Marriott, Nilsson on cusp of having a third No. 1 player

By Randall MellJune 6, 2017, 8:41 pm

Nobody else really does what they do in coaching.

Not in golf, anyway.

Nobody’s reach goes quite as wide as Pia Nilsson’s and Lynn Marriott’s in their Vision54 approach to teaching the game.

There’s a challenge in that.

What do we call Nilsson and Marriott? What kind of coaches are they, exactly?

There’s a challenge in defining their special contributions to the game as they release their fourth book this week, “Be a Player,” and as they help guide their third player to the Rolex world No. 1 ranking, with Ariya Jutanugarn on the cusp of the top ranking.

Yes, Nilsson and Marriott are both formally trained as swing coaches. They can break down swing technique, but their mission goes way beyond the skills they’ve gained studying swing mechanics.

Nilsson and Marriott do not pretend to be sports psychologists, though their intensive study of player behavior takes them beyond what a lot of sports psychologists do. The “field work” they’ve accumulated over 30 years, their observations of how players plan, execute and react to shots, has led to some of the most original analysis in golf coaching.

The “Think Box,” “Play Box” and “Memory Box” teaching models they created might make them the first behavioral-based teachers in the game.

“Advances in technology, equipment and fitness are great for the game,” Nilsson told “But `Be a Player’ is about the human skills you use to play the game.”

By human skills, Nilsson and Marriott mean what players can learn about themselves when they are playing well and what they can learn about themselves when they are not playing well. They mean awareness of behavior, emotions and thinking. They mean managing all of that.

“Awareness leads to clarity,” they write in their newest book with the help of Susan K. Reed. “Clarity creates choices. Awareness is at the core of our teaching.”

Vision54 burst to a higher profile with Nilsson and Marriott’s work helping Annika Sorenstam dominate the women’s game. They also helped Ai Miyazato rise to Rolex world No. 1. They’ve worked with Suzann Pettersen, Brittany Lincicome and Brittany Lang over the years, but their work isn’t limited to women. They also work with PGA Tour pros Russell Knox, Kevin Streelman and Arron Oberholser, and they relish their work with amateurs and recreational players.

So what should we call Nilsson and Marriott?

“We are performance coaches,” Nilsson said.

That’s sort of a new idea in golf, but it fits the larger role Nilsson and Marriott see themselves serving.

Nilsson, a former LPGA tour player, developed the “54 vision” idea coaching the Swedish national team. It was an idea that it was possible a player could birdie every hole in a single round.

“One of the things I noticed is that our players had some limiting beliefs, the belief that we couldn’t be as good, because our winters were so long,” Nilsson said. “That American and southern European players were better than us. The 54 idea was meant to address that kind of excuse making.”

Nilsson’s 54 vision was originally designed to get Swedish players focused more on what’s possible.

“It changed everyone’s thinking,” Nilsson said. “Annika was one of the first players who really took the idea to heart. It was one of the smartest things we did.”

Marriott was the LPGA’s Teacher of the Year in ’92, and she won the coveted LPGA’s Ellen Griffin Rolex Award for major contributions to teaching in ‘08.

Nilsson won the Griffin Award last year.

When Nilsson and Marriott formally formed “Vision54” in 1998, they expanded the “54” concept.

“We wanted people to embrace Vision54 as a philosophy, or a metaphor, or a paradigm, as far as looking at possibilities,” Marriott said. “We think Vision54 is an attitude.”

Nilsson and Marriott do more of their work with tour pros on a golf course than on a driving range, which also sets them apart. At tour events, they do most of their work walking practice rounds alongside players.

They’re big believers in that.

“Even as a technical teacher, the swing you need to be looking at is the one that’s made on the golf course, not on the range, because the one on the range is out of context,” Marriott said. “The epiphanies players have, the real changes, happen on the golf course.”

Back when Nilsson was the Swedish national coach, so many of her players already had their own swing coaches from their home clubs. So, she began looking for ways to supplement the coaching they were getting. She began intensely studying her players’ behavior on the course, to see how she could help performances.

Nilsson and Marriott look for more than shot patterns when they walk with players. They observe how players react to slow play, to shots and situations that make players uncomfortable, to how routines aid or hinder, and they note what body language reveals.

They have learned how caddie interactions affect different players. They’ve learned how reactions to bad shots stay with players and how personality types require different outlets to frustration.

“The Memory Box is never going to have much context working with a player on the driving range,” Marriott said.

“You aren’t going to see a lot of clubs thrown on the range,” Nilsson said.

Nilsson and Marriott aren’t allowed to walk alongside players in tournament rounds, but they say they learn so much even behind gallery ropes.

“It is so important that we are able to observe players in tournament rounds,” Nilsson said. “That’s where we get to know who they really are.

“A technical teacher may be more interested in seeing a swing on video, or on TrackMan, and dissecting it. For us, we want to see our players in competition. That is the most important thing to us.”

It’s what makes “performance coaches” the best possible description of what Nilsson and Marriott do.

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.