When golf coach turned high-performance guru, David Kearney would take notes and journal his experiences throughout a varied and vibrant career at home and abroad, not for one second did he consider that his astute scribbles would one day turn into a book.
A keen reader, Kearney sifts through the pages of anywhere between 50 and 75 books a year, with many of his favourite reads focussed on psychology, a natural fit for a golf coach who knows how vital the six inches between the ears are to a player’s fortunes.
A proud PGA member for the best part of three decades, Kearney’s journaling began after Padraig Harrington paid his Irish Ladies High-Performance Panel a visit in Carton House in 2005, but it was through his relationship with Paul Gaffney, the Clinical Psychologist with the Irish Sports Institute, that the seeds for his debut book, The Golf Buddha were sown.
“Paul is a good friend of mine and we did some work together,” Kearney recalls. “I’ve always loved psychology and just by telling him things, writing things down, journaling stuff and showing him, he quickly said ‘Oh, there’s a book there’, and I started laughing.
“A few times more he said it to me and eventually he said, ‘look, why don’t you do a couple of chapters for me and we’ll take it from there’. He loved them, we kept going and before you knew it, there it was.”
The result is a book that flows between the player, parent and coach relationships, a triangle of perspectives Kearney can speak to thanks to his vast experience of all three. Intertwined amongst his personal recollections are stories from those he worked with along the way – Leona Maguire, Olivia Mehaffey and Danielle McVeigh – plus other star athletes, parents, administrators and coaches who are all quoted in a positive, all-encompassing read, albeit, one Kearney admits, that won’t be to everyone’s taste.
“It’s a very personal subject matter, and there’s quite a bit of vulnerability and depth in the book. It’s not something you’d be pushing on people,” Kearney says.
“It’s not everybody’s bag, I can tell you that. It’s a long game, but I’m very proud of it. I love speaking about it and speaking to people who are interested in sport and performance about it.
“It was great to get it down on paper. It’s not perfect… there’s one paragraph, I opened the book the first day I got it and the font is actually incorrect, but the first thing I said to myself was ‘that’s OK, because this whole thing is imperfect, so that’s fine’.”
Indeed, it was Dr Bob Rotella who wrote about golf not being a game of perfect, and Kearney has adopted a similar philosophy, accepting that how you deal with adversity is pivotal for those working in the golf space.
“The winning most golfer will win five percent of the time they tee it up on average. Some will win 0.0%, and yet we don’t seem to, I believe, talk about the failure and the journey enough,” Kearney says.
His own journey in golf started off brightly but Kearney can pinpoint exactly when his spiritual journey began. While searching for answers to questions that the game eventually threw at him, Kearney reached for literature and specifically a book by the master of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn.
“I got the book from a priest on a golf trip. It was 1999 so I would’ve been 28,” Kearney remembers.
“He knew I was a big reader and it was all about mindfulness, meditation, all that good stuff. I remember putting it on the shelf thinking, ‘yeah, thanks for that, good man. I’m bulletproof here. I’m making good money. I’m the cock of the rock. No chance I’ll need it’.
“A few years later when things started to get a bit more difficult, funnily enough I was looking through my bookshelf and I saw this thing and started to peel through it and thought to myself, ‘My God, this sounds like what’s happening me now’.
“Personal problems, stuff at home, all of which I go into in the book, there’s no secrets. The book is there to help other people as opposed to make people feel sorry for me.
“I started to read Jon Kabat-Zinn and I said to myself, ‘I think I’ve found my home here. I think I understand that the problems I’m going through are the problems that any of us are going through’.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to get the message across to young athletes or coaches that it’s actually not somebody else’s fault. It’s your own responsibility and your own journey and once you get the power to say, ‘you know what, I can take responsibility for the pieces I can look after’, you find yourself in a much better spot.”
Through the process of transcribing his hand-written journal entries to a digital document for the book, Kearney, whether he wanted to or not, was swiftly forced to practice what he preached.
“I lost the first draft completely,” he laughs. “I didn’t back up my computer but funnily enough, that story became the centre tell of the book I think, it actually turned out a better book because of it.
“Was I as happy with it then as it turned out now? No. It gave me the ability to go back and take out the best pieces.
“The alleged failure was actually a victory, and I think that happens a lot in sport and I think that’s what the book is about, that something you perceive as a failure can teach you so much: how to be resilient, to deal with feeling angry and upset.
“Losing the first draft was very much a micro-piece of the whole book, which is, if something happens that doesn’t seem like great news, there’s a high possibility that it could actually be good news down the line.”
Book a day with David Kearney:
David is a co-founder of athlete management and events company, Sigmoid Sports, and is currently hosting team building workshops at venues across the country. Kearney fulfilled his high-performance obligations to women’s golf in Ireland at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 but is available for speaking engagements at golf clubs and schools, while also conducting kids coaching programmes, corporate events and much more.
For full info, visit https://sigmoidsports.com/sigmoid-sports-events/