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DeKalb coach Cordes teaches 'mental approach'

Monica Maschak -
Jacob Cook, 16, plays for the DeKalb High School Golf Team. Cook is coached by John Cordes
Monica Maschak - Jacob Cook, 16, plays for the DeKalb High School Golf Team. Cook is coached by John Cordes

Note to readers: This is the fourth article in a seven-part series on the different aspects of golf and improving a player’s game.

John Cordes wanted to find a way to help players on the DeKalb golf team.

When the dean of Northern Illinois Big 12 East golf coaches took the helm of the Barbs’ golf program 20 years ago, he did so without being a PGA Professional. Because he didn’t feel he’d be able to impart significant swing change instruction, Cordes decided he would get inside players’ heads.  

Armed with a cool mental temperament and a forward looking thought process when it comes to club selection, the Barbs are perennial conference contenders. It’s an inexpensive fix that is available for every golfer. 

“I knew technically it wasn’t possible to offer some of the instruction other coaches provide as professionals,” Cordes said. “I thought the best way possible to help our players was to give them information that would help them to best manage their way around the course. It’s an approach TV commentators are spending a lot of time talking about now. The mental approach.”

Because every golfer will face a testy situation at least once in a round, Cordes has encouraged a cerebral approach focused on the present tense. 

“A lot of players will get frustrated after a bad shot,” Cordes said. “You can’t go back and change that shot. What can you do when moving forward, that’s the question. If you can let go of a bad shot, you can alleviate your problems and better address the situation you are faced with.” 

The ability to be emotionally centered is part of the process that can keep a round from slipping away. Cordes doesn’t want players to let a bogey turn into a double bogey because of a rushed shot out of frustration. 

Instead, a player has to accept the situation. A round can easily fall apart if technical swing thoughts creep in and a player starts to become mechanical. When a player questions their ability, Cordes has seen a bad shot turn into a bad hole, a bad string of holes and eventually, a lost round. 

“That’s such a big part of the mental approach, if you start to think, ‘What just went wrong?’ you are in big trouble,” Cordes said. “That’s the psychological approach. We don’t want any negative thoughts roaming around a players’ head.” 

When baseball players return from summer league for the fall golf season, Cordes sees a familiar transition. The period it takes muscle memory to get reacquainted with swinging the golf club leads to pull hooks or piercing slices. Cordes can relate to players. He recalled the same issues when he’d transition from adult recreational softball to golf.  


While players work through swing issues that might need to be fixed on the range, rather than during a round, DeKalb golf coach John Cordes wants a player to get good thoughts back in their head as soon as possible.  

“I advise players that start questioning themselves to simply get back to doing what they do best on the course,” Cordes said.  “Don’t try and pinpoint a single swing flaw. Just do whatever it takes to hit the ball on the fairway. Use your best club, even if it means an extra stroke to get to the green. Get to the green as quick and easy as possible so you can start rolling the ball with the putter.”

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