Tag Archives: mental game

You Don’t Lose Your Swing, You Lose Your Focus.

How many times has this happened to you?

Mid-round you start hitting it sideways, your score balloons and you for the rest of the round you literally don’t know where the next shot is going. Confidence is zero and you just want the round to end so you can go to the range to begin the reconstruction project that is your swing that has left you yet again.

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The round mercifully ends and you immediately make your way to the range with a couple of buckets of balls. You hit your first shot and…wait, that one was perfect! Must have been a fluke. You hit another, What? That one was flushed too! You hit shot after shot and most are struck just like the old you. You ask in total frustration, “Where was that when I was playing!!!?”

We’ve all been there.

I’ve seen this scenario more times then I can count. When I was a University coach often during a tournament round I’d have a player really struggle. Afterward we’d go to the range to sort things out and he’d immediately and without much if any instruction from me hit it perfect. After seeing this pattern happen over and over I started to ask myself, Why? What I eventually determined is that a player doesn’t lose their SWING, they lose their FOCUS.

On the golf course everything is set up to make you uncomfortable. At it’s core that is really a course designers job. Beautiful lakes and brilliant white sand are fun if you are on holiday, but in golf those are the places of misery. The courses that are considered the greatest in the world are not easy, they are torture chambers. Course designers who are considered genius’s are really diabolical sadists.

Golf courses are set up to make you question every decision, see things that aren’t there, worry about things that actually are there and to create confusion and doubt with a variety of unpleasant obstacles. And if you know a course well, many times you’re worrying about holes you haven’t even played yet! Bunkers, water, trees, OB, etc. All of these distractions make it difficult to fully commit to your shot which translates into a swing that is not committed, which means that the ball is probably going fly to places you don’t want it to. After a while, you’ll feel helpless, which leads to even less committed swings which makes you think you perhaps you should be committed (institutionalized). Pause for laughter.

When this happens your focus becomes very wide. Meaning you see everything. Especially the bad things. You become so focused on the things you don’t want to happen that it becomes hard if not impossible to focus on the things you actually do want to happen. This confuses the brain which makes your body tense. The result, a weak and uncommitted swing. Time to re-load.

To combat this mental warfare we need to focus our attention on the smallest target possible. Try this, stare at something very small and notice that pretty quickly everything else seems to disappear. This is called Tunnel Vision. This tunnel vision sends clear signals to the brain on what you want to have happen. The result will be a far better shot.

This can also explain why you hit balls on the range so much better. There are no hazards or OB to worry about. Nor is there any scoring consequence for a shot flying off line. Since you are not playing for a score, your attitude is more carefree and thus you are more able to swing free. Which of course leads to a better result.

So the question is, How do you take your range swing to the course?

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There are 3 things you need to do:

  1. The first thing I want is to completely focus your attention on the smallest possible target. Look where you want the ball to finish, refuse to look at where where you don’t want it to go. Try this and notice how the “tunnel vision” effect takes over. You won’t see much else other than your target. This sends clear signals to the brain on what you want to do. The result will be a far better shot.
  2. The second thing I want you for you to do is to have an empty head over the ball. There should be no technical thoughts and especially no worry or negative thoughts running through your mind. Now is the time to be an athlete, it is not the time to be analytical. It’s time to react, not think. If you do have negative thoughts over the ball, step away and go through your pre-shot routine again. You’ll end up saving a lot of time because you won’t be off somewhere looking for your ball.
  3. The last thing I want to see my golfers do is commit to make a full finish on each swing. A full finish to me means the club finishes well behind your head. Preferably the shaft touches you somewhere on your back, neck or head. This will help you get off your back foot and a million other things that encourage a good shot.

Regardless of level, a non committed swing leads to bad results. Even pros get nervous over shots or feel uncomfortable. They overcome this by being able to commit to their swing and live with the consequences. If it works for them, it will work for you too.

This article also appears in the September, 2018 issue of New Zealand Golf Magazine.

 

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Is Your Mental Game Unstable or Rock Solid?

There are 3 distinct factors that determine the strength of your mental game and your ability to play solid, consistent golf.

 

1. Attitude. Attitude is everything. Golf is a tough game. If you let your attitude get bad, it’s just a matter of time before your round unravels AND you become an unpopular playing partner because you’re bringing everyone else down. If you can keep a good attitude, good things seem to happen eventually, or at the very least you’ll be better able to cope when bad things happen.fruisen dec 17 nz golf article final2. Belief. Your belief in yourself and how you think the game should be played are also a huge factor in your ability to score consistently. Do you have belief in your skills? Do you believe in taking risks or are you more comfortable playing the safe shot? All play a huge part in how the round will play out.

 

3. Circumstances. These change constantly during the round. Example: You have to hit from under a tree, it starts raining, you go through a rough stretch, you get a bad break, your playing partner is a tool. The list of these irritants is endless. Changing circumstances can affect the decisions you make.

 

Mentally-weak golfers are controlled by the one thing they can’t control – their circumstances. Playing golf this way is a lot like being in a casino. You can never predict the outcome from day to day. You will find you will play your best golf when you don’t allow circumstances to determine your decisions, actions and attitude. This will eliminate the rollercoaster effect out of your round. The graphic shows that if circumstances are your foundation, golf is an unstable and volatile game. If your attitude or belief waver in the slightest, then everything falls apart.

A mentally-strong golfer’s foundation is based on the things that he or she can control – Attitude and Belief. Circumstances have little affect on their attitude and belief, so they make better decisions. They can cope with whatever comes knowing that, in the end, they will succeed. It’s like investing, rather than gambling. The mentally strong golfer is disciplined and has a strategy. This allows a golfer to have a high degree of self-belief and a good attitude, even if things aren’t going well.

And, when you play golf, you’re sort of signing up for some degree of misery. Also, remember it happens to everyone. So, if that is the case, why get chewed up over what is inevitable. Adapt and overcome. It’s really your only choice.

Commandment #6: Love the Fat!

After decades of coaching I have noticed that almost all golfers, regardless of skill level, make the same silly mistakes over and over again. Many of these mistakes are not swing related. Most result from a lack of awareness of course design, or a failure to play the odds.

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Long ago when I was a university coach I began listing the most common mistakes I saw golfers make on the course. I created 11 rules—known as “The Commandments”—to help my team eliminate common mental mistakes that cost them valuable strokes. Each Commandment was our do’s and don’ts list. We knew if we did not break one of these Commandments in competition that we would be successful. Following The Commandments gave our team a definite competitive advantage and had an immediate and lasting impact on our success year after year. In future articles I’ll discuss other Commandments. This month, I give you Commandment #6: Love the fat! In other words, aim for the widest part of the green. The area where the pin usually isn’t. The rationale: If most of the time you aim for the middle of the green, you will avoid short-siding yourself in bunkers, ponds and grassy areas. You will see your scores drop– dramatically and consistently. I know that aiming for the widest part of the green seems simple, but it takes discipline. Another added benefits of adopting this philosophy is that it will increase the odds of your ending up on the green by as much as 200-400%–- odds you should like! Because you’re hitting to a much bigger area! It allows you to post a good score, even when you’re less than perfect. Your rounds will have less stress and be more fun.

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Here’s a story from when I was a collegiate coach to illustrate the impact of this Commandment. One year my team was fortunate enough to qualify for a prestigious tournament called the Gordin Classic. Only the top 13 teams from the previous year’s NCAA National Championships are invited to play. That year we had an advantage: one of my golfers, Clint Colbert was the #1 golfer in NCAA Division III.

The tournament was a 54 hole event. The first day, the field played 36 holes. In the first round, Clint fired an effortless 7 under par, 65. AND he had to assess himself a stroke penalty because his ball moved on the green after he addressed it! Between rounds he revealed to me that he forgot to pick up his pin sheet. While collecting his scorecard from round one, I asked him if he wanted the pin sheet for the second round. I’ll never forget his response. In his Oklahoma twang he said, “Nah, I’ll just keep hitting the center of the green. I figure I can’t miss everything (putts)!” We both laughed.

Clint went on to shoot 69 in the 2nd round, and had a 7-shot lead on the field after the first day. Remember, this was the best field in the nation on a tough course. He went on to win the tournament easily. His 36-hole and 54-hole score are still a record for that tournament to this day.

A version of this article also appears in the February 2018 issue of New Zealand Golf Magazine.

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.

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:

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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.

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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!

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.

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