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Personnel Profile: George Steffes, the octogenarian golf guru

Retired lobbyist George Steffes, prepared for his favorite activity. (Photo: Rich Ehisen)

If you want to play better golf, longtime Capitol lobbyist-turned-golf-instructor George Steffes has some advice: learn how to throw a club.

Now Steffes – who once upon a time was Gov. Ronald Reagan’s Legislative Director – is not encouraging duffers to pitch a hissy fit when things go wrong on the course. Throwing a club – or more accurately, tossing a club at a specific target – is just one of many drills he uses to help folks work out their swing. But while many of these exercises are physical, what Steffes really preaches has little to do with keeping your elbow in or your head down. What he wants is for you to pull your head out of your, uh…game entirely.

“I’ve been playing now for over half a century, and still not a day goes by that I don’t learn something.”

“You have to get outside of your conscious mind when you play this game,” he says.

No, one of the sharpest, toughest players to ever work the halls of power in Sacramento has not turned into a fairway Yoda. Getting “outside of your conscious mind” is simply his way of describing the need to circumvent the pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain we use to reason, to analyze and to think. Being cerebral is generally a great thing, but a good golfer has to be able to turn it all off and focus only on seeing the ball and relaxing.

While that may sound easy at first blush, anyone who has ever picked up a club knows that shutting off the brain’s endless stream of information when we’re standing over that little white ball is like trying to hold back a raging river with a tea cup. Even the best pros in the world struggle with it, which is why so many of them now work with both psychologists and a swing coach.

That challenge is also one of the things Steffes loves most. As a child, his father forbade him from playing the game, telling him that golf was for adults. Sufficiently diverted, he didn’t take up the sport until he was 29 years old. Fifty-one years later and partly-retired, he’s still playing, still has a single-digit handicap and loves the game more than ever. That affection is due in no small part to the teaching he took up just four years ago. Perhaps ironically, most of his students are adults taking up the game for the first time, many even older than he was when he grabbed his first club so many years ago.

“I’ve been playing now for over half a century, and still not a day goes by that I don’t learn something,” he says. “It’s really all I do now. I go out and play to see what I can learn and use for when I’m teaching people.”

He also spends a lot of time as a student himself. At 80 years old and still trim and fit as ever, he regularly travels to coaching seminars around the country. He also devours books and videos on coaching, and regularly picks the brains of other coaches. It not only feeds his love of the game, but also the competitive fire that burns hot in just about anyone doing business in the world of bare knuckles politics.

“The world of government is ultra-competitive, and somebody usually wins and somebody usually loses,” he says. “When I was in that world full-time, I was also ultra-competitive. But now when I’m teaching golf, if I do my job well then everybody wins. That gives me a sense of great satisfaction.”

There is actually one more objective in golf he wants folks to understand, one he says supersedes even the mantra of “see the ball and relax” that’s the core of his teaching philosophy.

“You have to remember that object of the game isn’t the score,” he says. “The object of the game is to have fun.”

Ed’s Note: Rich Ehisen is the managing editor of the State Net Capitol Journal, where he covers public policy trends around the nation. His Twitter handle is  @WordsmithRich


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