew this week.

What do you do when the snow melts?

Get Smart (Gloves)

A few months ago I wrote about these cool Manzella gloves for my friend Vera’s blog. Since then I’ve found a bunch more in the same category. Since it’s major sale season, I thought I might do a little round-up here. From this list, the only ones I’ve tried are the Manzellas, but I definitely want to check out some of these others.

These Chaos Adrenaline Heater Gloves ($18.99) are similar, but they’re described as “liners.” For someone like me who prefers mittens, they’re ideal. I can wear them underneath but not freeze my fingers off when I need to use my phone.

These gloves, from 180s, feature little “pods” on the index finger and thumb that allow you to operate the touch screen on your phone or iPod ($50). I like that the cuff comes up  high on the wrist and has a cinch to keep the cold out.

The Pow Transfilmer offers the best of both worlds ($65). The mitten flaps fold back to reveal gloved fingers, with an uncovered index finger. Pretty slick.

The bottom line: there’s a smart glove out there for every preference. Has anyone tried any of these “smart” gloves? Got a favorite you want to share?

Skiing “Granny” Runs

First, let me say that I adore my son Liam. He is 14 — and everything that goes along with being 14 — but for the most part he is a terrific kid. Late Saturday night he returned home from an exhausting (emphasis mine) spring break week in Palm Springs with his good buddy. They spent the week wakeboarding, fishing and hiking. I’m in grad school and had a different spring break than my kids this year so Liam went off with another family and the rest of us had a stay-cation.

Since yesterday was the last day for us to ski at Mt. Rose I insisted (again, emphasis mine) that he come along on a family ski day. His friend, H, wanted to come with us so off we went for a beautiful day of slushy spring skiing. The boys did one obligatory run with Liam’s sisters,  Rob and me…and then they begged us to let them go ski on their own. 

I have to admit I had mixed feelings about this because I knew where they were headed: The Chutes. This terrain at Mt. Rose is insanely steep — 45-degree pitches — and strewn with all sorts of obstacles. When the conditions are good, the runs are amazing but for the most part I avoid the area unless there is a ton of new snow.

Since we’d had some snow on Thursday and Friday I knew it wouldn’t be too icy, so off they went. Liam raced for 5 years and is a beautiful, technical skier. H is even better. The boys are both significantly better skier than I have ever been but…did I mention they are 14?

Anyway, off they went with instructions to not doing anything stupid and to meet us for lunch 90 minutes later. Exactly 90 minutes later this is what they looked like when they found us on the sun deck.

Heading to the Chutes at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe

Apparently the snow was amazing. It was the best snow of the whole season. The powder is at least a foot deep. It’s like winter in there. Got it.

When they couldn’t convince me to go back to the Chutes with them after lunch they graciously agreed to take a few “granny” runs with me. Granny runs?!  And then they were gone again. Have I created a monster or what?