By: Jamie Mulligan, PGA General Manager at Virginia Country Club
August 17, 2015
Pretend like you’re about to tee it up on the first hole at your favorite golf course. You have played this course before so you decide to head straight to the tee box without a warm-up. You go to tee your ball up, take a few practice swings, set up and look down the fairway one last time before you feel ready to swing at it. You imagine the ball going down the center of the fairway but instead your ball heads straight for the trees on the right: maybe you should have warmed up those muscles on the range. You spend so much time looking for the ball but you have no luck. It has only been ten minutes on the course and you have already lost your first golf ball. There is only one more golf ball left in the bag for the rest of your 17 holes, now you really have no choice but to do your best to take care of this one ball and try not to lose it or damage it.
For many people the first thought about golf is pretty simple: you hit a little white ball in a hole. But what is so hard about that? There has to be more to golf than simply hitting a ball in a hole. My original thought of golf was just about the golf ball. When you really think about it this sport is all about taking care of your golf ball and making sure not to lose it or damage it in any way. The ball is your prized possession and you must do your best to treat it as such. In all honesty, you would not want to go losing or wounding something you love and care about; therefore, this is the way you should approach your golf ball. If you lose sight of this idea it becomes easy to bruise the ball or tragically lose all of the golf balls in your bag by the end of the round. A player can have the best swing in the world and can be playing the best course in the world but if that player does not have a ball then he or she cannot play the sport.
This thought I had about golf made me a good player from the get-go because I was always trying to be frugal and careful with my golf ball. I always tried my best to start and end with the same ball on every hole, let alone doing that for 18 holes. For me it was not about having the prettiest swing or having the most expensive equipment, instead I was focused on taking care of my golf ball and treating it like it was my baby.
Watching Zach Johnson win the British Open is such a great example of a tour player who knew how to take care of his ball. Here was a tournament that lasted five days in tough weather conditions and through it all Zach was the one player who took care of his ball better than anyone in the field that week, even after battling it out in a playoff. If you look at his storybook so far he has been one of the best players out there who can turn a 72 into 68, while other tour players will turn a 68 into 72. There was a lot of hype about Jordan Spieth winning the British Open and although he put up a good fight, no one was able to take care of the golf ball better than Zach.
When you look at players on tour you sometimes wonder what really made them the tour players that they are, but as a teacher I can say that every player I have coached is different and unique. Every tour player has his or her own personal strengths and weakness within their golf game. I often like to think back to watching Brett Lederer become a successful tour player, putting on a green at a public golf course in front of a golf camp. Brett was among many other kids at a summer golf camp doing a move-back putting drill starting from one foot. All of the kids would take turns putting and once someone missed it he or she would be kicked out of the game. The kids kept moving back putting from two feet, three feet and so on until there was only one kid left who would be named the winner. Brett had gone back to about 40 feet and was still going after all of the other kids that were eliminated. Whether or not Brett’s intention was to beat everyone, it was apparent that he took care of his ball better than anyone else on the putting green.
Brett is now one of the few tour players to come out of the summer golf camps in Long Beach. Every summer in the golf camp we teach a few hundred kids. Ironically and symbolically at the start of every junior camp we give every kid a brand new golf ball and tell them to sign the ball in case they become tour players in the future. After they signed the ball we told them that their job was to take care of this ball of theirs and to never lose it: very similar to how I learned to take care of my golf ball when I started golfing. Several months went by and at the end of the camp the only kids who had that same ball were players who successfully made their way to the tour. Although I have taught at these golf camps for so long, I still don’t feel old: I just feel lucky to have raised successful players right in our own little neighborhood in Long Beach.
So what am I trying to say: that I gave a ball to some kid and told him not to lose it? You figure it out. I think it is pretty simple… take care of your ball.