Monday, February 26, 2007

Mind Control

Sooner or later (and usually sooner) every golfer realizes the game is mostly mental. Is it mental because we think too much or, because we think about the wrong things? We hear announcers say over and over how ‘mentally tough’ Tiger is and how his mental toughness separates him from most of the other players. If you watched the Match Play Championship over the weekend, you heard how Stenson had such a mental breakdown in his game in 2000-2001 that he almost quit golf. Six years later he’s one of the best in the world, because something happened with his mind that allowed his body to make a golf swing unencumbered. So what can we take from all of this?

What is it that we are supposed to do with our minds when we play golf? My own humble opinion after thinking about this for decades is that we must keep the mind out of the way. We can’t just turn our minds off, so the task becomes one of keeping the mind focused on something so it can’t try to take control of the swing. When pros are playing very well we hear about them being in ‘the zone’. You’ve probably heard that about athletes in almost every sport when they’re doing well. The basketball player that hits 8 three’s in a row was ‘in the zone’. The batter who can come to the plate with two out in the ninth and got a hit to win the game was ‘in the zone’.

Being in the zone is having your mind occupied and keeping it out of the way of your body. It’s not about your mind taking control and telling the body what to do step-by-step. It’s not about the mind focusing on how much is at stake on any given shot, putt or hit. Good mental coaches get their players to learn how to keep their minds occupied and out of the way. One approach is to learn a pre-shot routine and let your mind run the tape. That way it’s doing something but it’s not getting in the way. It doesn’t become a third person sitting on your shoulder and whispering all sorts of foul ideas in your ear.

Some players learn to occupy their minds with more esoteric thoughts that put the game in perspective. You see this with players who have suffered a recent personal loss that forces them to realign their values. What’s nerve wracking about a 3 foot putt when a loved one is facing a fight with cancer. Players that are involved in charities have many images to draw upon to keep themselves grounded in reality. In the grand scheme of things, how important is any putt, or chip, or drive? In the moment, the pressure can be almost unbearable. Perspective changes all of that.

The trick is learning to focus your mind where and when you want. This is more than an act of will, it can be practiced in the same way you practice any golf shot – through repetition. Make your practice time be both physical and mental. Learn to focus your mind on something other than swing mechanics on every shot. Even when you’re trying to learn a particular move - like a one piece takeaway – use your mind as an observer during the actual move, don’t let it try to run the show. Use it to gather data. Or focus it on the target. And then practice, practice, practice.

If you’re like me, you get into the zone every once in a while when you putt. It can be for a few holes, a few rounds or even a few weeks. Think back to that time, was your mind guiding you how to make each putt? No way! More than likely the confidence you had allowed your mind to relinquish control and be peacefully at rest just focused on the hole or maybe even the smell of a freshly cut green. Tiger has perfected his mind control as much, or even more, than he has perfected his swing. And I believe the average golfer has a better chance at learning Tiger’s mind control than his swing.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Industry Wish List for 2007

I love the game of golf and want to see it prosper. Here's what I hope the golf industry accomplishes in 2007 to improve the game for the average amateur golfer:

Build good courses with 18 hole fees less than $35. Make courses environmentally friendly. Encourage designs that follow natural contours, disturb as little of the natural vegetation as possible. Promote links style courses over target golf. Use more pot bunkers in the US.

Speed up play so that 18 holes can be played in less than 4 hours. I suggest educating the public during pro tournament broadcasts, using course rangers, and generally shortening course length for normal play. Consider restricting tee boxes by handicap.

Build courses that promote walking. Keep greens and adjacent tee boxes in the same zip code.

Take the mystery out of club fitting and launch monitors.

Give us golf ball testing data so that we can let the data point us to a golf ball that has good distance and spin characteristics for $25 or less per dozen.

Create a website that lists private clubs by location along with their initiation fees, monthly dues, length of waiting list and application process.

Create a website that lists all the charity tournaments by location. This would make it easy for players to signup for a tournament at the private courses they would otherwise never get to play. This would also help charity tournaments fill their fields.

Encourage all golfers to keep a handicap. Enforce the handicap rules. Require handicap groups to provide the service year round. Golfers in gold climates should be able to enter their scores when they play in warmer climes during winter vacations. And, golfers should feel obligated to enter these scores.

Create statewide golfer discount cards that allow one or two rounds a season at public and semi-public courses for one annual fee. Some states used to have such things that also raised money for charity.

Build better practice facilities, focusing particularly on improving the short game.

Provide more swing and shot analysis during pro tournament broadcasts. Video analysis is particularly helpful. And sell broadcasts rights for a fee that allows fewer commercials, otherwise you're going to kill the goose that's laying the golden eggs.

Take some of the broadcast revenue and use it for introductory teaching clinics for children, women and the short game for everyone. There are plenty of good pro golfers playing the game these days, you don't need to keep fattening the purses.

Course operators, use the online tee time services to bring in players during your slack times and to generally allow more efficient booking of tee times.

That should be enough for 2007. I'll save the rest for 2008. Let me know what you'd like to see.