Archive for March, 2011


Mind Games

 

At first glance, golf appears to simply be a game consisting of the swinging a club at a little white ball. However, much of person’s success at this game rests in their ability to control what is occurring in space between their ears.  The longer a person is around golf, the quicker they realize that without having a strong mental framework, they will not be able succeed at the highest level. This applies to a weekend golfer playing once a month, or to the touring professional who makes a living from playing the game.

Two of the most colorful golf commentators on television, Johnny Miller and Ian Baker-Finch, both went from winning a major – the zenith of a professional golfers’ career, to sitting behind the booth analyzing the shots of their former competitors. No golfer, touring professional or otherwise, is immune from the mental aspect of golf.

Retief Goosen, winner of states that “…what has turned my golfing career is my mental toughness.” A major champion, who has searched diligently on ways to improve his game, finally came to the conclusion that his mental toughness and ability were the keys to his improvement and continued success on the golf course.

Also, Bobby Jones, one of the greatest American golfers and amateur players of all time stated that, “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course…the space between your ears.”

If professionals who have dedicated their lives to playing and learning the game of golf conclude that the mental aspect of golf is vital to their success, isn’t this an area that all golfers should devote some serious attention to?

If you are a golfer looking to improve your game, I strongly encourage you look at your mental approach to the game of golf and determine the areas in which you need to improve. Some of you may be confident, which is great, but overconfidence can lead to poor decision making, which then leads to poor shots and ultimately higher scores. I’ll be reviewing some books in the future on the mental side of golf, but if you are looking for ways to improve your game, you must not overlook your mind!

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Now some of you may need to get your mind out of the gutter. Yet others of you may rather be stuck in a gutter, than utter this horrific, five letter-word. It is a word that is often forbidden on the golf course and referred to by many different names in many different languages. If you have spoken it on the golf course, you  will have been undoubtedly shunned by your playing partners. This word has also been known as,  “The Laterals”, “ The Hosel Rockets”, and “The El Hosels”.

Living in a climate where it snows most of the winter, I was grateful to play in my first pro-am of the year today. Having spent more time on my snowboard than on the golf course over the past 4 months, I was looking forward to playing golf, fully prepared that my game would likely be marginally at best.  I had a good (insert fun) team of amateur players and it was just nice to have the sun shining on our faces.

I hit the ball surprisingly well on the first four holes, and although I missed a few short birdie putts, I managed to be -1 under par. I hit a mediocre tee-shot on the 5th hole and left my second shot short of the green, where I had to play a delicate pitch. That delicate pitch was quickly replaced with a bunker shot as I strait (insert 7-letter S-word here) my 15-yard pitch and after barely avoiding collision with one of my amateur players, rolled into the bunker that was  a45* angle to my right. There was a brief moment, of shock, horror, awe, and thankfully, laughter as one of my team members quite eloquently stated with a Coors Lite in his hand, “Well that was a (insert other 5 letter S-word here) shot! “

This was the beginning of my demise that would last the majority of the round. I could not help but analysis why/how I was able to hit such a shot, and my mental aptitude for the remainder of the round was of minimal success. I was able to hit some good shots, but my focus was on trying to understand what had occurred several holes prior.  At the end of the day, I finished four shots out of the money, and was left thinking about what might have been…

Let this be a lesson to you all. One bad shot, in and of itself, will not kill or ruin the chances of playing a good round of golf. However, if the bad shot lingers in your mind for any amount of time longer than it takes you to reach your next shot, (for me it was 5 seconds and only about 12 yards!), than the negative effects of that shot has a much greater impact than what is recorded on the scorecard. The sooner you can move past focusing on your poor shots, the sooner you will start playing better golf!

 

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Golf is a game that can never be mastered. Sure, skills can be developed, methods taught, and talent extrapolated, yet any combination of these factors will never be able to fully master the complexities of the game of golf. Yet, this game of golf is able to provide lessons that span across a multitude of areas.

To achieve various levels of success in golf there are certain traits that must be developed over time. Here are three of the many character traits that golf helps teach that are most beneficial to how we live our lives as a whole. If people can take these three traits, and implement them in their daily lives, I believe a drastic improvement will be noticeable in performance across the board.

1. Patience

Patience is definitely a virtue, especially when it comes to golf. Very few sports can have such devastating consequences for making the most minimal mistakes. One of the most common pieces of advice is to be sure not to follow one poor shot/decision with another. However, if you are not able to keep your emotions in check and lack the patience to move on from the prior mistake, you are likely doomed to compound this mistake.

As an instructor I have noticed that people’s approach to golf, is often similar to how they approach life. If someone is impatient and always in a rush in their everyday life, this same trait is displayed when they play a round of golf, or are on the lesson tee receiving instruction. If an instructor is able to help these students remain calm and composed throughout the lesson, that lesson in patience will hopefully reach the student’s other areas of life. Patience makes a student a better golf and a better person.

2. Perseverance

Golf is an intricate game that requires much effort to learn. Golf not only requires much effort, but often times, the results of a person’s efforts are not immediately visible (also why patience is so important).  Perseverance is defined as the ability, “to persist steadfastly in pursuit of an undertaking, task, journey or mission in spite of distraction, difficulty, obstacles or discouragement”.

Throughout the games of both golf and life, there are often difficulties, distractions, or various impediments that may possibly limit your desire and even ability to succeed. However, by persevering through the midst of struggle, a person is able to refine their skills and grow from the challenges being faced. An obstacle in your golf ability has similar characteristic to various obstacles in life. Persevere, and find success.

3. Honesty

Golf is the only game that I am aware of where you are not only asked to, but it is expected that a person call a penalty on themselves.  Honesty and integrity are at the heart of the game, and with society today being driven by earnings and not honesty; golf remains to hold these principles in the highest regard. What you are willing to do when no one is watching you in the woods when your ball is behind a tree stump, will likely carry on in your business dealings. Honesty is at the heart of golf, and hopefully at the heart of your being as well.

These are just three of the many traits that golf helps instill in its participants. Not only will these three traits help you improve your golf game, they may just improve your overall quality of life too!

 

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This blog is a little more about life, and less about golf. However, by the end of it, much of what I am about to discuss may well in fact, have a profound impact on your golf games.

As I have been recently reviewing the priorities in my life, A.K.A. how I spend the majority of my time each day, I have decided to dig a little deeper. Not only am I reviewing my priorities, but I am attempting to understand the underlying themes that are the essence of my decision making process. I have been able to hone in on several of these foundational building blocks and most are most are what I would believe to be expected. These include my social beliefs, religious beliefs, morals, person goals and one that initially was quite a surprise – Fear.

Fear is many things to many to people. To some, Fear is their favorite 1970s American punk band or their favorite thriller movie. To others it’s a deep respect shown towards God and others who they hold in highest esteem. For the mass majority, it is a heightened emotional response to a perceived outcome (usually negative). However, I have come to find that many successful venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, corporate executives and highly-skilled golfers, use fear as a motivation to succeed. Where some individuals use fear as an excuse to limit their aspirations and abilities, others use it as a motivating force to spur themselves on to even greater success.

The dichotomy between how people use fear in their lives will have a profound impact on the level of success/enjoyment they are able to experience both professionally and personally. I recently spent some time with one of the most prolific computer engineers of this past century, and now serial angel investor.

We spoke for several hours and one of the questions I asked him was what had motivated him to keep working once he had amassed what many would consider to be a fortune. His response was really quite simple. He feared losing his abilities from non-use, and that fear was what spurred him on to further inventions and business developments. Fear was a major motivating factor in the success of this gentleman, but when he spoke of fear, it was not in a negative manner, but rather as an intricate part of his ability to succeed. Fear was not something he shied away from, but rather used it as a motivating force to achieve great success.  Fear, for this gentleman as well as many others, is used to facilitate growth and not limit future possibilities.

If you are worried with how this pertains to golf, I will get their shortly, but one other area must be covered prior.

When dealing with fear it is imperative to understand what it is you truly fear? For the majority, it is often a fear of failure and a sense of being inadequate in your ability to complete a certain task or achieve a certain outcome. However, for others, their fear is actually achieving success! Some of you may be saying, ‘That is absurd, I would love to succeed in the same way as XXX’!

However, with greater success, usually comes greater responsibility as well as higher expectations from others as well as yourself. The pressures that come along with success can appear to be too much for certain individuals to bare, so they accept a path of mediocrity and continue down that road. This is a fine life for many, and a perfectly acceptable choice, as long as you understand the potential of what you are giving up, and the example you are setting.

If you are a golfer struggling with the fear of shooting lower scores or hitting certain shots, I implore you to dig a little deeper and truly examine the foundations of your fears. Golf is now who you are, it is a game you play. Use fear as motivation to improve your practice techniques, in an effort to improve your play on the course. If you attempt to hit a shot you had previously feared, and don’t pull it off the first time, take the good from the situation of not being afraid to fail, and build on that success the next time you face a similar shot.

If you are searching for more out of life and your golf game, fear cannot be your kryptonite, but instead, must be used as a motivating factor. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The only thing to fear, is fear itself”.  If you view fear as an impediment to your success, than yes, Roosevelt was right and fear is something to fear. However, if you can use your fear as a motivating factor to achieve even greater success, then shouldn’t you embrace your fears and meet them head on?

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Closely linked to my previous blog on goal setting, this blog is dedicated to aiming. However, this blog is not further discussion on aiming in the sense of establishing future plans/goals, but more directly to establishing an approach into the golf shot and the process of aligning properly at your target.  Understanding what it means to be properly aligned and how to develop a consistent routine for properly aiming at a target is paramount to achieving any level of success as a golfer.

The goal of playing golf, at its fundamental purpose, is to complete 18 holes in the least amount of shots possible. The distance you hit it, the appearance of your swing, even the quality of the clubs you play, all mean nothing if they do not assist you in shooting your lowest scores possible. One of the most reoccurring and devastating flaws I see among students at all levels, is a lack of attention to their alignment. A player may have the most technically solid and fundamental swing, but if they are not properly aligned, the resulting shot will be suspect at best.

If you don’t believe how crucial alignment truly is, go to a PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour event and watch the players warm up. What will you see? You will see a myriad of different grips, swings, and techniques to sure. I am also sure that you will many players working on their alignment. These are the best players in the world, hitting hundreds if not thousands of balls a day, and they are working on an aspect of the game that is often overlooked by the masses. If it is important enough for Tiger and Phil to be working on, it is important enough for you too!

So how can we work on our alignment and make sure that we are practicing correct alignment? Here are a few simple suggestions that will assist you in aligning correctly.

1.   Lay a club 12 inches behind your ball online with your target and set a club parallel to that line that you can place your feet against. Imagine parallel train tracks – your club face and swing path on one rail and your body on the other. (Remember, Ryan Moore is the exception, not the standard)

2.   Place a coin, tee or other small object 6 inches in front of your ball directly online with your target. This gives you a reference point to aim the club face as you approach your stance and setup. (Can combine with suggestion 1 as well)

3.   Have a trusted friend stand directly behind you and tell you where you are aligning. Being in the age of technology and camera phones, you can also have them record your setup/swing so you can instantly see how you are aligning.

From my experience, I believe many of you will quickly realize that your alignment is subpar, and that is an area that could use some much needed attention! Improve your alignment, maximize your results!

 

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I was reading the other day about successful entrepreneurs and I came across a very interesting fact that has been impressed on my mind over the past several days. Did you know only 3% of the population set goals and actually make note of them?! This number seemed astonishingly low and has caused me to reflect on my own life, as well as how others choose to live theirs.

In today’s technologically savvy world, we are most definitely the “now generation”. This attitude may not be a detriment when it comes to health care and beating a life threatening disease, but is quite often more hindrance and less help. In life, and especially in golf, this desire for instant gratification is usually just that – gratification lasting only an instant. That gratification soon fades and we are left with nothing more than a memory. That memory is often the downfall of our well being, as we deceive ourselves and believe the lie that the issue is solved. Yet, in reality, all we have done is masked the true problem and lied to ourselves, in preparation to lie to others, in an attempt to have everyone believe that there truly is nothing wrong. (Similar to asking someone with a severe limp what happened to their leg and them adamantly responding, defensively no less, that nothing is wrong).

I am sure I am not the first instructor who has come across a student who was blessed to have all the stars align when attempting to hit a challenging shot and then miraculously pull it off. That one (out of a billion) shot, if the person is unable to let go of it, has sealed their golfing fate. Since hitting that one shot, they are sure that nothing is really wrong with their game and all they need is a little “tweaking”. Then, when trying to explain that aiming 50 yards right and hitting a massive pull-slice may not be the most effective way to play the game, they will forever remind me of the one time that it worked perfectly.

As an instructor, I have three options at this point, 1:  I can give up, walk away, and refund the student. 2: I can argue with the student for the entire lesson trying to prove my point, or 3: I can come along side them in a manner that will assist them the most, given their predisposed belief of what successful golf looks likes to them…

After my recent readings, I believe that the main issue with these types of students is that they lack long-term goals and a method to reach them. The student decides to cling to the memory of the one good shot, and forget about the other 157 mostly, poor shots they hit during the remainder of the round. This lack of ability to focus on a long term goal causes them to remain at the same level, regardless of practice, with minimal increasing success.

As a golf instructor/educator, we not only need to have goals for ourselves and teaching abilities, but must also assist students in defining and achieving their own goals. It is important to make goals that are not only achievable, but vary in length and build upon each other. There are mental (psychological), physical, competitive, and personal goals. It is important to have a combination of these types of goals, as they help provide structure to your overall success and are often intertwined with one another.

Examples of mental goals include:

  1. Improvement in course management skills.
  2. Committing to a pre-shot routine.
  3. Using fear as motivation to succeed.

Examples of competitive goals:

  1. Qualify for my varsity high school team.
  2. Break 80 in a tournament.
  3. Win an amateur/professional event.

Examples of physical goals:

  1. Improve flexibility
  2. Strengthen abs and core muscles
  3. Finish balanced with your weight stacked on your front foot.

Examples of personal goals:

  1. Hit all 18 greens in regulation.
  2. Play a tournament round without a three-putt.
  3. Enjoy playing regardless of the outcome.

Examples of goals for an instructor could be:

  1. Improve golf knowledge and delivery skills. (short and long term)
  2. Gain 2 new students per month. (short term)
  3. Gain 25 new students this year(long term)

As Jim Rohn states, “the major reason for setting a goal is for what it makes of you to accomplish it. What it makes of you will always be a far greater value than what you get.”  Goals will assist in defining a desired outcome and establishing a path to obtain that specific outcome. The true benefit of creating goals, however, is that they will help in creating a successful life that is truly defined by yourself and no one else. Take it from a man with many failed goals and a few successful ones – “If you want to live a happy life [and golf career], tie it to a goal, not to people [instructors] or things” –Einstein.

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This is not a typical golf blog, yet the information provided is extremely applicable to both golf instructors and society as a whole. I often wonder how our society has changed over the years and I am no longer disillusioned by the belief that we are a vastly improved society compared to centuries or even generations prior.  Are we technologically more advanced than prior centuries? Steve Jobs and Bill Gates can answer that for me.

However, as evident in the current economy, it is clear that improved technology cannot be the only measure of growth. So what is holding us back as a society? I believe the simple answer is that we have become a society of consumers desiring instant gratification. Children are rarely being taught to think for themselves or genuinely challenge themselves. Unfortunately, teachers both in the class room and on the golf course are just as at fault as the students.

What would occur if history teacher, as opposed to assigning a specific assignment to all students after learning about the Egyptians, told the students to create a paper or project that demonstrated what they had learned? Sure, there would still be students who did nothing, but that would be the case if the same assignment was given to all of them. My belief is that many students would explore and demonstrate their creativity in a myriad of ways. We need to encourage education that promotes a forward thinking mindset, as opposed to a command and obey mentality that is often taught throughout our schools.

So how does this apply to golf? A common phrase among golf professionals is that, ‘we are all students of the game’. But what does actually mean? Princeton University has one definition of student which states a student is: “someone who by long study has gained mastery in one or more disciplines”. Now it is imperative to make note that having a mastery of golf knowledge is much different than having mastered the ability to play golf.

I encourage players looking for an instructor as well as those of you who are instructors to find ways to gain a working knowledge of golf and become a student of the game if you are not. Often time students will come back with the same reoccurring problem that we work on lesson after lesson. This is great from a revenue standpoint, but is the instructor really equipping the student with the proper information to make them better golfers? I often ask my students open ended questions that encourage them to find the root of the problem, and not just be consumers of whatever information I provide them in the lesson.

One of my main goals as an instructor is to maximize the ability of my students. Part of that process requires my students to diagnose and fix their own swing flaws. Let’s face it, all of us having been playing well and in the middle of a round we start to hit it one way or the other. If a student doesn’t understand why he/she is hitting a 50-yard slice, than they will have little chance of solving the problem on their own. However, if that same student is equipped with the proper knowledge, as well as a mindset that assesses the situation and looks to solve the root of their problem, they may very well be able to save their round of golf. That is one common trait in all good golfers. They know their own games, and are able to adjust accordingly throughout the course of a round.

If we encourage our students to be students of the game and be forward thinking in their approach to the game of golf, we are not only helping them succeed on the golf course, but also in the game of life. This type of success is what I desire for all of my students, regardless of ability or motives for playing the game.

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No this isn’t an article about the ego’s in the NBA or the lack of Allen Iverson on television anymore, but rather the ever important preparation that so few people accomplish – worthwhile practice. Golf is the only sport I can currently think of that is primarily taught away from the area it is played.

If you are practicing free-throws, you are standing on the same line and aiming at the same hoop that you will be in the heat of competition.  Practicing penalty kicks in soccer – same thing. Learning to kick off a football – same starting point and ball position whether practicing by youself or kicking under the Friday night lights. Learning to throw a curve ball – you stand 60’6’’ away from home plate regardless if Albert Pujols or your brother is standing in the batter’s box.  You get the point.

Yet with golf, we seek instruction and spend hours and hours hitting balls on the range at a rate that rivals an automatic weapon, yet we are rarely able to transfer the success of our practice sessions to the course. There are several reasons why this may occur, and those reasons will be discussed in a later blog, but for now, let’s focus on how you can improve your practice. Here are three unique approaches that will help maximize your practice sessions.

1. Practice is not Fast Food

The quality of your practice is much more important than the quantity of your practice. It is no good to spend $10 on a large bucket of golf balls if you only have 30 minutes to practice. The driving range ought not to resemble a shooting range. Each shot should be preceded by a pre-shot routine, as well as a specific desired result based on whatever specifically is being practiced.

Jack Nicklaus, arguably the greatest golfer of all time stated, “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head. First I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes, and I see the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behavior on landing. Then there is a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality.” If this is the approach the greatest golfer took to practice, shouldn’t our efforts model a similar form?

2. Practice with a Purpose

Quite often I will begin a lesson and ask a student what they are working on. It is quite surprising to see how often a student responds with a shrug of the shoulders or a simple shake of the head, indicating nothing in particular. I have quickly come to realize that if they had had an answer to my question, they often would be able find a solution on their own, and my assistance would not be needed.

Solid and consistent ball contact is the essence of golf, yet this can be achieved with various techniques and approaches. I often help my students find one, or possibly two things max, to work on for the entire lesson and disregard to a large extent, other areas that need improvement. All great golfers have an end goal in mind, and use their practice time to assist them in achieving whatever particular goal they might have.

3. Take it to the Course

It is one thing to hit a good shot on the range, but it is entirely different to hit a good shot when playing a golf hole. The scenery changes, your mind starts to race and it is somewhat of an unfamiliar place, compared to the practice tee. Why not spend time actually on the course practicing?

This will allow you to physically feel how your body reacts to being on the course as well as tangible results that have a specific outcome. The more accustomed a player can feel on the course, the more likely they are going to relaxed and allow their abilities to overcome their anxieties. This type of practice is best done late in the afternoons, or if your course allows, ask to play the back 9 only, early in the morning.

These 3 suggestions will hopefully assist you in not only playing golf, but provide new meaning and life to what Is often described as an arduous and time consuming task… Practice – Yes , Allen Iverson, that is what I am talking about!

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Often times, when beginners start taking their skills from the range to the actual golf course, they become anxious about playing with better players. When asked why they are nervous, the most common response is a fear of not being able to play at a fast enough pace.  The simple response to that concern is simple,  – “Just keep up!”

Many good players are not only fun to play with because of the skill they exhibit plotting around the golf course, but also the speed at which they are able to play. This is a lesson that all golfers need to learn early in their playing careers. It is totally acceptable to shoot high scores, just as long as you do so in a timely manner.

Having to operate a tee sheet, it is easy for professionals to see why we ought to encourage fast play from a revenue standpoint, but there are many other reasons that directly benefit the players as well.

1. Tension Kills the Golf Swing

Ever heard of the phrase – “paralysis by analysis”? This applies to many areas of our day to day lives, but specifically towards golf. Within reason and reason being well less than 60 seconds, the longer a player stands still over the ball, the more tension there is throughout the body. This unneeded tension tightens your muscles and in return, limits your mobility as well as your rhythm and timing.

2. Overall Enjoyment

Let’s face it, it is fun it play at a quick pace! Good players will hit a quality shot and use it as momentum for the next shot. However, if it takes them 20 minutes to hit their next shot, much of the momentum will have been lost.  The Scottish golf professional George Duncan once said,” If you’re going to miss ’em, miss ’em quick.” This advice is not encouraging players to rush, but rather be efficient in their golfing executions in hopes of playing better golf.

3. Only 24 Hours in a Day

Nothing is worse than wasting half of a day playing golf when it really ought to take no more than four hours. Even if you are playing well, it is tough to find a rhythm to your swing and the round if you are only hitting one shot ever 10-15 minutes. Your muscles begin to tighten and your mind starts thinking of better ways to be spending your time. Your pace will no doubt be affected by the groups ahead, but playing quickly will help you find a rhythm and more importantly – your game.

These are just three of the many practical reasons why playing golf in a quick and efficient manner is beneficial for golfers of all skill levels and abilities. Remember golf is a game and not life or death, so enjoy it!