In 2016 I was working as the National Coach to the Hong Kong Golf Team. We were at a tournament in Singapore, and I met a number of players for the first time that week. One of them was a 15 year old Taichi Kho, who resembled a walking 3 iron – tall, thin and weighing 50 kilos when soaking wet. I had heard he was a promising young Junior with a good swing. I went out to watch him play and this polite young man shot +14 the first 2 rounds on a relatively short and easy golf course, and was very ill at ease with himself, banging clubs in frustration and generally playing the whole tournament in a mixture of anger and frustration. It was clear his technical ability far exceeded his performance ability, but after each round he just wanted to go back to the range and practice to correct the ‘technical flaws’.
As a Coach the best place to assess players is on the course, and under competitive stress. Then you see the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. My Coach, Denis Pugh, always schooled me that being a Coach is like being a detective and you look for clues, gather the evidence and then look to solve the case.
We have to look ‘under the bonnet’ (or hood as they in America!). It was clear this player was suffering from strict expectations (performance demands …I must hit the ball in the middle, I need to play mistake free, I should score well with all the practice and preparation for this tournament etc). It was clear he was low on the family of belief, confidence and trust. And that he needed to develop what I call the glue – the invisible skills that deliver low scoring and good performance.
Now we know as Coaches most learning with good players does not come from ‘telling’– giving direct instruction like ‘you need to do it this way, you must think like that etc’. It comes from asking searching questions, using analogies, and delivering stories from successful Tour Players. It needs time for the player to build the cognitive skills for success – in other words the mental architecture. You need to develop a cognitive loop that they do not use failure to undermine their confidence, but instead see failure as feedback on how they can get better. For that I believe it is essential that you talk to players post round and post tournament, certainly in the early days of this re-construction. And then critically you need player buy-in, as that will be a determining factor in how much change you can leverage.
Certainly my philosophy, and key belief at ECGA, is that to be the best player you can be it’s a fusion of technical competence, champion mindset and building personalised systems for success. Of course at different times players may require more of one than the other.
Fast forward 5 years and the former walking 3 iron, now built more like a solid PW, Taichi Kho, shot 68-73-64-65 at the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship last weekend, to finish tied 1st with World No 1 Amateur Keito Nakajima after 72 holes. With the winner receiving an invitation to the 2022 Masters at Augusta, and the 2022 British Open there was a lot at stake. Two playoff holes ensued and Nakajima emerged victorious, leaving Taichi runner up. You always win and you always learn. Listen to Taichi’s runner up speech below.
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