Archive for September, 2009

There were some amazing golf and putting psychology lessons on show with Phil Mickelson’s stunning win at the Tour Championship at East Lake this weekend. Yes I know Tiger won the FedEx Cup and the $10 million with an amazingly consistent series of results. But given Phil’s year, both on and especially off the course, his victory on Sunday was a simply joyous and breathtaking turnaround. Phil had looked out of sorts in recent weeks and after his quadruple bogey 8 on the 14th hole in the first round, I had sadly anticipated him failing again over the weekend.

You’ve probably heard about Phil’s putting woes and his comments about how "I’ve hit the ball so well and yet my scores haven’t reflected that." You’ve probably also heard about how "Bones" Mackay, Phil’s longstanding caddie, urged him to get help the week before the Tour Championship from Dave Stockton, one of the best putters in golf and twice a major winner. As if those weren’t sufficient reasons, Stockton also putts a bit like Phil does when he’s at his best.

So what major flaws did Dave Stockton notice in Phil’s putting stroke and what major changes did he prescribe …
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One of the key success factors of better golf psychology is learning to unconsciously play one shot at a time – in the moment, in the zone or "in the now." And this applies equally to every shot you play on the practice ground, in a friendly game and in the most important round of your golfing life. Playing in the now means that you’re protected from any poor, indifferent shots and ill-judged shots that went before. It also means that you’re protected from future uncertainties and expectation.

Now why am I talking about this today? Well, isn’t the world’s golf press just amazing, if a little predictable? They see Benn Barham score a fourth round 69 for a phenomenal total of 19 under par and they say he failed and focus their attention on his few bad shots, like his drive down the last hole "that cost him a birdie." If he’d played like that, scored like that and won, then they’d be talking about his amazing success and knocking Rafael Cabrera Bello’s disastrous failure …
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As a golf psychologist, I’m regularly asked by clients about what they should be thinking about in their golf mind when they’re actually swinging the club or stroking a putt. Many of them will have some sort of pre-shot routine that prepares them to some degree for the shot they’re about to make. A smaller number will also include some sort of visualisation of the shot they want to hit. However, very few will be thinking about that visualisation when they actually hit the ball.

So what are they thinking about when they hit the shot? Well, a lot of them are consciously thinking about some aspect of their swing mechanics and that doesn’t work at all well, because your conscious mind doesn’t work fast enough to control your golf swing.

Have you noticed how when you hit a really good shot, you can’t remember what you were consciously thinking about in your golf mind. You just trusted your unconscious mind and the shot just seemed to happen. If you were throwing a ball to someone for them to catch, I doubt if you’d start thinking about how you move your arm to throw the ball …
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How often do you hear your playing partners and other people at the golf course complaining about things beyond their control? Maybe you do it a bit yourself. I know I have from time to time, especially in the past. You know the sort of thing I mean. More importantly, have you ever thought about the golf psychology impact that this has on their game?

Now I’m talking here about a whole range of complaints. You’ll hear some people whingeing about the conditions. Maybe it’s too hot or too cold for them to play well. Perhaps the wind’s too strong, in the wrong direction or, as Tiger Woods seems too struggle with these days, the wind is swirling unpredictably. Some may be saying that the greens are too fast or too slow for them to putt well on or too hard or receptive for their style of play. Yet more may be complaining about the length of the course, the thickness of the rough, the width of the fairways or the size of the greens. And it doesn’t matter that it’s the same for everyone, most of them can find something to complain or worry about.

The complaining doesn’t stop with the conditions …
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What impact does luck have on your game of golf? By that I mean do you treat good luck and bad luck as two sides of the same coin? Statistically, our golfing luck is going to even out over the long term. If you keep tossing a coin, you may get long runs of heads or tails, but I’m sure that deep down we all know that every time there’s an equal chance of one or the other. Luck’s been a part of golf for a long time and the earliest golfer’s defined good luck and bad luck as "Rub of the Green."

So how do you feel if you hit a really good drive down the middle of the fairway only to see it bounce off unexpectedly into a bunker or end up in a divot? Does it make you angry and affect your next shot or even the rest of the round? Did you see Lee Westwood’s tee shot on the 72nd hole when he was in contention to win the Open Championship at Turnberry? He hit it perfectly only to see it roll on and on before veering off into a bunker and leaving him with a seemingly impossible shot to the green. Would your shoulder’s "drop"? Would you feel the world was against you? Or would you just treat it as just one of those things and, like Lee Westwood, just accept the new challenge and hit the best possible shot from where the ball lay under the face of the bunker? …
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