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A Quick Nine: Josh Lesnik, President of KemperLesnik and KemperSports

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There is an emerging set of relatively new courses that have made their way onto many golfers’ bucket list: Bandon Dunes, Streamsong, Chambers Bay and Cabot Links are among them. What do they have in common? They are all connected with KemperLesnik and KemperSports, two of the most influential organizations in golf. We spent some time with the President of KemperLesnik and KemperSports Josh Lesnik to get some insight into what has made the company successful so far and what their vision is for the future.

Michael Williams: Let’s talk a little bit about you before we get straight to the golf courses. Where did you grow up? I know you’re living in the Chicago area now. Did you grow up in the Chicago area?

Josh Lesnik: Yep. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, north of the city, and pretty much … I was actually born in Georgetown Hospital [in Washington, D.C.] but we didn’t live there very long. My folks moved here when I was under two years old.

MW: I was born in Georgetown Hospital!

JL: See, you know. I mean, we were separated at birth, as you remember.

MW: Now I remember. Okay. I thought I knew you from somewhere. So, you moved to the Chicago area with your folks…was golf a part of your life from the very beginning?

JL: KemperSports is a family business that my father and his partner, Jim Kemper Jr., started. My dad was about 40 years old when he started it, and I was about 13. He was a non-golfer when he started the company, but he realized, if he was going to get in the golf business, he better learn how to play. So, we both really learned at the same time, from a golf professional named Bob Spence who worked at Kemper Lakes at the time. We both learned on Vernon Hills Golf Course, which is a nine-hole golf course in Vernon Hills, Illinois that was our company’s first management contract, a nine-hole golf course, municipally built and owned by the village of Vernon Hills, and we actually still manage it today. It’s a neat place, and near and dear to our hearts.

MW: That’s kind of an amazing sort of arc there, that your father and his partner chose to start a golf management company, and he didn’t know how to play the game.

JL: Well, what happened was Kemper Insurance left from downtown Chicago, which many companies were doing at that time in the 70s. The campus was 350, 400 acres, and after they moved into the building, the real estate department came to Jim Kemper Jr. was the CEO and chairman of Kemper Insurance and said, “Hey, we got to do something with all this land, and there’s wetlands, and it’s kind of pretty.” So Mr. Kemper decided he wanted to build a golf course. My dad was a young vice president of public relations at the time, and Mr. Kemper selected him to oversee the project, even being a non-golfer. He said, “Hey, I want it done right, and I want you to make it famous.”

So, my dad kind of had to learn on the fly the golf business. They ended up building Kemper Lakes, and that opened in 1979. A few years after that, the board of directors said, “Hey, we really should be in the golf business,” so my dad and Mr. Kemper leased the golf course from the insurance company, and that’s how KemperSports started. And then Kemper Lakes hosted a PGA championship when it was only 10 years old. It was won by Payne Stewart.

After Kemper Lakes opened in ’79 and they started KemperSports, we got a call from the mayor of Vernon Hills. He said, “Hey, we’re thinking of building a golf course. Could you help us do that?” And that’s sort of how we got into building and opening and operating golf courses on other people’s behalf, and that’s really when the management company was born.

MW: It’s really just an amazing success story, to think that you started from one course that was built sort of out of a financial necessity and then turn that into arguably the most influential golf ownership and management company in this country, if not the world. Did you always know that you were going to be going in the business?

JL: Yeah, oh yeah. Once I could drive, I started working at Kemper Lakes. I think my first job was clubhouse maintenance, and then I got promoted to pick the driving range. But the most coveted jobs were the cart boy jobs, because my dad had sort of started that whole country club for a day thing, this high-end daily fee where you get treated really well and you don’t have to join a club or pay dues. So, the cart boys would run out and grab the golf clubs. Now it’s sort of commonplace, but in 1979 it wasn’t.

Eventually I got to do that, and it was a great way to sort of learn about customer service and hustle, and then I got to work in the pro shop for some great pros. Worked for Stan McKee a little bit, and of course, Emil Esposito, who was probably our most influential golf professional in our company. We have an award each year for the PGA pro of the year, and it’s named after Emil. He was a fun, fun guy to work for, and you certainly learned a lot working for him.

MW: Was he any relation to [Hall of Fame hockey players] Tony and Phil?

JL: Not that we know of, but he was a phenomenal athlete and phenomenal player, as were the hockey Espositos. But no, he was strictly a golf Esposito, and he played golf at Northern Illinois and won many Illinois State Opens, and was a fabulous player. He still teaches today at The Glen Club, which is a project that we opened here in Glenview, Illinois in 2001, and he still is out there on the range… I think he’s 83 years old and still out there on his feet all day, teaching the game and growing the game.

MW: Bless his heart, that’s what we need. What do you think is the mission and vision for Kemper properties? How do you want them to look and feel to your visitors?

JL: Well, obviously, we’re so fortunate to work with some of the best clients and real visionaries in golf. There’s Mike Keiser, who built Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, and Sand Valley. And Rich Mack and the Mosaic company that built Streamsong. We work for Pierce County, Washington and Chambers Bay. So, we’re fortunate to have clients that are true visionaries, and for us, we really like to help them just carry out their vision. We’ve talked about KemperSports and KemperLesnik. KemperLesnik is the PR agency, and that was my dad’s first love. He started that public relations agency at the same time as the golf company.

So, we were born out of this public relations agency. To us, it’s a service business on two fronts. One, it’s service to our clients, and we really are a behind the scenes company. When you go to Whiskey Creek Golf Course [just outside Washington, D.C.], we want you to have a great experience and we want you to leave and say, “Whiskey Creek, man, what a great place.” But the people should be just as good as the place.” Whether that’s going to Bandon Dunes or Sand Valley or Streamsong, we want people to remember the name of the place, and we want them to say, “Man, the people and the service were amazing and memorable.”

And that’s really how we were born, treating the customers with customer service. Our proprietary customer service program is called True Service, and that’s really in our DNA. I mean, it’s an emergency to us, to try and take care of people. We’re a bigger company now, managing over 120 golf courses. But we really try and make that the part of our company that really sticks out the most, the fact that that in the end, we’re here as a hospitality company, and that’s what we want people to remember.

MW: I love the phrase, “taking care of our customers is an emergency.” You mentioned that the Keiser family and the courses they have with Sand Valley, which opened recently [June 1, 2017], Streamsong, Cabot Links, etc. They’re all among the most coveted destinations in golf now, but it all traces back to Bandon Dunes, You were the first general manager at Bandon Dunes, and that has become sort of a watershed property. It has defined a type of golf resort that is being imitated, if not duplicated. Did you know from the beginning what you had there, or did it sort of dawn on you over time, that you had done something kind of different and special?

JL: My answer would be, “No.” We didn’t know what it would become. I’m not sure I would have accepted the job if I knew how big it was going to become. I hadn’t been a general manager before. Obviously, growing up in the business I had a ton of support from the company. But if we knew how big it was going to get… we ended up bringing in a really big time general manager who I hired, and helped us continue to grow that place. Mike’s vision was to say, “Look at all these American golfers going to play golf over in Scotland and Ireland. What are the characteristics of that that make hundreds of thousands of people go over there every year? Can we do something like that in America?”

I mean, there were a lot of people calling themselves a links course at the time, which really weren’t links courses. Mike Keiser’s vision was to find links land in America and see if he could replicate that experience, the firm turf and balls that kind of can get away from you on the ground, playing the ground game, and putting from 40 yards out. All the little quirkiness of links golf along with playing on the ocean and the varied weather that that can bring. So, we knew his vision, we saw the site we said, “Wow. Maybe he has a chance to do that here.” He’s so brilliant in working with the architects; a good example is the job that David Kidd did on the first course. David Kidd was an unknown, 28-year-old, struggling architect from Scotland trying to get a start. But really, bringing that Scottish flavor to America on the south coast of Oregon, on the ocean, it just caught on. I know people would say I’m biased, but no matter how much you and I talk about it and say how great it is, if somebody new goes there, it’s going to live up to their expectations. That’s what’s amazing about that place.

MW: You talked about Kemper Lakes and Chambers Bay. Do you know off the top of your head how many of your courses have hosted major championships?

JL: Kemper Lakes hosted the PGA championship. Chambers Bay hosted the 2015 U.S. Open that Jordan Spieth just eked out over Dustin Johnson. Chambers Bay also hosted the U.S. Amateur, I know that’s not included as a major in any official counts, but certainly Amateur … The translation of amateur is love of the game, so those are our clients, and that’s … The U.S. Amateur’s a major to us, and Bandon Dunes is going to host the U.S. Amateur in 2020. We’ve been fortunate to host other events and championships at our courses all across the country, which is great.

MW: You get a chance to play all the golf you want to. Is there a favorite course, either yours or any other course that you really just love to play?

JL: Well, I mean, again, I hate to go back to it…I guess, I really don’t, but Bandon Dunes, the first course there, the David Kidd course is really near and dear to my heart. My family moved out there and we opened up Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes. That place is just special, and special to me personally, special to our company. It’s great to work with the Keiser family. It happens to be the first course I broke 80 on, and so yeah, I’d have to say Bandon Dunes is certainly a special place.

MW: Is that the one you would choose if you were going to play your final round and if that’s the one, who’d be in your dream foursome?

JL: I was fortunate to have some very good mentors in life, and Mike Keiser’s one who I would never turn down a round with. As fast as he plays, we could probably get two rounds in in the time most people play one! And then I’d have to say my father-in-law. Unfortunately, he passed away, but he was a very special guy, and I loved to play golf with him. We played in a lot of events together, and then my dad, who’s given me every opportunity in the world in my career and personally and professionally. That’s my dream foursome, and fortunately, I get to still play a little bit with Mike and my dad, but that would be my group.

MW: You have done a lot with this company to build a product that is very special within the game, exceptional, and excellent properties. What about affordability, diversity and inclusion? Where are those on the radar for a company like yours and your courses?

JL: Well, obviously, affordability is important, but golf is an expensive sport. I mean, you can’t get away from it. If you’re going to have 14 clubs and a bag and golf balls, and to play on a course that takes up some amount of acreage that needs to be taken care of, it is an expensive sport. So, fortunately, there’s a lot of programs. Obviously, The First Tee is the most well known, but there are so many grassroots programs all across the country in growing the game. I think right now, for example, the PGA Junior League is one of the best, if not the best grow-the-game initiative out there today that the PGA of America started. It’s where you actually play on a team, and you play a scramble. You can have jerseys with numbers on them, and the kids can share clubs if they need to.

So, whether you’re a public golf course or a private club, you have a certain number, these PGA Junior League teams, you play in different age groups, you play a scramble with three other kids. So, you’re going to hit these bad shots, you’re going to top them, you’re going to miss it, you’re going to hit one in the water, but you have four shots at it and you have a team. So, it’s a little bit more like Little League. You’re rooting for your teammates. You hit a bad shot, it’s not as bad, because you got three more chances at it, and I think that’s one of the best grow the game initiatives going.

Obviously, The First Tee does a wonderful job growing the games in areas where the game is difficult to grow, because it is an expensive sport. So, trying to bring basically free lessons, free equipment to places where it’s very difficult to grow the game, I think that’s all part of it. And June is basically our month where we highlight all player development programs across all 120 golf courses. We have our PGA pros give free lessons to beginners or golfers that once played and are now coming back into the game.

So, we promote it through all our social channels, and we get it out in each market that we’re in, that this is the month to come out, no questions asked, you don’t need equipment. Come to our courses, we’ll get you the equipment, we’ll give you free lessons, it’s a 15-minute quick lesson to get you either back into the game or get you into the game, and we give thousands of lessons across the country. We even do it in our office for our own staff. So, I think that’s what we try and do, is just try and grow the game at each location in each market we operate.

I also think the president of the USGA, Diana Murphy, started a wonderful program called Plus One. The idea is that if you’re into the game and you love the game, and you want to give back, try and get one other person into the game with you, and if everyone was able to do that, you could obviously double the number of golfers. It’s a wonderful notion, and we all know how hard a game it is, it’s so hard for beginners, but we all know that it’s worthwhile too, that if you stick with it, it can be really rewarding.

MW: I think you said a lot of good things there.

JL: Yeah, and you know, Michael, another thing we’re trying to do is something that is a little bit overlooked as a grow the game initiative. If you look back on how some of the older tour players started playing, many of these players got into the game of golf through caddying, and we try to have caddies at as many of our properties as makes sense. There’s a wonderful scholarship that was started here in Chicago called the Evans scholarship, started by Chick Evans, and it’s where a financially needy caddie who has the caddie experience and also has the grades and the discipline in school can earn a full ride, four-year scholarship. It’s now in about 20 universities across the country.

The Evans scholarship, it has about, right now, almost 900 kids in school. We’re striving to get to 1,000 kids on a full ride to college, and we’re talking Northwestern University, the Big Ten schools, Notre Dame has it now. It’s growing on the East Coast as well, and we are trying in Chicago at a couple places. We manage a place called Harborside International, a 36-hole venue on the south side of Chicago that Dick Nugent built. It’s on a landfill, it’s really a neat, neat property on a big lake, Lake Calumet.

We are trying to get The First Tee kids to start caddying there. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily teach them how to swing a golf club, but it teaches them a little bit of work ethic, they make money, they spend three-and-a-half, four hours with people playing golf that one day could hire them if they are fortunate enough to go through college, and it’s a way to get kids into the game while also teaching them all the values of earning money, meeting people, showing up on time, respect for elders, all of these things. So, a lot of the values that The First Tee has, you also learn in caddying, but you happen to make money at the same time.

We’re finding that it’s a great program. The Western Golf Association started a caddie academy here in Chicago land that’s now up to 90 girls, trying to get more girls into caddying. They all stay in a dorm up here, it’s just a wonderful program. So, I’d say caddying is a little bit overlooked as a grow the game initiative, but it’s really important, and it’s important if you can do it in challenging areas.

MW: What’s coming in your portfolio for 2017?

JL: Sand Valley opened May 2nd and the owner of Old Waverly in West Point, Mississippi built a public golf course called Mossy Oak. A Gil Hanse design, also in West Point, Mississippi, that we opened this spring. A really neat property, so now there’s two courses down there you can stay overnight and you can play both golf courses. Obviously, this fall, we are extremely excited to be opening the Black course at Streamsong.

Rich Mack hired Gil Hanse to design and build the Black course, the third course, and it is a showstopper. Haven’t played it yet, but I’ve walked it several times with Gil, and I cannot wait for people to see that, because it’s going to be … I mean, it’s just going to be a really highly talked about golf course. It’s a big, bold golf course. So, we’re very excited about that. We opened a Greg Norman design golf course in Mexico for Vidanta Resorts in Puerto Vallarta, one of our few international projects. We’re very excited they’re opening, I believe it’s their sixth course, and really, a neat place to stay. They have great timeshares there, and a hotel that’s just out of this world, and they’re continuing to build a lot of neat stuff in Puerto Vallarta with Vidanta Resorts.

So, lot of exciting stuff. We’re also opening a reversible golf course in eastern Oregon called Silvies Valley Ranch that’s going to open late summer this year, designed by Dan Hixson, who’s an architect that’s done some things out in the Northwest. I know there are not a lot of golf courses opening anymore, but we’re opening six golf courses this year, so it’s a pretty exciting year for us.

MW: For my last question, I got to ask you something just a little bit whimsical. If you were king of golf for a day, what would you change or what would you add? Would you do anything different, or is it good like it is?

JL: Well… If you could go back in time a little bit, you’d say, look, we learned the game from Scotland, and it would be great if we sorta more emulated the way they play the game. So, what I’m getting at is probably more match play. Let’s not make an eight, a nine, or a ten and try and keep score, and shoot 109, or 99, or even 89, or maybe even 79. We’re not PGA tour players; those are the top half of 1 percent of players. Let’s play more match play, let’s enjoy it more, play alternate formats of golf, alternate shots, scrambles. It would solve the speed of play thing in a heartbeat, match play, because you pick up your balls, you’re out of a hole, and you go to the next tee.

In Scotland, you see them play their four ball matches, and they play in two-and-a-half hours, and if the match ends on the 14th hole, they come in, and they’ve played in two hours. Some days I’m enjoying golf so much I really never want it to end, so I know people are saying “speed of play, speed of play…” and it is true. It’s hard when you get stuck on a busy course, but we’d all play a little faster if we kind of emulated the game in Scotland more and played more match play and were less concerned about score.

It’s easier said than done. I mean, I’m guilty of it too, because what we watch on TV every weekend is stroke play, and we all kind of want to have a number, but when you’re in the pub in Scotland, they don’t come in and say, “What did you shoot?” They say, “Who won the match?” You talk about, oh, we won 4 & 3. So, it’s a whole different mindset. I don’t know that we’ll ever get there, but the closer we can get in the alternate formats, and like I said, getting kids into the game by playing scrambles and being a part of a team, I think we’re heading the right direction, and the PGA of America and the USGA has great leadership right now, so I think they’re simplifying the rules of golf. I think we’re heading in the right direction.

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Michael

    Jul 17, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    How about you keep it to golf and take your other issues to Fox or CNN or MSNBC or Brietbart or Infowars?

  2. Tom1

    Jul 16, 2017 at 11:14 pm

    great imterview. This guy is solid, I’m not saying that because he’s my boss. I worked with Mr. Lesnik @ Bandon in the early days and at times it was chaotic but with his over site and direction quest never knew that there was uncertainty because “taking care of our customers is an emergency”

  3. Double Mocha Man

    Jul 15, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    The match play idea in the last section is a good one. Though if I won 4 and 3 I don’t know if I’d want to walk in and skip the last 3 holes.

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Opinion & Analysis

Don’t Leave Your Common Sense in Escrow Outside the Golf Course Parking Lot

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Disclaimer: Much of what follows is going to come off as elitist, harsh and downright mean spirited — a pro looking down from his ivory tower at all the worthless hacks and judging them. It is the opposite. The intent is to show how foolish WE golfers are, chasing around a white ball with a crooked stick and suspending all of the common sense we use in our every day lives.

Much of what follows is not just the bane of average golfers, but also low handicappers, tour players and even a former long-drive champion during his quest for the PGA Tour… and now, the Champions Tour. In other words, if WE take ourselves a bit less seriously and use a bit more common sense, we are going to have more fun and actually hit better golf shots. We will shoot lower scores.

FYI: All of the examples of nutbaggery to come are things I have actually witnessed. They’re not exaggerated for the sake of laughs.

It’s winter time and most of you poor souls are not enjoying the 70-degree temperatures I am in Southern California right now (see, you all hate me already… and it’s going to get worse). That gives us all time to assess our approach to golf. I am not talking course management or better focus; I am talking how WE golfers approach our successes and failures, which for many is more important than the aforementioned issues or the quality of our technique.

Why is it that golf turns normal, intelligent, successful and SANE people into deviant, ignorant failures that exhibit all of the tell-tale signs of insanity? I also forgot profane, whiny, hostile, weak-minded, weak-willed and childish. Not to mention stupid. Why do we seem to leave our common sense and sanity in escrow in a cloud outside the golf course parking lot… only to have it magically return the moment our car leaves the property after imposing extreme mental anguish on ourselves that Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (don’t feel bad if you have to google this) would find extreme?

Smarter people than I have written books on this, but I think they missed a key factor. Clubs, balls, shoes, bags, gloves, tees, the grasses, especially the sand in the bunkers, the Gatorade they sell at the snack bar, hats, visors, over-logoed clothing, golf carts, etc., are all made with human kryptonite. Not enough to kill us, but just enough to make us act like children who didn’t get the latest fad toy for Christmas and react by throwing a hissy fit.

Bob Rotella has said golf is not a game of perfect, and although religious texts say man was made in God’s image, thinking we are perfect is blasphemous. We all play golf like we think there is an equivalent of a bowling 300. We expect to hit every drive 300 yards (the bowling perfect) with a three-yard draw… in the middle of the face… in the dead center of the fairway. All iron shots must be worked from the middle of the green toward the pin and compressed properly with shaft lean, ball-first contact and the perfect dollar-bill sized divot (and not too deep). Shots within 100 yards from any lie should be hit within gimme range, and all putts inside 20 feet must be holed.

We get these ideas from watching the best players in the world late on Sunday, where all of the above seem commonplace. We pay no attention to the fact that we are significantly worse than the guys who shot 76-76 and missed the cut. We still hold ourselves to that ridiculous standard.

  • Group 1: “Monte, you’re exaggerating. No one has those expectations.”
  • Group 2: ”Monte, I’m a type-A personality. I’m very competitive and hard on myself.”

To the first group, the following examples say different. And to the second group, I am one of you. It’s OK for me to want to shoot over 80 percent from the free throw line, but at 50 years old and 40 pounds over weight, what would you say to me if I said, “I’m type-A and competitive and I want to dunk like Lebron James!” Oh yeah, and I want to copy Michael Jordan’s dunking style, Steph Curry’s shooting stroke and Pistol Pete’s passing and dribbling style.” That seems ridiculous, but switch those names to all-time greats in golf and WE have all been guilty of those aspirations.

I don’t know how to answer 18-handicaps who ask me if they should switch to blades so they can work the ball better and in both directions. The blunt a-hole in me wants to tell them, “Dude, just learn to hit the ball on the face somewhere,” but that’s what they read in the golf magazines. You’re supposed to work the ball from the middle of the green toward the pin, like Nicklaus. Well, the ball doesn’t curve as much now as it did in Nicklaus’ prime and most tour players only work the ball one way unless the circumstances don’t allow it. “And you’re not Jack Nicklaus.” Some joke about Jesus and Moses playing golf has that punch line.

Wouldn’t it be easier to get as proficient as possible at one shot when you have limited practice time, versus being less than mediocre on several different shots? This also applies to hitting shots around the greens 27 different ways, but don’t get me started…just buy my short game video. Hyperbole and shameless plug aside, this is a huge mistake average golfers make. They never settle on one way of doing things.

The day the first white TaylorMade adjustable driver was released, I played 9 holes behind a very nice elderly couple. He went to Harvard and she went to Stanford. He gets on the first tee and hits a big push. He walks to the cart, grabs his wrench and closes the club face. She tops her tee shot, gets the wrench and adds some loft. Out of morbid curiosity, I stayed behind them the entire front 9 and watched them adjust their clubs for every mishit shot. It took over 3 hours for a two-some. These are extremely nice, smart and successful people and look what golf did to them. Anyone calling this a rules violation, have a cocktail; you’re talking yourself even more seriously than they were. Old married couple out fooling around, big deal if they broke a rule. No tournament, not playing for money, they’re having fun. They had gimmies, mulligans and winter rules. Good for them.

This is an extreme example of a huge mistake that nearly 100 percent of golfers make; they believe the need for an adjustment after every bad shot… or worse, after every non-perfect shot. How many of you have done this both on the range and on the course?

”(Expletive), pushed that one, need to close the face. (Expletive), hit that one thin, need to hit down more on this one. (Expletive), hooked that one, need to hold off the release.”

I’ll ask people why they do this and the answer is often, “I’m trying to build a repeatable swing.”

Nice. Building repeatable swing by making 40 different swings during a range session or round of golf. That is insane and stupid, but WE have all done it. The lesson learned here is to just try and do better on the next one. You don’t want to make adjustments until you have the same miss several times in a row. As a secondary issue, what are the odds that you do all of the following?

  1.  Diagnose the exact swing fault that caused the bad shot
  2.  Come up with the proper fix
  3.  Implement that fix correctly in the middle of a round of golf with OB, two lakes, eight bunkers and three elephants buried in the green staring you in the face.

Another factor in this same vein, and again, WE have all been guilty of this: “I just had my worst round in three weeks. What I was doing to shoot my career low three times in row isn’t working any more. Where is my Golf Digest? I need a new tip.”

Don’t lie… everyone reading this article has done that. EVERYONE! Improvement in golf is as far from linear as is mathematically possible. I have never heard a golfer chalk a high score up to a “bad day.” It’s always a technique problem, so there is a visceral need to try something different. “It’s not working anymore. I think I need to do the Dustin Johnson left wrist, the Sergio pull-down lag, the Justin Thomas downswing hip turn, the Brooks Koepka restricted-backswing hip turn and the Jordan Spieth and Jamie Sadllowski bent left elbow… with a little Tiger Woods 2000 left-knee snap when I need some extra power.” OK, maybe it’s a small bit of exaggeration that someone would try all of these, but I have heard multiple people regale of putting 2-3 of those moves in after a bad round that didn’t mesh with their downtrending index.

An 8-handicap comes to me for his first lesson. He had shot in the 70’s four of his last five rounds and shot a career best in the last of the five. All of the sudden, those friendly slight mishits that rhyme with the place where we keep our money show up. First a few here and there and then literally every shot. He shows up and shanks 10 wedges in a row and is literally ready to cry. I said, “Go home, take this week off and come back… and what’s your favorite beer?”

He comes back the next week, pulls a club and goes to hit one. I tell him to have a seat. I hand him a beer and we talk football for 15 minutes. Then I pull out my iPad and show him exactly why he is hitting shanks. I tell him one setup issue and one intent change and ask him to go hit one. It was slightly on the heel, but not a shank and very thin. I said to do both changes a bit more. The second one — perfect divot, small draw and on target. I walk over, put my hand up for a high five and say, “Awesome job! Great shot!”

He leaves me hanging and says, ”Yeah, but I hit it in the toe.”

Don’t judge him. Every day I have people with 50-yard slices toned down to 15-20 yards saying the ball is still slicing. These are people who won’t accept a fade, but slam their club when it over draws 15 feet left of the target… and so on. I can’t judge or be angry; I used to be these guys, too. During a one-hour lesson, I often hear people get frustrated with themselves for thin and fat, left and right, heel and toe. Apparently, anything not hunting flags or hit out of a dime-sized area is an epic fail. I also get emails the next day saying the fault and miss is still there.

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!

My big miss has always been a big block, often in the heel. Instead, I now often hit a pull in the left fairway bunker out of the toe. I celebrate like I’m Kool & the Gang and it’s 1999… and I get strange looks from everyone. I can manage a 10-15 yard low, slightly drawn pull. I cannot not manage a 40-50 yard in the atmosphere block… that cuts.

So, now that I have described all of US as pathetic, let’s see what we can do.

  1. Be hard on yourself, be competitive and set lofty goals all you want… but you need to accept at least a one-side miss. If you hate hitting thin, weak fades, you need to allow yourself a slightly heavy over draw. Not allowing yourself any miss will make you miss every shot.
  2. Generally, the better the player, the larger the pool of results that are used to judge success. Pros judge themselves over months and years. High-handicappers judge themselves on their previous shot. Do you think pros make a swing change after 10 good shots and one minor miss? We all seem to think that course of action is astute. Bad shot, must have done something wrong… HULK MUST FIX!
  3. Don’t judge your shots on a pass/fail grade. Grade yourself A-F. Are you going to feel better after 10 A’s, 25 B’s, 15 C’s, 4 D’s and 1 F… or 10 passes and 40 fails? If every non-perfect shot is seen as a failure, your subconscious will do something different in order to please you. Again, 40 different swings.
  4. Improving your swing and scores is a lot like losing weight. No one expects to make changes in a diet and exercise routine and lose 20 pounds in one day, yet golfers expect a complete overhaul in a small bucket. Give yourself realistic time frames for improvement. “I’m a 12. By the end of next year, I want to be an 8.”  That’s your goal, not whether or not your last range session was the worst in a month. It’s a bad day; that is allowed. Major champions miss cuts and all of them not named Tiger Woods don’t change their swings. They try and do better next week… and they nearly always do.
  5. DO NOT measure yourself either on the mechanics of your swing or your scoring results according to some arbitrary standard of perfection… and especially not against tour players. Measure yourself against yourself. Think Ty Webb. Is your swing better than it was 6 months ago? Do you hit it better than 6 months ago? Are you scoring better than 6 months ago? If you can say yes to at least two of those questions, your swing looking like Adam Scott is less relevant than the color of golf tee you use.

That is a winning formula, and just like bad habits in your swing, you can’t wake up one morning and tell yourself you’re no longer into self flagellation. It takes effort and practice to improve your approach and get out of your own way… but more importantly, have some fun.

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Opinion & Analysis

15 hot takes from Greg Norman on our 19th Hole podcast

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Our Michael Williams spoke with the Great White Shark himself, Greg Norman, for GolfWRX’s 19th Hole podcast. Not surprisingly, the two-time major champion had no shortage of hot takes.

While you’ll want to check out the full ‘cast, here are 15 takes of varying degrees of hotness, from Norman’s feelings about bifurcation to whether he’d pose for ESPN’s Body Issue.

1) He wants bifurcation immediately, rolling back technology for the pros, rolling it forward for amateurs

“I would instigate a bifurcation of the rules. I would roll back the golf ball regulations to pre-1996. I would roll back the technology that’s in the golf equipment for the professionals. And I would open up the technology and give it to the masses because the pros who developed the maximum club head speed of 118, 120 are the ones who maximize what technology is in that piece of equipment. So the person who’s under 100 miles an hour does not hit the ball an extra 30, 35 yards at all. They may pick up a few yards but they don’t get the full benefit of that technology…I would definitely do that because I think we’ve gotta make the game more fun for the masses. “

2) He has no relationship with Tiger Woods and doesn’t plan to watch him play golf

“And this might sound kind of strange. What I’ll say is … I really, in all honesty, I really don’t care what Tiger does with golf. I think Tiger is, golf probably needs him to some degree but golf doesn’t need him, if you know what I mean, because there’s so many other incredibly talented great young players out there, probably a dozen of them, maybe even more, that are equal, if not way better than Tiger, and they can carry the baton of being the number one player in the world. So, I get a little bit perplexed about and disappointed about how some of these guys get pushed into the background by the attention Tiger gets. I hope he does well. If he doesn’t do well, it doesn’t bother me. If he does do well, it doesn’t bother me.”

3) He plays almost no golf these days

“I really don’t play a lot of golf. I played with my son in the father-son at the end of last year, had a blast with him. Played a little bit of golf preparing for that. But since then I have not touched a golf club.”

4) He doesn’t enjoy going to the range anymore

“To be honest with you I’m sick and tired of being on the driving range hitting thousands and thousands of golf balls. That bores me to death now. My body doesn’t like it to tell you the truth. Since I’ve stopped playing golf I wake up without any aches and pains and I can go to the gym on a regular basis without aches and pains. So my lifestyle is totally different now. My expectations, equally, is totally different.”

5) It took him a long time to get used to recreational golf

“But I’ve been in this mode now for quite a few years now so the first couple of years, yes. My body was not giving me what my brain was expecting. So you do have to make those mental adjustments. Look, there’s no difference than when you hit 40, you’re a good player or not a good player. Things start to perform differently. Your proprioception is different. Your body is different. I don’t care how good you are and how great physical shape you are. Your body after just pure wear and tear, it eventually does tend to break down a little bit. And when you’re under the heat of the battle and under the gun, when you have to execute the most precise shot, your body sometimes doesn’t deliver what you want.”

6) He’s a big Tom Brady fan

“I’m a big fan, big admirer of his. He gets out of it what he puts into it obviously…But he’s also a role model and a stimulator for his teammates. No question, when you go to play Brady and the Patriots, you’d better bring your A game because he’s already got his A game ready to go.”

7) He believes we’ll see 50-plus-year-old winners on Tour

“I said this categorically when Tom Watson nearly won at Turnberry in his 50s, when I nearly won at Royal Birkdale in my 50s….if you keep yourself physically in good shape, flexibility in good shape, as well as your swing playing, and your swing. Yeah, maybe the yips come in maybe they don’t, that depends on the individual, right? But at the end of the day, my simple answer is yes. I do believe that’s going to happen.”

8) The Shark logo has been vital to his post-golf success

“But I realized very early on in life too that every athlete, male or female, no matter what sports you play you’re a finite entity. You have a finite period of time to maximize your best performance for X number of years. And with golf, if you look at it historically, it’s almost like a 15 year cycle. I had my 15 year run. Every other player has really has had a 15 year run, plus or minus a few years.”

“So you know you have that definitive piece of time you got to work with and then what you do after that is understanding what you did in that time period. And then how do you take that and parlay it? I was lucky because I had a very recognizable logo. It wasn’t initials. It wasn’t anything like that. It was just a Great Shark logo. And that developed a lot of traction. So I learned marketing and branding very, very quickly and how advantageous it could be as you look into the future about building your businesses.”

9) He’s tried to turn on-course disappointments into positives

“We all … well I shouldn’t say we all. I should say the top players, the top sports men and women work to win. Right? And when we do win that’s what we expected ourselves to do because we push ourselves to that limit. But you look at all the great golfers of the past and especially Jack Nicklaus, it’s how you react to a loss is more important than how you react to a victory. And so, I learned that very, very early on. And I can’t control other people’s destiny. I can’t control what other people do on the golf course. So I can only do what I do. When I screw up, I use that as a very strong study point in understanding my weakness to make sure that I make a weakness a strength.”

10) Jordan Spieth is best suited to be the top player in the world

“I think that Jordan is probably the most balanced, with best equilibrium in the game. He’s probably, from what I’m seeing, completely in touch with the responsibilities of what the game of golf and the success in the game of golf is.”

11) His golf design is built on two pillars

“Two things: Begin with the end in mind and the least disturbance approach. I think we, the industry of golf course design industry, really did the game of golf a major disservice in the 80s and 90s when everybody was leveraged to the hilt, thought they had unlimited capital, and thought they could just go build these big golf courses with big amounts of money invested in with magnificent giant club houses which weren’t necessary. So, we were actually doing a total disservice to the industry because it was not sustainable.”

12) He’s still not happy about having essentially invented the WGC events and not getting credit

“I’ll always be a little bit salty about that because there’s a saying that I keep telling everybody, “slay the dreamer.” I came up with a pretty interesting concept where the players would be the part owners of their own tour or their own destiny and rewarded the riches if they performed on the highest level. And quite honestly, Michael, actually a friend of mine sent me an article, it was a column written, “Shark and Fox Plan to Take a Bite out of the PGA”. And this is written in 11/17/94 and I literally just got it last night. And I’m reading through this article and I’m going, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I was ahead of my time!” I really was ahead of my time.

So, it was very, very kind of like a reflective moment for me. I read it again this morning with a cup of coffee and I did sit back and, I’ll be brutally honest with you and your listeners, and did sit back and I did get a little bit angry because of the way I was portrayed, the way I was positioned.”

13) He was muzzled by the producer at Fox

“I’m not going to dig deep into this, I think there was just a disconnect between the producer and myself. I got on really well with the director and everybody else behind the scenes, some of my thought processes about what I wanted to talk about situations during the day, and it just didn’t pan out. And things that I wanted to say, somebody would be yelling in my ear, “Don’t say it, don’t say it!” So it became a very much a controlled environment where I really didn’t feel that comfortable.”

14) Preparation wasn’t the problem during his U.S. Open broadcast

“I was totally prepared so wherever this misleading information comes saying I wasn’t prepared, I still have copious notes and folders about my preparation with the golf course, with the players, with the set-up, with conditioning. I was totally prepared. So that’s an assumption that’s out there that is not true. So there’s a situation where you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time.

15) He would do ESPN’s Body Issue

“Of course I’d do it. I think I like being fit. I think on my Instagram account I probably slipped a few images out there that created a bit of a stir…And I enjoy having myself feel good. And that’s not an egotistical thing, it’s just none of my, most of my life I’ve been very healthy fit guy and if somebody like ESPN wants to recognize that, yeah of course I would consider doing it.”

Don’t forget to listen to the full podcast here!

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Podcasts

TG2: “If you could only play one brand, what would it be?” (Part 2)

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“If you could only play one brand, what would it be?” Brian Knudson and Andrew Tursky debate their choices in part 2 of this podcast (click here in case you missed Part 1). Also, TG2 welcomes special guest and GolfWRX Forum Member Ed Settle to the show to discuss what clubs he has in the bag.

Listen to our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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