3 Effective Tools to "Getting Over the Hump"

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.



Total Recall

Last night I watched an interesting movie called “About Time.”  I know, “you’re no Gene Siskel” you might be saying, and you are right.  However, just endure my musings for a moment, as it pertains very well to golf. 

As I was saying…The main character in this movie (as with all the men in his family) can travel back in time.  They do this to fix their bumblings, find love, cover over mistakes, and even re-live the good moments in life, to cherish them for longer than us “mortals.” 

In golf we need to learn to do much of the same thing.  Although, we cannot travel back in time because we are mere mortals, we can use our past performances to our benefit.  The ability to recall past performance is a powerful thing. 

Recall can be our best friend, or our worst enemy.  For the majority of golfers it is the latter.  Oh, how many times have I heard a player say, “I just can’t get off that tee box,” or “man I miss all my short putts.”  Often times when I ask how the round was the emphasis of the answer is placed on what went wrong, the holes that were botched up, etc…History, and definitely the history we remember is often repeated. 

In the early 90’s I was watching golf as a wide eyed high school golfer.  Fred Couples, the hottest player in golf (especially if you ask the ladies…but I digress), had just hit it close at the last hole of a tournament to win.  When asked about the shot and what he was thinking about, the ever laid back Couples quipped, “the best 6 iron I ever hit.”  And there it is, at a prime moment to win a tournament, his thought was simple: recalling the best 6 iron he ever hit, and then let himself repeat that shot. 

What if more golfers had those thoughts?  Most of you get on streaks for a few holes, a few rounds, heck, even several months.  Your world is inundated with memories of good shots.  Bad shots do not phase you; you are “in the zone.”  Then a few shots start to get to you, they are all you think about and whammo!!  The slump hits.  A tune up with the pro does help, checking the basic mechanics of ball striking, chipping, putting, you name it, can get you back on track.  However, to get back “in the zone” you need positive recall. 

Here are a few tips and suggestions for you:

1.       Create a success journal.  As often as you can, write down your “bests” of the day.  Best iron, best wedge, best drive, best putt, best trouble shot, etc…

a.       Be as vivid and specific as you can.  Paint the picture on paper so you can play it out in your mind.
b.       Read through the journal periodically to get the senses back.   
c.       Use these pictures as spring boards to good shots when you play.

2.       Create a mental File.  When you hit a shot the way you want, take it all in, and store it up to retrieve later.

a.       What did it feel like?  Remember your rhythm, impact position, position at the top, whatever you can hold on to in order to help repeat it later.
b.       What did the shot look like?  How high was it?  How did it curve?  Where did it end up?
c.       The goal is to create positive files in your head to use later.

3.       If your shot was less than stellar, perform a re-do. 

a.       Go back through your routine, “re-hit the shot” in your mind (you may even do all of this physically as well), and picture it being the shot you wanted.
b.       Lock in the feel you wanted and throw away the feel (swing, stroke, etc…) that lead to the poor shot. 

4.       Practice using recall.  Dr. David Cook talks about a 3 step pre shot routine.  1) See it, 2) Feel it,
3) Trust it. 

a.       A good shot almost always starts with a good visual.
b.       Make sure parts of your practice are dedicated to cultivating positive recall.
c.       If you want to succeed when it matters, you must practice it and prepare for it.  What you repeatedly do day in and day out will come out when “it’s on the line.”

If you want to perform when it matters, you must “act like you’ve been there before.”  In essence, you must be able to time travel and use positive recall to your advantage.

The more you practice this trait, the better you will get at it.  Practice and prepare like a champion today.  Store those good shots, those good feels, and throw away the bad ones.  The best players in the world are getting better today, shouldn’t you? 

Determined and Free

When I think of getting the most out of an individual’s game I think of 3 words: Rhythm, Determination, and Freedom.  Any one of these done well can help your game.  But, put them together for a powerhouse of performance.

                Often times when we think of Rhythm we think about our swing and the timing in which it moves.  Rhythm is not less than that, but it definitely can mean more.  Good swing rhythm can help cover up poor mechanics; it can help you to routinely make solid contact and control the club face. 

                However, rhythm is at its best when it controls the overall cadence to how you play.  The best players have rhythm to their routine; a cadence that dictates how they prepare physically and mentally for each shot, and the cadence to which they execute the shot.  Ideally that rhythm does not change from the first tee, to a tap in, to the shot that could win you the tournament on the 18th hole.  Having a solid rhythm surrounding your game will lead to a more consistent rhythm in your swing.  

                Determination is a mindset of champions.  It is simply being fixated on accomplishing what you set out to accomplish.  It is about having clear vision of your performance and established goals by which you expect to accomplish them.  Determination is not deterred by failure or poor performance.  Determination does not waiver in the face of adversity.  Determination is what keeps you focused on your process goals.  Determination is what keeps you disciplined.   

                Freedom is a choice you make; it is a choice to let go of the results and trust your process.  Deep down in our soul we all long for a life of freedom.  Fear and anxiety just lead you to being a slave to your performance, as does pride and arrogance.  But, freedom allows you to not be defined by your performance.  You are always at your best when you play with freedomFreedom allows you to swing with confidence.  It starts before you ever swing the club.  You must decide to let go and be free before you ever play any shot, or compete in any round. 

                Freedom alone leads to a nice life; it helps to get rid of and even avoid stress.  However, freedom alone does not necessarily lead to high level performance.   

                Determination alone can help you to reach your goals and achieve new heights.  But, it can also lead you to a stressful and uptight life.  Harold Abrahams in the movie Chariots of Fire says, “I'm forever in pursuit and I don't even know what I am chasing,” and later says, “I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor; 4 feet wide, with 10 lonely seconds to justify my whole existence. But WILL I?”  Now, this man has determination, but no freedom, and is miserable.

                To perform at your highest level, you must harness both determination and freedom, working them into a purposeful rhythm. 

                This must be accomplished in your practice.  For your practice to deliver significant results, you must practice with determination and freedom; you must train yourself to be determined and free.  Your practice needs to work with purpose towards your performance vision.  That vision leads to process goals; process goals set forth the road map for how to reach your vision.  Your determination to go down that road, sticking to those goals, coupled with the freedom to let go of the possible results, all held together by a purposeful rhythm, will put you in a position to perform at your best.

                Today begin the journey down that road.  Be determined, live with freedom, and walk that journey with a purposeful rhythm.  The best players in the world are working to get better today.  Shouldn’t you?