Jeff Ritter discusses the attitudes behind living a high performance life both on and off the course with a group of junior golfers at his Nike Jr Golf Camps in Pebble Beach. http://www.jeffrittergolf.com
An Excerpt from Jeff Ritter’s Book
“Your Kid Ate A Divot! 18 Life Lessons From the Links”
Golf is the ultimate microscope into our psyche, especially as it relates to our handling of failure as well as our desire for approval. For a developing golfer, recognizing adverse behavioral traits and nipping them in the bud at an early age will go a long way to a happy life and more fun in the sport. To further explain, here is a delightfully funny, yet sad tale for you to consider.
I run Junior Golf Camps each summer. In my time doing so, I have seen children display every behavior imaginable. One particular day, however, I witnessed an act even I had never considered. I saw a kid, or possibly even your kid, eat a divot, that’s right, a DIVOT!
The day of the divot was like any other day. We taught our morning session, then released the kids for their afternoon round of golf. As instructors, we patrol the course to keep an eye on the pace of play and safety of the juniors. During my rounds I heard one of our more volatile campers was having some anger management issues. As I approached his foursome, I saw the boy in the distance taking one rug of turf after another, moving the ball only a couple of feet at each attempt. His complexion boiled on the brink of eruption as the ball effortlessly eluded each strike like a frog just out of reach of capture. He made a motion to throw his club, but had already been warned if he did it again his parents who would be forced to return for his removal.
Needing an alternative means of expressing his frustration, he picked up a divot, eight inches long and four inches wide and had a feast. I mean, he gobbled it up like a slice of pizza. Chomp, rip, tear….chomp, rip, tear, chew….chomp, rip, tear, chew, spit. It was unbelievable!
I thought I had seen it all, but the image of a human consuming dirt was a meltdown of proportions I had never believed possible. It was this moment I understood the depth of pain this silly game had the power to inflict on the weak of heart and mind.
As I approached him, I could see tears running down his cheeks and a ring of filth surrounding his mouth as if he had slammed down a powdered dirt donut. I placed my hand on his shoulder as his eyes gazed down from where his monster divots had been taken. He wiped a long strand of gooey slime from his face and spread it across his checker plaid shorts. A common method of camper grooming which reminded me he had likely not showered all week. As he glistened with perspiration, his skin was grimy with stickiness from the oily pools of grease which had dripped from his lunchtime pizza. I glanced to his filthy fingertips and wondered how in the world they could have gotten so compacted with dirt? I could only think, he had possibly spent a portion of the front nine in the woods digging for fishing bait. He was an absolute disaster!
I helped him to a hose in the maintenance yard where he could clean up. He soaked his hands and face, lapping the watery flow like a dog. Before I could interject, he proceeded to wipe dry by raking his musty grass stained golf towel across his lips. “Are you serious?” I asked.
I paused and offered a sigh of compassion. Of all the campers he was by far the worst golfer. He was a couple of years younger than the others and struggled to find his place amongst his cliquish peers. All he wanted was to keep up and be accepted. I now understood why he was upset and how his circumstances had led to his unravelling.
I took him to a quiet area at the back of the range beneath the shade of an old giant oak tree. I wanted to get in a little work before dinner and thought this spot away from the pressure of the other kids would be a good place to start. I asked him to grab his seven iron and show me a few swings. Without hesitation, he coiled his body and windmilled his arms long around his neck in a herculean attempt to impress me. He was terrible, but his squat 130-pound frame was full of power, sporadically rocketing his ball to the heavens. This time, however, the result was the same as when I found him. His club head whacked the turf, again laying a large beaver pelt of sod over the top of his striped range ball. His swing was all over the place and needed a major overhaul to breathe any chance life into his already nonexistent golf game.
To get him pointed in the proper direction we were going to need to start small. I began the lesson, “What I want, is for you to slowly waggle your club head like this.” Ignoring my direction, his eyes followed a bird in flight. “Come on now, I’m trying to help you here. Focus on what I am doing!” I commanded. He watched expressionless as I swirled the club head in a clockwise arcing motion. As he attempted to model my movement, his hands chopped the club head sharply up and down resembling nothing near my demonstration. I asked him to soften his hands as I grasped the club’s shaft, just below the grip. “More like this, smooth and under control.” Slow as molasses, I traced the club head around and around creating the perfect miniature preview to his golf swing. As his focus intensified, the motion was improved, but still not what I wanted. “Again, slower and softer,” I asked. I wanted him to feel the weight of the head as it looped through the air. Finally, he found the connection between hand and instrument to where the head began to move with purpose and flow. I asked him to lengthen the waggle. I demonstrated the movement, gradually growing in size as my feet began their gentle dance to support the swing.
Considerable time had passed and we had yet to strike a ball. I sensed his frustration and knelt down to offer a word of encouragement. Willing to follow my lead, I asked him to waggle slowly three times, then try clipping the turf with no more than a half swing. To my surprise, his first attempt was perfect! I perched a ball up on a short tee and directed him to give it go. Once again I reminded him to only make a tiny swing. His eyes looked down the range as the club head began softly twirling in its arc. After his third waggle, he made a waist high swing gently popping the ball twenty-five yards away. It was a beautiful shot and the first time I had seen him connect without his trademark excavation. Although I was excited, he didn’t seem to notice he had done anything special. I teed up another ball and directed him to do the same. Over and over for an hour he pitched the ball forward as I hammered him on the quality of his tiny waggle. He was dripping with sweat and exhausted from my relentless attention to detail. With one ball remaining from our previous mountain, I asked for one more strike, this time allowing his swing to grow a touch bigger. The ball sailed forward a hundred yards down the range taking a perfect cut of turf. He paused and smiled. It was by far, the finest shot he had hit all week.
With no balls remaining, we sought shade at the base of the big tree. Sitting down, our bodies rested against the massive trunk as a gentle breeze ruffled its leaves. He began to pick at the acorn seeds strewn about the base of the tree, tossing them to the bucket our practice balls had been carried in. I did the same and we found ourselves in a friendly shooting competition. We had bonded, and for the first time all week, he looked as if he didn’t want camp to end. As we prepared to leave for dinner, I stopped and asked, “Do you understand why I made you work on that tiny waggle for so long today?” His reply was a soft, “No.” “The reason, is I always want you to remember, from little acorns, come big oaks!” I held the tree’s tiny seed before his eyes, then directed him to look skyward at the towering branches of the giant we sat beneath. He smiled and his faced warmed with happiness. He had understood the lesson.
“Read This Book!”
Mark Victor Hansen – Co-Author Chicken Soup for the Soul
Jeff Ritter is a Coach, Author and Speaker specializing in peak performance and life inspiration. A strong proponent of Junior Development, he is National Director of Instruction for Nike Junior Golf and Director for Nike Junior Golf Camps hosted by the Pebble Beach Resorts on the Monterey Peninsula. Whether your child is new to the sport or developing into an elite competitor, Jeff Ritter, Martin Chuck and the entire JRG/TSGA Staff provide the advanced coaching and guidance to help them reach any goal! Click Here to purchase “Your Kid Ate a Divot! 18 Life Lessons From the Links.”