John (his name has been changed to protect the innocent) came into the pro shop and I asked him how his round of golf was today. “I shot 79 (a good score for him), but had 2 doubles and a triple. On 14 I hit a perfect drive and shanked my wedge right out of bounds.” John tells me a similar story a lot, and because he keeps telling it to me, he keeps living it out, over and over again. Only sometimes, the other holes aren’t so hot and he shoots 89.
I went to college as an accomplished junior (2nd and 1st team AJGA All American). I like to talk about myself (I am a male narcissist), and when I was a freshman I loved talking about my junior accomplishments. I loved saying “man, when such and such a time I would do this.” Those sentiments would make me feel invincible, my coach, however, wasn’t a champion of such fodder. In an effort to mature me and make me tougher he would squash such talk with, “well you aren’t a junior anymore.” I had a hard time feeling as if I belonged those first few years of college.
After college I turned pro, and although a very accomplished putter throughout my career up to that point, I began to lament my putting. “Just didn’t make anything today.” “Man, if I would have made some putts today my score when have been much lower.” Not too often did I say, “I sure did putt great,” “man, I am a great putter.” You know what? I started putting poorly. When the pressure was on I would struggle to make putts.
A few years ago a senior amateur and myself teamed up for a fouball event that pitted us against a bunch of college kids. It was a fundraiser and conference for College Golf Fellowship, although the weekend was a time to bond and urge young men to seek deeper spiritual reflection, when you gather good golfers, competition seems to come to the forefront. The “old guys” found themselves with a chance to win on day 2, but we played a very uninspired front 9. After a birdie on 10 my partner asked me about my favorite back 9 comeback, and I in turn asked about his, for the rest of the day we told ourselves stories of our comeback accomplishments. Story after story got us in a great frame of mind, and we rode some hot putters to a 6 under back 9 and a win in a playoff.
I had been teaching and coaching a woman one year. In a particular lesson we had gone over some course strategy and management. She went on to par a particularly long par 4 hole after I convinced her to lay up and then play for the middle of the green on her third shot. I ran into her during our ladies’ member guest as she was driving to her ball in a similar position on the same hole. I said to her, “that seems like the exact spot you made from par from with me.” “It is!” she replied with a twinkle in her eye. I received a text a few minutes later after I had driven on. “I didn’t make par…I holed it for birdie.”
Are you catching on yet? The stories we tell ourselves affect us. They affect us deeply. Words produce pictures in our minds, something chemical takes place. We begin to see and feel those occurrences. I’ve been told that if you put champion skiers in a chair, and have them watch a point of view video of a course run that their legs begin to fire in much the same way as if they were actually skiing the course themselves.
Hopefully at this point you can identify with some of these anecdotes, and you are asking yourself what you can do to improve your mental performance and “get over the hump.” Below are 3 ways to better your mental framework.
1. Learn to intently focus on what you want to accomplish.
You must learn the skill of positive visualization; the art of seeing the shot you want to hit in a very clear and real way. Paint a mental picture of what you want, tell the story of a successful shot through pictures in your mind. Speaking out loud about what you want to do as you see it is a very positive way to help visualization become more clear.
You must practice this art, it may not come naturally. How often do you picture failure? How often do you verbalize or internalize the things you DO NOT want to do? You must enhance your ability to arrest such thoughts and focus on the positive intent you have through practice and repetition.
The details as to how you visualize are less important, the act of seeing it is the key. Your viewpoint is based on your preferences and what works best.
a) Movie: You see yourself hit the shot like watching a movie.
b) Point of view: You see it through your own eyes watching the ball on its journey to the target
c) Last half: You see the last part of the ball’s journey to the target
d) Ending: You see the ball as it finishes its journey
e) Target: You just see where you want it to end up
Practice visualizing through different viewpoints. The idea is to find the one that is clearest and easiest for you. The goal is to get a clear picture of what you want to accomplish.
Next time you go hit balls, go through your normal warm up, do any drills your instructor has given you then take 3 clubs out of your bag (a wedge, 7 iron, driver…for example). Begin hitting situational shots; shots you may find on the course.
a) Set the scene. A tight fairway, a wedge over water, a 7 iron to a left flag, etc…
b) Stand behind the ball, take some controlled deep breaths and visualize the shot. (Find the viewpoint for you, see it vividly, be clear about where you want the ball to go, feel free to verbalize your intentions).
c) Walk into the shot and execute.
d) Repeat this process changing clubs, targets, and situations on each shot.
e) Practice arresting the negative pictures and refocusing on what you want to accomplish
The weeks prior to Tiger Woods playing in a major you would hear him talk about practicing certain shots for the upcoming major. You would hear about the draw around the corner on 13 at Augusta, the now infamous stinger 2 iron or 3wood to get it in play at the US Open, and so on. He prepped for tournaments by working on the situation and to do that, he had to visualize. From there he stored up a treasure chest of positive performance from which he could draw confidence.
2. Harness the power of positive recall.
Everyone has their favorite holes, courses, clubs, etc… Unfortunately, everyone has their least favorite as well. Why do you think that is? Over and over you kept telling your story of success or failure, it’s not always verbal, it sometimes is just pictures played over and over in your mind.
As a junior, I remember watching Fred Couples being interviewed after a win where he birdied 18. When asked what he was thinking about hitting his final shot, he said “the best 7iorn I ever hit.”
It seems so simple. But, honestly, it takes a lot of discipline. It takes a level of engagement most of us are not willing to undertake.
This week begin storing up those great performances that you can draw upon for confidence when it counts. Start a journal of your bests every day.
a. Each day write down your best drive, approach, wedge, and putt.
b. Be vivid. Use imagery that can help you recall it later
c. Express what you felt, what you thought about, what you visualized
d. Go over these from time to time (rather than retelling your bad stories, dwell upon your good ones)
Next time someone asks about your round, commit to only telling them about your best shots, regardless of your score.
(For more on Positive Recall, read the post below)
3. Carry yourself with Confidence
There is definitely a science to body language. How we carry ourselves, the way we stand, sit, etc… not only reflects how we feel in a situation, it affects how we feel in a situation. Amy Cuddy in her famous TED Talk made the conclusion to “fake it until you become it.” She found you can literally change the way you feel about yourself, and others' perception of you by doing some simple body language exercises.
Your “homework” on this point is to watch Amy’s TED Talk (linked above) and do 2 minutes of power poses every day. Practice positive body language throughout your day, and watch yourself transform.
Over time if you practice the art of positive visualization, dwell on your good shots through vivid journal writing, and carry yourself with confidence you will, at the least, enjoy golf on a whole new level. But, my guess is you will transform your game and “get over the hump,” towards your best levels of performance.