The Mental Journey

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 7.58.35 AMThis article will be a little different than your basic golf tip article on grip, aim or some other fundamental. I’ll be the first one to insist on a good basic foundation for a golf swing and love drills as much as the next guy. But this article will touch on some points that we’ve all heard over the years, but seemed to stray away from for some reason. Maybe it sounded too simple?

My neighbor gave me a book when I was in high school called the “Inner Game of Golf” by W. Timothy Gallwey. I finally read it at about age 30. Therefore, I’ve been as guilty as most for “straying away” from probably the most important part of this game. Luckily, this all changed when I read a book called “Golf Is Not A Game of Perfect” by Bob Rotella. This book is definitely a must read for those ready to start the fantastic journey into golf.

To get to the point, as a coach, I teach our students how to play golf versus about the golf swing. Over the years, I noticed we taught our junior players to become mentally tough, but seemed to give up on our adult players, thinking it was more difficult to teach an old dog a new trick. But soon I learned that if a player was dedicated enough to come out for a lesson (10 percent do), then they were ready to hear the truth. The truth is this game is much more about learning how to think correctly than how to hold the club and set up to the golf ball.

Everyone should look at this challenge as a life long journey to a stronger mental approach to the game. We’ll recommend some books to read and study and hopefully, you’ll hit the ground running. But much like eating an elephant, we need to do this one bite at a time. Below is a short list of some of the most important things we all can do for our golf games. Keep in mind one thing that we mentioned earlier. Each one of these by themselves is more important than most of the so called “swing changes” that we’re always talking about. Tiger Woods had all of these before he ever started changing his golf swing. I wonder what would have happened if he had just left it alone?

1. Watch Good Swings – Most of us learn how to do things by watching. The old saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is so true. We become what we think about and what we look at on a regular basis. Be very careful who you pay attention to in this game. You can learn how to do things right, and you can learn to do them wrong. It’s your choice. When I was a kid, this concept was mentioned to me, and I developed a habit of not watching most people swing. I kept my head down and covered up the person with the brim of my cap. I just looked at their golf ball to help keep an eye on it. My best friend took a long armed rag doll lash at it and twisted himself into the ground. I really didn’t want or need to see this on a regular basis. Jordan Spieth was coached very early to only watch good players. He learned how to handle his emotions and to only do things and watch things that would help his game. He stayed away from things that would hurt. Find a good player who has a similar body type as yours and start watching and copying his or her swing and mannerisms.

2. Learn How to Use Your Words – This is a simple concept that becomes difficult. How many times does a young child hear the word no? As a culture, we are programed to be negative. I loved how Harvey Penick used the words “grip down” versus “choke down.” Penick knew what was going on! Most have heard the concept of the saying, “Don’t hit it in the water.” But have we really done anything about it? Our mind doesn’t hear (register) the do and the don’t. We only hear the word water, and we gravitate towards it. Be very specific, and tell yourself exactly what you want to do. How about this approach versus the previous one. “I’m going to start this out toward the pine tree right of the green and hit a small draw down the right hand side of the fairway.” Let’s tell ourselves what we want to do versus what we don’t. Please!

3. Be Aware of the Things You Talk About – Think about what you talk about after your round. Do you talk about the 80 percent of good shots or the 20 percent of bad shots? By the way, we just made that number up, but the percentages drastically change according to the ones you talk about most. Remember that we become what we think about. It’s your choice. We attract what we think and talk about to our games. One of the most common complaints that we hear in the 19th hole after a round is about putting. As you know, this can be a challenging part of golf. We tell students the first step to becoming a good putter is to stop talking about being a bad putter. Period! That alone is, in my best Donald Trump voice, HUGE! Create a game plan to start working on your putting and when someone asks you about your putting, your answer is, “It’s getting better every day.”

4. Develop a Consistent Pre- Shot and Post Shot Routine – We all probably know that when we play our best golf, we’re not thinking too much about fundamentals or techniques. We just look at the target and go. This is one area where a consistent routing can help our game. Just as a computer moves faster when not too many programs are open, we can play better when we’re not focusing too much on grip, aim, and set-up. We practice our pre-shot routine to ensure it takes care of these little fundamentals, so our mind can focus on one simple thing. Work with your golf professional to develop a consistent and purposeful routine. The post-shot routine will help us put an errant shot behind us. Let’s face it; we’re going to hit bad shots. But after we do, we need to put it out of our minds as quickly as possible and move on. We encourage our students to take another practice swing or stroke before leaving that spot and imagine and visualize the shot they were originally trying to hit. This will put them in a better frame of mind for the next shot.

5. Practice with a Purpose – This is where your coach comes in. Have a game plan when you go out and practice. We like to divide our full swing practice into about four parts. Start out with a short warm up, work on a drill that is correcting something in your swing, go through the bag, hitting a few shots with each club, and then finish up by working on the routine you’re planning on using on the course. Put 75 percent of your practice time towards the short game. Remember, we learn how to play golf on the golf course versus the driving range. Develop a purpose to your practice.

Hopefully, most of you have heard about a few of these concepts. It can be a little overwhelming at first, so be patient. We think the best place to start is by reading or listening to the book “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect” by Bob Rotella. Follow that up with a book called “Every Shot Must Have a Purpose” by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott. From there, your books will choose you. This doesn’t have to be a difficult thing to accomplish. Most people realize that it actually becomes fun, and the end result is the game becoming much better.

We’d like to leave you with one last thought. Most of our students know what this means, so you need to know it as well. When we see a long line of golfers on the driving range pounding balls out into space working on this and that, we usually call it “throwing darts at trees.” Now we need to forgive them because they just don’t know any better. But the 90 percent of golfers who try to take this game on by themselves by “digging out of the dirt” would be better off just throwing darts at trees. It would have about the same result on their golf game. Actually, the throwing of darts may even be a little better.

Gary Player used to say that given the amount of time, most amateurs have to practice they would be better off just working on the short game. After working on mental toughness, we couldn’t agree more. Go talk to your PGA golf professional and have them help you develop a strong mental approach to the game and a better, more purposeful way to practice.   

Have fun and remember we hit the ball better when we’re smiling between shots and feeling good. After all, you are playing the greatest GAME in the world. Enjoy it!

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