Successful coach's secret to overcoming golf's toughest challenge

SMU Women's Golf Coach Jeanne Sutherland's secret to strengthening mental game.

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU Women's Golf Coach Jeanne Sutherland knows this:

Jeanne Sutherland
Jeanne Sutherland

"Golf is one of the very few sports where a player is completely in charge of her own motivation. There are no substitutions, no time-outs, no defense. Managing the mental part of the game is key."

She expects her golfers to exercise more than their golf game. Since she began coaching college golfers 22 years ago, Sutherland has made a practice of sending her golfers books designed to exercise their mental game.

Sutherland's seven SMU golfers recently read psychologist Angela Duckworth's bestselling book, Grit. Duckworth defines grit as the combination of perseverance and passion and says that a person's level of grit is a reliable predictor of success. When she spoke recently at SMU's Willis S. Tate lecture, the golfers and their coaches were there to listen.

"This book wasn't golf-specific. It's about finding your passion, an idea that goes with whatever you want to do with your life," says senior advertising major Lindsey McCurdy After posting a pair of top-five finishes in 2016 and earning runner-up honors at the Mustangs' Trinity Forest Invitational, she was named in January to the Golfweek Midseason All-American. For two consecutive weeks, March 22 and March 29, she was named the American Athletic Conference Women's Golf Player of the Week

"I liked the part of the book where she said, "Enthusiasm is common; endurance is rare," says Brigitte Dunne, a sophomore sport management major. She won the Joanne Winter Arizona Silver Belle Championship in December 2016 in Scottsdale, and placed third at the recent Dickson Tournament in The Woodlands, Texas. She was named American Athletic Conference March 3 Women's Golf Player of the Week. Dunne played competitive soccer and tennis growing up, but discovered golf in middle school. "I liked golf because it didn't come easy," she says.

Sutherland, who earned a degree in English from the University of Northern Iowa, says she reads all the time -- particularly books about performance psychology. She has assigned books to her golfers since she began her coaching career in 1992 at Texas A&M, where she turned around a program that had gone seven years without a tournament win.

Brigitte Dunne
Brigitte Dunne
Lindsey McCurdy
Lindsey McCurdy

Since arriving at SMU in 2011, Sutherland has led the Mustangs to four consecutive postseason berths (2013-16) and two top-three finishes at the American Athletic Conference Championships. A mentor to new coaches and a golf and coaching blogger,, Sutherland recently was honored with the 2017 Women's Golf Coaches Association Founders Award.

 "Reading books together has helped set the cultures of my teams," Sutherland said. "I keep trying to put good things in front of the players."

In addition to Grit, SMU women's golfers have read, Seven Days in Utopia by David L. Cook; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey; The Energy Bus, by Jon Gordon; Mind Gym: An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack and David Casstevens; Play Your Best Golf Now, by Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, and The Unstoppable Golfer, by Bob Rotella.

Practice, a strong mental game and reading continue to pay off for the team, both in golf and academics. In golf, the team is ranked nationally at No. 38, and five players were named to the 2015-2016 American Athletic Conference All-Academic Team – the team GPA is 3.4. Now firmly into the spring season, the golfers' goal is to compete in the NCAA championship in May in Sugar Grove, Ill.

"All my golfers have grit," Sutherland says. "You don't become a Division I athlete without it. Grittiness is not giving up. In golf that is pretty important."

SMU Women's Golf Team meets Angela Duckworth
SMU Women's Golf Team meets Angela Duckworth (center).