“The pearl of wisdom is already hidden within the shell of the ocean of the heart. Dive deep and one day you will find it.” – Sufi sage
Something extraordinary happened for the University of Washington Women’s Golf Team recently at the East Lake Cup, a prestigious invitational including the semifinalists in from that year’s NCAA Championship.
We woke up…on a national stage.
And we learned that a pattern of poor performances (a slump) can be turned around in a relatively short amount of time.
Arriving at the historic East Lake Golf Club, the conditions were in place for a deluge of struggle and big numbers.
- Wall to Wall Golf Channel coverage, including the cameras, microphones, celebrities, production staff and buzz that goes along with a big time television production
- Coming off of a 12 and a 10th place finish in the last two events
- Huge pressure of being Reigning National Champions – especially on Coach Mulflur, who was named 2016 Coach of the Year
- Very young team – 2 freshmen and 3 sophomores
- Experienced field of top ranked teams and players like Leona Maguire and Bronte Law the 1 and 2 amateurs in the world
- A team still looking for it’s identity after the departure of two nearly perfect seniors, a new assistant coach and the two aforementioned freshmen
- With only 5 practices in the fall and coming off of three consecutive tournaments, the players had very few opportunities to practice in a way that helped them to feel “prepared”
- Individual players feeling pressure of living up to the incredible performances only months before (insert link here) at the 2016 National Championship
- Surreal vibe with all of the team’s wacky mascots on the practice green before the first round
Pressure presents us with a tremendous opportunity to learn. It can bring out the best in a player, it can also bring out and expose fears and various interferences that don’t present themselves on the driving range or during a practice round. The potential for embarrassment and failure are ramped up significantly and bring costly interferences to the surface. Each player has their own brand of interferences, while the players may have their own take on what to call theirs, I believe fear was the most prevalent. What do I mean by fear? Fear of failure. Fear of letting down coaches, teammates, parents, their communities and their school. Fear of not being able to live up to expectations. Fear of embarrassment. Fear that they aren’t good enough. And all of this boils down to a fear of a bad shot and the resulting mental and physical tension that costs strokes.
Those fears led to an ugly outcome in the first round, which was played for an individual title and seeding for the next two days of match play. Here are the results from Monday’s stroke play round.
That result left us with a rematch of the National Championship finals with Stanford, who had just bested us by a total of 44 strokes. After Coach Mulflur finished those undoubtedly difficult post-round television interviews, it was time to go to work on turning things around. And it seems we did, as chronicled by Ryan Lavner in his nice Golf Channel article: Washington stuns Stanford to reach finals.
Most golfers (including you) are frequently asleep while playing a round of golf, or practicing on the tee line. Fall “asleep” when you lose connection with the present moment. If you are still trying to get your mind around what I am proposing, here are some indications that you are asleep:
- You are frustrated
- In a slump
- can’t wait to finish
- avoiding embarrassment
- playing with expectations
- considering quitting
- golf buddies pull you aside for an “intervention”
- over focus on score
- fear of a bad shot
- feel rushed
- ticked off by a slow group or golfers
- first tee anxiety
- golf isn’t fun anymore
- being overly hard on yourself
The Washington Women’s Golf Team displayed several of the above indications from this list during the Monday stroke play round. The Huskies are young, but our three sophomores, Julianne Alvarez, Sarah Rhee and Wenyung Keh are experienced and know what it is like to play with freedom under huge pressure. They worked deeply (along with the other players and coaches) for months last spring on identifying and eliminating the interferences that stood in the way of their goals, and that work was a big part of the victory at the National Championship. But interferences have a way of resurrecting themselves and in order to perform at the highest level with consistency, vigilance is necessary. For the team, the interferences mushroomed into a bloody first round. Thankfully, level of self-awareness that has been cultivated by Coach Mulflur and the players provided the platform for the awakening we experienced on Tuesday.
So how did we make such a big turnaround? This post would become way to long if I broke the entire process down, but here is a snap shot.
- Awareness: When in a slump or “asleep” there is suffering and a sense that something is wrong, but there isn’t much awareness. We were actually fortunate to have that terrible round, because it acted as a shock to the system and forced us to look within ourselves to identify the interferences that were so very evident on the course. By the time we went to bed that night, each player and coach was most definitely awake. Those lurking interferences were brought into the light of awareness and had begun to lose their hold on our games and coaching.
- Leadership: If you read the Lavner article above, you know that the team initiated the turn around. They perceived that something was off within themselves and Coach Mulflur and displayed the courage, love and commitment to greatness to make sure we were in the best position to be successful against Stanford. Coach Mulflur also displayed leadership in modeling what it is to be open, coachable and courageous as she looked inward to find the profound interference that had been festering within her for a number of months. Each player aggressively addressed their interferences, shared them with the team and identified the mindset to take to the course in their stead.
- Joy: In waking up as a team, the capacity for enjoyment and passion for the game went through the roof. From fear of humiliation they found the kind of joy that comes from sharing an amazing experience with their “sisters” and coaches in such a stellar event. Joy was a big part of our National Championship run last year and this team was able to rediscover that feeling as the interferences went up in smoke.
- Commitment to Learning: As a program, we believe that golf is a medium for developing the kind of wisdom and self-awareness that leads to success in life. As a teacher, I reveled in the opportunity that such adversity presented for our learning. As the embarrassment and fear receded, we were able to see the rest of the East Lake Cup as a “million dollar” opportunity to grow. Each player and coach stepped into the round against Stanford knowing that this was a golden opportunity to do something special.
The team is now in the “off-season” and is planning to deepen the roots of learning that we experienced in Atlanta. They will be engaged in Mindful Golf Training as well as strengthening their bodies in the gym and minds in the classroom. Our next event is in February at the Regional Challenge in Palos Verdes, California and you can be sure that we will be committed to playing with joy, awareness and a commitment to learning – the ingredients of success.