Nobody else really does what they do in coaching.
Not in golf, anyway.
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 GolfChannel.com. “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.