The Best Coaching Experience of My Life

Six years ago I was introduced to Jason Goldsmith. At the time, I had just begun playing mini-tour events and competing on a weekly basis. I was interested in learning more about green-reading and I knew I needed to learn from the best. Jason was kind enough to take me under his wing and teach me things I could never have learned without his guidance. What I didn’t know at the time was that Jason was going to give me something far more valuable than green-reading skills.

So flashback with me to 2009. I’m hitting balls every day, playing, practicing, competing… occasionally playing pretty well. I’m still trying to get better and searching for a piece of a puzzle that seems so finite and yet infinite. I meet Jason. He teaches me green-reading. I read greens better. I don’t improve much. I spend hours and hours hitting putts and hitting balls and playing, etc. Nothing seems to make a huge difference in my game. I can play great one day and then play mediocre the next. You know the feeling.

Now jump to 2012, sometime in the summer, between Iowa and Reno. I have just missed qualifying (again) for my 7th PGA Tour event of the year and I have one left: The Reno Tahoe Open. I’m driving through the flyover states and I get a call from Jason. He asks how things are going and I give him the full run-down. I’ve made some strides, learned a lot, still not feeling like I belong on tour, but know I have the ability to get there. He asks me to do an exercise. He says, “Allow your awareness to find a point on the horizon, then allow your eyes to follow. Now, allow your awareness to come back to a closer point (an overpass or a sign on the side of the road), and now allow your eyes to follow.” He keeps me doing this exercise for a few minutes and I start to feel very calm. My body is relaxed. My mind is focused. (I’m still on the road). After talking for over an hour, I’m now at a Long John Silver’s in the middle of nowhere. I’m parked here for at least an hour as we chat about the mental game and the attention (covert vs. overt). He explains the meaning of the exercise and how it can work to allow me to play my best.

A day later I birdie my last hole of the pre-qualifier in Reno to get into the Monday. It was a cool experience and very surreal. I miss qualifying on Monday and head back to LA. I forget about the awareness drills.

Jump to 2015. Jason Goldsmith has been coaching Jason Day for the past three years (much of the same stuff he gave me all those years ago) and now Day holds the #1 ranking in the world. I’m coaching some very promising players and I want to give them the “cool” opportunity of working with the top mental coach in the world. He agrees to come out and spend some time with us so I figure, I should probably get back to doing some of the stuff Jason taught me so I can be comfortable showing it off if need be.

I’m on the first hole at my club. I say to myself, “who cares, nobody’s watching, it’s not a tournament, it doesn’t matter where this ball ends up. Just go through Jason’s routine and we’ll just see what happens”. Guess what.. the ball goes where I planned. I mean not just where I planned but EXACTLY where I saw it going in my head before I stepped up to hit it. Second shot: SAME THING! Third shot: SAME! I call Jason to share, “you’re not going to like this but I have to admit I haven’t been doing the routine you taught me. I decided I better do it a little before you get here and I’m hitting it like.. perfect”. I tell him how I can’t really remember hitting the shots but when I sort of “wake up” they are flying right at my target. He says “yeah, that’s nice”. Yeah, it is.

Flash forward to one week ago. I have a student out for a three-day experience at my club. We go through the swing mechanics and then start working on the mental side with putting. Long story short; after three days I get this text “You have no idea how pumped I am for my game after this experience! Thanks again for everything!”

Flash forward to last weekend in Borrego Springs, CA. A 74 year old guy (Mike) came to my golf school saying he had one major problem: Driver. I watched him hit all of his clubs leading up to his driver and concluded that he didn’t have any major swing flaws. So then the driver came out. I asked him to just go ahead and swing it. “Don’t worry about trying to do anything special. Your swing won’t look any different to me if you go through your checklist or if you just hit it.” Mike says, “yeah you’re right, no matter what I do my swing looks pretty much the same”. So I say, “pick a target so we can compare your result to your intention and then just swing”. He does. The ball goes right at the target. He says, “That’s not my normal shot.” Of course it’s not. He wouldn’t be there if it were. So I ask him about his checklist… what he normally “tries” to do and he gives me a list of 7-8 things. I tell Mike I’d like to see what happens when he only focuses on his target and that I have a routine for him to do to accomplish that. I tell him that after we see what he naturally produces, we can then determine what to focus on. So, I walk him through a very intense focus routine. Six perfect and longer than normal drives later Mike says, “You have me in a trance. You’ve taken over my brain. I don’t know what you’ve done to me and I can’t believe it’s happening…” A text from Mike the next day reads “I played this afternoon and started par, par, par, birdie… I shot an 83. Fun day.”

I’ve been a good coach for a long time. If you asked me if I could get you to a single digit handicap in three months, I would have bet anything I could, no matter your current handicap. I have helped hundreds of golfers break 80, make holes-in-one, etc. Yes, I was a good coach. But now, after spending this past week combining my swing coaching with the mental practices I’ve finally learned the value of, well, let’s just say it’s the most excited I have been about golf since I first fell in love with the game.

Happy Golfing indeed 🙂

Sam