Author: Ava Prospero

24 November
2021
  • November 24, 2021

Stop The Lies!

If you think you always make flush contact, you can check it out and not guess!  A long time ago, Caveman and Dinosaurs used lie boards and sole tape to determine how the golf club makes interaction on the ground known as “turf interaction.”  Nowadays, we can test different heads with assorted lie angles.  Lie angles are determined by how the club “lies” on the ground.  This determines the starting direction of the golf ball.  Ever test your lie angles?  You could also cure a long time ball flight tendency by bending your lie angles the wrong way.  We have done it for years as training aids as well.  If you haven’t tested your irons in a while, stop by Custom Clubs at The Golf Performance Center and start your path to improvement! We have Black Friday deals for every golfer in your life!  

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The Golf Performance Center Ridgefield, CT
24 November
2021
  • November 24, 2021

Fear Not The Critic

Is it the critic from afar we fear or is it is the critic from within whom we fear the most? How great thou are, that is until action must be taken! As the door to your greatness opens we begin to hear the critic, the fear of being different, fear of being judged, the fear of making the effort to achieve your greatest moment, the fear of defeat or triumph. The sounds of fear are deafening, the only way to quiet the critic is to act, to step forward when all of you says, step back. Do not listen to the critic, step forward, run to your destiny. For those lucky enough to have experienced the critic, who have tried and failed and tried again, those that have walked through the valley of lost souls, they know now the only thing worse than dying, would be dying without trying. When you muster the courage to take the steps, it becomes easier with each step, it doesn’t mean that you want to stumble and fall but it becomes easier to get back up. We are ALL made for survival! Picking ourselves up from the ground is natural, moving forward is natural, not moving forward is unnatural. Other critics want you to believe what is possible is impossible, because they too have a critic. Life is too short to be afraid to step forward, being comfortable is a lie, even when you do not step forward and you believe by not moving forward on your goal is ok, that you will not be hurt from non-attempt, the greater damage is being done, your comfort grows in not trying and there is no comfort in misery, only judgement.

There is no doubt that it takes courage to move forward, it is easier to see comfort as triumph or to believe being comfortable is satisfactory. However, when someone else achieves a great goal or milestone, the critic mumbles, I could have done that. When you choose not to step forward, you are choosing comfort over conquer, you are choosing comfort over your dreams. Be your greatest, choose to ignore the critic and step forward. There has been nothing on earth that has come without effort, without failure, without falling, by stepping forward you will quiet the critic, and unleash your greatest you!

Here is a great quote that many of us can choose to live by and realize our greatest selves! “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” –Theodore Roosevelt

Enjoy Your Journey!

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  • November 23, 2021

Positive Self-Talk and The Power Of
Gratitude

The Thanksgiving holiday is a symbol of gratitude. It is a time to reflect on the things we are grateful for in our lives and to give thanks to our loved ones and to those who have supported us along the way. According to the Oxford Dictionary, gratitude is the quality of being thankful; or a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Expressing our gratitude to others, and as a result, it can have powerful effects on our relationships. By expressing gratitude to others, we improve communication, strengthen individual bonds, show greater empathy, increase our likeability and thus our acceptance in a group, and improve teamwork and group productivity just to name a few of its benefits. But what about expressing gratitude to ourselves? 

I don’t know about you, but when I think about expressing gratitude toward myself, I get pretty uncomfortable. I don’t know if it’s because it seems hokey and overly sentimental, or if I’m simply resisting the idea because I don’t know how to do it, or simply that I am afraid to (probably the later). Regardless, just as the expression of gratitude toward others has its benefits, so does expressing gratitude toward yourself. When you express gratitude toward yourself, you increase your overall sense of wellbeing, improve your more, experience more positive emotions, increase self-awareness and creativity. Physiologically, gratitude, toward self or others, boosts your immune system, reduces stress, improves sleep, lowers your blood pressure, and even reduces the experience of pain.

What in the world does this have to do with my golf game might you ask? Not surprisingly, how you talk to yourself doesn’t just improve your relationships with yourself and others, it also plays an important role in optimal performance as well. In the realm of sports psychology, positive self-talk is one of the core psychological skills of the elite athlete. The best athletes in the world talk to themselves differently. They are more optimistic and hopeful. They are resilient in the face of adversity and see it as an opportunity to learn and improve. They praise themselves for their successes and forgive their mistakes and failures. Negative thoughts and appraisals are seen as mental interference to be ignored rather than accepted as truths and self-fulfilling prophecies. 

Why do the best athletes practice positive self-talk? Although that might be true in some cases, I don’t think it is just because they are inherently positive people. I believe the best athletes think this way because it puts them in an optimal mindset to succeed. Here are some of the potential benefits of practicing positive self-talk:

  • Increased sense of calm
  • Feeling in control
  • Positive/Optimistic attitude & mood
  • Less impulsive
  • Openness to others
  • Increased creativity
  • Playful
  • Cognitively flexible
  • Increased self-efficacy
  • Positive evaluation of performance
  • Increased self-awareness 
  • Improved cognitive functioning

Developing a practice of positive self-talk should underlie all you do as an athlete (and hopefully as a person). Whenever you are practicing or in competition, pay attention to how you’re talking to yourself. What is the quality of your internal dialogue? Are you being positive, accepting, and encouraging? Or, are you being negative, rejecting, or overly critical? If you’re leaning toward the negative, do your best to reframe your thinking by spinning it toward the positive. Work to be encouraging and supportive rather than destructive. Developing the ability to recognize when the quality of your self-talk is getting in the way of your performance is an invaluable skill that will help clear the way for you to achieve your goals and one that the best athletes in the world ascribe to their success. So, this Thanksgiving, make sure to not only make time to share your appreciation of others, but equally important is to make the time to appreciate yourself. Who knows, it might even lower your scores.

As an aside, for those reading this who find it difficult to quell the inner critic, Jordan B. Peterson, a Clinical Psychologist and best-selling author, offers the following helpful advice to consider when thinking about how to best take care of yourself. Peterson suggests that you “treat yourself as if you were someone that you were responsible for helping”.

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22 November
2021
  • November 22, 2021

Operation Holiday: The Thanksgiving
Party

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Now that the Holidays are officially underway I want to take a minute to give you fair warning about how to handle the next month or so when it comes to the many parties and family gatherings that we hope to fill the calendar this year. As many folks travel to see their loved ones, proceed to chow down on their favorite Thanksgiving meals, only to resume the position on the couch to catch the end of the football games, it is important to keep perspective. While preparing for these feasts takes a ton of effort and planning, we are all human, and it is easy for us to miss a workout and get off track with our diets as we enjoy the festivities the season brings. 

I’m by no means perfect, trust me; and I’m certainly not trying to be the Grinch here, the Holidays are supposed to be enjoyed with good food! I just want to help you manage your way through so your goals don’t get shot down with a few weeks of splurging. With all the travel that takes, be sure to give those hips some attention with stretches like the pigeon, rear foot elevated hip flexor stretch, and some glute activation to keep them awake and doing their job. In terms of keeping an eye on your diet, you’re allowed to indulge in a few treats here and there. Yes! That’s right, eat that pecan pie and enjoy every bite. What you need to stay true to are your portion sizes. Your eyes are going to be bigger than your stomach, but listen to your stomach! Do your best not to stuff your face, but rather eat until you’re content and put the fork down. I understand this is so much easier said than done, but if you can keep these two thoughts in the back of your mind, you will feel a step ahead as we approach the New Year! 

Happy Thanksgiving, See You In The Zone!

Tyler Campbell

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22 November
2021
  • November 22, 2021

Create The Shot

Some of you may have seen Bubba Watson play at the Travelers Championship just up the road in Cromwell where he has had tremendous success over the years. Bubba always reminds us that ideally golf is approached as an art which allows us to create golf shots and tap into the true joy of the game.  So much of the time and energy spent trying to improve in golf is spent trying to ‘get it right.’  Although fundamentals are important and can allow someone to swing the club more efficiently leading to greater power, consistency, and less risk of injury, fundamentals do not tell the whole story.  

So, what can Bubba teach us about our approach to improvement?  That we need to develop the skills to create different shots and this is only done if you actually practice those shots and attempt them on the golf course as well.  Bubba plays free from concerns about how his golf swing looks and can devote his entire being to creating the shot at hand.  I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a lot of fun!

A great place to start learning this creativity is by practicing the 9 ball flights with different clubs.  The nine ball flights are all the combinations of low, medium, and high, along with draw, straight, and fade that we can create.  By simply incorporating this into your regular practice routine you will be on your way to developing mastery in controlling the golf ball.  The best part is that it is a lot of fun to practice!

Practice Smart!

Dennis Hillman

(Photo c/o Tim Bradbury/Getty images)

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19 November
2021
  • November 19, 2021

Fitting With The Ear

One thing that is important to remember when we interact with golfers is that they booked the time to be with us, not the other way around.  I bring this up because most teachers and coaches really want to tell people how much they know.  I find the opposite to be most successful when coaching golfers or fitting them for clubs.  Specifically, I mean the ability to listen to what their concerns are and why they took the time to come to The Golf Performance Center.  You can learn a lot by listening.  A golfer may not always fall into the “stiff” shaft just because they achieve a certain club speed number.  Sure club speed is a factor, but learning about what is important to them when they hit a golf shot could be the reason they have a great experience.  Try it sometime and see what people will want to tell you!

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  • November 19, 2021

We Aim At What We See

Recently at GPC, I have been working with our students to increase their self-awareness. In my opinion, self-awareness is the key to change. Without knowing what’s getting in the way of your development, your chances of improving drop considerably and any improvement often emerges from dumb luck. Knowing where to look and what to focus on is critical as working with accurate information will only serve to accelerate your growth. However, focus and attention aren’t always in our control as much as we think they might be, but learning how to control our focus and attention might make all the difference!

 

Before reading this article, please watch the following video: Selective Attention Test

 

What did you learn about your ability to pay attention? Did you count the correct number of passes? Did you see the person in the gorilla suit the first time? Don’t worry if you didn’t, about 50% of people don’t, and in fact, the way our brains are wired makes it nearly impossible to consciously pay attention to two things at once. The world around us is bombarding us with far too much information for our brain to process so we only focus on the information that we determine to be the most salient or meaningful at the time. This is called selective attention. As the video you just watched demonstrated, when you focus, or selectively attend, to one specific thing (in this case the number of basketball passes) you fail to notice all the other information around you (a person in a gorilla suit walking in between the people passing the basketball). This failure to notice information that we are not paying attention to is called inattentional blindness. In essence, if we aren’t paying attention to something, it doesn’t exist.

 

What does this have to do with golf you might ask?

In its most quintessential form, golf is a game of targets. From your first shot to your last, you strategically plot your way along the course aiming at the targets you deem most likely to get the ball in the hole in as few shots as possible. Depending on skill level, some golfers are more successful than others at hitting their targets and thus are more likely to shoot lower scores. 

From a mental perspective, one of the key psychological skills necessary to play successful “target golf” is, not surprisingly, target focus. Target focus has two key features and can be defined as: (1) the conscious awareness of a chosen external target (e.g. a distant tree branch, a section of a fairway, or a spot on a green), and (2) the ability to stay attentive to that target throughout the golf swing undistracted by external or internal stimuli. By external stimuli, I am referring to any possible distractions outside the mind of the golfer (e.g. weather, noise, course conditions, hazzards, other people, etc.) By internal stimuli, I am referring to any possible distractions inside the mind of the golfer (e.g. performance anxiety, fear, elation, negative self-talk, thoughts about swing mechanics, etc.). 

Having worked with many golfers over the years, the first part of being target focused is easy. If you hand a golfer a club no matter their skill level, point them down a fairway and ask them to choose a target, they will be able to do so. An interesting note, which I will get into later when I suggest ways to work on target focus, when you ask a high handicap golfer to pick a target, they often choose targets that are non-specific and closer to them in proximity (e.g. the fairway or the green). When you ask lower handicap golfers to pick a target they choose very specific and distant targets (e.g. a cart path sign or the left edge of a bunker). The second part of target focus, the ability to stay attentive to that target throughout the golf swing, is something that even the professional golfers I work with find challenging. Again, choosing a target for a professional golfer is not the problem, being able to stay focused on that target is the true test. The shift is often subtle and their attention inevitably seems to slip away from their chosen target to something else, which my students often report is something internal. They start thinking about their swing, their setup, or their grip. Negative thoughts creep in. They worry about whether or not the ball will go where they intend it to, or about what other people are going to think if they don’t perform well. All the while, their chosen external target slips further any farther away from their awareness. Only the most vigilant golfers can bring their attention back to the original external target. 

In psychology, this switching of attention, back and forth from one stimuli to another, is known as “toggling”, and it is thought to be one of the reasons why we can’t pay attention to two things at the same time. As mentioned and demonstrated earlier, as our attention shifts, we lose sight of, or ignore, the thing we were previously paying attention to unless we turn our attention back to it. A common example of how this works is texting while driving. Hopefully you don’t text while you drive, but if you have, think back to the last time you did and how difficult (and dangerous) it was to drive as your attention shifted back and forth from the road to your phone. There may even have been a time where you almost drove off the road, or narrowly avoided an accident. Interestingly, if I asked you if you were able to pay attention to both your phone and the road at the same time, you would say, “yes” despite clear evidence to the contrary. Importantly, our perceptions of our abilities to attend are skewed, and despite our beliefs, when our attention shifts from one thing to another, we become blind to the previous thing we were focused on. 

These principles apply to golf as well. If, as you prepare to hit a shot, you appropriately focus your attention on an external target, say a tree in the distance, and then start worrying about your backswing, your attention will shift from the tree in the distance to “worrying about your backswing”. If you are unaware that your attention has shifted, as most people are, “worrying about your backswing” then becomes your new target, and you become blind to your original target (the tree in the distance) in the same way you were unable to see the person in the gorilla suit. It should be no surprise then that if you focus your attention on “worrying about your backswing”, without consciously reconnecting to your original target, the odds of you hitting that original target decrease significantly simply because you’re no longer paying attention to it. 

The inability to control one’s attention is a common problem that plagues golfers at every level from professional to amateurs. We think we are focused on one thing when in fact our attention is fixed on something else, and unless we know that that’s happening, that “something else” will become our new target. Let me give you a classic example, you’re standing on the tee box ready to tee off, when out of the corner of your eye you see a pond that hugs the right side of the fairway. Immediately, your attention shifts from “stripe it down the middle of the fairway” to “don’t go right”. You take the club back, swing, and sure enough the ball goes right, splashing into the middle of the pond. At the root of this problem is the simple lack of awareness as to what our target is at the moment when we choose to execute a shot. If you’re worrying about a pond, the pond will become your target. If you’re thinking about your grip, your grip will become your target. If you’re anxious about being embarrassed, embarrassment will become your target.

The bottom line is that whatever your attention is focused on will become your target, and as such, you will physically react accordingly. In other words, you will swing to the target that is in the sites of your attention. Focus on the pond and, more likely than not, you will create a swing that finds the pond. As noted earlier, the more successful target focused golfers are not distracted by external or internal interference. They stay fully committed to their original targets throughout their golf swing, and when they do get distracted, they are able to refocus undeterred. Target focus is one of the many psychological skills I teach the players I work with, but it might be one of the most important. My experience tells me that if you hold a golfer’s technical ability to swing a club as a constant, working only on improving target focus can dramatically improve scoring ability. I fully understand that being aware of how your attention “toggles” back and forth from one thing to another is difficult and takes time, but with work it can be the key component to taking your game to the next level. 

 

Ways to practice target focused golf:

Track your target focus

Like greens in regulation, fairways hit, driving distance, and scoring average, target focus can be tracked as well. Before your next competitive tournament, commit to keeping track of your target focus. Either during or after your round (preferably during), make note, with a “y” for yes and an “n” for no, of whether or not you stayed fully committed to each shot and if you weren’t what took your attention away. This can be done on your scorecard of a seperate piece of paper. Like all other golf stats, you should start to see themes or patterns emerging that you can then more concretely address.

Staying with the after image

Take a golf ball and place it on a putting green. Soften your gaze and simply stare at the ball for about 15 seconds or so. While continuing to stare, move the ball out of the way fixing your gaze on the spot where the ball was. You should see an afterimage of the ball; a dark spot where the ball used to be. See how long you can stay with the afterimage before it disappears. You will notice that if you blink or get distracted the image will fade quickly, but if you are able to stay focused, the afterimage will liniger. This is a great exercise to practice staying connected to a target. 

Putt looking at the hole 

Putting while looking at the hole a has been around long before Jordan Speith and it is a great way to practice target focus. Next time you are on the putting green try hitting putts looking at the hole. The way it works is to set up the ball, the way you normally would after you’ve lined up a putt, but before you take the club back look at the hole instead of looking at the ball. As you are looking at the hole, make your stroke. A common stumbling block to this exercise is worrying about mechanics. When we putt we often become so caught up in the mechanics of our putting stroke that we forget about the real target, which is the hole. If this is you, stick with. Let go of your concern about mechanics and just keep looking at the hole. If you can truly focus your attention at the hole, you will be amazed by how pure your stroke will become and by the accuracy of your putts. 

Focus on your landing spot

When chipping or pitching the ball practice hitting a specific landing spot. Imagine where the ball would need to land to get to the hole based on the lie of the ball, the loft of the club, and the height of the shot. It can sometimes be helpful to first take a ball or two and toss it underhand on the green to mimic the shot you want to hit. Once you find the landing spot practice hit shots to that spot to the best of your ability. Sometimes placing a golf towel flat on the landing spot can serve as a stronger visual target. Regardless, set up to the ball and connect to your targeted landing spot, taking a good mental picture. When you turn back to the ball to hit the shot, do your best to keep that mental picture of your landing spot in your mind’s eye (similar to the afterimage exercise) and try to hold it there throughout the shot. This exercise can be done looking at the target in the same way as the putting exercise, but it becomes more difficult the further you move away from your target given the physical limitations of the body. 

“Small distant target.”

During the 2015 Masters, which Jordan Spieth won, his caddy, Michael Greller would say, “small distant target” as a reminder to Jordan right before he would hit a shot. I have no doubt that that swing thought greatly contributed to Jordan’s success that week. If we want to practice target focus, especially the further we get away from the green, choosing small distant targets will help. Our brains like certainty and by choosing small distant targets, we create a much clearer and more precise plan for our brains to follow. An additional benefit is that by being so precise with our targets, it can act as a barrier to outside interference as our attention becomes so focused we lose awareness of external distractions. So, when you practice or play, choose small, distant targets, and the more specific the better (e.g. a leaf on a tree, a rock, a ball mark on the green, etc.) 

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The Golf Performance Center Ridgefield, CT
19 November
2021
  • November 19, 2021

Playing College Golf

So, you want to play college golf?  Let’s start by stating the obvious, it will not be easy!  How many junior golfers get the chance to play at the college of their choice?  The answer is very few.  The number is in the hundreds, and some years only a handful.  Why? Many junior golfers and their parents forget they have to plan to play!

Let me start by saying that there are over 26,000 public high schools, plus another 8,000 private schools in the US.  I have calculated that there are roughly 8-15 kids per high school golf team, so if we took an average of 10, there are roughly 200,000 junior golfers in the US. Now add the international junior golfers aspiring to play college golf, this adds another rough estimate of 200,000 aspiring collegiate players.  There are only 2,200 schools that offer men’s (1,300) and women’s (900) golf programs, and each year there is an average of 2 spots per program being replaced. Therefore, there are only 4,500 spots available any given year.  This makes your odds of playing college golf small, .01 to precise!  Wow! 

So, if you still want to play college golf at the school of your choice, I’m sure this makes you think about it more.  I love your courage; the odds are stacked against you, and you are still going for it!  Let me break this down for you.  In any given year there are over 6 million high school students graduating across the globe and on average there are over 9,000 applications per college each year. However, the schools that many parents want their kids to attend are receiving an average of 50,000 applications per year, and America’s Top 20 schools are receiving an average of 84,000 applications per year!  If you happen to be thinking about a school in California, the average is over 100,000!!  You as a student athlete have a chance to dramatically increase your odds of acceptance.  If your game is good enough to get the attention of the coach at the school of choice, your application goes from the stack of 50,000 to the stack of 100. The better your game, the better your chances!  The balance of academics and golf practice can be challenging. The fact that you want to go to college, it is a given that you will likely put the effort into your academics, but now knowing the odds of playing in college, you may want to rethink how much time is too much, you may have a diminishing return when focusing too much time on academics.  Overload on academics will certainly take away from your golf preparation time, which takes away your chances of having the scores necessary to gain attention of a coach that can help your chances more than academic perfection. That is why we created the ACHIEVE program: to stop the overload of academics, allowing for flexible time for golf practice. 

Over the past 15 years our great team of coaches and myself at The Golf Performance Center have helped over 100 student athletes attend over 80 different US schools. How’d we do it?  We help them plan for success based on our 5 Elements of Success, our Player Development System, and our Player Development Index (PDI) Assessment. We help players realize their potential by increasing their skills: physically, mentally, mechanically, and by having the right tools and environment which helps boost their golf talents while preparing them to attend a school of their choice.  I have worked with thousands of families over my 25-year career in performance development and I can say for a fact that the more you plan, the harder you work your plan, the smarter you work you plan, the easier it gets with minimal stress.  With this being said, it doesn’t mean there isn’t some stress, some frustration, and a few hard decisions.  But if you are willing to go for it, you can reach your goal of obtaining a college roster spot and hopefully set yourself up for the journey you intend it to be!  

If you think of checking the box on a chart that the guidance counselor at your school gave you and said, here is what colleges are looking for, THINK again!  Like I mentioned earlier, there will be a sea of kids doing the same thing and you will crash into the shores of college admissions with the other 80,000 hopefuls!  If you think making a perfect score on a standardized test will make the difference, well, the odds are you will be one of the other nearly 300,000 students who did the same thing.  It could help, but the time spent on this one factor may not be your best time spent.  You are a competitor, be a competitor wanting to win, similar to winning a tournament. The odds are against you but if you prepare better than everyone else your chances of winning increase. 

Having spent time with some of the best schools in the country asking the student – athletes about their journeys, they say that academics are important, however, it wasn’t the grades or a standardized test score that got them into the school. Ultimately it was their golf game, their desire to be the best at what they love to do!  Admissions at the highest academic levels are looking for individuals to help challenge the status quo of learning.  They want champions of self-motivation, they want independent thinkers and doers, not followers!  

How do you get into the school of your choice? You plan it, you choose your direction, you start early in your preparation, you get the best Player Development Index (PDI), you use the JuniorGolfHub.com, and you come to see me at The Golf Performance Center! 

Enjoy Your Journey!

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19 November
2021
  • November 19, 2021

Giving Thanks

Many of us find the game of golf very fickle and thus have a true love/hate relationship with the game.  If we are honest about why this is, we usually have to admit that we abandon our gratitude for the opportunity to play this great game and instead focus our energy on what we feel we are entitled to when it comes to performance.  

A great example of showing gratitude in the game of golf right now is Colin Morikawa.  He consistently demonstrates a genuine appreciation for the support system around him every time he racks up another win and this was never more evident than in his speech after winning the 2021 British Open, his second major, at 24 years old.  Click here to watch Colin accept the Claret Jug.

Now that the season of giving thanks has arrived we tend to reflect on the times throughout the year where we lose sight of everything that we have.  I am not pointing the finger as I know too well the experience of losing perspective on golf and its meaning in our lives.  I believe it’s important to understand that golf is a great medium of personal growth and that regardless of performance there are lessons that go far beyond the game.  

So, let’s all take the time to give thanks for the experiences that golf has given us, the relationships that we have built, the growth that has come from the game, and simply for the challenge with which the game always presents us.  As someone who loves the game you will always strive to be better and attempt to bring the commitment that the goal demands, but know that when you fall short you become stronger and that is what makes the game of golf so great.

Practice Smart!

Dennis Hillman

(Photo Courtesy of Golfweek – USA Today)

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