Anyone who has played the sport knows the truth: golf is a wicked-hard game that’s as much shot choice, mental focus and course strategy as it is about the physical swing. Mastering such a complex sport is challenging enough for adults. But, how do you effectively coach talented, young up-and-comers who dream of playing with the pros?
Corey Lundberg is a bit of an expert on the topic. He’s been recognized as a “Best Young Teacher” by Golf Digest and a Top 50 Kids Teacher in the United States. He’s big on analytics, a passionate student of motor learning and skills acquisition techniques, and a prolific blogger. But, perhaps the most interesting thing about Lundberg’s rise from golf lover to esteemed golf coach is his catalyst for heading down that path.
“I started playing golf because it was a good opportunity to hang out with my dad, and found that I really enjoyed it,” Lundberg said. “I was a decent junior golfer, but it became clear early on that playing professionally wasn’t a realistic endeavor for me.”
Instead of sending Lundberg in pursuit of another profession, his own lack of progress caused him to question traditional, “fix it on the range” teaching methods.
“I was curious why I wasn’t able to develop in a way that correlated with the time I was investing and my desire to improve. I did what I was supposed to do, but, none of it produced the results that I hoped for,” Lundberg said. “That created the whole journey of believing that there had to be a better way to teach golf and develop talented golfers.”
Lundberg graduated from the Professional Golf Management program at Arizona State University, and started working at a Houston-area golf club where he confirmed not only that teaching made his “heart sing,” but that he was very good at it. It’s also the place where he met friend and mentor Cameron McCormick, the latter now best known as Jordan Spieth’s golf coach and the 2015 PGA National Teacher of the Year.
In 2016, Lundberg and McCormick decided to parlay their combined experience to launch Altus Performance, a golf performance organization for elite junior, collegiate and adult golfers; touring pros and competitive recreational players. The facility is located at the newly opened Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas, which will host the AT&T Byron Nelson Golf Championship beginning in 2018. Lundberg serves as a performance coach and Altus’ COO.
Though open less than a year at this writing, the Altus method is fast becoming the poster child for the new world order of golf instruction.
Holistic, Focused and Data Driven
“The traditional paradigm of very prescriptive coaching is changing to one that’s spread across all the disciplines people need to actually learn a skill,” Lundberg said.
While the prescriptive approach may lead to rapid, short-term gains, it doesn’t always lead to sustainable improvements on the actual course.
“Helping someone swing a certain way in the very sterile environment of the driving range doesn’t translate into the more challenging environment of the golf course,” Lundberg said. “We focus on changes that are adaptable to all the different situations a player encounters on the golf course.”
Attitude, Tenacity and the Ability to Work with a Team
It’s important to note that Altus doesn’t accept just anyone who walks through the door with payment in hand. They want golfers who they really can help: those with the talent, commitment and attitude to fit into the Altus culture.
“If you’re audacious enough to have big goals, then you have to be willing to work a little harder. We want kids who ‘mind the mundane;’ who do the stuff that’s not all that fun to do—the stuff that seems like it’s not that important but can actually creats the difference between being a decent college player and a great college player; getting a card or not getting a card,” Lundberg said. “At a certain level, everyone has pretty highly functioning techniques. But, it’s those little incremental gains that make all the difference. The people who have the discipline and are conscientious enough to do those things are the ones who see the most success.”
So, what kinds of things?
“We create performance plans for all of our elite golfers, and statistical entry is a central part of that. We know that in the last five events, where they’ve performed well, where there are gaps, and what areas represent opportunities for improvement,” Lundberg said.
That quantitative analysis is essential to make sure the coaches at Altus are working on the areas that have the greatest impact on the individual golfer’s scores.
“That requires that every client go through the very mundane process of entering their stats after every competitive round,” Lundberg said. “They also have to follow their practice plans—going through those exercises that may seem boring but are essential to helping them reach their big goals. Those are the watermarks, the must-do’s, the level of discipline elite players have to develop.”
The final requirement? That they play well with others.
“We say that people working toward the same goals build a culture of greatness. That means part of our culture is clients working together and supporting each other in achieving those goals,” Lundberg said. “Our program includes individual lessons, but the rest of the week, we pair each student with four to six other clients with similar levels of ability and achievement.”
These group events are actually development sessions that layer all the elements someone needs to play great golf, like adapting to different conditions, course situations and mastering different kinds of shots.
“Really great players don’t have just one solution to go to when they’re on the golf course. They have six or seven solutions,” Lundberg said. “They also have to make the right choice for the situation they’re in at the time. That’s what we work on in the group challenges.”
What Every Junior Golfer’s Parent Needs to Know
With every elite junior golfer comes a parent, or parents, who want to see that child realize his or her dream. That can be a good thing, or a bad thing.
“We spend a lot of our conversations trying to educate parents on how best they can support a talented junior golfer. Most of the time, their intentions are good—they want their children to achieve their goals—but, the wrong level of involvement can actually be detrimental,” Lundberg said.
Translation: You be the parent. Let the golf coaches be the golf coaches.
“Parents have a great influence on the characteristics and behaviors that lead to success because they’re with their kids way more than we are. There are 168 hours in a week and we get about four of those with the juniors,” Lundberg said. “Parents can be a great resource for us because they see it all—they can sometimes provide feedback that the kids aren’t able to give because they’re so emotionally attached to their results.”
Parents can also, inadvertently, derail the whole coaching process by coaching their kids at a time they should be simply loving them.
“One piece of advice that we give to parents is that they’ve got to disassociate the kid from that kid’s performance. When their child has a bad round, he or she is not a bad kid; just a kid who’s had a bad day,” Lundberg said. “So, the advice we give parents is, after one of those days, when the junior golfer gets in the car, the only thing they need to say is, ‘Hey, I really enjoyed watching you today.’”
No debrief. No blow-by-blow recount of all the shots gone wrong. No coaching. No tough love.
And, if a kid has a good round? Don’t go nuts, either.
“You can get a certain reaction from a parent after a great round and, if you don’t get the same kind of reaction after a mediocre round, it can have a negative impact,” Lundberg said. “I guess the big message we want parents to give their kids is that they really enjoy watching them do what they love doing. We’ll handle the instruction, the coaching and the ‘what can we do to improve’ conversations.”
Above All: Learn from the Experience
Not every talented golfer who pursues the sport hits the big time—or ever earns a spot on the PGA Tour. But, Lundberg believes that, be it in the golf world or the real world, the lessons learned through golf performance training can make a long-term impact.
“I think kids who go through our coaching program leave here better prepared to deal with adversity in life, and know how to embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and improve,” Lundberg said. “That experience gives them a better mindset of how they respond during those times when they fall short of their goals. I hope 10, 15 years down the road, when our kids reflect back—whether they’re making a living as a playing pro or not—that’s something they can say they got out of spending time with us.”
Good lesson, Corey Lundberg. Good lesson.