Golf and Life Lessons from Vision54

“Get a notebook!”

According to VISION54 founders Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, heeding that simple piece of advice is at the heart of playing better golf and enjoying the game more, especially among competitive players. Presenters at the recent PGA Teaching & Coaching Summit in Orlando, Marriott and Nilsson—both rated in the Top 50 list of teachers by Golf Digest— provided a fast-moving and insightful overview of their holistic approach to coaching and teaching golf. They urge their students to write down their thoughts to this basic question: What do I do to play great golf? “We want our students to be curious and alert about how they play the game, said Marriott, “and they need to keep track of it and write it down.”

Fortunately, I had my own notebook when listening to Marriott and Nilsson and I readily jotted down a host of Vision54 (the name is derived from the goal or vision of 18 birdies in a round) tips and life lessons. Here they are:


  • Vision54 aims at addressing all the pieces of a player’s game—physical, technical, mental, emotional, social and the spirit of the game.


  •  “We’re game and performance coaches,” said Nilsson. “Our scorecard is the student’s scorecard—it’s all about success on the course.”


  • “Technically speaking, we’re agnostic when it comes to swing theories,” said Marriott. “Since most of our players already have sound fundamentals, we focus more on playing skills.”


  • The emotional side of competitive players is also evaluated in Vision54. “Managing emotions during competition is so crucial,” said Marriott. “We’ve known some players who can’t even read their putts because they’re too hyper and excited.”


  • Vision54 even drills down to some bedrock social issues surrounding players’ games such as interaction with caddies, parents and even sponsors. Marriott recounted the story of then junior phenom Annika Sorenstam being so fearful of giving a winning acceptance speech that she would subconsciously sabotage her final round performance.


  • Key principles of the “think box” and the “play box” were defined. Marriott and Nilsson want their players to develop a routine where they assess and execute each shot in a precise way. Assessing or thinking about a given shot is one side of a “decision line” called the “Think Box.” Crossing over that line to execute and be fully “present” to execute the shot is the “Play Box.” Nilsson added: “We coach players to show up and be in the present for every shot.”


  • A quick but not hurried pre-shot routine inside the “Play Box” is another tenet of Vision54. “Four or five seconds at most is the optimum time inside the Play Box,” said Marriott. “Longer than that and the brain will wander and lose focus.” Nilsson added this axiom: “The quicker the players’ minds, the less time should be spent inside the Play Box.


  • Managing “self-talk” is another precept. Said Nilsson: “The little voices in a player’s head (during a tournament) must be managed.”


  • “All peak performance is a first person experience,” said Marriott. “And it’s being present through your senses.” She related a story about PGA golf pro and Oklahoma Air National Guard Major Dan Rooney, founder of the Folds of Honor foundation, telling her flying an F-16 jet in combat with myriad controls for both the pilot’s hands is akin to being in the “zone” where feel, intuition and trained instinct transcends cognition. “Whether flying a jet or hitting a pivotal shot in competition, it’s the same dynamic—being totally present,” said Rooney.


  • Notebook in hand, Vision54 also challenges the competitive players to ask themselves this question: “Why do I play golf?”   Intrinsic passion for the game drives not only success on the course but enjoyment off of it. When a player’s enthusiasm for the game wanes, poor results and performance often follow.

Lynn Marriott & Pia Nilsson

Listening to the core values of Vision54, I recalled how world-class player Rory McIlroy was in an early season funk last year on the PGA Tour. Then he decided to fly home to his native Northern Ireland and play several rounds with his father at the storied links of Royal Country Down. Batteries recharged by the essence of links golf and the game itself, McIlroy returned to the U.S. and promptly won the Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte, N.C., punctuated by a course record and a sensational final round of 62, ten-under par.

Bet it felt like a 54.

Images courtesy of Vision54.

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