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Professional Golf is about embracing the journey, and Al Dickens is someone who does just that. Understanding that every round played can’t be perfect and treating each day as an opportunity to learn is key to being the best player you can be. As you read below, you will learn that the discipline, scheduling, and routine of being your own boss is a lot of responsibility, however, mastering and understanding what works best for you will pave the way for success.
Al, could you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in Charlotte, NC and was raised there by my two incredible parents, Al and Elizabeth. I have an older sister, Bess, and six sibling in-laws. I am married to the absolute love of my life, Courtney. She is by far my better half and I’d be merely a fraction of who I am today without her unwavering love, support, and encouragement both on and off the golf course. We met the first day of class our freshman year at East Carolina University, where I played golf. We currently live in Charlotte and have a two-year-old golden retriever named Mayer.
When were you introduced to the game of golf, and more specifically how did you get into playing competitively?
I started playing golf at a very young age, around 3 or 4 years old. I love all sports so I typically played whatever sport was in season, but I always enjoyed playing golf. My first experience playing competitive golf was the Junior Club Championship at Myers Park CC when I was 9 years old. From there, I began playing in interclub matches the next summer before playing events around the Carolinas.
In your opinion, what has been your greatest accomplishment/feat on the course?
There are a lot of rounds to think through, but the most special memories and success on the golf course were beating my dad for the first time, winning my first college event, and winning my first pro event. I shot 64 to beat my dad by one shot when I was 14. We were playing with my grandfather, Al Jr., and our whole family came out onto the course for the last few holes to watch it unfold. My college win was at our home tournament my senior year and my mom flew in for the last round to watch it with my dad. I sank a 30 footer to win in front of all my teammates and family. Lastly, the first pro win came at my home club’s Pro-Am event. I felt a lot of pressure to perform well, so being able to put that aside and take care of business made it all the more rewarding. Again, all of my family and friends were there to watch the finish. As you can tell, memories with my family, coupled with success, are the most special memories for me.
What has been one of your biggest disappointments in golf and how did you overcome it?
To be honest, this game is really tough and disappointments are a norm since winning is just so difficult. With that said, there isn’t really one specific disappointment that stands out more than just my freshman year as a whole at ECU. Simply put, I completely lost my game and it was just extremely embarrassing. However, I have to give Coach McPhaul a ton of credit here. He not only kept me on the team when he probably shouldn’t have, but he instilled lessons for handling adversity that have stuck with me since. I learned the importance of a process and sticking to it. That year, I learned a lot about myself as well. Much of my pride and identity were wrapped up in who I was as a golfer rather than as a redeemed child of God who plays golf. This realization freed me up to play golf not being emotionally tied to the outcome. As a result, I really try to approach each round the same by seeing them as an opportunity to learn. If I can just learn something and find a way to get a little bit better, then it really doesn’t matter if I shoot 62 or 75.
On the day of a tournament, what types of things do you do before the round (on & off the course) to prepare yourself before you tee off?
It all starts with a good night of sleep, but I have a routine that’s pretty dialed in, one that I’m still fine-tuning. I’ll spend a little time journaling, reading, and doing a devotional to get my day started. I have to get a good base of nutrition in me, so breakfast is key. I also like to get a little sweat in before heading to the course just to get my muscles woken up and firing together. I get to the course an hour and 45 minutes before my tee time. When I get there, I stretch for 30 minutes before heading to the putting green. I use a chalk line and some tees for a little fundamental checkup with my putting and then I roll putts from 15+ feet just to get a feel for the speed. With about 45 minutes before I tee off, I head to the range and hit my 60-degree wedge, PW, 7i, Hybrid, 3W, and Driver to get a feel for my swing that day. With about 25 minutes to my tee time, I go hit a few bunker shots and pitches before rolling a few last minute putts before heading to the first tee.
What is the hardest thing about playing professional golf that a non-professional wouldn’t know or realize?
It may seem like a great thing to be your own boss but it’s a lot of responsibility. You don’t have to listen to anyone else but you also don’t have anyone telling you where to go or what to do. You have to make your schedules, practice plans, etc. Again, I know that might sound like a luxurious problem but it was a struggle for me coming out of college, and figuring out how to become the best golfer I can be. You’re also working hard day in and day out for uncertain outcome. Business owners and entrepreneurs might be able to relate, but it requires a lot of faith, patience, and trust to look at the big picture rather than getting wrapped up in results. For this, I’m once again extremely grateful for my wife, family, and friends for how they continually encourage, support, pray for, and point me to biblical truths to keep things in perspective and keep me moving forward.
How many hours a day do you spend practicing and how much time do you allocate to each area of your game?
I think this can fluctuate quite a bit based on what my week looks like and whether or not it’s an event or I have a week at home to practice. I try to treat golf like it’s a job so I’m up and at it early with my workouts and then I try to get to the course as soon as I can after taking care of the dog and helping get my wife out the door for work. I try to work really efficiently during the day so I can go home after a good day of work around 6 to help get dinner ready and spend time with my wife. In regards to the time in each area, I love to play honestly, especially if it can be some sort of competition. I learn the most on the course so I’ll play whenever I can. The skills have to be continually tuned and so I’d say I spend the most amount of my time putting and or at the short game area. Probably 75-80% of my practice time is there. I really don’t hit too many balls unless my swing really needs some maintenance. The rest of my time is spent on wedges, and to be honest, I really am trying to focus more time on my wedges with distance control right now.
If you could give an amateur golfer who is aspiring to play professionally one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
I’d say the most important thing they can do is just to embrace the journey. As I mentioned earlier about each day as “an opportunity to learn”, you have to be able to take results as feedback indicators and just find ways to keep learning and improving. It’s about how good you want to be at the end of the month, season, career, not just today.
When playing competitively, could you name a time that you felt more nervous than other times? What did you do in that situation to calm those nerves?
Oh man, nerves kick up all the time, and just about every round at some point. I remember coming down the stretch of Q School and literally feeling like I couldn’t control my hands. Your body does crazy things under intense pressure; your mouth dries up, your breath gets tight, your heart feels like it’s going to beat out of your chest, your legs feel like jello, and you might want to just throw up. Fear happens, so I’ve learned to embrace it. When I feel fear coming on I realize that I’m about to be given an opportunity to learn through either success or failure. I try to keep myself from slowing down and getting careful when I feel the nerves kicking in. I like to recite scripture, sing a song, or focus on my breathing, but I really try to claim the fear by admitting it and realizing my fear comes as a result of probably being in a situation I’ve worked hard to get into. I then just try to free it up and let it go.
Al, thanks for taking the time to tell us about yourself and the life you’ve created around golf. Before you go, we have a few rapid-fire questions for you. If you could play 18 holes with anyone, who would it be?
Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods
What item is an absolute necessity for you out on the course?
Snacks. If I don’t eat my ADD starts rearing its head and my focus leaves me quickly.
What is your top bucket list course?
Pebble, Spyglass, and Monterey. I’ve never been to California and would love to play some golf out there.