Category Archives: Athletic Success

Leveling the Playing Field

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I have always been fascinated by the spiritual side of performance.  While most people think that a competition is simply on a mental-physical plane, we are in reality four-part beings.  This past week I had the chance to experience the emotional-spiritual side of a championship. In this case, it was in the internal completion of a championship that happened almost 40 years ago.  I had no idea there was still something to be completed until I returned to my hometown where I lost my first major championship to the 7th ranked amateur in the United States, and some say it was done in an underhanded way by her.

I was a teenager at the time who had a fiery competitive spirit, but the West Penn Amateur was the most prestigious tournament in Western Pennsylvania at the time.  I had just beaten my biggest rival in junior golf in the semi-finals and now I had to face Judy Oliver III for the championship.  Yep, you heard me right.  The third.  She was the jet-set millionaire type that had everything and I was the pip-squeak who grew up on the other side of the tracks, until the back nine of the competition.

I was 1 up on her on the 14th hole.  She hit her drive out of bounds.  I hit mine slightly in the rough.  Then I hit a freaky shot out of bounds.  We both had a horrendous hole after playing great golf.  She accused me three times of having a higher score than I did when we reached the hole.  I was so afraid, being in the pressure of the moment, that I did not know how to respond, so I thought, “She must know what she is talking about. She is more experienced than I am.”  So I agreed, and conceded the hole.  Only problem was, she was wrong.  We were both on in the same number of strokes, but I gave away the hole because I listened to my opponent’s adamant voice, and ended up losing the tournament by a narrow margin.

The loss was traumatic, as I did not have anyone to help me process the intensity of a fully engaged heart, mind, and body in my competition.  When I got home, I was hoping my mom would console me. She was listening to the radio broadcast the tournament shot by shot and she was more devastated than I was. I ended up consoling her.  The next year I had totally forgotten to enter the tournament, as I psychologically blocked the whole competition out from my mind.

It took me years to process what had happened, and although I never though she had an evil intent in her actions, a lot of people did.  I always admired her, however, and was a bit envious that she had so many more advantages than I did.

When I went to my hometown to play in the U.S. Open Qualifier this past week, I had the chance to reminisce with a lot of people about my upbringing in golf and the people in it.  I asked my friend, Bob Ford, “How is Judy Oliver doing?”  He responded, “Not very well. She died about 12 years ago of cancer at age 54.”  I was stunned and saddened.  Then all of a sudden I also had another thought come to mind, “In the big picture of things, the playing field had been leveled.  I scored a win in the game of life in that I was still living.  I now have an opportunity she won’t ever have and that is I am alive—I am alive to play championship golf age an age that she never will.”  In that moment, I felt something deep inside me have a sense of full closure.  The book was now closed on a devastating first championship experience and how it laid the foundation for my competitive trajectory for years to come.  I didn’t even know there was still something there meant to be brought to closure, but I felt it deep within.  There was no longer a need to even think about that story because I was granted a win in life that surpassed my competitive loss.  I could go on, now fully cleared of that experience, and in a sense be restored to “competitive innocence.”

None of this was conscience to me until I heard of her loss.  Being an emotionally and spiritually aware person, I was saddened for her loss, stunned at the effect that experience still had deep within, and deeply grateful for the sense of closure and new perspective I gained to start a new era of play now from a fresh sense of advantage in my life.  I will always admire Judy Oliver for her life and legacy, and now I can get on with my own in a new way.

All competitions have to be emotionally completed or that energy will stay within you until you deal with it.  If I can help you in your competitive journey, please reach out to me at: veronica@truechampioncoaching.com.

Jordan, Jack, and Unstoppable Success

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My first memory of life occurred when I was three years old on a Saturday afternoon with my dad.  We were staked out on my brother’s bed, tuned into our little black and white television.  Perhaps a better word would be “glued” to the t.v. as the indomitable Arnold Palmer charged up the 18th fairway winning yet another victory to expand his kingdom.  When it wasn’t Arnold, it was Jack staking his claim to  championship territory.  While most little girls were playing with dolls, I was at Daddy’s side absorbing his love for the game and enjoying watching the world’s greatest players seize the prize.

With decades of observing the greats of old as a weekly tradition, and rubbing shoulders with them from time to time, it is no wonder I found myself comparing the new young Master’s champion, Jordan Spieth, to those who have gone on before. As my eyes once again were glued to the television for an entire weekend, I couldn’t help but compare Spieth to Nicklaus.  The two could pass for twins when it comes to similarity of style and the unique factors behind their success.

In terms of the way they play the game, both are strategic thinkers, methodical and along the serious side in their natures. Jack was all about course management and his thinking about how he played his shots.  Ditto Jordan.  While you might argue that Tiger Woods is also a strategic thinker, he is, but in a very different way.  His thinking is much more aggressive and a lot of the time, outside of himself in his fighting style.  Woods’ energy is very forceful and physical.  Both Nicklaus and Speith vent their energy verbally.  They also are very ritualistic in the set-up of each of their shots, meticulous to the bone.

At last year’s U.S. Open I had the opportunity to get inside the ropes to watch the players.  As a performance coach, I am a trained observer and watched each one like a hawk.  When I saw Jordan, he stood out like a like a lone cat in a line of German Shepherds.  There was something about his quiet demeanor, the way he carried himself as champion, and his utmost confidence in himself.  His level of focus was off the charts, and I thought to myself, “Who is this good-looking young guy who conveys the air of an Open champion even in his walk?”  (I have to admit, I also said to myself, “Wow!  Too bad I am not a thousand years younger!  He’s so cute!)  Both Nicklaus and Spieth exude a similar air of a champion who refuses to think about himself as anything less than one–ever—even in a casual walk around the clubhouse.  Their mindset is sealed to dwell forever in the champion zone.

Perhaps the greatest similarity between the two champions is their upbringing. While most people don’t link home life and friendships as causal factors to championship performance, deep trusted relationships are primal to long-term success.  Nicklaus had a very holistic upbringing, playing numerous sports, and was grounded in a solid, intact, family life.  Jack Grout was his teacher since he was a young boy.  The consistent encouragement and friendship that Grout offered Nicklaus through the years had both a pillow and launching pad effect on the champion.  I know this first hand.

One day I was on the driving range watching Nicklaus hit balls with Grout’s eye upon his every shot.  The intensity of Nicklaus’ focus on the range was no less than it was under pressure.  Hitting one irons, each ball shot forth like a torpedo to a tree way down the range. Nicklaus never looked at his target. His eyes were riveted on a spot a foot in-front of the ball.  “Great shot, Jack!”  Grout said to Nicklaus. Jack hit another shot followed by another shot of empowerment from Grout, “Jack, you’re the greatest!”  Grout built Jack up after each shot.  I felt like I was watching a song and a dance routine between the two of them.

While Spieth obviously looked at his targets, they were small ones.  His head was down a lot, focusing deeply on what was right before him.  He chose his caddy because of his powers of encouragement and friendship.  Like Nicklaus, Jordan too, has a grounded home life, a special needs sister whom he is deeply inspired by, and a long term teacher he had since he was an emerging teenager. There is something to be said about the relational dynamics of having the kind of support around you that breeds stability, nurture, and emotional security so that you are free to look outward and soar.  Because I never had that, it is so glaringly obvious to me the power of nurture to one’s success when I see it. Spieth himself credits his family and team as the most important factors in his rise to the top.

Whether Spieth will ever equal or surpass Nicklaus’ record has yet to be seen.  From the eye of this beholder, however, there’s no telling how many more decades this golf chic will be glued to the television screen, engaged in her father’s favorite past-time, cheering on a new generation champion who has already demonstrated the traits of unstoppable success.

Birdies for Grandma!

alysaWith the thrill of the Opens now almost at a bygone simmer, I wonder what will forever remain etched in my memory upon reflection of the event as time moves on.  You see, winners come and go.  I found it amazing that Kaymer who won by an amazing ten shots failed to make the cut in his next tournament.  Wie bowed to Lewis who seized backed her champion position in her next event.  Isn’t it the nature of the game that what brings a thrill in one moment vanishes into the parched brown fairway to wither away in sports history oblivion in the next.

Every now and then, however, I meet a true champion, someone whose impact upon my life never fades away, even years after meeting that person. A true champion is someone who impresses you more about who they are than about what they score.  I met such a person in ten year old Alyssa Getty. Continue reading

A Lesson from Lucy Li: Be a bloomer!

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The U.S. Kids World Championship has always been one of my favorite events of the year here in Pinehurst.  There’s nothing like watching a seven year old swing with the ease and power of an up and coming Tiger Woods and wishing I could replicate that child’s near perfect swing!  My involvement this year, however, was different.  Continue reading

To Quit or Not to Quit

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Golf is a funny game.  Unlike other sports, we golfers are haunted on a regular basis with the “quitting demons.”  Why is it that in just about every round of golf or in just about every championship quest a golfer pursues, there is the temptation to quit the game?  The thought has never occurred to me in playing volleyball or tennis or in any other sport.

I think it is in the nature of the beast.  Without question, golf is the hardest sport I have ever played.  When I took up tennis, I could take long layoffs and pick the game back up right where I left off.  The same is true for racquetball.  But golf?  Take some time off and off kiss your game good-bye if you want to play with any consistency.

Today was a real game changer for me because just when I decided to set the game aside for a season, some unsuspecting force came along to open up my mind, release my inner athlete, and get me excited about a whole new pursuit.  Oh, gimme a break!  Just when I was relishing in the thought of giving myself permission to walk away from the torture and frustration of pressing through to the next level, Frank Lewis had to enter into my life—and give me fresh hope—just went I didn’t want any!  Continue reading

We’re All Just Kids Around the Cup

It’s Father’s Day!  Impressed upon all our minds and hearts is the now iconic image of Payne Stewart hugging the neck of Phil Michelson upon his 1999 Open win and exclaiming “You’re going to be a father!” Golf and fatherhood.  Those two words best describe some of the fondest memories many of us claim to have with our dad.  I know they do mine.

My first memory of life was watching  our little black and white television with my dad on a Saturday afternoon when I was three years old.  I will never forget the image of Arnold Palmer walking up the 18th green, sinking one of his famous putts, and thrusting his arm up in the air in a show of ultimate victory.  Dad and I were there in 1973 at Oakmont walking the fairways watching Johnny Miller shoot 63 to make his historic win. I remember my first golf lesson with Alfie Jackson, at Churchill Country Club.  Dad was so proud to be there, watching me learn the game for the first time at 14, after 9 years of putting.

The most vivid memory I have of Dad is the first time we played golf together.  It was a cold December Saturday in 1973.  The snow just began to melt in Pittsburgh and unlike most girls my age who would be running to get their sled, I ran to my dad shouting, “Daddy, Daddy, the snow’s melting. Let’s go play golf!”  My dad looked at me like I was nuts, but saw the passion in my eyes and my deep desire to be with him on the course. Continue reading

Free Champion-Activation Workshop this Wed.

Hello!  Any young golfers who are in town with their parents this week are invited to attend a FREE Champion-Activation workshop here in Pinehurst.  Learn the secrets of process-oriented goals, how to be a winner despite your score, and how to focus and think like a champion.  Contact me for more information at: veronica@truechampioncoaching.com.  Wed. at 4 here in Pinehurst!

True Champion Day for Women

I am very excited to offer my first True Champion Coaching Day for women who are competitive in golf and who want to up their game and lives.  When I began developing this golf-to-life program I realized that so many women plug along and want to leap out of their comfort zone, but don’t know how.  The good news is, it doesn’t begin with hitting more balls or taking more lessons. It begins with your mindset and belief system.  In the True Champion workshop you will learn a proven process to help lift you out of the old and into the new with your golf swing and life swing. Join other women just like you who want to release more of the champion within.  For more information or to sign-up on-line go to:  http://truechampioncoaching.com/gameon.  Hope to see you in Pinehurst in June!

June 7 White Ball Therapy

White Ball Therapy

This past Thursday I competed in the U.S. Women’s Open Qualifier. Although I did not win one of the three coveted spots that would grant me the honor of returning to my hometown of Pittsburgh where I played Oakmont Country Club as a teenager, the quest was well worth it. My stellar 87 was the best bad round of my professional career, as it capped off a five month journey to reclaim myself afer a long season of loss. And reclaim I did. What I discovered in my quest to qualify was the power of golf to bring healing to a disengaged soul. My entry into white ball therapy all began with a phone call from my friend and former coach, Jon Corliss, on Christmas day.

“Veronica, I think it is time for you to pursue a championship. It’s been a while now since you have set a golf goal and gone after it.” I hemmed and hawed at Jon’s loving provocation. “The last time I tried qualifying for the Open was three years ago and I didn’t make it. It’s been ten years since I have fully dedicated myself to an all out quest. I felt like such a failure when I did not accomplish my goal of qualifying, even though I went from shooting 80 to 69 in six months time.” Jon counter-responded: “The only way to work through a failed championship quest is to enter another championship.”

His words rang true. I’ve spent a decade trying to move forward with my life, but never really resolved my own twin towers falling which included life losses and disappointments well beyond my golf failures. I knew that authentic success begins with a positive outlook from within, and until I had some places of my soul healed, no attempt on the outside would prove fruitful. “You got me, Jon. I’m in, if you will coach me along my way again.” “Of course I will,” Jon quickly responded. “Your focus this time will not be the result. Your focus this time will be the process only. Your goal is to fully engage your heart in the process of preparing for a championship.” “Wow!,” I thought, “This is a goal I can respond to. If I see the process as the goal, I can not fail.” I knew from my own coaching practice that defining success from the start of any goal-journeying, is key. My heart leaped with a fresh inhalation of life. “Where do we begin?” 

Jon’s brilliance as a coach, player, and fitness trainer is his ability to break a quest down into processes. “We begin by identifying the processes you will need to practice and have into place for your tournament. To walk 36 holes in one day, you will need to be able to walk 14 miles in one day. Let’s start with walking up to an hour a day and adding one minute on to each day. You’ll need to do 150 lunges and 150 twisting motions. You will also need to hit 50 good short game shots, 50 good long game shots, and 50 good putts each practice session. With the time element you are dealing with, you can only focus on one swing change, and we’ll need to determine when you switch from practice mode into playing mode.” Voila! All of a sudden my mind had a structure to engage in, process targets, achievable goals. These simple but clear processes began to create new tracks in my left brain, which had been so shut down from mountains of setbacks. I literally felt my left brain re-awakening with the laying down of these very clear tracks. 

Next–since Jon was in Virginia, and I was in North Carolina, I needed to find a local swing coach. I prayed about who that should be. This was the first time I prayed about such a decision. Kelly Mitchum, from Pinehurst Resort, came to mind. I scheduled one lesson a week with Kelly, who was the perfect choice. His laid back style, humor, and keen eye was just what I needed. I told him, “Kelly, I have two months to qualify for the Open. I need some open heart surgery on my swing. I have this over-the-top move which is so debilitating to my hitting the ball well.” “If you really want to make a change, we’ll just work on one change. You need to move your hands to a laid off position at the top,” he replied. We worked and worked on it until I finally captured the feeling. “This feels twisted,” I said. “No,” Kelly replied. “What you were doing was twisted. Getting into the right position at the top of your swing is untwisted. You have been doing this for so long that what feels wrong for you is actually right.” He was impressed that I actually could do my new move within the first few lessons. The difference between where my old move was at the top of my backswing and my new move was a whopping 55 degrees. We discovered that I could get to impact seven frames quicker with my new move than my old move. I was filled with fresh hope! Change was actually possible and taking place.

Next–I met Scott, a Titlest-certified golf specific trainer. I hired him to help me with my golf fitness goals. I discovered that golf after 50 requires special attention to releasing the stress that accumulates into your muscles after demanding practice sessions. His myofacial techniques helped me a lot to release pain, recapture energy, and build body-awareness as an athlete once again. 

I was beginning to see how white ball therapy was taking effect: setting an achievable process-oriented goal, awakening and directing my left-brain with clear-cut processes, creating physical strength and body-awareness, developing a support team of mentors, and then identifying my caddy club which is a group of friends who would cheer me along my way. Ova Jean was my chief caddy club member. 

A dear friend whose husband recently passed away, we became a great support team for one another. Ova Jean opened up her home to me on the weekends, so I could come to Pinehurst to play and practice. I would help her to exercise, and provide some much needed company and support. She offered encouragement and support to me in a way my own mother was not able to. In fact, the two months I spent coming to Ova Jean’s on the weekends brought tremendous emotional healing to me. Home was not a safe emotional place for me, and her just being open and emotionally present, even in the midst of her own grief recovery, was a tremendous gift to me. “I just want to help you!” she would say all the time. She even gifted me a trip to the Pinehurst Spa when I was utterly fatigued. That special day I felt a restoration of my soul as a woman. Let’s face it–there’s nothing about golf that is feminine, and my trip to the spa helped me re-capture my feminine energy in a way that golf drained it. 

Other friends came along to offer their cheers and well-wishes, and I began to experience favor again. It was a blessing to have the privilege of playing various golf courses in the area, and  practicing one afternoon at the exclusive practice range where only the Duke Golf team is allowed to practice. I made some special connections at the Young Life Golf Tournament, and met a new spiritual father at another tournament. Ann and Katy, two outstanding college students whom I have mentored, encouraged me along the way. People were coming back into my life again, after being disconnected for so long during my care-taking years with Mom. It was all happening through my golf quest. 

The other thing that white ball therapy revealed to me was that questing does have its setbacks, but that doesn’t mean you quit. Early on, I was rushed to the hospital with an excruciating kidney stone attack. My condition, which I am still dealing with, zapped me of about half of my energy. A painful shoulder condition re-surfaced after hitting a lot of balls. I realized that my swing change was going to be a long term fix, when I thought I could get it right away. What I was able to execute on the practice range I was not able to do adding speed and the pressure of competitive play. At one point, I lost all my motivation. 

That’s where my faith came in. What do you do when you have real weaknesses? I wanted to give up. My best friend in golf from my mini-tour years, Isabelle, a real champ, encouraged me to turn my weaknesses over to God and allow Him to work through them. I did. It was new for me to acknowledge my weaknesses, and allow myself to receive strength from others, holding up the weakness like an empty cavity that I needed others to fill. This was a vulnerable place for me, but one where I saw God work the most. Ugonna, a friend who was praying for me gave me a Scripture that empowered me from Hebrews 10:35,36: 

          Do not, therefore, fling away your fearless confidence, for it carries a great and glorious compensation of reward. For you have need of steadfast  patience and endurance, so that you may perform and fully accomplish  the will of God, and thus receive and carry away and enjoy to the full what is promised.

This spiritual empowerment kept me in the game and committed to “engaging my heart in the process of preparing for a championship” when I wanted to quit. I could not see how I could score in a competitive situation with my “old swing.” I had to commit to my goal, which was not the result, but the process. 

Two more sources of empowerment came to fill up my empty bowl. I met Dr. Richard Coop, friend and noted sports psychologist, at the Charlotte P.G.A. tournament. He graciously agreed to meet with me a few days before the Qualifier. I was so focused on my swing mechanics that I didn’t know how to get my head in play mode. Dr. Coop did that in about 30 minutes. Just that morning, I wanted to withdraw from the tournament because I knew I was not where I wanted to be health-wise and swing-wise to even have a chance. We still agreed to meet, despite the morning rain. When I arrived at Old Chatam, the sun broke out. After a wonderful visit of catching up, we headed out to the range. “Motion comes from motion. It’s hard to create motion from a static place,” he instructed. After giving me a few motion drills, I was wacking the ball just great. My head was in the game. I felt like a player! It was such an amazing experience to have someone, a true mental wizard, clear out your head, in just a few minutes! I thought about Dr. Coop’s statement on motion, and how it was working for my life, too. Just getting into motion on my golf goal was getting me back into motion in my life. Nothing replaces action when action is needed, When loss characterizes a season of your life, it is easy to get stuck in inertia. Nothing will change that–not hope, prayer, or thinking. The only thing that creates motion in your life is motion. White ball therapy was teaching me to “get moving.” Just take imperfect action and get going. 

My other bowl-filler was my caddy, Alan. I met Alan and his wife while playing through their foursome during a practice round at Carolina Trace, the site of the Qualifier. I just happened to ask him if he knew of a caddy at the club, and he graciously offered to caddy for me himself. I didn’t know until later that Alan holds a plus 1 handicap. In addition to being a great golfer, he knew the course better than anyone else at the club. I had been handed a secret weapon. I didn’t even need to keep detailed notes on the course, because Alan knew every inch and was a very strategic player. The support and shot of empowerment I felt from Alan’s competence, leadership, and positive encouragement was priceless.

When the day of the Qualifier arrived, I was as ready as I was going to be. It was such a new experience for me to enter the tournament as a woman who was playing golf, as opposed to a golfer who was out to conquer the course. I felt such a strange mix of peace, freedom, and emotional presence that I knew I had gone through some kind of personal passageway and healing just by showing up at the first tee. Much to my great surprise, both Ann and Katy showed up to follow my play, along with Ova Jean who met me at the 18th hole after the first round. 

It was such a pleasure to play with Stacey Kim, a sophomore from Duke, my alma mater. Seeing this 20 year old golf whiz reminded me of when I played for Duke as a rising whiz myself, over 30 years ago. Watching Stacey made me realize how much of a victory it was for me just to be out there with all the young whipper-snappers, as I am sure I was the oldest competitor there. As anticipated, my swing did not hold up, and about the 16th hole, I began to get a heat stroke. There was no way I was going to make it through the heat and humidity a second round, especially with my kidney stone condition. “If you don’t have to do it,” Alan suggested, “I wouldn’t. It’s not worth making your health condition worse.” It was a totally new thing for me to set a limit for myself and know that was the most important thing. For the second time in my life, I withdrew from a tournament. The first time was when I almost collapsed on the golf course because I pushed myself too hard and didn’t know how to set limits for myself. That tendency produced seventeen years of working through a chronic fatigue syndrome. Setting a limit for myself on the golf course brought me full circle, and was another facet of white ball therapy that produced healing for me. 

So the highlight of my day was having lunch with my trusted supporters who were there for me: Ova Jean, Alan, Katy, and Ann. I ate, laughed, replenished myself, and enjoyed some extraordinary conversation, with not one thought of failure, defeat, or let-down in any way. 

As we left the course, I thought about all the people who I became aware of through my quest who had their own championships to pursue: Alan’s wife who is a breast cancer survivor, Ova Jean who is navigating through grief recovery, Isabelle who has suffered tremendous health challenges that affected her golf career, Ann and Katy who are deciding on career tracks after college and defining who they are in the world, Scott who is pressing through the struggle of launching a business, Jon who is struggling to get to the next level of senior tour play. We all have our championships—our processes of struggle, contest, and conquest. 

I then reflected on my own struggle and contest–of where I was just eight months prior–in the hospital due to a total mental and emotional breakdown. The thought that kept running across my mind at the time was, “I am totally alone. I have no support in the world, no sense of real family since Mom died.” That thinking kept sabotaging my life and forward motion after my season of loss. The doctor wanted to put me on drugs to help me get through that season, but I knew that the answer for me was not drugs, but a new reality of community, connectedness to vital relationships, and getting unstuck in my old patterns of thinking–of knowing others and being known. I was determined to not stop at the struggle and contest, but to get through all the way to conquest. 

I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but I am grateful for discovering the power of white ball therapy to put my soul back into proper alignment with life, making the best bad round of my life a meaningful one.  Today I am healed. 

Veronica Karaman is a speaker, certified life-coach and golf professional in Cary, NC.  She can be reached at veronica@truechampioncoaching.