Golf has always served as an inspiration for Jake White, and a recent round of golf with Schalk Burger Snr., Morné du Plessis and a few other close friends as well as something Ernie Els has said has given White exactly the perspective he was seeking as he prepares his Vodacom Bulls team for their Vodacom United Rugby Championship quarterfinal against the DHL Stormers in Cape Town this weekend.
White recently played the magnificent Leopard Creek golf course and says it recharged him after a challenging last few months for him personally and for his team.
“It wasn’t just the golf. It was nice to be able to talk to good friends about all sorts of things. It was lovely to hear Schalk talk about how Doc Craven approached the game, or Morné talk about his experience captaining the Springboks. They give you pearls of wisdom. When you’re in those environments you get a little bit more balance in everything. Whether it’s about business, banana farming or rugby, you can talk about all of these things and it gives you perspective again,” says White, whose passion for golf started when he was seven years old and who often uses golf analogies for his team talks.
In looking back at the Vodacom United Rugby Championship season thus far, White uses a golf analogy and something Els has said to convey where he believes his team stands.
“It’s a bit like when I coached the Springboks. You know what it feels like when you’re in that hole and you will find any way not to go there again. I remember in the Rugby World Cup in 2007, because we had struggled in 2006 it was definitely a motivating factor for us. Ernie Els said a part of what keeps him working so hard at the game is a fear of failing. You work hard so you don’t have to go there. Ernie has hit the nail on the head with that.”
And White says the mechanics of how a golf tournament plays out also holds valuable lessons for his team as they approach the playoffs.
“There are so many variables you have to go through in golf to win a tournament. You first need to play for two days to make the cut, and then the last two days to make sure you win the tournament. One of the things I’ve always said to my players is that in golf there is always pressure. The pressure is sometimes for the young golfer or rookie to make enough money and make the cut. Then you get the Ernie Els’s and Tiger Woods’s and the greats that don’t worry about the cut. Their end goal is how they win the tournament.
“It’s a very different pressure playing the 18th on a Sunday to win as opposed to playing on a Friday afternoon to make the cut to ensure you make enough money. I tell my players that we must always get to the point where we have the pressure of walking down the 18th on a Sunday with a chance to win the tournament.
“This season for me has been a little bit like playing on the Friday to make the cut, where for the past two years for this group it’s been about walking up the 18th on a Sunday trying to win the tournament. This season has been about are we good enough, why do I have the yips in my putting, are we going to make the cut, we’re under pressure here. These are questions that have never been asked of this group of players.
“We had to make the cut, and we’ve done that. Now we have three games to win the competition. It’s just like golf with two days now to win it. And in golf, the one who just makes the cut compared with the player who is six shots ahead, there is no guarantee the player in the lead is going to win the competition. So now it’s a new competition. It’s irrelevant how many games you’ve won out of 18, or if they’ve beaten you in the pool stages. The point is now who plays the best at the back end of the competition. That’s why I’ve said all along, don’t measure us halfway through the competition. The first priority when you sign up to any competition is to make sure you play in the playoffs. That’s the bottom line.”
And White is hoping the questions this season has put to his group of players will help them find the right answers for this next phase.
“Let me be clear, as the Vodacom Bulls we still haven’t done anything in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship. In all probability the odds will tell you the DHL Stormers should beat us. But all I can say is the resilience we talk about is much more meaningful to youngsters when it comes from a position of experience and having been through it.
“Sometimes, that’s what a team needs to move to the next level.”