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ASU golf coach sees mental toughness as key to team's championship season

Coach balanced toughness, fun on ASU team's road to national golf championship.
July 11, 2017

Missy Farr-Kaye led Sun Devils to a record 8th NCAA title — and her third

The Sun Devils women’s golf team had a lot of ups and downs this season, according to Head Coach Missy Farr-Kaye. But they ended the year at the very top: Arizona State University won the national championship for the eighth time in the program’s history — the most of any NCAA Division I program.

It was Farr-Kaye’s third NCAA title. She won the first while a senior on the ASU golf team, in 1990. Her second was as an assistant coach of the Sun Devils, in 2009. She took the program to the national championship in Illinois in May in only her second year as head coach, and she has won a plethora of accoladesFarr-Kaye was named the Golfweek Division I Women's National Coach of the Year, National Coach of the Year by the Women's Golf Coaches Association, West Regional Coach of the Year and Pac-12 Coach of the Year..

The golf season runs from September to May, and Farr-Kaye started the season last fall without an assistant coach, which, she said, was a blessing in disguise.

“It worked out well to have a couple of months by myself because I really had a chance to connect with my players. When you’re the only resource, they come to you for everything,” she said. In November, Michelle Estill, a former professional golfer and a teammate of Farr-Kaye’s at ASU in the 1980s, was hired as the assistant coach.

Besides the team victory, Sun Devil Monica VaughnVaughn was named winner of the Honda Award, the Pac-12 Tom Hansen Medal of Honor and the Pac-12 Women's Golfer of the Year. won the NCAA individual title, two weeks after graduating with a degree in communications.

Vaughn said the key to Farr-Kaye’s coaching success is that she’s more than coach.

“She’s a mom away from home, and she’s a mentor. She’s a doctor when she needs to be,” she said.

“That’s helped to create such a great bond. She lets us know that she cares more how we are as people than how we are as golfers.”

Farr-Kaye talked to ASU Now about how she worked throughout the season to lead the team to the pinnacle of success.

1. She found inspiration in different places.

“I realized the most important thing we needed to do was to be a team that was mentally strong and gritty.

“I love to watch what the good coaches are doing, and I spend a lot of time reading. I watched a TED Talk on grit by Angela Duckworth, who also wrote a book about it [‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’] that’s on my nightstand and that I keep highlighting.

“I started following Jon Gordon, who mentors many coaches and wrote ‘The Power of Positive Leadership.’ ”

2. She asked for a commitment to the very end.

“In January, we had a team retreat. We brainstormed how we wanted the entire season to look up until the last day. We had to be all in until May 24, the last day of the finals.

“It’s easy to get a little burnt out at the end of the season. They miss their families. We had Monica as a senior, with the pressure of graduating and ‘what will I do next?’

“I wanted them to commit to each other, and all of us to commit to each other, until we were done.”

3. She personalized her coaching.

“It’s really important to know the individual players. What I say to one player is not going to resonate with the next one.

“You have to have those relationships where you know who needs a tougher love — ‘Come on. What are you doing?’ And that the other needs to hear, ‘You’re fine. It’s all right.’

“It takes a lot of time and intuition to learn what makes each of them tick.”

4. She built up the players' mental toughness.

“We struggled at conference. We had a bad first day in our minds, and the girls were devastated. I told them we had a fantastic year. We won our home tournament for the first time in 10 years. We’re not going to let one bad day ruin it. Let’s take apart what we need to. Let’s be smart about his. [The team won the PING/ASU Invitational by 20 strokes in April but finished in sixth place in the PAC-12 Women’s Golf Championship in Tucson later that month.]

“I think it worked well for us that we played poorly at conference because it helped us reset. They dug a little deeper, practiced a little harder and showed what they were made of.

“I pulled an article out of the Arizona Republic, ‘Mental toughness cannot be underrated.’ We had a meeting about it. I said, ‘Bring your highlighters’ and we talked about it.

“These are qualities that are really important that will hold you through difficult times.”

5. She balanced the work with play.

“That was something I really focused on at the end of the year. I wanted them to have fun on the journey.

“And we did. We had team songs. There are Snapchats of me dancing. That’s not something they always see in me.

“We were about to walk to the tee to play for the national championship and I put my music on and made Robbie Liti dance with me. That was good for her to get her relaxed.

“Our song was by Shawn Mendes, ‘No Holding Back.’ We played it in the cars, and they nicknamed the trophy Shawn.”

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU

Top photo: Missy Farr-Kaye, head coach of the Sun Devils women's golf team, won her third NCAA title in May. Her first was as an ASU player, in 1990, and the second was as assistant coach, in 2009. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU experts on monsoons in the media

Why are we so fascinated by storms? ASU experts weigh in.
Both social and traditional news media have become increasingly visual in form.
Smartphone apps like Waze can be helpful in bad-weather situations.
July 11, 2017

Alexander Halavais and Jessica Pucci provide insight into social media's influence on monsoon news coverage

Editor's note: This is part of our weeklong monsoon series; to read the first installation, "Gully washers and boulder rollers: How monsoons shape the desert," click here. For the final story, looking at monsoons from a Native American cultural viewpoint, click here.

Public fascination with the extreme weather of monsoons is surpassed only by the media’s, which has seen some interesting developments in its coverage of storm events in recent years, due in large part to social media’s influence.

In 2012, the Arizona Department of Transportation garnered attention with a dust storm awareness campaign on social media that encouraged people to submit “haboob haikus,” and in 2016, the Arizona Republic dedicated an entire story solely to monsoon social media posts.

Why the fascination with storms to begin with? How does social media play into that? What are the risks and benefits?

To gain some insight, ASU Now consulted with Alexander Halavais, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Jessica Pucci, ethics and excellence professor of practice at ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Halavais specializes in ways in which social media change the nature of scholarship and learning and allow for new forms of collaboration and self-government. Pucci leads social media and analytics for Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS, and also teaches a course in analytics and audience engagement.

Here’s what they had to say:

(Responses have been lightly edited for length and content.)

Alexander Halavais

Question: Why do monsoon and big-storm stories do so well in the media?

Alexander Halavais: I think there are a bunch of reasons. Large-scale weather phenomena are one of the few things that seem to have an effect on everyone relatively equally across walks of life. If you live in Phoenix, a monsoon is going to have an effect on your life, along with your fellow residents. But really large-scale weather phenomena do well in the news media in large part because they are relatively easy to cover and fit into the routines of the journalist. Experts are easy to find, officials have a line ready and there is a clear connection to a local audience. They are, in some ways, tailor-made for the news values journalists favor.

Q: How has social media affected news coverage of monsoon storms?

Jessica Pucci

Jessica Pucci: Monsoons are not only highly visual — we’ve all seen the jaw-dropping before-the-dust/after-the-dust photos — but they’re phenomena exclusive to the Southwest. Visual content plays well in social media; not only is it highly shareable, but Facebook’s algorithm gives weight to video. Add to that striking imagery of a weather event that users outside the Southwest are unlikely to ever see in person, and you’ve got a perfect storm of social attention … no pun intended.

Q: What’s behind that phenomenon? Are people genuinely coming together as a community to inform each other out of concern for the safety of others, or are people just showing off who could get the best Instagram photo?

AH: I think in some cases people may share news or information in order to help others, but often it is an effort to either come together as a community over a shared experience, or to share locally interesting extremes with friends and family not affected. Certainly, there's some showing off going on: When I lived in Buffalo, it was a picture of a wall of snow outside my front door, and here it is 119-degree days or a thousand-foot-high wall of sand moving across the Valley.

Q: What are the risks and benefits?

JP: User-generated content allows newsrooms to cover weather events more widely than ever before — and that’s particularly impactful during monsoons, which can appear drastically different between locations a few miles apart. Reporters can’t be everywhere at once, so engaging with audiences to not only learn and see more, but establish our newsrooms as authoritative, trustworthy sources of information is important.

Social networks — particularly Twitter — help newsrooms get live, real-time weather information into users’ hands quicker than ever, which is undoubtedly a public good. But social media can also hasten the spread of misinformation. It’s critical that reporters and social media managers work diligently to verify audience accounts of weather events before sharing them – a simple reverse image search or provenance check using tools like TinEye can mean the difference between sharing a helpful update and radiating a fake, Photoshopped or old monsoon image.

AH: There are certainly examples of social media being helpful in recovery from natural disasters, but at least locally, storms rarely rise to that extreme. I think they serve a function of reminding people to prepare for such events.

I suspect that the most helpful kinds of contributions are not in images and stories but something a bit lower-level. When Waze users either directly or indirectly help me to avoid flooded sections of the road or accidents, that is certainly helpful. I do suspect that such sharing is helpful, but perhaps in not exactly practical ways. I think it brings local communities together in the face of shared inconvenience and lets us tell stories that connect us, and I think that can be important.

Top photo courtesy of