Hi, after an overnight flight from Durban to Dubai, we made our way to Abu Dhabi National for one of the biggest ‘regular’ events of the year. It’s the third year I have attended this tournament and it always provides top class practice facilities, a good field and a really fair course. It’s also a good chance to meet up with many of the other coaches, managers, company reps and players that I haven’t spoken to since Portugal in October. Owing to the jet lag, I gave the tournament venue a miss on Monday and instead checked out Ferrari World on Yas Island, where I was staying. It was a cool way to spend a day off – checking out the history of the ‘Prancing Horse’ with F1′s neighbouring Yas Marina Circuit in full view. It left me in a good frame of mind to start back into tournament preparation on Tuesday.
In an exciting turn of events, Simon Thornton asked me to spend some time with him during the practice days, just having a look at this swing and giving him my ideas. I really enjoyed observing him practice and then explaining my ideas on how he could take his game forward. We discussed the importance of the fundamentals which Simon was sold on anyway owing to his PGA training, what his preferred ball flight is and the direction of where he wants his game to go. As good as modern technology is, we were able to finish off our session with the Casio camera footage on the ipad showing us exactly what we had discussed on the range just minutes earlier, all done in the opulent clubhouse. As I was packing up, I thought to myself that coaching has certainly changed for me in the last few years. From conducting group classes for beginners with ‘airflow’ balls indoors to dealing with ‘tour winners’ in Falcon shaped clubhouses in the Middle East!
It’s always a fun experience getting to ‘know’ another top quality player – a guy who genuinely wants to go from ‘good to great’. I have gone through exactly the same process in the past with Gareth Maybin, Michael Hoey, Paul Cutler, Gareth Shaw and Niall Kearney among others. These guys are already decent players and they are empowering you to help them move higher. As a coach, you are trying to decipher how they see the game, their personality, how they learn best and crucially how much do they know about their own game. Listening is definitely a skill that any good coach needs. Listening to what’s been said as well as what isn’t being said! So after a rewarding few hours with Simon, it was off again to help Michael get acclimatised to the different grass and general challenge of the new week.
Owing to the fact that Michael and I had done some really strict work in Durban, we were able to continue on seamlessly with our drills and practice this week. A diet of ‘gentle’ swings on the range, becoming aware of where the club actually is in relation to his lower half and plenty of fades was the order of Tuesday & Wednesday. It was refreshing to have some peaceful range sessions just taking our time and savouring all the good shots. Added to this we built upon the bunker ideas of the 8 iron drill which helps Michael understand the bounce and shallow plane required to play consistently from the sand. I call these ‘concept’ drills ie by introducing a challenge to a player, they will conceptualise the skill better just by figuring out the solution. ‘Task centred’ coaching at its best in my opinion.
As the grass was heavier and lusher this week, a fit again Gerry encouraged Michael to experiment with some of Titleist’s rescue clubs to negotiate the dense fairway rough, especially on the par 5s and long 4s. Good thinking from an experienced caddie. Another smart idea I saw was a lot of the players putting to a really small hole on the putting green. I’d seen Vijay Singh doing this years ago at the Open at Lytham in ’01 and I remember thinking then it would make a great practice drill just for the challenge alone. Now, after having learned about the components of effective practice I can see the benefits of making practice harder than the game.
Tuesday and Wednesday were taken up by much of this preparation but I did manage to get out and watch both Rory and Phil play a few holes. It was noticeable how well Rory was playing (especially his driving) and also how wild Mickelson was….and I mean wild. I’m certain one of Mickelsons’ greatest strengths is not only his powers of recovery but his complete acceptance of his previous shot, no matter what part of the desert it finishes in. I admire his ability to keep playing on no matter what. Something I’d love all JFGA students to have a pinch of. As time consuming at it is to watch some of the ‘pro ams’ it can be worth it to learn how these world class players the course. It’s revealing to study their ball flight, their techniques and how they handle themselves. A great learning curve, just studying the best in the business so that it might help guide a student who may possess a similar talent and drive.
Thursday’s first round would be the last day of my trip and I was both looking forward to watching the two lads compete and also an overnight flight back to Heathrow. The time had come for me to get back home and make sure all was well with Phil and the JFGA. After a leisurely stroll round the lovely course watching Michael and Simon, I retired back to the locker room to gather my notes from the day and sift through the video footage I had gathered. It’s really interesting to watch your students compete so you can see for yourself what they are actually doing in terms of shot selection, routines and technique. I’ve also use these opportunities to gather some great evidence in regard to body language and demeanour which I feel is very important for a competitor. So with that done, all was left was a quick bite to eat with Gerry and a lift back to Yas Island where I used the gym and headed for the airport. As much as I’m always looking forward to getting back home, it usually hits me in the taxi to the airport that I’m returning to very cold temperatures and the Ambre Solaire won’t get much use for a while. But as I always tell myself ‘if you don’t head home, you can’t look forward to going away again!’.
Thanks again for reading and checking out my travels. I’ll be reporting shortly from Portugal, where NUIM have again asked me to structure and deliver their Winter Training Camp.
So long for now,