Thursday, March 26, 2020

Virtually Meeting a Legend: Our Zoom time with Juli Inkster

The cancellation of winter sports' championships and the long-term suspension of spring sports has left coaches and athletes in search of new ways to cultivate community. When I read one suggestion from my athletic director, I was hopeful, I was excited— and my team isn't even in season! I was able to reach out to LPGA legend Juli Inkster. The St Francis girls' golf program "virtually" met with the world golf hall of fame player to talk about the challenging, demanding, life-giving game we love, but aren't able to play right now.
"Many teams are setting up Zoom calls with notable alumni in their sport or even guest speakers that would be interesting for the team," said Michael, my AD. He added  "think creatively and outside the box on this one.  Everyone is at home right now, and many are looking for things to do—so do not limit who you may ask.  People are seeking ways to stay involved and give back.  For example - Our baseball team could meet virtually with alumni like Eric Brynes or Daniel Descalso - kids can call in on Zoom, ask questions and stay connected.  Maybe its a motivational speaker who can offer insight on the mental approach to playing sports, etc.... "

Since I arrived at St. Francis, I knew that Juli Inkster has a special relationship with our community. Her husband Brian is head of the boys' program and the varsity coach. Their two daughters, Haley and Cori are like their dad--alumni. 

I asked Juli to speak about unconventional ways of practicing, the mental game and sharing stories of life on the tour. I encouraged my team to come prepared with their questions. They say "success is what happens when preparation and opportunity meet." Today was proof of that!
Humble. Authentic. Encouraging. Engaging  are words that describe who we encountered virtually. I had no idea Zoom could transmit enthusiasm and such warmth through a video chat session. Our team got that and more from Juli Inkster. No wonder she has served as the coach of the Solheim Cup twice. 

We began our time together with introductions. Girls shared their name, class year and responses to a couple of questions. Some named their favorite player on the LPGA tour, others spoke about why they play golf and many identified their favorite club in their bag. Juli and I both loved hearing that more than one girl mentioned her putter!

With an eager audience of 12 varsity and junior varsity players, Juli began by simply sharing her story. She didn't start playing golf until she was 15 years old. A competitive athlete, she grew up swimming, playing softball and competing against her two older brothers. She played basketball all four years at Harbor High School in Santa Cruz where she was asked to join the boy's golf team her sophomore year. She played JV golf the first two years and lettered on the varsity squad her junior and senior year. #trailblazer!
She affirmed the girls for participating in a game that knocks you and forces you to get up again and again. When asked about how she recovers from mistakes, she said "well, I have had a lot of bad shots. After I hit one, I replace my divot. I then analyze what went wrong. I want to learn from my mistakes." I took note when she added "the bounce back stat is the most important one to me. Look for what you post after a bad hole. This is important."

One very talented player admitted that before a tournament, she will practice on the course and certain holes will get in her head because of the challenge they present. Juli offered sage advice. She kept it simple. "You want to avoid the big number. There's a huge difference between a bogey and a double bogey. Land it safely on the green, go for par and get out of there." She added,  "I never add my score card up until the end."

Juli admitted that she loves to practice. Her husband once told me that they will head out to the course and he will leave her on the putting green. Brian said he will play nine holes and as he makes the turn, she will still be practicing on the green. 
She said, "it's the peacefulness of being out there by yourself and trying to improve. It might sound silly, but I make little games with myself. It's made me who I am as a golfer. I was never the best ball striker or the best putter or the best driver of the ball but I was a grinder. I never gave up. When I did put it all together, I was fortunate enough to win some tournaments. You don't have to be the best at anything, you just have to be good at everything, and you have to have that mentality of never giving up."

One of my golfers asked "How do you know if you have had an effective practice?" What a fantastic question.

Juli suggested unconventional ways to practice during shelter-in-place, stressing what every player knows (but might not want to hear). We can practice the short game any time, any place. She added, "later, when we return to real golf, if you have but 20 minutes to practice, 10 minutes should be on the short game."  Noted.
She said "it's important to take a really good practice swing." She stressed this point several times. I can't wait to take her advice. I will remind my team of this, too.

A freshman golfer asked the final question: "What do you think is next for the LPGA and what can we do to get the audience and views to equal the number on the men's tour?"  I heard her words and listened to Juli's response. This time together reminded me of an address the Coleman Brown once gave at Colgate University.

He said: Questions, you know, are not only the problems or paragraphs or multiple-choices on mid-terms and finals.  Questions can be teachers. Questions can be like enigmatic but enduring friends; like someone whom you know so well yet still do not know but are thankful for.

I thought of the crazy time we are living in. There is no shortage of questions I ask myself and avoid asking everyday. I also wonder, how did my team get so lucky as to have an opportunity to learn from, truly, one of the greatest in the game? I recalled the outstanding questions my own team asked of Juli and how that added life and vitality to our time together.

Amidst the challenge, each day presents a  unique and special opportunity. Today's was truly a gift. Thank you, Juli. And great job on our Rapid Fire ...I had to channel my inner-Feherty.

  • Favorite Club?
  • Tiger or Phil?
  • Ferrari or Mercedes?
  • Favorite Tournament?
  • Favorite WIN?
  • Per St. Francis colors: Brown or Gold
  • Favorite St. Francis sports team: girls' golf or boys?!
Go Lancers!

Photo Credits
Press Conference
Fist Bump

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