A positive influence: Trinity golf coach uses the game to help players grown on, off links

For The Tribune

There are three basic steps that Greg Personett tells his Trinity Lutheran golfers that they need to do to be successful.

“Avoid three-putts, double chips and penalty shots,” he said. “If you can get rid of those, your score will improve dramatically. They get tired of hearing it, but I preach it every day.”

Trinity golfers have been hearing those pointers for 11 years.

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“The fun part for me is watching them improve,” Personett said. “You can see them as they grow from freshmen into seniors. The main goal here is for them to advance as young men. Hopefully, they’ll take some of the things they’ve learned on the golf team and use them later in life as an adult. If it’s a positive influence, that’s what’s most important to me.”

Personett graduated from Seymour High School in 1976, but he did not play golf there. He played football for four seasons and ran track one year.

“I didn’t start playing golf until I graduated from high school,’’ Personett said. “I started playing golf out here at Sandy Creek (now Shadowood Golf Course).”

In 2008, former Trinity athletics director Jon Sprengel called Personett about the golf coaching position at the school.

“He called me and said they needed a golf coach and wanted to know if I might be interested,” Personett said. “After I stopped laughing, I thought, ‘I’m not a golf coach. Bob Krietenstein (former Seymour coach) is a golf coach.’ My daughter said, ‘You need to apply for that job,’ so I did and got it, and I’ve really loved it. It is something I look forward to every year, and it has kind of expanded.”

On top of heading the boys golf teams, Personett also coached the Trinity girls for four seasons.

He said he has improved his knowledge about golf by playing, talking to other coaches, watching videos and golf on TV and keeping a close eye on his golfers.

“This is my 42nd year of playing golf,” Personett said. “I’ve learned a little bit at a time through the years. What I’ve learned since I’ve been coaching is about half of that. I gained a little bit of ability and a little bit of knowledge. When I started coaching, it was like, ‘You’ve got to take it a step further. There are a lot more things to learn.’

“I knew the mental aspect from being a player, but how to teach the mental aspect to the players was a little bit different. It has been 42 years in the making. It’s good to be part of that golf community. I like that. I think I’m qualified to help them with their putting, chipping and wedge play. When they have full-swing issues, I like to refer them to a PGA professional. We work really hard on chipping, putting and wedge play.”

Personett said there is a lot of time between holes to think about bogeys and birdies.

“I always refer to it as ‘get rid of the rear-view mirror,’” Personett said. “If it’s behind you, you can’t do anything about it. You’ve got to cut the bad shots out and move forward. That’s a tough thing to do in golf because you have so much time to think about your mistakes or what’s ahead of you. Keeping in the moment is a tough thing in golf, and that’s part of the mental aspect I try to work on.

“With a good player, you can never tell if they made a birdie or a bogey. They keep it even-keel. If you get too excited, something is going to happen. If you start adding your score and think, ‘I’m playing really good,’ guess what? You’re going to come back to your level, so just add them up when it’s over. Stay in the moment.”

Personett has different tactics for coaching at home and away courses.

“When we have a home match, I try to make sure they know where the pins are so they know where they can miss it and where they can’t miss it,” Personett said. “I try to keep them focused on their distances on the par 3s. If I think a hole is playing particularly tough one day, I say, ‘Hey, you need to look out for hole No. 4.’ If they’ve had a problem there, I tell them, ‘You need to make sure you’re left or right.’

“When we go to an away match, I try to get them focused on green speed, get a good rhythm in their swing. If I know the course, I give them as much information as possible. If not, I say, ‘Boys, you need to analyze every hole.’ I try to go in advance and find out all the information I can and give them that accordingly.”

He said he likes to let them play their own game during competition.

“I’m kind of a hands-off coach in matches,” Personett said. “I like to let them go out there and play their own game, and I’m just there to calm them down if they need it or give them a pep talk if they need it. I think they learn from that standpoint.”

Personett said he tells them to use their strengths off of the tee.

“I believe good players need to curve the ball left or right,” he said. “You’ve got to learn to curve the ball one way. If you slice the ball or fade it, I want you to go to the right side of the tee, aim to the left and fade it back in. If you hook the ball, go to the left side of the tee, aim to the right, draw it back in. I try to advise them never to aim at trouble. Your aim should always be away from trouble.”

He tells his players to think before they putt.

“I think the biggest key, young players do not play enough break,” Personett said. “They need to play two or three times more break than what they’re reading. When you learn what the speed of your putt is, that’s when you can determine how much break it can take.”

With more junior programs going on, Personett has seen growth at the youth level in the game.

“It’s good to see young people out here playing, especially in the springtime,” he said. “What is most important, you see a lot of these kids playing in the summer. That’s what has helped grow our game. A lot of these kids are playing a lot in the summertime.”

Over the years, the equipment also has changed.

“When I first started playing golf, I was a swinger of the club,” Personett said. “Today, everybody is a hitter. These young people have advanced clubs and balls, and they’re swinging for the fences. They hit as fast and hard as they can.

“Every year, there is something new with the clubs, along with the golf balls, and it has changed the game dramatically. You buy new equipment today, you’re going to spend $1,800 on a set of clubs. Your driver is going to run between $300 and $500, iron sets are between $800 and $900. It gets expensive. You better be dedicated.”