The Mental Side of Golf: Interview with Golf Coach Aaron Garcia 

Joseph Mok

  • April 14, 2021

Transcript


I heard you are our school’s new golf coach, correct?
Mhm, that is correct.
And this is your first year?
Yeah, my first year coaching golf. How did you end up becoming the golf coach?
Athletic Director, Coach Marshall asked some of the teachers who [were] interested, and I
replied to his email. I’m a huge fan of golf, I’ve played golf my whole life, I played in high
school, and I really want to get back to coaching. I love athletics, and so this was a great
opportunity to get into Gahr athletics. What are some of the responsibilities of being a coach?
I would say the main responsibility of being a coach is to ensure that your golfers, your athletes,are confident and safe at all times. Make sure that they’re having a good time, they’re not too stressed out. Golf is a stressful game, and it takes a long time, and it takes a lot of patience. So speaking specifically to golf, it’s really about keeping your players’ confidence high. Right? Not letting them dwell too much on past mistakes or previous, you know, bad shots or what not. And just making sure that they feel happy and safe on the course because golf shouldn’t be a sport that, you know, people are losing sleep over. It should be a sport that you, you know, play when you’re out there and when you’re done, you put the clubs away and that’s it. Yeah, that’s great! I remember you actually told me that you’ve been playing golf ever since you were basically old enough to hold a club.
And so, I was wondering, how did you get started with the sport?
My dad took me to Heartwell Golf Course - the same golf course [where] Tiger Woods learned how to play, along with Navy Golf Course, and Seal Beach of course. Um, yeah he took me to Heartwell Golf Course on Carson Avenue since I was three years old. People don’t believe me when I say that I’ve been golfing for that long, but I always show them - I don’t have it with me on campus here - but I show them my first club. And my first club is about this big [makes hand gesture]. So yeah, the proof is there. So yeah I’ve just been golfing my entire life. Never had an official lesson, but I’m not a bad golfer. And you played in high school?
Yeah, I played at St. John Bosco - that’s where I went high school. What do you enjoy most about golf?
The fact that golf is the ultimate mental game. I tell a lot of people who are just getting into golf that people will play golf for thirty years and never get any better. Meaning, people who’ll have these habits, may keep these bad habits with them for years and years and years and it’ll never improve because golf is all a mental game. Whereas other sports - and I’m a huge fan of every other sport - other sports are a lot more about muscle memory. Right? And like team cohesion, and understanding how to work with another player and your teammate and the muscle memory of shooting a basket, right? Or the muscle memory of hitting a ball. Whereas golf, when you address that ball, when you step right up to it, it’s just you and the world in front of you. And so, you know, one thing I always tell my new golfers, and I let people know about golf, and what makes it so awesome is that every single athlete in America - pro athlete - meaning basketball, football, baseball - they all play golf.
You know, Michael Jordan is a huge golfer. Charles Barkley is a huge golfer. All these
guys golf. And they do it for a few reasons. A: It’s chill. But B: It’s a mental game, and it’s a
complete diversion from what they’re used to doing. Michael Jordan is used to having thousands of people screaming his name in this pressure situation, where he’s just gotta rely on his instincts, right? And just play and go and go and not stop and can’t think, and millions of people screaming at you. So a lot of athletes enjoy playing golf because it’s literally the exact opposite of what they do in their sport.
You know, football is this crazy contact sport. Golf is the exact opposite. So it’s easier on
your body in terms of just physical contact. But that’s not what makes it fun. What makes it fun is the fact that because it’s not a physical, fast game, it is a mental, you know, pressure-patience game. It’s about, you know, how confident are you in that singular moment right before you swing the club, or right before you hit that ball.
And a lot of times, we get what are called the “yips,” and it happens in baseball, it
happens in golf, it happens in tennis. And its where you just can’t seem to get your groove. And that happens because those sports, you know, swinging a bat, or swinging a golf club, or swinging a racket - it’s such a mental game. It’s just you and the racket, or you and the club, you and the ball. And because of that, it’s so much fun to see people overcome the challenges of, you know, getting through their own head. Being able to kind of like just let go and swing freely and play and have a good time, and have fun with it instead of dwelling on it. I mean, again, Michael Jordan plays golf pretty much everyday for the sole reason that -
A: He likes to gamble, but B: It’s because he loves the mental challenge of it, right? That mental challenge of just having you, and the ball in front of you, and that is it. You’re not relying on any teammate, you’re not relying on any type of quick reaction or anything. You have time to think about your shots. You have to prepare your next shot. Right? It’s all on your own time. And because of that, a lot of professional professional athletes, like I’m saying, enjoy golf, and it’s the
exact same reason why I enjoy it as well. And you’re also a teacher?
I am. I think it was Psychology?
Yes, AP Psychology. I have, what is it, five sections of AP Psychology and I have one section of U.S. History. And do you find that you can apply what you teach in Psychology to golf, which is, as you
explained, a very mental game?

Oh, of course. Yeah, the students who know me know I’m always making connections, and
always try to make jokes and connections and things just to make the day, or the lesson, or the match more meaningful, and I do that all the time. Yeah, one of the units in Psychology is “Motivation and Emotion,” and what motivates you. And, you know, some people - and you’ll learn in AP Psychology - some people do better in front of others, while other do worse in front of others. And why are we like that? Why are some people poor performers when they stand up in front of the class? And why are other people great performers - the lights come on - when people are looking at them. You know, and that kinda gets down to our biology, it gets down to how we were raised, and it gets down to our skills and what we’re good at. And all of that is Psychology. So I apply my Psychology terms pretty much daily in my life, especially out on the golf course, or in any type of athletic competition. Actually, do you still play golf?
I do, but I would say that my “good” playing days are over. I don’t think I’ve played an 18-hole, like official round, in probably 4 or 5 years now. The most I’ve played is 9 holes, and I don’t play that difficult of courses. I used to play difficult courses, you know, golf cart, 18-hole, big courses, expensive courses. But, I am a little too busy for that now. And I enjoy playing soccer a little bit more. I enjoy playing basketball. But now I’m getting back into it, so it’s exciting to get back into golf more frequently. And, actually are you familiar with, I think it was called, the Iron-Wood Nine Golf Course?
Yeah. Oh yeah, I grew up going there as well. What’s the most exciting course you have ever played in?
Ooh. That’s a tough question man, cause I’ve played in a couple of good courses. When I played in high school, some of the other high schools we played against were really rich schools. And so I got to play at a couple of country clubs. Victoria Country Club was one of the nicer ones I’ve played in, that’s like in Carson, Long Beach. Not a lot of people know where that is, where that course is. It’s pretty hidden. I’ve played at a few major, brand new courses in Las Vegas, I’ve played at a couple of courses out in Riverside that are really nice. And I’m talking, like, you see a bunch of animals, deer, foxes, all types of birds, and huge water, huge rocks. Some of the holes, it takes, you know, ten minutes to drive your golf cart to get there. So, I’ve played at a bunch of very very difficult, and also expensive, nice courses. There’s so many. In fact, in my opinion,there’s too many nice courses. And do you find that you travel a lot with golf?
This year, we’re gonna be travelling a lot, yeah. Our home course is usually La Mirada Golf
Course. Now, like you mentioned, Iron-Wood is right in our backyard, but Iron-Wood is actually closed. And so, we’re not gonna be able to play there at all this year. But, La Mirada Golf Course, is also not that close us. So, even when we are playing our home matches, we’re still having a bit of a drive. We play teams like Montebello, and Schurr. And we play them at Montebello Golf Course, all the way down the 605 near the 60, starting to get to LA, starting to get past Downey, and past the 5 freeway, into LA. And we also play at Rio Hondo Country Club and Golf Course, which is a really nice country club and golf course out in Whittier, we play a few teams there in Downey, actually, excuse me. And so, there’s a few nice courses that we get to play at, but we will be travelling to all of those. So we’ll be travelling to Rio Hondo in Downey, we’ll be travelling to Friendly Hills in Whittier, we’ll be travelling to Montebello, and to La Mirada, which are all at least a ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty minute drive, from Gahr. And what would you say was your biggest sports/golf accomplishment?
I would say, the first tournament I ever played, my dad signed me up, and I wasn’t a very great golfer. I was kind of an awkward kid, I didn’t have cool clothes on, and I didn’t have nice clubs, I had really old clubs. And these kids I was playing against all had legit clubs, and their hats were perfect, and, you know, they had the perfect covers on their clubs, and it was all cute, and all kawaii. And me over here, I’m just, you know, playing with a raggedy bag, and like a bunch of random clubs assembled. And, I actually beat a couple of the kids that were older than me,and way, you know, in terms of looks-wise, way better than me, and in terms of how they swung and how they looked, I actually played a lot better. And I’ll never forget, I was probably 12 years old, playing, I can’t even remember where, but there was about a hundred people watching. And again, golf is a very mental, you know, sport, and all about that individual pressure. And I’ll never forget teeing up my ball and thinking, “Oh my gosh, there are like eighty, a hundred people staring at me.” The whole tournament was getting ready to start, and everyone’s staring, and I’m just doing the Sandlot, like in the movie Sandlot, “please catch it, please catch it.” I swung that
club, and it was probably the greatest shot I had ever done. I swear my eyes were closed, and I just went, “haaaaaa” and exhaled and said “Oh my god, I did it!” And what was so funny about that tournament is that I actually ended up playing very terribly- the only good shot was the first one that everybody saw. So, you know, I do my good shot, everybody’s like “Wow! That was amazing!” [claps]. And then, I continued the tournament, and I played terribly. But at least I got that one. At least everybody there was clapping for me for a few minutes. And do you think you work better under a lot of pressure, or do you think it’s more of like when you’re by yourself that you do a lot better? Athletically? Or washing the dishes, or...? I think with anything, really. Like when there’s people watching.
I’m an extroverted person, I’m an extrovert. I enjoy communicating and being around people
24/7, so I would say that I don’t have any issues being around others when the stakes are high, or when the pressure’s on. So, I’ve been playing, and I think that’s a testament to playing sports,
I’ve played sports my entire life, and I think sports prepare you for that. I think there’s a direct
correlation between the kids who are athletes, and who have played sports, or also musicians as well, and have played an instrument since their childhood, and their ability to manage pressure, and high-pressure situations. And so, I think I’ve been able to do a good job when it comes to being in a high-pressure situation, having other people watching you, other people relying on you, partially because of my athletic background. Or in some cases, like a musical background, people, you know, you gotta perform when the lights are on. You have to perform when others are around. And athletics and music prepare you for that, among other things. What is some advice you would give to people who want to improve how they work under
pressure?

Huh. Well, if I knew the answer to that question, I’d be a millionaire, because I’ve written a book about it already. But a few of the things that I do to reduce my pressure, is I ask myself: “What can I control?” and “What is outside of my control?” So, you can’t worry about things that you can’t control. And so, a lot of times when we worry, or when we’re in a panicked state of mind, we like to pile on all this added pressure, and all these added stressors, you know? We start worrying about extra things. We’re worrying about math, we’re stressed out about a math test, so we start worrying about English as well. And all of these things can compound and just pile on. And sometimes, it’s cathartic. Meaning, it almost feels good sometimes to sit in your own, like,
worry, and just, pity. You’re saying: “Gosh, why me?” “Gosh, why can’t I do this?” “Everything is going poorly!” “I can’t figure anything out!” “I can’t fix anything!”
Well, I always ask myself: “What can I control?” and “What is outside of my control?”
And I focus on the things that I can control, and I pray, that things that are out of my control,
handle themselves. And do you believe that you can actually get better at working under pressure?
Oh, I think that working under pressure, working in a high-pressure situation, is what makes you better. There’s a reason why it takes a long time to become a surgeon. And that’s because you have to start in a very low-pressure situation. Where you’re cutting grapes. And where you’re learning the anatomy of the human body. And then you start to work on cadavers, which is also a semi-low stress situation. And then you start to work on live bodies. There’s a reason why it takes almost a decade to become a medical doctor in that fashion. Because you have to start, low-pressure, you know, and increase the stakes as you advance in age, and skill, and just time.
Yeah, pressure makes diamonds dude. And, lastly, actually- we’ll end on a fun one- what was your favorite golf player, and why?
Hmm... I have a million favorite golfers, a million. I would say... Ángel Jimenez, because you
gotta look up his stretching routine. I would say Lee Trevino. I would say Freddy Couples. I
would say Chi-Chi Rodríguez. And, of course, Tiger. I mean, Tiger, we grew up in the same area.
He grew up, you know, in Cypress, California, so he’s a local kid.





In sports, and just about everything else in life, having a strong mindset is a crucial
ingredient for success. This holds especially true for golf, which although may not be as
physically demanding as say, football or basketball, trains players to work well in high-pressure
situations.

Mr. Aaron Garcia, who has been teaching five sections of AP Psychology at Gahr for
3 years, has recently taken on another role at our school by becoming the new Boys’ and
Girls’ Golf coach. Having played golf ever since he was a toddler, and also being a psychology
teacher, made him the perfect candidate for becoming a golf coach - which as mentioned above,
is a sport that requires discipline and mental toughness.

When the previous golf coach, Mr. Peiper, retired, Athletic Director Mr. Marshall reached out to
some teachers who were interested in taking his place, and Mr. Garcia responded to his email.

“I’m a huge fan of golf, I’ve played golf my whole life, I played in high school, and I really want
to get back to coaching. I love athletics, and so this was a great opportunity to get into Gahr
athletics,” said Garcia.

As a teacher, Garcia loves associating what he teaches in the classroom with the real world, and
he plans to carry that into being the golf coach as well.

“I apply my psychology terms, pretty much daily in my life, especially out on the golf course or
in any type of athletic competition,” said Garcia.

“The students who know me know that I’m always making jokes and always trying to make
connections, just to make the day, or the lesson, or the match more meaningful. And I do that all
the time.”

Garcia began playing golf ever since he was “big enough to hold a club,” and since then, his
passion for the sport never ceased.

“My dad took me to Heartwell Golf Course - the same golf course [where] Tiger Woods learned
how to play ... on Carson Avenue since I was three years old,” Mr. Garcia recalled. “People
don’t believe me when I say that I’ve been golfing for that long, but I always show them... my
first club. And my first club was about this big [makes hand gesture]. So yeah, I’ve just been
golfing my entire life.”

When Garcia was asked what he loved most about the sport, he replied: “The fact that golf is the
ultimate mental game. I tell a lot of people who are just getting into golf that people will play
golf for thirty years and never get any better. Meaning, people who’ll have these habits, and they

will keep these bad habits with them for years and years and years, and it’ll never improve
because golf is all a mental game.”

He also pointed out that there are countless professional athletes in America - from a variety of
sports, such as football, basketball, and baseball - that play golf. Why? Because the nature and
pace of golf is so different compared to so many other sports that involve high-speed momentum.

“You know, Michael Jordan is a HUGE golfer. Charles Barkley is a HUGE golfer. All these guys
golf. And they do it for a few reasons. A: It’s chill, but B: It’s a mental game. And it’s a complete
diversion from what they’re used to doing,” Garcia pointed out. “Michael Jordan is used to
having thousands of people screaming his name in this pressure situation, where he’s gotta just
rely on his instincts, right? And just play and go and go, and not stop and can’t think, and
millions of people screaming at you!”

“So a lot of athletes enjoy playing golf because it’s literally the exact opposite of what they do in
their sport. You know, football is this crazy contact sport. Golf is the exact opposite. So it’s easier
on your body in terms of just physical contact.”

“But that’s not what makes it fun. What makes it fun is the fact that because it’s not a physical,
fast game, it is a mental, you know, pressure-patience game. It’s about, you know, how confident
are you in that singular moment right before you swing the club, or right before you hit that
ball.”

With the golf season having started on March 20th, Garcia is looking forward to getting back on
the course and playing golf again.

And despite the pandemic, golf is a sport that “naturally socially-distances its players,” said Mr.
Garcia. “Most players will be at least 50-100 yards away from one another, at all times.
Otherwise, golfers will be required to wear masks while on the tee box, they are not allowed to
share equipment, and there are no post-match handshakes between teams.”

As competitions begin rolling in from March to mid-May, hopefully we can once again see our
golf team out on the grass.


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Apart from being a Psychology teacher and the new golf coach, Mr. Garica is also an author! He
enjoys writing about psychology and sharing about his knowledge of the human mind. Check out
his novel, “The Inviting Tang of Rotting Nectarines,”
here on sale on Amazon.