Golf and Goal Setting

I’ve been away! Actually, I’ve been at home wrapping up finals projects. As of tonight I’m OFFICIALLY finished with my second semester of graduate school. Wow. Anyway, that’s the reason for the long silence.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about The First Tee, the program where my kids are learning to golf. In a roundabout way, I’m learning via The First Tee too because I adopted the woman who runs the program in northern Nevada to teach me when she’s not teaching kids.

One of the things that kids learn via TFT is goal setting. In the program, the coaches call it a “goal ladder.”

The idea is this: pick a goal that is specific and within your control. For example, a kid might set a goal to make 10 putts in a row during a practice AND pass his math class. Then, once those goals are met, the bar goes higher. The goal might be to raise his overall GPA to a 3.2 and to shoot par.

I love the idea of a goal ladder. I mean, it can relate to food or fitness or parenting or anything in life really. But every time I go out on the course, or to the driving range or the putting green, I have a goal. It might be to make 6 putts in a row when I practice putting. Or it might be to keep my HEAD DOWN until I see the head of the club strike the ball when I’m on the tee (guess what one of my biggest problems is?!).

Setting goals for golf and life

In other words, my goal is to focus on one thing at at time. One of my biggest problems is that as soon as I get into my ready position, I go through an elaborate and ever-growing checklist. I’m pretty sure most golfers, especially beginners, know what I’m talking about.

Do you have golf-related goals? Are you a goal-setter in other areas of your life? Do you encourage your kids to set goals? What are some goals you’ve set and met recently? Please share.


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?