Club Pro Diaries

Following the dream!

Towards the end of 2009 I was at my first full time position at Crooked Stick and got approached by a gentleman whose young daughter liked golf. Her dream was to play high school/college golf and maybe make it to the pro tour. I’ll always remember she had little pink clubs that were not fit for her. The Dad just wanted me to help her with her swing but I talked to him about the importance of club fitting to enable her to be a better player. With some negotiation he agreed to let me fit a set of ladies clubs that she would grow into. With the help of lessons, mental coaching and the new clubs, her dream of playing high school golf became real. In fact, her dad put me on a tournament program where I would get paid if she performed. Talk about pressure on the teacher!

It wasn’t about the money though, I saw great potential in this girl. During my 4 years at Crooked Stick she got progressively better and, long after my departure, I heard she eventually won a golf scholarship to Ball State University.

Sometimes it’s not about the money, it’s about helping a kid follow their dream and watch them succeed that means a lot more!

Fostering Teamwork through Prank Wars?

Yes, that does sound a bit odd. But, at my first full time position at Crooked Stick, it was definitely a significant contributor to fostering a positive working relationship with each other.
It started innocently enough, as I recall, with one of my colleagues stapling the pages together on another colleague’s notebook. The protagonist however came in the next day to find his golf shoes stapled to his locker. And the rejoiner was equally swift as the following day, the original prankster filled the colleagues locker with golf balls. Imagine the surprise when he opened his locker as he was attacked by hundreds of Pro Vs!
What followed from there stretched the bounds of good taste ie. golf caps filled with lotion to pranks that involved quite a bit of work ie. switching the bosses office 180 degrees around. I recall during this time that I knew I was due to be pranked but was flying back home to Canada for a visit. When nothing happened by departure time, I breathed a sigh of relief escaping onto the plane for a well deserved holiday. In Canada I was booked to play Glen Abbey in Oakville, the Canadian Open course, for the first time and was looking forward to teeing it up. When I pulled my driver cover off on the first tee, I’m looking at a left handed ladies driver – my boss had sent my driver to somewhere in Wisconsin and put this one in my bag. Ouch!
Goofy, yeah but when you work hard with your colleagues, sometimes for up to 100 hours on tournament weeks, you need a release. That was ours and it really brought the team together anticipating what was coming next.

Can an injury actually help one reach their goals?

Two weeks into my first year at UNLV’s PGM program, I shattered my right hand (probably doing something I shouldn’t have) and ended up at the hospital. Ten hours later I left in a cast which, considering I had already signed up for my Playing Ability Test – PAT(a prerequisite for passing the PGA education program), was not the best thing. I’ll interject here as well that my hand was “set” by the ER staff at the hospital and, when the cast came off, a hand specialist had to “re-break” my hand in six places to reset it into the proper position. During the time the cast was on I could only putt and do some chipping basically using 2 fingers on my right hand to steady the club. I was advised to cancel the PAT and retake the test after a fuller rehab but, I thought there was no down side to trying to play. What I didn’t realize was the impact all that chipping & putting practice would have on test day. Sure enough on my first 18 holes I hit only 4 greens in regulation but scored a 73 with a deadly short game. After a subsequent round of 75, I passed the PAT. What did I learn? 3 things;
1. Never give up – this was only a minor injury but there are many amputee vets missing arms & legs that are outstanding at golf despite their disabilities. They never give up!
2. Short game is crucial whether you are dealing with injuries or not. Don’t neglect it!
3. Always see a specialist when you are dealing with broken bones – resetting them properly the first time will save you a world of hurt!

Don’t forget your short game!

Back in 2011 I was fortunate to land a winter position at Old Palm in Jupiter FL. These were the stomping grounds of many European tour professionals who were some of the best players in the world. I recall it was almost Masters week and a lot of the players were there practicing while I was working the range. It got dark fairly early and, before going home, I had to clean pick the range after they were done. Knowing I had a date that night I wanted to skip out early but one player wanted a little extra practice in the dark. Without hesitation I politely asked if he could move off the range and onto the putting green (knowing the greens at Augusta would be tough lol). He realized I wanted to leave and good naturedly agreed “maybe my putting and short game needs some work too”. Next week was the Masters and who do you think was in contention and subsequently won – Charl Schwarzel. And, of course, I told my friends later that I was responsible for the win lol.

It really is better to get off the range and really work on that short game!

Take the time, get involved, help out!

I think it was 2012 and my putting was only getting worse. Never was a good putter; in school, on the junior golf tours, through college, I would often hit 15-16 greens in regulation only to take 36+ putts. While some of my competitors back in the day were putting up rounds in the low 60s, I was never going low. Then it got worse, I developed the dreaded yips. It was embarrassing – I was missing 18 inch putts and I was getting increasingly angry with my game. One day at my job our honorary professional at Crooked Stick observed me getting frustrated on the green and asked me what’s up. “Jim, I can’t make a putt. He said “Show me”. Which I did and I told him my past troubles with putting. I think I even told him I was thinking of quitting playing golf, at minimum, competitively. “This is what you do”, he said. “You are going to make a complete change – 360 degrees on everything to do with your putting”. He had me change everything including going to the “claw” grip, which I had never seen before. Turned my game and attitude completely around.

Jim died last year and, when I heard the news, I remembered how he took the time to listen and figure out a solution that re-energized my interest in playing. Not for any other reason that he saw I was struggling and needed help.
So, when you see someone struggling, take the time, get involved, help out. You might find that doing so helps the helper as much as the helpee!

Little things matter!

In 2012 my course Crooked Stick hosted one of the Fedex playoff tournaments, the BMW. It was an exciting and busy week for all of us; employees and membership. In fact a lot of members and their families volunteered for the many roles a major tournament demands. One of my favorite memories of the week happened at the clubhouse. One of our member’s daughters volunteered to to be “security” at the back entrance – basically ensure that only players and specific badge holders were admitted. She wasn’t a golfer but was told all you had to do was to ensure that each person showed their badge for admittance. During the evening Phil Mickelson attempted to come in through the back entrance but wasn’t wearing his player’s badge. Having no idea what Phil looked like, she politely inquired if he had his identification badge? Many superstars of their sports may have reacted indignantly like “Don’t you know who I am?”. Phil didn’t – he rummaged around his pockets and finally came up with his ID. Handing it to her she saw and recognized his name and was very apologetic. Mickelson merely congratulated her on doing a great job on the door and encouraged her to keep doing so. As a result, this became a happy and humorous memory for the young girl, not an embarrassment.

Good to remember that your actions every day are impacting others. Little things matter.

Take care of your employees, they’ll take care of you!

In 2013 I was in charge of hiring a summer staff for indoor/outdoor operations at Hawthorns. I had never hired a staff before but knew I wanted to create the best customer service experience for my club and wasn’t sure where to start. I remember my first, and incredibly savvy boss, telling me that many of the best people you hire are often athletes because of their drive, work ethic and the fact that you can call their coach if they mess up! (lol). I called the local schools and asked the basketball & football coaches if they were interested in facilitating summer jobs. I concentrated on “team” sports so I knew that the hires could work well together, an important component to good functioning teamwork in golf operations.

One of my first hires for outside staff was an offensive lineman for a local school but he knew nothing about golf. Near the conclusion of the interview I asked him “why do you think I should hire you?” “You have no experience and not much golf knowledge”. After a long pause he looked me in the eye and said “I can carry 8 golf bags at one time and carry those up those stairs with a smile on my face. Me, being skeptical said, prove it. And he did it! From that moment forward I knew I had to put each prospective hire’s strengths in context. If your new hire is a “people” person their lead duty might involve greeting members, if you were a hard worker, preparation for tournaments like setting up the golf carts might be your lead duty. Play to their strengths so to speak.

An employee of the month program to showcase their respective abilities and give them some positive feedback was another initiative I was proud of. Along with the material incentives I also gave my own time to help them with learning or getting better at golf.

As Richard Branson says, “You take care of your employees, they’ll take care of you”.

Harness your passion!

One of the nicest couples I’ve ever met were Pete & Alice Dye. If you ever referred to Pete as a great architect to his face, he would let you know, in no uncertain terms, that “I’m an agronomist not an architect!” As Pete got older we sometimes would drive him to courses under his design and construction. On one such trip to French Lick, I asked Pete how he got started in golf. By way of introduction, he told me that, when he was young, his Dad was a superintendent and that he was leaving on a trip. “Son, I need you to look after things while I’m gone – don’t do anything crazy”. Unfortunately I killed everything so when my dad got back he signed me up for the army!” I didn’t know if that was true but that was Mr Dye – always wisecracking and entertaining!

Whether it was French Lick, Crooked Stick or another of Pete & Alice’s many world class golf courses, Pete would spend countless hours walking the terrain, visualizing, “feeling” the design. Even in his later years he would be seen walking Crooked Stick with his dog at all hours then report to members a “new” idea that would make the course even more challenging. If everyone could harness their passions into creating like the Dye’s were able to, that would really be something!