Juniors hear from one of the World’s top coaches

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Interview

 

In an initiative by India Golf Weekly to give Indian juniors and parents access to the same quality of advice and insights as is available to top juniors in America, a one hour live chat was scheduled last week with Claude Harmon III, coach to World No 2 Dustin Johnson, 4 time major winner Brooks Koepka, legend Ernie Els and many others. 

In an information packed session,  Claude answered questions centered around learning from habits of the world’s best players. Here are a few excerpts. 

You can watch the full interview by clicking here :

EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW WITH CLAUDE HARMON 

On Goal Setting – Juniors must set goals and try to improve every week, every month and every year. Identify your weaknesses and eliminate them. 

On Play v Practice : Play as many tournaments as you can. No substitute for competition. A tournament is different from what you do in your practise round or range. Juniors tend to be practise focussed, but they should be focused on playing and scoring instead. 

 Don’t get stuck hitting the same shot on the range over and over again. Hit random shots, be creative. On the course, you don’t  get two shots which are the same. 

When DJ is at home, we play way more than we practise. 

As a junior you should do a 15-20min warm up, then play 9 or 18 holes. A lot of juniors are doing 3-4 hrs of practise, rather than playing. 

Players start thinking about their techniques and swings while on the course. However they should be playing the game of golf and not thinking about their swing changes.

People think that tour players are always hitting their best. That’s not true. You have to learn to score even when you don’t have your best form on the course.

2 years ago, we were in Chicago, when Justin Thomas eventually won. We were on the range, before the round and JT has one of the worst practise sessions ever. We were just trying to control our laughter while watching. To our surprise, JT shot around 61 that day and when asked, he said he didn’t even think he was going to break 80 that day. But he kind of figured out a way to keep it in play, hit smart recovery shots and made a bunch of putts. So it’s all about execution and not about having a perfect swing.

Juniors think that in a tournament situations they need to have their top game to end up on top. However you have to play with the game that you have that day and learn to improvise even when you have swing problems. 

Juniors must learn about making smart choices on what shot to play.

If you get into trouble off the tee, the next thought should be to get out of it in one shot and make a bogey instead of trying to save par by hitting some miracle shot and ending with a double or triple bogey.

On Par -3s a good strategy is to end up level par for the week. Most tour players would be happy with this. Just try to hit the middle of the green, rather than aiming at the flag.

Relationship of a junior player with coach

A coach can be a second set of eyes for you, but at the end of the day it’s you who needs to execute. It should be someone who knows you as a person and with whom you can bounce off your ideas.

How often do coaches travel with players on tour ?  

Everyone’s different. Most of the time i dont give much advice to DJ. 

DJ likes a big team which travels with him – caddie ( his brother AJ), physio, fitness trainer,  swing coach ( me)  & chef. DJ likes having people around him. A lot of times, I just remind him what we need to work on. During a practice round, we discuss what clubs we will hit off the tees on various holes. 

Tell us how DJ’s mind works?

DJ is probably the best mentally. He knows that the only shot he can control is the one he is going to hit next. He can’t go back in time to a previous shot, and cannot control what’s going to happen on some future hole. DJ concentrates on the present moment. 

If he shoots 75, he will focus on his good shots, rather than dwell and complain about his bad shots. To perform at the top level, you should focus on your good shots.

How much do players train ?

DJ worksout  7 days a week. If it’s a morning tee time, he work out in the afternoon. If it’s afternoon tee time, then morning. Golf has definitely become more physical compared to what it was 20 years ago.

The way the game is played these days, fitness is really important. Take example of Bryson, who has been working on his body to gain speed. If you are a junior and not working out, somebody else is. Guys are working a lot harder on their off weeks, compared to when they are playing on tour.

But DJ also schedules some time off for vacations and breaks.  It saves him from getting burned out. So Juniors also need time off from golf. Do something else, take off from golf. 

Importance of playing multiple sports 

The more sports you can play as a junior, the better your golf will be in the long run . DJ played every sport growing up, Brooks did and Tiger too. Overspecialising in golf as a kid could be dangerous in early days. Playing team sports more than individual helps you learn a lot.

A nightmare scenario for him is to get a 13 year old golfer, who has done nothing else but play golf since 6-7 years old. They tend to get injured more and be less athletic. 

Be an Athlete first, golfer second. Juniors make the mistake of focusing on being golfers first, athletes second.

DJ”s Habits: DJ is regimented, we stay in houses, not hotels, and he has his own chef. Eats breakfast at the same time daily, exercises the same way. Does the same thing everyday. Hits the same number of balls on the range, pretty much daily. He has a set routine. The same routine doesn’t work for everyone. Great players find out what works for them and they stick with those habits. 

Nutrition Habits of of DJ 

DJ eats pretty clean. On the road, he doesn’t drink alcohol. Instead he drinks lots of water. Eats a lot of chicken, fish, and vegetables. His chef makes meals based on whether its been a slow day or a heavy day.

DJ likes to be on the course at least 90min before his tee time. If he has a tee time at 7.20 am, the team gets up at 4 am. Post the round he will have lunch and then exercise. He doesn’t stay up late at night. 

You need fuel to stay focused late in the round. On the back 9 and last 3-4 holes. Carry sandwiches or bananas. You are walking 8-9miles, carrying your own bag, so your body needs fuel to keep your mind and body working.

How DJ reacts to a bad day at golf

DJ doesn’t complain much. If the greens are bad, conditions are tough, it’s the same for everybody so he doesn’t complain. When he has a bad score, he still thinks in his mind that he has played well. He never gets down on himself. Important lesson here for parents and juniors.  

What happens to kids when they are growing fast ?  

When a kid is growing fast, coordination is off. Not a good time to play in tournaments or make technical changes to the swing. Kids usually go through 2 growth spurts. You just need to keep adjusting. 

How much water one should drink on the course

If it’s hot and tough conditions, a couple of hours before you go out, start to drink a lot of fluid. Avoid getting dehydrated on the course. It’s going to affect your performance.

Physically – you shouldn’t be hurting your body. 

If a junior gets injured at the gym, then they should just rest and recover and not try to push it – that is how more serious injuries happen. You should  not be doing anything which can  hurt you. Just stop and take a break. 

How to use practise rounds

Figure out what clubs you are going to use off the tee, where the bunkers are, where the water is. Look at different possible pin positions on the green. Throw balls around the green to get the feel. Figure out where you are going to miss the ball. Plan your execution from different positions, consider the wind. It’s more about strategies and scoring. Hit putts to different parts of the green. 

On the use of Statistics 

Players are tracking statistics actively like strokes gained data. Stats help players to ascertain what they were doing well in a good round and what they missed during off days.

You need to know what you did well to play well on a particular day.

You can check all the stats of top players on PGA Tour and ascertain what top players are doing best in their good rounds or good weeks. 

Allocating practise time – 

Allocate 60 to 70 % on short game Vs 30-40% on full shots. 

When will Tiger Woods’ be back ? 

It’s going to be a long road, what Tiger went through is pretty significant. Nobody knows the exact time it will take. He is walking without support now. We all want him to have a normal life. 

My best memory on tour 

When my players win, it’s fun to watch. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of 7 different major championship wins starting with. Ernie Els at the Open in 2012, Brooks’ 4 majors and then DJ at the 2020 Masters. 

People don’t realise how much time, effort and sacrifice by the players and coaches goes into winning tournaments & majors, so it’s great when they win to experience it with them.

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