Category Archives: Mental Training

“The Commandments” – an Introduction

About six years into my career as a college golf coach, I noticed a trend: golfers tend to make the same mistakes in tournaments year after year. It got to the point that I could predict with great regularity the error a player was going to make before it happened—an error that would either wreck his hole or change the course of his round. Seeing these mistakes year after year became increasingly frustrating, especially when my own guys were making them. Most of the errors I noticed were not swing related; surprisingly, most were strategic, stemming from poor decision-making or from a lack of awareness on the course.

commandments stoneEventually, I had enough and began writing down my observations. Before long I had a list of the most common errors I saw golfers make in tournament play. Determined to teach my team to avoid making these common mistakes, I started sharing the list with them. I knew that if I could teach my team to recognize these “traps” that players from other teams were falling victim to, we would have a decided advantage when competing.

Thus, The Commandments were born. I have been teaching my team to play The Commandments for about a dozen years now. My players even carry a copy of The Commandments with them every round. We talk about them just about every day.

There are eleven Commandments on my list—eleven things I ask my players to do, or not do, every round. Again, none have to do with swing. Surprising, I know. My guys have learned that the fewer commandments they break during the round, the greater their chances of shooting a great score—even if they don’t hit the ball well. Because of these playing rules our teams have had a lot of success. Once my players buy into using them during play, The Commandments become the glue that helps our players and team achieve great things. The Commandments give my players rules and structure to guide their decision-making and to help them stay patient, which translates into fewer careless errors and a less stressful round.

Over the next few years I will introduce each of The Commandments to you. I know that if you follow them, they will make a big difference in your score. And the best part is you don’t need to get golf lessons.

A Golfers Biggest Hazard, Part 2

In a previous post (A Golfers Biggest Hazard, Dec. 2012) I wrote, When you prepare for a round of golf, you should make a mental commitment — a commitment to accept whatever happens, good or bad, and in the words of Winston Churchill, “Stay calm and carry on.” 

golfers biggest hazardGolf is a tough game. If you want to enjoy it you need to be equally tough. Golf can and eventually will beat you up mentally. Every golfer goes through tough times. As I have said to every golfer I have coached over the years, you must embrace the struggle. The crazy thing about the game we love is that we can hit hundreds of shots perfectly, but if we hit one poorly at the wrong time it can make us doubt everything we do. A golfer’s memory seems to be very long when it comes to remembering the negative, and very short when remembering the positive. I’ve seen it more times than I can count: One of my players is going along great and all of the sudden he hits a poor drive or misses a short putt and for the remainder of the round, and perhaps for weeks after, he doubts his ability. Now he is totally distracted from the task at hand – playing golf. As he wonders what happened and why, he hits more poor shots, and as his score goes up his confidence goes down. And so the spiral downward begins.

I prefer to take a more philosophical approach. I believe golf is a living, breathing thing. It can sense fear and weakness, and when it does, it will devour you. The only way to prevail against the beast is to remain upbeat and optimistic and as you do, the beast will go away and then golf will reward you.

I believe, when you struggle, golf is actually trying to teach you something. Golf has a great way of exposing your weaknesses. For instance, if you’re like many people, you struggle with chipping. So, what inevitably happens during your round? You miss greens and have to chip. If you practiced chipping more it wouldn’t be such an issue, but it is human nature to avoid practicing what you’re not good at. Instead of avoiding the weakness you should practice to overcome the weakness. So, in essence, golf is giving you exactly what you need – opportunities to chip! Golf always exposes you.

In the December 2012 post I told the tale of Makenzie Denver, a young man on my team who learned the importance of not giving up mentally when things got tough on the golf course. If you haven’t already I encourage you to go back and read the story. It’s a good one that can help all golfers.

CoachandDenver crop1Denver, probably my most talented player, struggled during his freshman year with staying mentally engaged when he had tough rounds. When things got tough he would mope and sulk believing he was a victim and the only one golf was picking on. This cost him strokes. Afterward, when looking at the leader board, he realized that if he would have stayed mentally tough during the round and hung in there and fought hard, three things would have happened: 1) he could have helped our team more; 2) individually, he would have finished high in some important events; and 3) he would have gone away from the tournament with no regrets. As Ghandi said, “Full effort is full victory.”

This past March we were playing at the Jekyll Island Intercollegiate on the coast of Georgia over spring break. It’s a very important event. In fact, it’s the largest tournament in NCAA golf.

In the first two rounds Denver played okay, +1 in the first round and +6 in the 2nd. Not bad considering the winter we had in the Northeast and the fact it was the first time we had seen grass in four months.

In the final round Denver got off to a solid start, parring the first two. The 3rd hole is probably the easiest par 4 on the course — just a 3-wood or hybrid off the tee, and a short pitch of about 60-80 yards to the green. Denver hit some poor shots, and ended up with double-bogie on the hole. On the very next hole, a tight par 4, he followed up the double with an eight. Yep, a snowman.

During all of this I was on another part of the course with one of my other players but knew what was happening because the tournament had live scoring and I was watching the gruesome events unfold on my phone. Denver was now 6 over par after four holes—not the start he was looking for or in anyway imagined. I didn’t rush to go see him right away because I knew he’d be okay. We had been working on turning his weakness into his strength for a more than a year now and I knew he had the tools to stay “up” mentally and accept the adversity and move forward.

I caught up to him on the par 3, eighth hole. The first thing he said to me with a smile on his face was, “Did you hear what happened?”

I told him, “Yeah, I heard.”

We laughed about it and told each other, “Lets get some strokes back.”

Denver was in a great frame of mind and I stayed with him for most of the remainder of the round. His attitude remained terrific and he fought like a champion. After his disaster on the 3rd and 4th, he played the rest of his round 2 under par to finish at +4 for the day—really respectable. In fact, he came back to tie one of his playing competitors and beat the other.

Denver 1 crop

Golf isn’t always about winning. Many days it’s about salvaging. Golf always teaches you something, especially on the hard days, but you have to be willing to endure pain in order to get the reward. Denver had already learned the lesson and because he didn’t panic, mope or sulk, golf rewarded him. He didn’t have to win or shoot the lowest score to demonstrate his greatness. A lesser player would have quit mentally. Not him. He earned the respect of the young men who played with him; not only that, they learned a lesson from him — how a champion responds when things get tough.

I was an extremely proud coach that day.

A Golfers Biggest Hazard

It’s been a long layoff but the last half a year has been a whirlwind. After 15 years of coaching at the same college it was time to take on new challenges. I took a new coaching job 1000 miles away from my previous school. I accepted the head coaching position at a very well respected college in the Northeast with a storied golf program. But with that came a total upheaval of myself, my career and my family. Now that I am all settled in it’s time to get back at it.

Somehow I thought that the problem that I will write about in this post was unique to my previous team but now after coaching a new team which is so far removed from my previous one in terms of geography, interests and personalities, I know now that this issue is universal.

golfers biggest hazardA golfer’s biggest hazard is the willingness to mentally quit during a round of golf. For some reason, golfers go into a round of golf not expecting adversity, and when it inevitably shows up, they are shocked and saddened and too many times unable to cope. Like in the illustration, they willingly jump off into the abyss of despair, where there is no recovery and the penalty lasts for the remainder of the round.

Somehow golfers believe that every shot will be hit perfectly and that golf will be easy. That is not reality, not for any golfer at any level. Golfers fail to remember that golf is a struggle. Golf is the equivalent of salmon swimming upstream. It’s hard. It’s hard almost every day.

When you prepare for a round of golf, you should make a mental commitment — a commitment to accept whatever happens, good or bad, and in the words of Winston Churchill, “Stay calm and carry on.”

Staying calm and carrying on no matter what is the only good option you have. Some days are easy, most are hard. You must remain positive and fight with everything you have until you arrive at the clubhouse. Otherwise, you’ll be miserable, you’ll make your playing partners miserable and you will be guaranteed you will shoot a miserable score.

I know all of you have watched Tiger’s top 10 shots on the Golf Channel. Did you notice that none of those shots was from an ideal position? Only one of shot happened from the middle of the fairway, and he hit that shot in almost total darkness.

The point is, one of the reasons he’s been so successful is that he believes with every fiber of his being that something good will happen even when he is in a tough spot.

I have a great example from my own team this past fall. One of the freshman on my team is named Makenzie. He is a fine player and I believe he will be a superstar, but as with most freshman, he has a lot to learn — especially when it comes to keeping his head in the game during tough rounds.

Our last tournament of the fall season had us playing in the Golfweek Fall Preview in Florida. This is an account of his final round.

He had high expectations, too high. When I saw him on the range, Makenzie was upbeat, “minting it” as he says, and was telling me he was going to tear it up.

So, I caught up with him on the 7th hole, a par 5. I thought he has just played his 2nd, but I then learned that it was his 4th shot. His 2nd shot had gone out of bounds. He was completely despondent because after finishing his 7th hole with a double, he was now seven over after seven holes. The round was not going at all the way he had envisioned. I could tell he had mentally checked out and he had no fight in him. If I had given him the option he would have walked off the course. I told him, “Sorry dude, I don’t get to substitute like in other sports. You’re stuck out here and have to make a decision to make. Are you gonna try or cry?” It’s something I say. I told him, “We can still salvage this round!”

On the 8th tee he hit last so we had time to chat. I got his mind away from his troubles and told him how much I thought of him as a person and a golfer. I reminded him how beautiful this part of Florida was and how blessed he is to be able to play college golf.

makenzie action wedgeHe hit a nice approach, but he ended up leaving a really difficult 36 footer that was down hill and broke from right to left. We laughed a little walking up to the green. I told him stories of other golfers I coached through the years and how they made something out of nothing. We read the putt from every angle and what do you know, we made it for birdie! Big smile on his face! He was back!

On the most difficult hole on the course, the par 4 ninth, he played the hole well but ended up 3 putting from long range for bogie. Just like that, his world was coming to an end. I said, “What is so bad? You’ve just played the last 2 holes at even par after a terrible start! So I continued to make him smile, telling him funny stories about coaching and golf as we played the par 4 10th hole trying to get him to smile and what do you know, we made a really good 18 footer that broke from left to right for another birdie!

Once again, big smiles, life is good. Unfortunately, he bogeyed the par 5, 11th and was once again in the pooper. Total despair. Life sucks! Golf hates me! After more cheerleading from me, he made a routine par on the par 3, twelfth. I reminded him that he had just played the last 5 holes at even par and that he’s doing fine. But now I had to leave him to go check on other members of my team. I had him promise me that he would remain optimistic and upbeat. He assured me he would be fine.

I caught up with Makenzie again as he was walking from the 13th green to the 14th tee. His life was over! He had just triple bogeyed! All of the fight was gone. There was nothing left. He was now 10 over par.

At this point, I’ll admit, I had had enough! I “coached him up,” as we say in the biz, albeit firmly. I told him he had a decision to make — this time, it wasn’t as much about this round, but more about what kind of player he was going to be. I challenged him, “You’ve got to decide right now, is golf tougher than you, or are you tougher than golf?”

I had his attention. Once again, I told him that if he had total 100% belief that something good was going to come out of this, it would. And if he didn’t, it wouldn’t. Whatever he decided would happen, would actually happen. Now, he was completely on board. We then took a moment to map out the final stretch 5 holes. I thought we could birdie 3 of the last 5. He completely bought in, and Makenzie went on to birdie 14, 15 and 16! He had completely erased the triple. Now he completely refused to let his mind have a single negative thought. We were now on the 17th, probably the best chance for birdie but ended up making a tough par after pretty much chopping up the hole.

He played the par 4, 18th perfectly and made a 10 footer to finish out his roller coaster round. We hugged and laughed. He birdied 4 of his last 5 holes and 6 of his last 11. Makenzie played the last 11 holes at -1.  He shot +6 for the round and ended up helping our team.

Ironically, not once did we talk about swing during his round.

It wasn’t the most impressive round ever shot — a 77. But for him it will be the springboard that will propel him to be a great player. As we stood there watching the others in his group putt out, he had his arm over my shoulder thanking me for my help and telling me how much he had learned.

When his career is over I can assure you, that’s will be one of the few rounds he’ll remember. The one where he made something out of nothing.

If you never give in and jump off into the pit of despair, you too will have great stories to tell.

Verbal Use and Abuse

One thing most golfers are very good at is verbally acknowledging a bad shot. However, when they hit a good shot there is almost always silence. Why is it that most golfers are unable to compliment themselves? Why is this such a foreign idea? What ever happened to the adage, if you haven’t got something nice to say don’t say anything at all?

Look at it this way. If you had a caddie who spoke to you the way that you speak to yourself, you’d fire him. Period. But I see so many golfers who beat themselves up constantly. This destructive behavior makes it almost impossible for anything good to happen on the course.

I talk with my team about this subject a great deal. I tell them, “Remember, on the course, you are the only cheerleader you have.” So why is it that most golfers beat themselves up? Why aren’t they pumping themselves up instead?

Most golfers have two categories for golf shots. Either it is acceptable, in which case they remain mostly silent, or it is terrible, which is made obvious to all by negative self-talk. When they hit a bad shot, I would prefer that my golfers accept that they are human and therefore imperfect and prone to mistakes, and just let it go.  My rule is, if you insist in venting for the bad shots you must also say something positive when you hit a good shot. It’s only fair. Good and bad comments must balance themselves out.

On our team we have a rule: VERBALLY recognize every effective shot. By the way, verbal means, out loud. It is not acceptable to just think it. It has to be out loud. In fact, this is so important that over the years, during a few collegiate qualifiers instead of using scores to determine a winner, we have kept track of how many times a player has remembered to say something positive after good shots. That’s how serious I am about this. In time, my players notice that they’re actually doing far more good than bad just because they hear more positive comments than bad. This is a great way to improve a golfer’s self-confidence. And now, on the course we sound and play like winners.

Notice that the rule also says, verbally recognize every EFFECTIVE shot. An effective shot is not necessarily a great shot. Example: Let’s say you have a 7 iron into the green. You hit it thin and it runs most of the way on the ground, but finds the green. That’s an effective shot! It may not have looked pretty, but you met your goal. According to my rule, at this point, you have to say something positive. Why? BECAUSE YOU DID GOOD! Remember, the goal of a golf shot is not for it to look good, or to be technically perfect, it’s for the ball to find it’s target. Period. So don’t stand there in the fairway after a less than perfect shot rehearsing your swing and finding fault when you were just successful. Your shot found it’s target. You achieved your goal for Pete’s sake! Just pat yourself on the back and focus on the next shot; you’ll make a better swing next time.

For years, before focusing on positive self-talk, during a tournament round I would see many of my golfers hanging their heads and beating themselves up. And guess what? The more we assaulted ourselves verbally, the more we stunk it up. It would drive me nuts! Now that we employ the recognize every effective shot rule, my players have the ability to keep themselves in a positive frame of mind, even when things aren’t going their way. And guess what? Their bad play almost always turn around.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a college player, an amateur or a tour pro. If you let yourself get into a negative frame of mind, you might as well walk off the course, because nothing good is going to happen. I believe that whatever comes out of your mouth goes right back into your ear and then into your brain. It has been confirmed by scientists who study the brain that your thoughts actually carve out the grooves in your brain. That’s how a thought becomes a habit and a habit becomes behavior. This explains why most golfers never get better. They have programed themselves to expect the worst. It’s a fact, your brain is a computer and will only do what it’s programmed to do.

The solution is simple. Go ahead and react if you have to when you hit a bad shot. But then, when you do something good, pat yourself on the back. Tell yourself OUT LOUD that you did good. You must refill the emotional tank that negative thoughts and words use up. Learn to re-program your brain. Soon you’ll find yourself playing better golf and people will enjoy playing with you more.

We’ll keep talking about this subject in future lessons.

Thanks for following!

Friggin’ Brain

One of the ironies of golf is that you have to really use your brain, but it can also can kill your game. Learning how and when to use it is the key to good golf. The brain and the body should have a dialogue. However, if your brain is speaking when the body should be swinging, you’re gonna’ play bad golf. After their best rounds, all golfers say the same thing: “I wasn’t thinking about anything. I just let is happen.” Turning off the brain at the right time is crucial.

Standing over the ball at address for more than a few seconds rarely produces good results. If you linger over the ball on any golf shot, all your brain is doing is creating doubt and fear. I know, I know. You’re going through a check-list of all the things that you need to remember before you swing. While running through your mental list of to-do’s may seem like a positive, this practice is actually sabotaging your game.

Concentrating harder does not equate to better results. The opposite is actually true. If you let yourself be an athlete over the ball and turn your brain off during the swing you will have better results. You’ll swing more freely and you’ll have a lot more fun.

Scientists have determined that the brain can only think about one thing at a time. The key is to distract the brain from from thinking about golf while in the address position. In fact, Golfpsych, one of the top mental training programs employed by tour pros, recommends that many of their golfers think about anything other than golf between shots. Sometimes even while over shots.

Vision 54, another golf mental training program, teaches golfers to cross what they call the “commitment line.” You can think about technical things while you are behind the ball, but once you are over the ball you must rely on your athletic skill and intution. If while over the ball you start having technical thoughts you must then step away from the ball, clear your mind and start your pre-shot routine again.

What we need is a little self-hypnosis. When you drive your car to work you don’t think about what you’re doing or how it happens very often because we’ve done it thousands of times. Poof, you magically arrive without much conscious effort. You just let it happen. Your mind was elsewhere. You were on auto-pilot.

I like to have my golfers swing the club as soon as possible after they address the ball, not allowing time for the brain to do bad things. Brandt Snedecker does this. He commits, steps in and hits it. I work with many of my students to  determine the ideal amount of time it takes for them to get comfortable and then swing. On the range, I count out loud to train them on their timing. At first, most of them feel rushed, and you may, too. This makes sense, because almost everyone takes too long over the ball. As a coach I work together with my players to shorten their time.

While I count the player will settle into the shot. He sets his feet; sometimes there is a waggle of the club or a tug on the shirt. Each golfer has his own unique way of addressing the ball. I will count slowly, “5… 4… 3… 2… 1.” When I say, “one,” it is time to pull the trigger. Ready or not. Boom! Players are always amazed at how much more frequently they hit the ball great, once they employ the countdown. They quickly realize all of the prep work they used to do was no help at all. If fact, it hurt them! This is a very liberating discovery. Greatness was there all the time, hiding behind that friggtin’ brain.

The countdown is a great pre-shot routine to adopt because if your brain is busy counting, you are not thinking about your swing, or O.B., or hazards, or score. Thinking about that stuff keeps you from playing your best. The countdown helps get you into auto-pilot mode.

Get over the ball. Tell your brain to shut up. And swing! Make sure you yell, “Boom!” while the ball is screaming through the air.

Each month I will be doing another piece about the Friggin’ Brain.

Thanks for following. If you find this helps you please come back I’d love to hear your comments!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 52 other followers

%d bloggers like this: