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Get Rich or Die Trying: Charlie Beljan’s Miracle Week

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Golf is the most individual of sports, and therefore among the most difficult. You have no team to turn to for an assist or a clutch play when you can’t come through. You can’t play defense on the other competitors. Your true opponents are the weather and the course architect; the former cannot hear our complaints and the latter does not care.

Consider the odds against even getting a chance to participate. In professional football, there are 1696 players on NFL active rosters, and another few hundred can be added to that count via injured reserve and other lists. There are 450 players in players in Major League Baseball, some of who earn millions of dollars for 5 minutes of work. There are about 450 players in the NBA, and a player who lasts just one year in the league is guaranteed a pay raise from a minimum of $470,000 to a minimum of $760,000.

On the PGA Tour, there are 125 slots available. That’s it and that’s all. Every other major sport has a subjective process of selection. A coach or scout or some other “expert” determines whether you have the right stuff; often the experts are spectacularly wrong. The selection process in golf is totally Darwinian; if you are better than the others competing then you survive. If not you die. And while you are likely to make more money than you ever have with one of those positions locked up, there are no guarantees and no minimums. You eat what you kill.

Given these factors, it is little wonder that PGA rookie Charlie Beljan was having panic attacks during this week’s Children’s Miracle Network Classic. It is surprising that more golfers haven’t had the same experience under the crushing pressure of trying to get inside that magic 125 number. No doubt that in the past we have seen extremes in human emotion from those who are at the cut line. There have been tears of joy and of despair. There has been club kissing, club throwing and club breaking.  Delirious laughter and blank stares from players and caddies. The fact is that the pressure of the high-stakes competition takes an incredible toll on the winners and the losers.

Beljan’s performance will be recorded as his first victory on Tour, one that guarantees his place on the Tour for the next two years. But this win will be remembered by the golf community for years to come, because Beljan showed both sparkling talent, human vulnerability and the toughness that makes men successful no matter what their endeavor. Beljan said that during Friday’s second round he felt like he, “was going to die.” He endured what felt like a heart attack to shoot an 8-under 64, spent the night in the hospital and finished the last two rounds to win the event. The only comparable performances in golf that come to mind have come in U.S. Opens. There is Ben Hogan winning the 1950 Open despite being in constant pain from a car accident that nearly killed him a year before. In 1964, Ken Venturi played the final 18 holes with his body temperature at 106 degrees, defying the doctors and all reason to take the championship. In 2008, Tiger Woods clinched the championship by winning an 18-hole Monday playoff on a broken leg.

Charlie Beljan’s victory was not on so grand a stage as a major championship; indeed, odds are that he will never win or even get close to winning one of those coveted pieces of hardware. But this week, Beljan learned that if he ever gets to the place where talent meets opportunity and he is in the hunt, he will not quit. They say that pressure bursts pipes but it also makes diamonds. Charlie Beljan is, thankfully, living proof of that axiom. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy may be the face of the game, but Charlie Beljan and the guys like him are its heart and its soul. And the next time anybody questions whether golfers are athletes, make sure that Beljan is a part of your argument for the affirmative.

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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.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Dave Arcobello

    Nov 13, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Michael – great piece and cheers on the title haha. Them boys playin for KEEPS..

  2. Mark H. Davis

    Nov 12, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    A brilliant short essay. Hard to imagine a better summation writ. My compliments to you, sir, and hope to see your posts here again. My thanks.

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What’s the one breach of golf etiquette that gets under your skin more than anything else? Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX Editor Andrew Tursky discuss what drives them crazy. Also, Knudson talks about his first round with new irons and a new shaft in his driver.

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“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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