November 07, 2023

Head Women’s Golf Coach at Stanford University, 2x NCAA Champion

Dana Bernardino

1Huddle Podcast Episode #114

On this episode of the Bring It In podcast, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder, Sam Caucci, sat down with Anne Walker, head women’s golf coach at Stanford University and 2x NCAA champion. Anne currently has 25 years under her belt with golfing. Anne Walker takes us through life as a Stanford University Women’s golf coach. She stresses the importance of relationships amongst teammates and how this can easily be translated to the workforce. Having a strong relationship within your team allows everyone to prosper and move forward effectively.

Anne underscores the significance of choosing precise words and crafting thoughtful messages when communicating with your team. This practice nurtures a culture where everyone feels at ease and valued. Anne closes with her thoughts on the future of work. Individuals must not rely on technology, in the future she hopes that we as workers continue to value being in-person and connected with one another.

Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.


Below are some of the insights Anne shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.

  • “It all boils down to relationships, values, systems, habits, and the process.”
  • “If you’re not processing the thoughts, then those are going to feelings. If you’re not aware of your feelings, then you’re not utilizing your peak performance.”
  • “Choose your team wisely. If you bring the right people into your workplace, then that’s more than half the battle conquered.”

Sam Caucci: Maybe to kick us off, you mind giving us a quick background on yourself? 

Anne Walker: Oh, my goodness. That’s a tough one. 

Sam Caucci: Start all the way at the beginning. Start all the way at the beginning. 

Anne Walker: Oh, boy. Okay. Well, all the way at the beginning puts me back in a farm in Scotland. And growing up in Scotland, you know, everyone’s got a set of golf clubs.

So I was fortunate, around the age of 12, that seemed to be my way to get off the farm in the summer, was to go play some golf. Very fortunate, I ended up being pretty good at it. And played competitively there through Europe until I was about 18. Made my way to the University of California, Berkeley as a freshman was recruited there to play, you know, I flashback to that how days have changed coach asked if I wanted to go on an official visit before committing and I had said no, I’d gone with my family to Orlando to Disney World and I knew I loved America.

So that was actually little did I know Berkeley is not like Orlando. It is a form of Disneyland. I have to say, but it’s certainly not like the one I experienced in Orlando. I made my way as a 17 year old. I was turning 18 a couple of days later by myself, came across sight unseen to Cal Berkeley, played there four years, had a really nice career with Coach McDaniel, and then she gave me the great opportunity to be her assistant coach.

So I graduated on Saturday, May 18th, and I officially signed my paperwork to be the assistant coach on that very next Monday. So that was kind of a cool transition to be with my teammates there. I spent six years as the assistant coach at Berkeley and transitioned into associate head and we’re again, you know, all right time, right place.

We had some really phenomenal years finishing top three in the country there with the Cal Bears. Put me in a position to get the head coach job at University of California Davis. That was a team that had just made the transition from Division II to Division I. inherited just some wonderful young women and we worked really hard and we were fortunate to go to the national championship and finish the last couple of years there top 15 in the country which was really I think my final year there we were ranked 11th and that was remarkable because we only had five in state scholarships and it speaks volumes to the power of heart and desire and when you believe what you can do.

And those young ladies that I got to coach there, they put my career in a path to Stanford, so I’m forever grateful to them. Started here in 2012, took over a program. Again, inherited two young freshmen, Mariah Stackhouse and Lauren Kim, we were all kind of freshmen together. And lo and behold, we won a national championship in 2015, runner up in 2016, and from there the program just kind of kept steam rolling forward with great recruits coming, great people, hard workers, and, uh, we’re most recently won the national championship last year in 2022.

And so currently the reigning national champions and the number one ranked team in the country. So very fortunate coach, Sam met so many wonderful people and right time, right place. And that brings me to you today. 

Sam Caucci: What’s it like to win a national championship? 

Anne Walker: Oh my goodness, it’s pretty cool. I mean, there’s so many layers to it, right, but sharing that experience with people that you spend this, you know, a lot of the kids you’re with, four years, but certainly year to year.

One of the cool things about college sports, in my estimation, is that the culture’s changing every year. The people on the team change every year. The kids that you have on your team, they change because, you know, they go from freshman year and all that’s going on to sophomore to junior to senior year.

So it’s a really dynamic environment that you’re working in. It’s constantly morphing and molding and changing. And so you go through this September to May experience and it’s really intense. It’s really focused with this one week at the end of May that’s kind of like all that you’re putting every hour of every day into.

And then when you get that checkoff and it’s like you’re together experiencing that. And for me, as I, as I grow older and I have two girls of my own just watching those kids and the joy. Um, there’s so few things in life that you can work your butt off and then really put an exclamation point on. But winning a national championship is exactly that.

It’s a big exclamation mark on something, so it’s pretty special. 

Sam Caucci: Given that this isn’t your first one, you know, from 2015 and now 2022, they always say that it’s really tough after I mean, you only it’s hard to get to the next level after being number one that you mentioned. What are the things you’re thinking about as you think about 2023 that maybe you learned after the win in 2015.

Anne Walker: Yeah, you know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot this year. So you’re, you’re asking a very pointed question. Sustained excellence comes to mind. You know, I think we see across all industries and certainly in sports teams that get hot or, you know, companies that get hot for and then they come and go.

We see it in the music industry a lot. You know, I think of all these songs that I was singing. As a 14 year old. And then I’m like, wait, what happened to that singer? And, you know, you look them up and they’re no longer. And so these one hit wonders, the sustained excellence has really been on my mind. And what does that look like?

And trying to research and learn about companies or teams specifically. And we’re very fortunate that we’re in the backyard of the Golden State Warriors. And I would consider what Steve Kerr has done there and that organization sustained excellence. What do they do? How do they operate? What are they focused on?

And then trying to learn from that and, you know, I would say what I’ve come to the conclusion is that it all boils down to relationships, values, systems, habits, the process, you know, all this stuff that’s well documented, but even though it is well documented, it takes real discipline to stay true to it. And I think that’s what separates people, right? 

There’s those who have the discipline, fully immerse and commit to the process and to making sure that you are working the right way, practicing the right way, focused on the right things, making the right decisions. And doing that not over the course of 24 hours or 48 hours or two weeks, but doing that over the course of years, it takes immense passion and discipline to do that.

But, if you do that, When you step back, you know, this is my 11th year at Stanford. I stepped back and I look at this last decade and I’m shocked. You know, I can hardly believe what’s on the paper, but when I was in the midst of it with these ladies on the team, we were never really stopping to pat ourselves on the back in that sense.

You know, we patted ourselves in the back plenty because that’s all part of it. But we were never patting ourselves on the back for outcome. It was more for the hard work that we were doing day to day. And so I would say that I think coming off that national championship last year, we’re not talking about winning another one.

We’re talking about just the way we operate and are we staying true to our values. 

Sam Caucci: We were talking before we started about our audience and so many folks listening are either frontline managers, C level leaders that are thinking about how do they create an environment of bests, you know, where their people are performing their best or delivering great service, their business is growing.

You know, at the same time you mentioned process and thinking about behaviors instead of outcomes. And I don’t, you know, it’s like one of those things. It’s easier said than done, right? How do you keep not just players, you’re coaching staff around your players committed to focusing on behaviors in the process versus outcomes.

Anne Walker: Well, well, fortunately for us, we only have a team of 12 and two coaches. So Brooke, my assistant, we’re in close contact every day and, and, you know, I have a lot of oversight on the words that she’s using, or the language she’s using, or the messages she’s delivering. So maybe it’s a little bit easier for me to do that. But I would say relationship is how I operate in general.

Everything comes back to relationship. And that for me, the number one most important relationship is with Brooke, my assistant. Because she needs to be an extension of me and our culture here at Stanford Golf because I can’t be everywhere all the time. And so I want her to be an extension of that and I want her to have her bring her own skill set to the table, but at the same time, it really is important that she’s reflecting the cultures of the organization.

And it happens to be as the head coach, I’m the person that ultimately determines, you know, what that culture is going to be with influence from the players, but year over year, there’s a handful of things that are going to be non-negotiables. She has to reflect that and use language around that that’s consistent with that extension, then that goes to the players.

Ideally, then the players are further extension of that. So we’re just webbing out from the center, and if we keep webbing out, we create a net that is large that now we’re all scooped up in that net, and we’re all speaking the same language, we’re all kind of working from the same place, working towards the same things.

Again, with different styles that’s part of the beauty of being on a team, but those styles are then all moving in the same direction, pulling in the same direction. So I would say relationship and I take it, you know, I, that’s one of the things that maybe isn’t talked about enough because it seems so simple, but it really isn’t that simple.

If you’re really taking the time to forge a deep connection it takes time number one. And you’re asking, you just framed of CEOs or business people who their schedules are already greatly impacted, but their schedules will get better and get easier in my estimation, if the time to carve out front is engaging in thoughtful connection with those they work with. And in my case, that’s Brooke and my players. 

Sam Caucci: Is it harder right now, given, you know, everybody wants to, I’m a millennial, so I’m excited about the fact that we’re now complaining about a different generation at work, you know. The Gen Z workers now, and I believe you’re about to start working with Gen Alpha.

You’ll be recruiting Gen Alpha young people next. I hope you’re excited. I’m sure at Stanford, there’s all types of research they’re going to arm you with to be prepared. 

Anne Walker: I haven’t heard of Gen Alpha yet. I’m going to have to go look that up. 

Sam Caucci: We’re all the way back. We’re back to the top of the alphabet is what it sounds like. When you think about, you know, again, I connect this to the workforce.

Organizations are constantly, you know, not just recruiting new workers, but they’re also having to resell workers on being in their organization. You know, in your environment, that is also true. I guess you talk a little bit. I would believe that college coaches have insights as to what the next wave of workers are going to look like. Any insights, you know, as you think about how connection and relationship building are in this moment?

Anne Walker: Yeah. Well, I, let’s, you know, I work with Stanford student athletes, so they’re pretty remarkable. And so day to day, I think the future of our world is going to be, it’s going to be okay. Cause I see the leaders who I think are going to be our next generation of leaders and they’re, they’re remarkable. But you know, Gen Z, Gen Alpha, all these millennials, my experience has been at the core.

They haven’t changed that much. The same desires are there. The same desire for connection, desire to be their very best. The work ethic maybe looks different. You know, I think they still work really hard, but they work different, at least to me. And I think that’s a result of just their world and the way technology is for them.

And their lives are so full. That’s the one thing I noticed that they feel really overwhelmed and busy and they are, but they’re busy with things that they can’t necessarily point to, because I think their life is so full with their technology. I think that’s something that if I was in the workforce and who’s coming my way that it’s worthy of knowing.

It’s relentless. I see that the inbound on them is completely, it’s non stop. They don’t get quiet moments, Sam, and I’m, as someone who coaches elite athletes, I get concerned about that because You know, if you don’t really have any quiet moments, you don’t have as much time to really listen to your thoughts, process your thoughts, thoughts drive feelings.

If you’re not processing the thoughts, then those are going to feelings. If you’re not aware of your feelings, then you’re not totally having the ability to be at your best peak performance. And so it’s a little bit of a distraction, not a little bit of a distraction. It’s a big distraction. So that’s where for me, I get concerned about what that looks like when it goes to the workforce.

Cause I see it day to day. With kids who are at the very top of their sport, and they have no time, truly no time for quiet reflection and thought. 

Sam Caucci: When people think about a sport like golf or tennis, I used to work in the sports performance space where you would work with not just professional football and professional baseball, but pro tennis and pro golf and pro hockey and, you know, they always say golf is an individual sport, right?

That’s the phrase often thrown around.  I guess talk to how you think about creating a team where there is that perception of it being an individual sport and you know, what’s your, take is on that. 

Anne Walker: Mm hmm. You know, the thing we talked about here is, I think the sport is way down the road, right?

First and foremost, I look at myself as an educator. I get to work with young people in an academic environment. And so that’s what we’re mostly focused on up front. I think there’s plenty of skills that these young women can learn that some will come up on the golf course. But a lot of it’s done in the office setting in conversation in going through, you know, their character, their goals for the year, all these types of things.

So first and foremost, if we look at it as education, the buy in already, then we look at it as experience, you know? Ultimately, what is your opportunity here? Your opportunity here is this idea of steel sharpens steel, right? You get to be surrounded by the very best players, academics, leaders of your age group.

And you know the saying, I’m sure you do, that you’re the sum of the five people you spend the most time with.

Sam Caucci: Yep. 

Anne Walker: If I was 18 years old, this is who I’d want to spend time with. I’d want to be surrounded by people that have the same drive, ambition, desires, want to work really hard, are going to inspire me to get up every morning.

And so that’s a draw that we sell in recruiting here. And I’ve been thinking a lot about, you know, what you’re saying about who’s listening to your podcast. And if I was in the workplace and I’m thinking about that, one of the most important jobs I would consider is being careful about who I’m bringing in my workplace. Because if you bring the right people in the workplace, right, there is more than half the battle. They already chose to be part of your group and you chose them. 

So already you have this connection that you’ve committed to one another and then from there you can forge forward. And I see in sports all the time, a missed recruit or a missed recruiting moment, it can have ramifications through an entire team, whether that team be 10 or whether that team be 30. That’s how the power of having one wrong character for your group. And that character is probably the right character for a different group, a different leader, a different set, but just not for your set.

And as a leader, we need to understand our own selves, what we value, how, you know, what character fits in our systems. And then bring those people into our culture. And once we do that, the synergy is automatically there and we can work on all the other stuff. But that’s how we sell it as part of our team sport. Golf is individual, yes, but are you going to get better if you surround yourself with the world’s best golfers?

Darn right you are. And so, come on in. Get in the team competitions. We compete all the time during practice. Like just yesterday, we had this super fun, really fantastic putting game practice and their inner competition is just shining through, right? They can’t wait to compete. It’s really fun, but they all got better and they got better because, you know, we have Roseanne on our team, world.

Number one, we have Brooks, a 30th ranked player in the world. So if I’m beating Brooks there, I’m beating Roseanne. I’m getting better. And so this notion that iron sharpens iron and steel sharpens steel come be a part of this and you grow individually as well as collectively as a group. 

Sam Caucci: That’s great. Yeah. The competition piece. You know, it’s one of those, obviously with you in this sport, you would assume that your athletes are highly competitive. Are there any other traits that, you know, when you sit down and you’re looking at your recruiting board and you think about what’s a perfect new player for your team, are  there any other words you think about when you’re trying to assess or evaluate a potential new recruit? 

Anne Walker: Yeah, there are. We always have. 

Sam Caucci: We always have words on walls. I’m sure you got a bunch of words on walls. 

Anne Walker: Oh, we have so many words on walls, but you know, it’s funny, I’ve been recently kind of reflecting on that  because we just had a junior camp and that was one of the questions, one of the parents had. So one of the things that I’ve been looking for recently is to get to Stanford, you’re going to have a lot on your plate as a junior.

You’re going to have to be traveling, competing, you know, not only competing, competing well, you know, shooting low scores and now you have to be preparing, working on your skill set. There’s a whole athletic thing that goes on. Simultaneously, You’re going to have to be top of your class. You’re going to have to be taking a lot of APs.

You’re going to have to making up missed schoolwork. And so you have just so much on your plate. I mean, it’s really incredible how much these juniors have on your plate. How they respond to that, Sam, is very telling of how they will respond down the line when they get under, into our program. And watching that built in response and learning about it, I’m asking a lot of questions about it during recruiting.

Because that will, it’s kind of their, you know, it’s their habit and it will keep going. They will continue to run that cycle down the road. If that, if the words that they are using are buzzwords around, you know, and it’s okay to be stressed and it’s okay to be overwhelmed, of course, but a lot of kids will look at it as like, they’re kind of also stoked because they’re like, it’s pretty cool, like they’re, it’s a challenge and, but I see how this gets me to Stanford and I got it, coach, you know, they’ll tell me, they’ll be like, coach, don’t worry, I got it.

If they say that about high school stuff, they will say that when they get here and they’re in the heat of the battle at the national championship coming down the stretch, it will come back up. So, I’m looking for the soft skills and how they’re responding in that moment. The other thing that I’m looking for right now in these junior players is, few of them now want to speak to me directly.

And I’m having to go through parents. My whole thing is, your mom’s going to be in Texas. Your dad’s going to be in Texas, wherever they might be. You and I are going to be in communication for four years. So, you know, I understand it’s not comfortable and I understand that you’re just learning, you’re 15, 16 years old and you’re just learning.

But let’s talk, you know, let’s sit down and have a conversation. And that’s become really important for me too, in the recruiting. So I would say those two things, how they’re responding to the stresses of academics and athletics as a high schooler. And then, additionally, are they able to comfortably come in my office and just hang out and just talk?

It doesn’t even have to be about the process of recruitment. It can be anything. And if they can do those two things well, they’re going to thrive here in this environment.

Sam Caucci: Yeah, the relationship is key with you and your players 

Anne Walker: Always. 

Sam Caucci: You brought up parents. I wasn’t going to go there, but I would like to ask one question on that front.

You know, I thought you mentioned Dr. Jerry Lynch before we started on the podcast and he’s awesome. He’s probably on his 50th book. He’s writing right now. He probably wrote a book between the time we started this episode, the time we finished, given what he does. When I spoke with him recently, I asked him, I have a six year old daughter, and she just started playing soccer.

And my wife was a college soccer player. And I asked Jerry what advice he had for me. Around you know, being a parent, again, I stand as far away from the field as I possibly can while I still can see everything. I asked him, you know, what’s one piece of advice for me? And he made the comment that after practice, tell her that you love watching her play and don’t say anything else was his comment, which I thought was really cool.

And I wanted to ask you from your position as a coach what advice do you have for parents who are trying to create an environment where their son or daughter has the best opportunity to succeed in sport?

Anne Walker: Yeah. I  heard Jerry’s comments and I agree with him. I actually have an eight year old and a five year old as well.

So, you know, I’m trying to learn that along the way, what that looks like as well. And I just agree. I think that from what I’ve seen, there is no sure way that how you’re operating at home is going to put your kid on the Sanford baseball team or, you know, play for the Tampa Bay Rays or whatever the, the long term vision some parent might have. We see plenty of stories that sometimes the kids that are the most successful mom and dad worked and they were playing at the local golf course and mom and dad didn’t even know that they were good.

They were dropping them and picking them up. Right? So there’s no sure way. And when we know that, what do we know then? We know that the one sure thing is your kid only has one mom and one dad, that’s it. And they’ve got plenty of coaches, they’re going to have plenty of teachers, plenty of other people, but they really need mom and dad to be mom and dad.

And what does that look like? And I think unconditional love and knowing that it doesn’t matter what happens on that field, it does not matter how that practice went. When you come home at night, no one’s going to love you harder than your mom and dad. And that’s the way that I think that’s what Jerry was getting at.

I love watching you play. What do you want for dinner? You know? And that’s what coach can’t do. A coach is gonna pull you aside and, and reprimand you for not seeing the open spot or, you know, gold or lasering the bush behind the green that then you hit it into the bush. So it’s hard though, and it’s a discipline.

That’s the thing that I notice as a parent. Parenting takes discipline in itself and I watched the parents of the kids on my team. And I talked to my players too. My players want their parents to be so proud of them when it comes to golf and there can be good in that and there can be bad in that because now that score means so much more than just a score.

It also carries the weight of perhaps determining what their feelings are towards how mom and dad feel about them in that moment, and that’s just the nature of high level sports I think. You know these, the way it works out. But I agree with Jerry. Just love your kid. You have one mom and dad.

Sam Caucci: Yup. So on that last point you made, I mean, it’s like the word expectation, right? Managing expectations with players who have, there’s a bar that they’re aiming for. And you as their coach it’s really hard. You have to be aware of what their expectations and you have your own expectations of them. And that’s gotta be part of the relationship grind, right?

Anne Walker: It is. And part of the relationship grind here with my players is constantly telling them that I’m going to fall in that unconditional love category because 25 years in, I’ve seen enough golf is hard and it’s all sports are hard and there’s no rhyme or reason, but there’s absolutely no situation where the outcome should trump your character and who you are as a person, no situation.

And so for me, we’re going to have good days. We’re going to have bad days. You’re going to hit good shots. You’re going to hit bad shots. But when we get in that team van and we head out. It’s not going to alter the way I think about you, feel about you. Our tough conversations are going to be if in that moment, you know, you behaved or lost your character or, you know, gave up on the things that you have control over that define who you are.

Those are going to be tough conversations. And we’ve had those. I’ve had plenty of those with young women that in the moment acted in ways that perhaps they wish they could take back. But it’s never going to be because of a missed shot or a missed putt or, you know, those types of things. 

Sam Caucci: Coach, super appreciative of you taking the time.

One final question for you. We’re talking about future work and many of the folks are thinking about what that looks like and how they’re driving their businesses and direction they need. What’s your hope for the future of work?

Anne Walker: I hope we get back to in person, Sam. And I hope, you know, I don’t know whether this is old school or not, but I’m not sure that hybrid works for society because at the end of the day, what do people crave? We crave love. We crave connection. We crave relationship. And you just don’t get that as easily through technology.

I think there’s great value to the technology when it comes to doing business across the world or with different companies. But when it comes to your organization, the only way you can really feel immersed and give all you’ve got for an organization is if you feel connected to the others that are in the journey with you.

And that is very difficult. So I, I hope the future of work is we can get back to being in person, being with each other, being connected, having relationship and feeling true value to what we do when we wake up every day. 

Sam Caucci: Coach, thanks for taking time. 

Anne Walker: Yeah thanks, Sam. Have a good one.

Topics Discussed: Future of Work, Leadership, Training, Coaching

Dana Bernardino, Manager of Digital Marketing at 1Huddle

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