A Golfing Rogue

One of the highlights of my recent trip was a few days in Stockholm, Sweden. I was there to see some new business partners and play some golf.

The golf was a pro-am on the Nordea Tour (The Swedish Professional Golfers Tour) at the Osterakers Golf Club (Vasterled Course). It was the last event of this year’s golfing season, with the best 32 male and female players battling it out in a match play championship. It was good to see the girls and guys compete at the same course – I had never seen it before in pro golf.

I was hosted by Jimmy, the new biz partner, who sponsors the tour. We got there early to take a look around, hit some putts (Jimmy, despite being a 15 handicapper, was a demon on the green and gave me a serious run for my money in a friendly putting comp) and whack some balls on the fairway.

After the warm up there was lunch and a guest speaker. The speaker was Tina Thorner, who is one of the world’s best rally co-drivers. Despite not understanding a word she said, she was entertaining and I got the guys to translate her interesting story.

But back to the golf.

The thing that struck me was the seriousness in the way the Swedes practiced. There were half a dozen girls and guys on the practice green and it looked like they were in a life and death situation.

– They kept notebooks of their performance. After each putt they would write something in a little book and continue.
– They got visibly upset/disappointed if they missed a putt.
– Used lots of gadgets and devices to aid them (I had never seen so many contraptions on a putting green. Ropes, hoops and weird things)
– The overall discipline was immense, it was all business and to be honest looked a little boring.

At the time I thought it was a bit full on. If you want to succeed at the game you certainly need to practice but what I saw was of concern.

Practice putting

Serious putting practice

Things went a similar way on the practice fairway. In Australia the practice fairway is usually a place for a laugh and to share stories. Not in Sweden. Once again they are there to do a job. The practice fairway was littered with dozens of aiming devices and the participants were going through their routines, taking practice swings, working on their swings and hitting balls. Other than the sound of club on ball, there wasn’t much noise. I hit about 20 balls and felt awkward with my rapid fire approach. I was there to warm up, not rebuild my swing. I don’t think anyone noticed however, they were more concerned about themselves. I have never seen a collective group of people work that hard on their golf. They were really getting into it.

practice fairway

The driving range - it's all business

A Swedish Rogue

On the way to the 1st tee I was introduced to Johan Rystrom. Johan is a Swedish pro golf pioneer and spent 15 years on the European Tour and now works as a golf commentator for Swedish television. Interestingly Johan didn’t visit the practice fairway – a few stretches and practice swings and he was away. He was the complete opposite to the other pros I’d seen.

I’ll spare you all the details and give you the following run down of the day.

  • The course was fantastic. It had lots of really interesting (and tough) holes. The locals did refer to “Swedish greens” a few times when my putts did some funny things, but I really liked the course.
  • I didn’t play that well – to be honest I struggled a bit with a tight back (was my 10th round in as many days). It wasn’t a serious game for me and I had so much fun chatting and learning naughty Swedish words that the score didn’t matter.
  • The young pro we played with was nice but didn’t say much. Like me, he didn’t play that well but was able to score OK – maybe 2 or 3 over.
  • Johan was brilliant and a lot of fun. He could tell a joke one minute and then be hitting a long drive or sink a putt the next. Nothing seemed to bother him and he was scoring well.
  • Johan birdied the 17th and just missed his birdie on the last. He shot 4 under which turned out to be the best score of the day.
  • He didn’t stuff about one bit – one of the most natural and carefree players I’ve seen.
swedish golf group

Johan (left) and the rest of the group. Jimmy is next to me.

Over the customary beer I spoke to Johan about his golf and what I saw on the practice ground and golf course. He had some interesting comments. Mostly about how the young Swedish players lack flair and individuality. They practice hard, but their games might not be where they could be. He went onto say that many of the up and coming young players spend too much time on the practice fairway and not enough time playing the game.  It wasn’t surprising to see our young pro bypass social duties and head back to the driving range for more work.

I liked what he had to say. It’s a little controversial and many won’t agree or like it but I think he’s pretty close to the mark.

At this stage no Swedish male player has won a major. This is bound to change in the future, but is a glaring omission on the Swedish golf honor list. And if what I saw at Osterakers Golf Club is anything to go by, it might be some time away.

Hard work is a very Western mindset and it’s an easy trap to fall into. An individual can hide behind the fact that he has hit 1000 balls today or sunk 100 three-foot putts (golf media like this kind of thing too). But the best players always have a mindset that is about shooting a score and playing the game.

When it comes to performance the winners find a way to get the ball into the hole – and this mindset dominates their thinking whether they’re playing or practicing. Looking across to the busy putting green and driving range as we finished our beers, I wasn’t convinced the guys and girls were thinking same.

Hard work yes, but getting the most out of their time I’m not sure.

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  • Andrew

    Reply Reply September 28, 2011

    Cam like the answer you provided me in the previous post that really clicked with me.

    “The thing is when you’re playing you’re working on your technique anyway (a point that is missed by many).”

    I have the tendency to separate play and working on technique. The mentality that I need to work on technique so I can then go and play.

    I need to keep reminding myself that playful curiosity is where most learning occurs.

    I came across this Ben Hogan quote that sums it up as well.

    Ben Hogan – “If you were teaching a child to open a door, you would help the child learn about the door knob, so he could open the door for himself. You would not open the door and explain what you did.” Golfers should not be asked to memorize body positions, they should be improving their insights about cause and effect with playful learning approaches.

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