About

On this site I plan to post for the readers what I feel to be insightful information about not only my own journey of professional sport but also what the journey means for all of us on this path together…

I hope you enjoy reading, and please leave feedback if you feel so inclined, as I love to get better at what I do…

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The Slight Edge Principle & Golf – Explaining the Unattainability of Lasting Consistency.

It was three years ago that I picked up Jeff Olsen’s book titled “The Slight Edge” in a bookstore in Honolulu, it looked intriguing and being a sucker for personal improvement, the title phrase of “Turning Simple Disciplines Into Massive Success!” had me hook, line and sinker.

This is not a book review so I will spare you a description of the writing and just skip straight to the core concept of the piece; that the little, seemingly unimportant decisions you make all day every day have a power that can only be measured in decades, and that power is the eight natural wonder of the world; compound interest.

Olsen’s describes compound interest with such a great example I’d be doing him (and the example) a disservice if I didn’t just use it… everyone knows about the little bit of interest they get on their bank account (even though its one of the biggest lies in finance as the number is set just below standardized long-term inflation of 2% so over time you still lose money). But what most people don’t know is the true power of, and what can be accomplished with, compound interest:

If I offered you either 1 penny ($0.01) doubled every day for 31 days, or $1,000,000 cash in 31 days guaranteed… which would you choose? You correctly surmise that this is a trick question, and the penny ends up being more than the $1,000,000 after 31 days of 100% compound interest. You’re not that gullible, even though I was. The sticking point in this particular example is that after 31 days $0.01 at 100% interest turns into $10,737,418.20. A little under 10.8 million dollars. If you don’t believe me, use your calculator, on your phone obviously, and start with 0.01 and press x 2 thirty-one times… Done? Amazed? Satisfied? Great lets move on then…

Note: There is a whole section in this book on finance, mostly personal finance, and I would highly recommend it.

So what is The Slight Edge principle? It’s very simple, that daily, simple actions taken compound over time either to give you the success or the failure you deserve. The equation is very simple:

Positive Daily Actions + Time = Success

This relates to all aspects of our lives; Happiness, Health, Finance, Relationships, Career, pretty much anything you want to accomplish, can be achieved through the power of daily actions compounding over time.

The way that actions compound is like this: say you wanted to get fitter, and you decided that every morning you would find time to walk or run 3km (1.86 miles for you imperials) and you also decided that every day you would try to go 2% further than the day before. This doesn’t seem like much but if you were to keep at this for 30 days, just 2% further each day, then you would be walking or running about 5.54km (3.44 miles) after a month. You’re nearly all the way to doubling your workout (and by extension your fitness) in just 30 days. Not bad.

That’s the carrot, but as with everything there is also a stick… you have to actually do it. The key point here is that these daily actions are extremely easy to do, but equally easy not to do. The key is in that decision.

In the penny-doubling example, if you stopped at 30 days, or skipped a day, you would only have $5,368,709.1, not bad admittedly, but a far cry from the almost $10.8 million had you stuck at it or not skipped that one day. The results of compound interest are always most dramatic at the end.

That’s the point here, these simple daily actions can completely change your life, or not. The positive actions compounded over time can give you exponentially fantastic results, or not. It all happens in that moment, when you make the choice to do, or not.

This is why I think this principle explains something we’re all searching for in Golf; Consistency. Very few players manage a high level of consistency over their careers. When we take into account all the people who have had a crack at playing the game at the highest level over the last 80 years, the relative few who make it into the Hall of Fame (a good benchmark for a successfully consistent career) we are truly looking at a 1% success rate, if not smaller.

I see this principle applying to Golf at a level it does not apply to other sports. This is because Golf has so many challenges that are simply unique to our game, and if you subscribe to the idea of The Slight Edge, these aspects and unique challenges explain why consistency remains elusive to the 99% who attempt(ed) to play at the highest level.

Lets start with the most basic example; playing 18 holes. The power of compound interest flows though a round of golf like rivers through a mountain range, the decisions you make early on have a profound impact on your position at the conclusion of a round. Those decisions can include; strategy, attitude, preparation and confident execution, the more good decisions you can compound through a round the better your score will be at the end.

How about practicing? The point here is that are so many facets to the game of golf that it is almost impossible to stay on top of practicing all of them, and on top of that, over the course of a year or two all of those facets eventually matter.

Whichever facet you have unintentionally neglected will usually show up as a problem before you have had a chance to realize it (think the way the penny doubling turns from $335,000 into $10.8 million in the last 5 days, or when Tiger seemed to get the chipping yips out of nowhere, both are examples of exponential results at the end of their cycle.)

This is also why we see players go on a tear and then vanish from the spotlight. Take Luke Donald, he got to world number one doing amazing things with his wedges and putter, he was so good at being Luke Donald that he managed to become the number one ranked player in the game (not to be understated of course, that is an amazing achievement). That obviously brings large amounts of financial success and when you have such comfort and have achieved a humongous goal that took years to accomplish, picking another humongous goal is not the first thing on your list. All of this naturally breeds a level complacency (in 99.99% of us). So when it comes to the decision the week after whether to head to the course and keep working on what got you there with the same intensity, it becomes much easier to take the approach of; not today, it won’t make any difference if I skip. But whether or not it feels like it, that single decision to not, sets a precedent in your mind that makes it 1% easier to skip again next time, and just like that we’re on the wrong side of compound interest.

Note: This is not a judgment but an observation, Luke has a fantastic family life and after spending so long working to achieve his goals any sane person would naturally choose to spend more time with their family. But he would have been better served taking time fully off with his family and then picking up right where he left off with his practice IMHO.

An that Golfers endure (and this applies to other sports too) is that travel, diet, and body management are a constant factor. The crux of the problem is that simply not being injured is your goal. It is very hard to be on the road, playing and putting your body through hell AND make noticeable gains in strength, flexibility, fitness or energy levels. It’s really hard to get yourself to workout when the ultimate result is to just feel the same as you do right now. I always joke with my trainer that if you are feeling the same as when you left at the end of 5 weeks on the road, you should get a trophy. He agrees.

The real test Olsen mentions with these decisions made and compounded over time is that 90% of them are made when no one is around and there are no immediate consequences. For anyone that has lived this life of pro golf, they’re laughing because, that is the life of a golf pro in a nut shell. When you plan your own practice, workouts, rest, meals and travel plans with no accountability, it is unbelievably hard to stick to a plan for a week, let alone a month, let alone a season. The life of a golf pro outside of the ropes IS making seemingly inconsequential decisions with no immediate consequences while no one watches. This environment of solitude makes it almost impossible to keep a Slight Edge-focused mindset, which in turn makes consistently staying on the success side of compound interest something that, you guessed it, only 1% or less of people can do.

Note: This is also why you will see guys tend to play better when their coaches are with them (take note punters).

I’m sure you have met someone who is extremely fit, they make time for the gym every day, and they take pride in their body, but don’t brush their teeth twice a day (which infuriates their dentist). I’m also sure that you have met someone who has an amazing relationship with their spouse or friends, no surprise they likely put in effort on that front constantly, but they work a middle-management job and complain about how they don’t feel successful at work. How about someone who is happy most of the time? Sure, and they almost definitely take an active approach to see the good in almost every situation (they probably meditate regularly too), but they constantly complain that their personal finances are poor even by baby boomer standards. The point is that life is so hard to manage that very few people are able to consistently commit time to each facet in order to have it all.

I would propose this is why consistency is so elusive in the game of golf, and why so few have managed to achieve lasting consistency over a span of decades in our sport. Most golfers have experienced having one thing flowing and something else dropping off (Man I hit so many greens last week and holed nothing, today I can’t miss but cant hit a green!). Guys and girls feel good physically for months then get injured out of (seemingly) nowhere. It’s why you see guys miss 12 cuts in a row then win (seemingly) out of nowhere, I would bet that there has been somewhere in those 12 missed cuts they have decided to consistently work on their game and the BOOM! Are all of these freak occurrences, unforeseeable outcomes? Are they results out of nowhere, or the penny doubling from $335,000 to $10.8 million in 5 days?

I recommend for anyone who wants to learn more about Jeff Olsen’s book The Slight Edge, to grab a copy. It sent me down a path of awareness about my life that was extremely helpful and I wish the same for anyone who wants to learn more about it.

Until next time…

Listening to someone who has never… The greatest irony in the professional game.

Golfers face many unique challenges, amateur and professional alike. People are sometimes surprised to hear that the challenges and frustrations they face at their Saturday competitions are relatively similar to those that tour pros face: breaking into single figures or getting past scratch to your first “plus-handicap” (where you HAVE to break par all the time) is not too dissimilar to a tour pro breaking through onto a major tour for the first time (where you HAVE to play like a major tour player, all the time, supposedly). These, like many others are similar frustrations that will never go away as you make your way up in the sport. For me anyway this is where the beauty of the game lies, in the ever-present challenge, always something to improve and always a chance to better next time.

There is a particular problem that I find fascinating in golf. One that begins as a good idea for amateurs and morphs into a hazard for pros. This came a few weeks ago from a longtime friend of mine and fellow tour pro, I’m not sure if he wants to be credited or not, we were just making conversation. He relayed an opinion shared by a friend of his who is a champion in another sport, about golfers. His friend was astounded at the fact that golfers who play for a living will take advice like its gospel from people who have never succeeded at making a living playing golf, sometimes from people who don’t even play golf! This statement was like a tuning fork ringing aloud at Middle C for me, it gave such a clear and concise assessment of what is out-of-tune with the relationship between professional golfers and coaching.

Getting coaching begins as a great idea. When you are a junior, you are most likely to begin with lessons from your local club pro (just as I did with Shane Johnson, then afterwards Kristian Keily, both at the time from Devilbend GC in Moorooduc, Victoria) This make perfect sense because you’re a pimple-faced kid who knows nothing, and these guys are the professionals. Absolute heroes, actually, they spark the fire in kids and don’t get enough credit, and I am just as guilty as the rest when it comes to not giving credit where credit is due, and that is something I regret.

This works great for a few years and sometimes it works all the way through (like Rory McIlroy and his childhood coach for example). But for the most part, kids leave their club pro coaches for a more experienced coach (as I did when I went to work with Denis McDade when I was 14). This again, makes perfect sense because now you’re not so much of a kid and you are staring to figure out what golf means to you and what kind of player you are and/or want to become. These experienced coaches might coach tour players or national teams or a combination of the two. This makes sense again, because these coaches know more than you about the game, so they can teach you things you don’t know. So far coaching is still a great idea…

Then, something interesting happens. Players and coaches converge towards a parody of knowledge; and by that I mean that the players begin to experience or internalize concepts that the coaches never had themselves, the players have new ideas or explore concepts that never occurred to the coaches in their younger days. These experiences can be; winning a big amateur event (or losing it down the stretch), traveling overseas, competing against new players in new environments or having to deal with things OTHER than golf competition, such as; travel (or travel disasters), injury, emotional difficulties or simple things like not feeling comfortable in new environments just yet. This is the point at which the players are beginning to come into their own and to see and understand the game THEIR way.

The next part is crucial, the coaches who have it right acknowledge this flip in experience and are able to put themselves in the navigators seat. They give up control and omnipresence on a players habits and begin to instead become the student, asking questions like; “what does that feel like?” or “what do you think about when you do…?” They are no longer trying to teach the player how to see the game. They are trying to understand how the player is seeing the game. So they can gain an insight into how their players’ mind works and above all; to make the player feel like they have themselves figured out and are the one answering the questions, not asking them. Good coaches know that above all: Having a strong fundamental understanding of how you do what you do, why you do it, why it works for you and that you should stick to it through thick and thin… is the most pivotal point any professional golfer can reach, because it’s all gravy after that.

This is the question no player wants to ask of their coach, for fear of offending them; how, can any coach help navigate you to that point (the gravy point), if they weren’t able to navigate themselves there? We all know the rewards for being a successful player outweigh the rewards of being a successful coach, playing is harder and you must risk more, so you get rewarded more. So if a coach knew exactly what to do to reach that point, wouldn’t they be on tour or retired from tour themselves? (Obviously this question does not apply to coaches who did play at the top level, and by that I mean OWGR Top 100 or thereabouts). I would also go on to make another harsh statement and say that if you took offense to the above question or got defensive on reading it that you are simply proving my point that you are one of “those” coaches, and if your answer was something like; “well I can’t, no one can, you need to figure it out for yourself.” Then, you get it. Nice.

For the record, and for tackling any potential misconceptions coming from me writing this from my past experience with coaches; I worked with Denis McDade for 11 years and he absolutely has the right understanding of the game. This is easily proven with his successful work, most noticeably, with Leish and Marcus Fraser, among many other great Australasian players. The reason I moved on was geographical, not conceptual.

I was also asked recently, after now working with a Harmon brother for the last year and a half, why I thought they were so good and why they enjoy the reputation they have. I spoke to Craig (Harmon) about this last week. The Harmon’s have been lucky enough to get first hand experience from the best players in the world for the last 30 years. So when you ask the question, “how do I do…?” The answer isn’t a reference to a prescribed method or theory, it’s a true reflection on what has worked for the best players of the last 30 years from direct experience. It’s broad stroke, not specific, because they understand that under every golf swing is an individual who will play the game in his or her own way, and that’s good enough… and all they can do is use their experience to help you find that way. Or… summarized so succinctly by Butch in an informal Q&A… “you’ll get better ‘cos your working with a m*****f****n Harmon brother.”

I may very well be wrong, and I welcome anyone who wants to have the discussion and prove me so. But as I see it, the greatest mistake professional golfers make is outsourcing their confidence. They look outwards for answers from others first instead of inwards to themselves and are scared to trust their gut. This dependence on others is manageable when it’s directed towards someone who has had experience in guiding players to the top, but it is especially hazardous when the ones players seek advice from and depend on, have no idea whatsoever how it feels to actually execute the advice they’re prescribing.

Working (and spending) for an Uncertain Outcome

In my last post I touched on what I see athletes need to do to succeed, they need to work tirelessly at their craft and learn to let it go and flow when they compete. The balance between those two is a really tough one to strike, but there’s a whole other element to the equation, and its the piece that really holds people back and separates the champions from the rest.

All the while these athletes are committing themselves to giving everything they’ve got to their training, for the most part its an uncertain outcome they are working towards. The champions understand this, and they don’t care, because they never have a problem laying it all on the line. They know that there are no guarantees, and no one is going to hand you the success that those athletes crave so badly. You have to do the work FIRST, without any safety net, in order to succeed at the high levels of any sport. The champions internalize this, it’s a leap of faith, and they understand that the guarantees, and the payoffs, in professional sport only come AFTER you are considered one of the greats.

This is where the separation occurs; between the athletes who make it big and the athletes who’s success is limited. I should mention it’s not just athletes either, anyone starting or running their own business knows this concept well. Anyone pursuing a dream or an outcome that is beyond the security-based culture of the “regular paycheck,” knows the concept well.

The only difference I see between athletes and the other people who understand working for an uncertain outcome, is the premium on performance athletes have to deal with. There’s no delegation, no spreading the load, no predictability as there can be with business cycles or proven business tactics to follow. There’s just you, the ball, the target and your goal. Ironically, the only certainty that you have, is you certainly have no ability to predict any certainty whatsoever. Those who disagree… I invite you to write down exactly how the next year will go for you, then check back with me in 365 days to prove me wrong, show me your list, and I’ll show you a liar.

There is also a materialistic side tied to this, and it’s in the parenthesis within the title. While some sports operate within the confines of a team environment, or a development squad within a team environment, with corporate sponsors, boosters or supporters. Golf operates for the most part on a completely individual basis (outside national programs like GolfAustralia’s Rookie Pro Program, which is fantastic, and helped me immensely my first 4 years as a pro.) The financial reality of Golf as a worldwide professional sport would be comparable to hypothetically changing the “Boston Marathon” to the “Boston Triathlon”… there will surely be a percentage who will conquer the 1.5km swim without issue, but for the most part, people will just be struggling to keep their head above water.

As a golfer, you have to pull the trigger on a $3,000 week on the off chance it could propel you to the next level, and no matter how many times it doesn’t work out you MUST find a way to keep going. You must persist until eventually the stars align (those stars being (but not limited to) preparation, willingness, faith, opportunity and luck) and when they do you get the week that keeps your career going and moving towards breaking through the threshold that eventually gives you the holy grail of professional golf; Career Stability.

I’m not painting this picture for some kind of sob-story, relatively to most people on the planet we live an amazing lifestyle, and I for one am immensely grateful to be able to chase my dream of playing consistently at the highest level of the game. But within that chase there are loads of other guys who want the same thing, its a fight, and its challenging. There are only a finite amount of PGA Tour and European Tour cards, and as with any scarce resource people always fight over them, they find ways to outmaneuver each other and push the standards higher, it’s a zero-sum game, for every rookie on tour there’s an ex-tour player somewhere. That’s the reality, and I am trying to give my insights into what not only I have experienced but what I have experienced alongside many of my fellow pro golfers. It’s sometimes a great tool to take stock of the amazing things you get to do as a professional athlete, it can be fantastic for perspective and for helping the tough times not feel so tough. It is still relative though, if your goal is to be a world top 50 player and your currently ranked 1000, there is no point in looking at where you are and just saying; “I’m grateful to be able to do this” without looking at how to push yourself further towards your goal, saying to yourself “I’m just happy with what I have” is the mindset of a “regular paycheck” and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, you won’t ever get to where you want to be without committing to a life filled with uncertainty and essentially, blind faith in yourself.

I don’t think that all of the golfers you see on TV are the only golfers who had the potential to be there. My long-time (now former) coach and (current) friend Denis McDade always said to me “potential is a dirty word” and he is so right… he’s right because potential is only the first part; The golfers you see on TV are just the ones who figured themselves out, believed in themselves (and/or a higher power within), and simply STAYED IN THE FIGHT long enough that they got their chance, and when it came they were so ready that they never let go. Of course, as in all sports there are a select few who are simply that damn good that their career trajectory after they turn pro makes a vertical take-off by a supersonic jet seem slow, and golf is no different.

But in the theme of this blog, I am not focusing on those who make it right away, I am trying to shed some light on the rest of us, the 95% of professional athletes who are still hoping to make it, but we don’t know. We believe, but we’ve been around long enough to know that you can’t predict the future. I for one am willing to do whatever it takes, but that doesn’t guarantee anything, that just gives me the best possible shot at it, and for me, that’s enough to take the leap.

The whirlwind of uncertainty around professional athletics and certainly golf can be disorientating at times, it can beat you up, knock you down and can feel unbearable. But, looking back at my own career (which has certainly had it’s ups and downs for those who know) I wouldn’t have it any other way… because it has made me feel ALIVE! I get some criticism for flying by the seat of my pants, diving head first into (what is usually) the shallow end of the pool and making stupid, stupid mistakes. But I’ve also had some amazing experiences and some fantastic results, and I don’t believe the that two are mutually exclusive. You cannot have the Ups without the Downs. It’s a leap of faith, whether that be faith in yourself, others or something else. Underneath it all though, the thing I’ve found that you discover by working relentlessly for an uncertain outcome is that; by committing to the uncertainty of life and of professional sport, by stepping out believing that the safety net is there and trusting yourself to figure it out no matter what happens. That is the best shot you have at a soft landing in a life worth living.

Footnote: Although I do say that we are all trying to keep our head above water. I have been lucky enough to have people help me when I needed it most. They know who they are, and I am beyond grateful and will remember it until the day I die. They were my angels when I needed them most, and I may still need them yet. I did not want to make it seem like I am totally on my own. To paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton: I can only go so far because I stand on the shoulders of giants.

The Mindful (And Relentless) Athlete

I wanted in this post to touch on an overreaching concept relevant to all professional athletics, but especially golf. “Trying not to try” is a difficult thing to comprehend, but even harder to internalize and explain (mainly because the answer is slightly different for everybody.) I have had my own battles with this tug-of-war between working hard and letting go. I’ve had people try to help me to no end, and listened to too many people tell me “this is how you do it.” Well, no, that’s not how it works. Trust me anyone who tells you they have the answer to a question so profound and complicated as this one, is just trying to get in your wallet, and you should run in the other direction as fast as you can. The answer lies beyond words (written or spoken) and beyond explanation. Although that is not to say that there cannot be great starting points for discovering what this balance is for you, the answer isn’t an explanation but rather something you feel. What I want to do is talk about how I recently got a great insight into the balance between working hard and playing free by accident. I picked up a book simply because I liked the narrator, and the title was catchy. The second I got recommended by one of my coaches Greg Cartin, and they both turned out to be about some of the best athletes of the past 30 years, from two completely different points of view… as fate would have it, one on working hard and the other on letting go…

The first of the books I picked up was by Tim S Grover and titled “Relentless – From Good to Great to Unstoppable” (no secret what got me over the line to make the purchase.) What I found in this book, was a memoir on high performance from Michael Jordan’s trainer of 15 years. Those years included Michael’s most dominant years, his stint in baseball and the Bulls’ two three-peat’s. That got my attention, but then when he continued to talk about his working with Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade and how he worked with them to make them Unstoppable, I was hooked (I’m no basketball expert but I can certainly appreciate excellence.)

This book, for starters, was appropriately titled (although a better title may have been “Hold on, this S**t is intense”.) The insights into what it takes to be the best of the very best, and the work behind the scenes, was like a drug to me and I couldn’t put it down. Grover talks about the levels of commitment and intention required to dominate a sport the way Michael, Kobe and Dwayne (among others) did. He spoke about this in a way that is both believable and unrealistic at the same time. A sort of “there’s no way that’s what they actually did, but who the hell am I to disagree” kind of way.

Grover coins three terms in his book, one of which we are already familiar with, these three terms are; “The Cooler,” “The Cleaner” and “The Closer.” I bet you thought those were in order (I sure did) … we are innately drawn to the idea that The Closer is the guy we all should aspire to be. After all, the Closer is one who takes the winning shot, makes the play and gets it done when we need them most. But Grover disagrees, and now so do I. The Cleaner (named for the guy who everyone calls to come in and clean everything up, a nod to Pulp Fiction no doubt) is Grover’s ideal athlete, the one who is always doing what needs to be done regardless of what other people say or do. He focuses on himself, he does his thing and leaves the rest to scratch their head at the results he achieves. (Some of Grover’s examples of cleaners include; Michael, Kobe, Dwayne Wade, Derek Jeter, Michael Phelps, Tiger, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, among others.)

The reason why The Cleaner sits above The Closer is that; sure the Closer is clutch, he can take the winning shot, or turn it on when he needs to. But the Cleaner is ALWAYS on, he doesn’t turn it off, he is just relentless in the pursuit of his craft, always. (Mind, blown.)

About halfway through, I found myself unbelievable inspired by this book, I wanted to go out and sit on the range until my hands were bleeding, (because apparently that’s what it took) but it wasn’t until I finished the book I understood what Grover was trying to get across… That these personas he was referencing weren’t necessarily about the physical actions they took (although that is an important part), they were attitudes. Coolers, were good at what they did and they had their moments in the spotlight. Closers, showed up when it was in their own best interest to do so and enjoyed the glory and the spotlight. Cleaners, stayed in the shadows, they preferred to be alone and taking care of what they needed to do, relentlessly. If we look, we can see these three types all around us (by the way, if you have to ask the question, “am I a Cleaner?” then you’re not a Cleaner, not yet anyway.)

Grover describes an easy way to pinpoint these three types of athletes… at an after-party; The Cleaner is enjoying himself, but knows it wasn’t really him who got it all done, although he contributed and did well, deep down he knows that this party isn’t for him, and he’s just lucky to be included. The Closer is the center of attention, basking in the glory in an alcohol-soaked championship tee-shirt and surrounded by people who think he’s all that matters in the world, to which he agrees, of course. The Cleaner, by contrast, is in the corner wearing his alcohol-soaked championship tee, but behind the look of content on his face there is a deep-seeded desire to get back to work, sure they won the championship in 6 games, he wants to win in 5. Never satisfied, his attitude can be summed up in two profound words; “Done… next.”

On a personal note; a lot of people ask me why I was able to play so well in China in 2014/2015 but I struggled on the web.com on 2015/2016. Before, I really had no concrete idea, but this book helped me see that when I was in China I was acting like a Cleaner; focused on me, I was social but I didn’t feel like I needed to be accepted, I was not second guessing what I was doing and not letting anything get to me. In contrast, when I showed up to the web.com I felt like I wasn’t at that same level and felt I needed to be social in order to fit in (Grover would ask, isn’t the whole point to stand out!?) and I fell into a Cooler persona, just a decent player out there not really focused on anything except what was going on around me. That was a mistake and I realize it now, and next time I won’t be so blind. But anyway, I digress…

Grover sure paints an intriguing and intense picture. He talks about players needing to work at levels that almost everyone else will see as excessive, but he also mentions the importance of “The Zone.” He doesn’t get into the thick of this concept aside from nodding to it’s invaluable and irreplaceable nature when it comes to the athletes’ performance. It wasn’t until I read the second book, by chance, that I learned how these same guys (MJ and Kobe) actually worked on getting into that zone…

“The Mindful Athlete” by George Mumford, was as eye-opening as “Relentless” but in a completely different way… Mumford grew up in the projects of Dorchester, Boston, as one of thirteen children in what is painted as a typical and tough African-american upbringing in the fifties and sixties, where as he puts it; “impulse control” was, “something of a problem.” He talks about his early desire to play basketball in the NBA along with his other challenges, such as his slide into substance abuse. He talks openly about having to “hit rock bottom with his ass on fire” before he was taken down a path of spiritual growth which included the AA program, exploring “God as he understood the concept” and the journey that ultimately led him to quit his job and eventually become a spiritual teacher at the Omega institute in Massachusetts.

Mumford had been college teammates and roommates with Julius Irving aka Dr J, so he knew the game well when after working with people from all walks of life “from Yale to jail” as he put it, he was called in by Phil Jackson to come and help teach mindfulness to the Chicago Bulls.

Mumford worked with the Bulls during their second “Three-Peat” after Michael returned to the team after his brief stint in baseball. He taught them all mindfulness the same way he had to inmates and students alike. He taught them awareness of breath, how to sit quietly and notice their thoughts without attaching and latching onto them. This is what Michael referred to as that “Zen Buddhist Stuff” and Michael spoke repeatedly about how this quietness and awareness of breath helped him to get into the zone.

In the foreword, Phil Jackson touches on an important point, he says “Most athletes think the key to getting better is to simply work harder, but there is a great power in non-action and non-thinking.” This was profound to read after reading Grover’s book. It could be easy to take these as opposing views, but instead I decided to see them as two sides of the same coin. The confirmation of this idea came with Mumford’s nod to the necessity of hard work with players who want to perform at the highest level. He talks about them having to get up early and do the repetitions and having to “do things and take action that others won’t” in order to perfect your technique, but then learning to let go and just flow during the game. This is how he sees that you become truly unstoppable.

This is the balance I spoke about in my “Introduction” post, the concept of “trying not to try.” The best way to get the results you want is to not think about the results and just be in flow. But without proper work, dedication and right effort you can’t hope to develop your skills to a point where your flow can perform the way you need to to win. This is such a hard balance for athletes to strike, and it’s why the true best stay the best for a long time, because they have this difficult balance figured out and internalized.

I would be willing to stake everything on the fact that when an athlete drops off his or her game it is a result of either; neglecting quality or quantity (or both) of their training, or they have lost the feel for getting themselves into flow, in practice and in competition. That (or a combination of the two) are at the heart of all problems manifesting themselves inside athletes. The best of the best are petrified of letting these manifestations come to fruition, and I’d bet it’s one of the strongest motivators for getting themselves up and at it every day. The flip side of this concept is true also, when an athlete is performing well, you can bet that they have their training and practice in a good place and they are accessing that flow really well.

What this boils down to is a road map for pure performance… for an athlete to advance their career and succeed at the highest level they must; stay committed to and always look to improve their training schedule, and they must actively pursue finding their flow state when they compete. But the true nature of this is that there is no set way to achieve this, the Athlete must figure out what this concept means to them and internalize it. This flow cannot be accessed by any technique, it cannot be cultivated or created, and there is no one who can tell you how to achieve it (Mumford points out repeatedly that if you’re trying to get into flow you won’t get into flow.) All anyone can do is help you to see what is already inside of you, the way the Buddhist teaching describes this is in my option the best (whilst paraphrasing); a teaching is simply a finger pointing at the moon and saying “there it is,” the teaching is no longer true when it claims to be the moon itself. (there are A LOT of teachers in professional athletics that could do with heeding this advice)

This is an important point when it comes to learning from other people, especially when you will be using the information actively. You cannot simply read and repeat, taking the actions directly from others will not help you in the slightest. You must read, understand and then internalize the lessons wrapped in the teachings then figure out how that applies to you in your own individual way.

This is why I feel free to share my own interpretation, because it will serve no purpose for someone to simply take my own thoughts and apply it to their own lives and actions. All the reading I have done of these books has boiled down to one concept for me; “Work hard… then flow, and stay mindful throughout.” But that doesn’t make it right, in fact it makes it most likely wrong to everyone else, but that’s the point, it’s mine. If you got 10 Athletes to read these two books and explain what it meant to them, sure there may be a few that had similar interpretations, but exactly none of them would be the same. That’s the beautiful thing about self-exploration.

It is important to note that in the beginning of this post I wrote that no one has the answer, and I stand by that. People can have amazing insights into life and its inner workings, but you will never find what it means to you without some self-exploration and internalization. Although having said that, if there was a place to start this journey… learning about concepts, from people who have achieved the absolute most possible within a field you also want to excel in, is a great start… So, do yourself a favor, if you want to excel at what you do, read these books. Then see what stirs within you…

Introduction

In this blog series, I want to address what I see to be a very largely overlooked aspect of professional sport, an aspect that really only those who are actively involved in the world of professional athletics understand (and even less of them appreciate it.) A majority of our time as athletes is spent behind the scenes, so I believe shedding some light and pulling back the curtain is important. Because for the fans, public and aspiring athletes, to simply look at the results pouring in weekly and give a judgment on whether what the athlete did was “good” or “bad,” is comparative to scratching at the surface of an entire planet with a nail file and thinking you’ll see whats truly underneath.

Every sport has its own set of unique challenges, and golf is no different. While most other sports have a single opponent to play against, golf separates itself in my mind in two distinct ways; firstly, there is no direct connection between how hard you try and how well you do (I know, mind… blown), and second, during a golf tournament competitors are everywhere around you and everything can move in a large way very quickly (a 5 or 6 shot swing on the back nine is not that rare.) During a golf tournament all you can hope to achieve as a player is to do the absolute best you can on that day and believe it will be enough. There is no one to play except yourself, no where to be except here and now, focusing on you (Anyone who has ever tried meditation can relate to the difficulty of being “here and now” instead of over there, and there, and there, and where was I again?) That level of detachment, calm and focus takes a different kind of athlete, and its difficulty is why you see golfers hang onto it for merely weeks at a time (with the odd exception of course.)

There in lies the problem; how the hell do you train for that? How do you find the balance between trying and not trying? Given that you want to develop your skills, but you have to let them go and just flow when you compete… That is a hard balance to strike, and it’s what we all chase every week, you’re out there only trying to do your best and meet your own standards.

The beautiful thing about the golf tournament format is it actually (mathematically) has the ultimate sorting format. There is no need for debate over formats like in other sports, such as the arguments that ensue between contracted mathematicians over which way is best to organize and schedule when and where all the teams will play each other (Should we do Elimination, Round Robin or Heats? No, Pool Play is the way…) The bottom line is; whoever scores the best wins, it’s simple and beautiful, but above all brutal.

There is only one problem with this simple and beautiful yet brutal format; played over 72 holes and the varied conditions of four days (except for in Palm Springs) this produces an enormous amount of winners over the course of a season. There were upwards of 40 different winners on the PGA Tour in 2017. Not to mention the at least 20 from the Web.com Tour, and the 40+ from the European Tour in the same year, there are also winners from the LPGA Tour, Challenge Tour, LET Tour, Sunshine Tour, China Tour, Japan Tour, Symetra Tour, Korean Tour, Australasian Tour, PGA Tour Canada, Latino America and China, and many more.

These winners are all given their due in the media spotlight, and they deserve it. However, the one part of this that isn’t as widely or deeply reported, is how many players are out there TRYING to win those same tournaments. Even though, the number of players out there trying to get one of those wins is considerably greater than the number of players who actually get them. The kicker is that those same players that were trying to win early in the year and getting overlooked and unreported on, could very well be the ones in the winners circle later in the season. At which point the focus will be on how many birdies they made during the final round instead of the months (sometimes years) of persistence, disappointment and patience that lead them to be in that position. Even when they are asked they just give the generic answer along the lines of “I’ve felt good about my game for a few weeks now and have just tried to be patient.” But that line of questioning is usually ended there and followed by a changing of the subject back to the fleeting results which they just achieved and are about to lose to insignificance after the next weeks’ champion is crowned. The ONLY thing that is real, that is earned, and that has any lasting value, is road they took to get there. (Inflation and spending takes care of their prize-money before too long)

This process of; trial and error, near misses, bitter depths and fleeting highs is the heart of professional golf, and its fascinating. If you’re anything like me, you can take a great deal of interest from HOW the winning is done to go along with the weekly lists of WHO just won.

We live in a surface-orientated society, no doubt about it. Where people only care about the 10% of the iceberg that’s showing and dismiss the other 90% below. No one has really gone in on a regular basis and followed the journey of the player pushing to be great and break through. This is what I am trying to do, by exploring a side of athletics I am calling “The Unseen Athlete.”

Welcome!

Welcome to The Unseen Athlete! Where we pull back the curtain and help you see what goes on behind the results you see in the mainstream media. This isn’t some commercial-style story about “all the work that goes in,” it is simply what happens. What is generally Unseen.

Stay tuned for a proper introduction, coming very soon!

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