Q&A with Al Berg
Only one school has won four straight VHSL
titles (Mills Godwin). Langley will be going for
that this year. How do you keep the kids from
getting too focused on it?
One thing I’ve always said is, “The only thing that
makes any difference at all is the next shot you’re
going to hit. You block everything else. You focus on
the next shot.” Every year I tell the team the same
story. The fi rst year that I took a team to states, I had
a young fellow who, on the second day at regional
tournament, started off with four pars and then shot
a 9 and an 11. He was a senior and he had shot a 72
the day before. I went up to him after the 11, I put
my arm around him and I said, “Austin, you played
great yesterday. It’s time for the other kids to pick
up the slack. The only thing I want you to do is fi nish
like a gentleman. You’re playing in the last group you’ll probably
have the most people watching you. I want you to fi nish like a
gentleman.” I never saw him again until the last hole. When he
came in I looked at his scorecard. He had the four pars, the nine
and the 11, then 12 straight pars. He had 16 pars and shot an 83.
The amazing thing was we had to count his score as the fourth
score. We went to states by one shot. I learned more from that
day than I’ve learned in some years. I learned don’t ever give up
on a kid because that kid didn’t give up.
How closely do you follow your kids after they graduate?
I’m always on the Internet with them. They’re very nice
about calling me, congratulating me on various things. It’s really
gratifying to keep in touch with them. I’ve had kids from my fi rst
state championship team, which is back in 2001, who I’m still
in contact with. I’ve actually been to weddings of some of my
old players. That’s a tremendous amount of fun. It is gratifying to
have them come back and relive their days. I’ve developed a lot
of friendships. Some of the parents have become lifelong friends
over the 22 years.
What is the most rewarding part of coaching?
I would say getting the most out of whichever team I’m
coaching, whether or not we get to the state tournament. I look
back on one team that I coached, it was about 14 years ago. My
four best players had been, essentially, non-golfers coming into
the ninth grade. If somebody had asked me before the season
what would be the highest that I could hope for that team, I
would have said, “If we fi nish third in the region with that team,
that would be the ultimate. That team would have played 100
percent to its potential.” That’s exactly what those guys did. They
were all shooting in the 70s by the time they were seniors. I think
any coach will tell you, “If you have kids who are really, really
good, with an immense amount of talent, your basic role is don’t
There isn’t a year gone by where I don’t
feel like I’ve learned something. I think
you need to have the kind of mindset
where you’re constantly learning.
mess them up.” laughs But to get kids who were not maybe avid
golfers and to help them to get turned on to the game and see
how much they progressed, that’s really gratifying. I really enjoyed
having kids get much better than they thought they were ever
going to be able to get.
How have you changed the most in how you’ve coached?
I would have to say there isn’t a year gone by where I don’t
feel like I’ve learned something. I think you need to have the kind
of mindset where you’re constantly learning. To me, there’s no
game on earth that is more complicated than golf. If I felt that I
had learned it all, I probably would have hung it up. I’m going to
be 73 this year. I don’t feel like that one bit. One of the things
that I’ve gotten better at is that I’ve been able to kind of fi netune
my coaching to more and more individual needs. It’s rare
that I’ll get the team together for a team talk because every kid
needs something different. What works with one kid might not
work with another kid. So I fi nd myself doing a lot more oneto
one. I fi nd myself being a lot more effective in dealing with
kids individually. Teenagers will usually listen a lot better one-toone.
You get them in a group and sometimes you don’t know if
you’re getting through to everyone. But you get them one-to-one
where you’re making eye-contact with them, you know you’re
getting through to them.
What advice do you have for a young coach starting out?
I would say, “You never know who’s going to blossom”—who’s
going to become your ace player as a senior; who’s going to
become a D-I player; who’s going to become a potential pro. So
if you err, you err on the side of inclusiveness. In other words,
keeping kids rather than cutting kids. I keep a very large team.
This year I’ll probably have 23 or 24 kids on the roster, which is
a lot to juggle but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The last thing
I want is to have a kid get rejected and feel that he has no future
in the game when it isn’t true. You never know.
NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL COACHES ASSOCIATION 38 COACHES QUARTERLY SPRING 2019