The Mental Game Summed Up in 12 Words.

The mental game has been one of the biggest topics in golf for over 30 years.

I’ve coached golf for decades. I have read all the books, watched the videos and have even been trained and certified as an instructor to teach the mental aspects of playing golf. After years of observation and study, it seems to me that the entire golf community—instructors and golfers alike—tend to over-complicate the issue. I like keeping things simple so I’ve reduced all that information into a 12-word question that you can ask yourself before you hit a shot: “Do you feel something good is going to happen, or something bad?”  If you believe something good will happen, then you’re in great shape. Most likely you’ll play good golf. But if you don’t feel confident over a shot, obviously there is work to do. While technical problems can be addressed with drills on the practice areas, negative attitudes require discussion and introspection.

You’ve got to make your brain your best friend, not your worst enemy.

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To create an environment in which you feel confident and believe in yourself, you need to get to the bottom of the hows and whys of the negativity between your ears. Changing negative attitudes and the scar tissue that builds up takes time. The brain like a computer runs on data that is programmed into it.  If you think negatively or believe you will ultimately fail, you will. Your good thoughts need to outweigh the bad ones if you have any hope to improve.

Here are two of examples of how I’ve successfully coached golfers to overcome the demons in their heads.

1. The Worst Putter in the World

A player who was new to my team told me he was the worst putter in the world. His dad even echoed those same words about his son. I said, “The first thing that is going to happen is neither of you are ever going to let those words come out of your mouth again.”

During the course of his first year with me we would constantly speak about attitudes and his own belief in himself while working on his technique. As his mindset changed his confidence soared. The story had a happy end: his senior year, he was named All-America.

2. Paralyzed with Fear

One of the most talented young men I’ve ever coached became terrified of chipping and pitching as he entered college. During his freshman season his fear of chipping was so bad that  he would use his putter from well off the green and even from long grass, which was useless. So, we got to work. During practices over the next few months we would pitch and chip ball after ball with his wedges. I forced him to say out loud after each shot that he hit well, “I’m awesome!” It was hard for him at first. He felt silly but I would not let him off the hook, I thought it was important for him to speak positively about his chipping. I strongly believe that what you hear goes directly into your brain and will ultimately determine what you believe and/or become. Over time, he saw that he actually had become awesome. He was so good, in fact, that in his sophomore season he was named 1st team All-America.

In both instances, the golfer’s brain had to be re-wired. I’m a big believer that Thoughts Become Things. Negative thoughts breed negative results, positive thoughts breed positive results. The mind is powerful weapon – for good or for evil.

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Let’s Be Realistic About Your Chances of Making That Putt.

The PGA Tour’s Strokes Gained Putting Statistic shows how often tour players make a given putt. In this graphic I’ve flipped the numbers to show how often they actually miss, hopefully to provide a fresh perspective of what you should expect of yourself on the greens.

2nd putt

Notice that the pros seldom miss a short putt of 3 to 4 feet, but the odds of them missing a 10-foot putt jump to a whopping 62%! And surprisingly they only make a 30-footer 7% of the time. I don’t want to be a downer, but if you play once a week and practice putting for 10 minutes before you tee off, your expectations should be lower than the pros who practice 8 hours a day and play golf with millions of people watching. So, don’t beat yourself up for missing most of your putts outside of 6-feet. Even the pros miss…A LOT! What they don’t do is miss the next one.

Become a Master of Your 2nd Putt.

If you want to putt your best, practice hitting your putts the correct distance. Then really hone your skills from 6 feet and in. Eliminating 3-putts is your way to shoot lower scores.

How to do this:

This is how I started practice everyday when I was a college coach. The first thing my players did when they arrived at practice was to take their driver and stick the head in one of the holes on the practice green. Then, they would place a tee in the ground at the end of the grip. They would then remove the driver. This would leave a putt of a distance somewhere between 3 and 4 feet. They would then have to make 30 of those putts in a row. Nothing else would happen at practice for them until they completed this drill.

It becomes as much a mental drill as a technical one.

As you get into the drill it become pretty easy to make the first 20 in a row. Then as you get closer to the end you start to feel your heart pump and your hands shake a little. You’ve come all this way and you know if you miss you have to start all over again. That was exactly the point of the drill…to replicate tournament pressure.

My players became so good at this drill that on the course we would almost never miss a short putt. It was the difference between winning and losing.

You don’t have to do 30 in a row. Since your playing time is limited start by making 10 or 15 in a row. Then as you get good at the short ones increase until you get up to 30 in a row. After a time my golfers would usually complete this drill in usually 5 to 10 minutes. Become good at this drill and you’ll start to see a massive difference in your score.

 

This article will also appear in the December 2017 issue of New Zealand Golf Magazine.

So, What Should You Be Practicing? Here Are Some Facts.

One of the most common questions I get as a golf coach is, “So, what should I be practicing?” That is a great question and the answer is determined by two factors. First, I always ask, “What do you struggle with?” I’ve noticed that in my 25 years of coaching golf that most golfers avoid practicing the thing they need to practice the most. This is flawed thinking because your weaknesses will always be exposed during a round of golf, and when they are, your score goes up…a lot. So, what I like to do with my students is to attack their weakness and turn that weakness into a strength.

The second factor that should be considered is simple statistics. Numbers don’t lie. So, what is most important in golf? It’s ALL important, and all parts of the game are linked but here are some undeniable facts that will help you make the most of your practice time.

cog what should i be practicing

This graphic should be very useful in helping every individual make the most of their practice time. One note: The yellow wedge (Trouble Shots) shouldn’t be overlooked. I see many golfer make a mess of these shots which absolutely wrecks their score. I’ll write a post on those shots soon.

This article will also be featured in November issue of New Zealand Golf Magazine.

The Pro Position

If there is one swing position that I think is the key for the rest of the swing, this is it.

Over the years I have noticed one swing position common to almost all tour pros regardless of their size or build. If you study the swing sequences from month to month in Golf Digest or Golf Magazine, you too will notice this position.

I don’t believe that there is only one way to swing a golf club; however, over the years I have studied countless tour swings on video. After seeing this common thread among the best in the world, I have made it one of the main things I focus on when teaching the golf swing. I know from experience that if I get my golfers into the pro position in the backswing that they will have the ability to play confident, consistent, top-level golf.

Here are the facts: Most pros keep the clubhead outside the hands when the shaft is parallel to the ground during the backswing (as shown in the photo, right). This not only ensures the club is on a great path, it also creates tremendous width, which maximizes distance. That’s one of the reasons the pros hit it so far. Even the smaller guys like Ricky Fowler pound it! He really exaggerates this move.

Most amateurs take the clubhead inside the hands and feet by the time the shaft is parallel to the ground during the backswing. The problem with this faulty technique is that once the clubhead comes inside the hands you are more or less on a recovery mission for the rest of the swing. This leads to bad habits and shots being hit impressively and embarrassingly off-line, going in multiple directions. End result: shattered confidence.

When I get my golfers into the pro position, they no longer fear going left. Once that fear is eliminated, they can swing freely. Confidence replaces fear. Not only does my students’ accuracy dramatically improve, so does their distance.

The great thing about adapting to this swing adjustment is that it happens so early in the swing it is easy to incorporate without feeling too technical. Once you have made it to this position, the only thing left to do is commit to a full, firm swing.

For those of you who whip the clubhead inside during the takeaway, when you first start to work on getting into the pro position, it will probably feel awkward, as if you’re taking the club on an exagerated outside path. But as Butch Harmon says, “Feel and real are two different things.” If something feels awkward, I say great! It is easy to “feel” what awkward is. So embrace that awkward feeling until it feels natural. You’ll love the results!

I’ll explain more about this move in my next lesson.

If you have a topic you would like addressed please leave a comment and I’ll get to it. Thanks for following!

How to Actually Play Golf

This is the first of a multi-part series on how to negotiate the golf course to achieve lower scores without having to think about swing or technique.

Over the years I have had countless golfers come to me seeking to answer a great big question: I’m great on the range, so why don’t I shoot lower scores?

Many times the reason is not swing-related, its a course management issue. The lessons in this series are designed to give you quick guidelines as to what to do, and more importantly what not to do, in common situations on the golf course.

Lesson 1

Understanding Green Complexes

Understanding what is going on around the green is essential if you want to score your best. Truth is, most golfers don’t hit the ball as far as they’d like to believe. Golfers tend to choose a club based on their absolute best strike, not their usual strike.cog How to play golf lesson 1 Also, I find that most golfers have an innate fear of hitting the ball long, which rarely happens. Combine these factors with how golf course architects design most holes and you’ve got a recipe for higher scores.

Study the green complex before you hit your shot, then follow the simple tips illustrated in this graphic and you’ll see your scores drop dramatically.

Bonus Hint: Hit one more club! You’ll make more pars and birdies, guaranteed. Also, the extra length allows for you to be the imperfect golfer you are. A miss-hit won’t be so penal.

Sure there are times when it is best to end up short of the green. If that is your intent, great! But most times, coming up short is born out of poor planning or not accepting the fact that you don’t hit a 7 iron as far as Dustin Johnson. Or even Zach Johnson, for that matter.

When I was a university coach I used to always say to my team, “During a round of golf one of two things are happening. Either the course is putting pressure on you to give up a score, or you’re putting pressure on it to give up a score.”

The latter is much more fun.

 

This article will also appear in the September 2017 issue of New Zealand Golf Magazine.

A New Series: How to Actually PLAY Golf.

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A view of the spectacular par 3, 14th hole at Titarangi Golf Club in Auckland, New Zealand.

An Introduction to a new lesson series.

There are literally countless articles and videos on the many ways you should swing a golf club. Learning how to swing a club efficiently is vital if you are going to enjoy your current golf and keep playing this great game in the future. However, when golfers are put in real-life situations on the course, many times their practice of “golf swing” doesn’t lead to lower scores. Lets face it, a lot of bad things can happen to good swings on a golf course. There is a disconnect between what was taught on the practice tee and what one can produce on the golf course. We’ve all either said or heard the phrase, I can’t take what I do on the range to the golf course. This is the universal lament of the golfer who wants to get better, but never seems to. What I have found in my lifetime of teaching and coaching is that there just isn’t enough information for golfers about how to navigate themselves around the course to help them lower their scores.

Its frustrating for you, the golfers who put so much effort to go into improving your golf via practice and lessons, only to be disappointed with results when you actually play. Its frustrating for me as an instructor for my students to suffer needlessly—and as I say, to not get paid. Most times I see scores balloon not because of technique, but because of a player’s poor planning, trying to do too much with a shot, a bad decision, panic, or just hitting a shot out of pure frustration.

cog graphic how to playOnly about 4% of all golf lessons given are playing lessons. I believe that this is one of the big factors preventing golfers from improving as much or as fast as they should. Golfers aren’t given the knowledge to know what to do—or more importantly, what NOT to do—on the golf course. I see this as a recipe for failure. So, in some ways your poor score is not your fault. The fact is, you haven’t been trained on how to PLAY golf. In fact, years ago I was going to give a talk about this very topic at PGA training and they told me straight out, “You can’t give this talk.” I was stunned when I heard this. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised to know that I gave the talk anyway.

The bottom line is this, strategy and having a set of rules for what you will do or won’t do in a given situation is biggest key for scoring. If you follow these strategies your scores will go down, regardless of how you hit the ball. My goal is to arm you with the knowledge to go on the course and lower your handicap so you can beat your mates!

So lets learn something useful and apply these principles. And by the way, if you have certain situations you’d like to see discussed mention them in the comment box and I’ll get to them either individually or in a future article.

Look for the first installment of How to Actually Play Golf in the following days.

How to Make More Short Putts, Because a “Gimme” Isn’t a Real Thing.

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Short putts terrify many golfers. This is one of the main reasons, “the gimme” as become so common. Most casual golfers aren’t required by their equally scared playing partners to hole out their short putts. By the way everyone, no where in the rules of golf is the concept of a “Gimme” ever mentioned. Yes, in a match play format you can concede a putt or hole, but how many of you are playing match play? This is a sore subject with me because I am a golf purest and the entire object of the game of golf is to get the ball in the hole! When I hear someone say, “pick it up, that’s good.” I have to bite my tongue. It drives me absolutely crazy! Getting the ball in the general area of the hole is not good enough! In the rules of golf it clearly states, “In stroke play the hole is complete once the ball has been holed.” That means the ball comes to rest in the bottom of the cup.

I hear all the reasons and excuses as to why people play, “gimmes”. Sorry, none of them are legit. “But it speeds up play.” “They would have made it anyway,”… blah, blah, blah. Sorry, it all amounts to one thing… you’re cheating.

This will give you a good explanation why you shoot far worse scores in tournaments than you do day in and day out. It’s because you don’t get any practice making short putts while playing under pressure. How different would your score be if you putted all the short ones? A good putters score wouldn’t change but a bad putters score would be very different.

Forgive me, I’m trying not to get to preachy, but the reward for all the hard work it took to get your ball so close to the hole is to hear the wonderful sound of the ball rattling around the bottom of the cup. Also, making the close ones are a demonstration of ones skill, nerve and focus. “How many times have you seen a major championship decided by a player making or missing a 3-foot putt? How about EVERY ONE!”

I get it though. Once confidence that you can make a short putt is gone, fear is the next emotion that dominates the mind. A mind full of doubt is obviously terrifying and most times ends in embarrassment. Because when standing over a short putt with little confidence, you know and your playing partners know you’re probably going to miss it, and sometimes you’ll miss the following putt also resulting in you raking up the ball with your putter and walking quickly off the green mumbling insults at yourself.

So, lets make more short putts. Try this easy drill:

two eyes

Get a bunch of balls and put a tee in the ground about 3-4 feet away from the hole. This way you can practice the same putt over and over to develop muscle memory and confidence.

one eye

Once over the ball and you feel you are aligned properly, close your left eye (if you are a right-handed golfer) and keep it closed while you stroke the putt. The reason you do this and I believe a big reason some people miss short putts is that it takes away peripheral vision. I believe strongly that seeing the hole out of the corner of ones eye is the distraction that prevents golfers from being able to focus on making a quality stroke. I have found that if I take peripheral vision away, a golfer can completely focus on watching the putter come through the stroke on a quality path and focusing completely on seeing the putter contact the ball without ones attention wandering or trying to guide the ball to the hole. As Gary Player would say, “you should LISTEN for the ball to go in the cup.”

I believe that in golf you can’t be scared of something you can’t see. If you can’t see the hole it will free you up. I’ve introduced this drill to hundreds of golfers. Some even do it while they play. This drill will help golfers focus on putting a nice roll on the ball, learn to keep the hands moving through the stroke, keep the head steady, and more importantly, calm the mind.

So, NO MORE GIMMIES!” Putt them all!

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Fred Fruisen is the author and illustrator of punchline‘s new book, 50 Reasons to Hate Golf and Why You Should NEVER Stop Playing! Click here to order your copy today!

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