Golf Is A Lesson in Letting Go Of The Past And Thriving In The Present

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been playing along just fine and on the 5th hole, after a fantastic drive, you miss hit your next shot and it’s nowhere near your target. It ends up in a deep green side bunker.  You can’t believe it and you’re mad. As you take out your sand wedge and hop into the bunker, you’re still stewing about the shot that got you there. Your first attempt at getting out of the bunker fails. Your stress level goes up along with your heart rate and tension level.  The second attempt doesn’t quite make it to the green. Finally the third attempt lands you on the green some 40 feet away! It’s absolutely the fault of the previous shot!! You still can’t believe that you missed the green in the first place!

If you dwell on the past shot,  “the woulda, coulda, shoulda syndrome,” then the shot you’re about to make will suffer because you’re not “present enough” to be successful. Your attention is elsewhere, therefore you cannot be fully present to execute to the best of your ability. The past is truly the past and we can’t do anything about something that’s already over. Yes, we can learn from it to improve performance for the next time we’re in a similar situation, but we cannot change what has already occurred.

I was inspired to write about this topic after recently watching two of my students achieve victories in their respective events. Although their tournaments differed greatly, they demonstrated amazing determination and presence as they each went on to win.

The Ferncroft Country Club Men’s Club Championship

Two players finish the event in a tie. They go immediately to a 3 hole aggregate playoff. It jeff puttingwas the third and final playoff hole.  All Jeff had to do was par the hole to win the tournament. He hit his second shot just over the green while his opponent’s second shot found its way to the putting surface. Jeff looked his chip over, stuck to his routine and executed the shot. He ran it past the hole more than he had planned. By no means was it a tap in putt. His opponent made a two putt for par, now all eyes were on Jeff. And it was a gallery! Jeff stuck to his routine and drained the putt for the par and the win! He could have easily stayed in the past and been frustrated over the chip that ran past the hole, but he didn’t. He let it go and was absolutely present for his final putt of the match.

The Drive, Chip And Putt Sub-Regional Event Girls 12-13

sydneyThe three disciplines for the contest provide the contestants with opportunities to earn points. Drive it in the 40 yard wide fairway and you earn points for how far the ball travels. If you’re out of the grid, zero points. Chip it in the hole, or in the rings that surround the hole and you rack up points; the same for the putts. Each player gets three shots then moves on to the next skill. Driving is first up, and Sydney’s strength has always been her driver. She can bomb it!  The first two drives she hit didn’t stay in the grid. Two shots, zero points. She shook them off, stayed with her routine and the third drive stayed in. She moved to chipping and it was as if driving never happened. She focused, stayed with her routine and earned points on each of the three chips! She did exactly the same with the putting. Her final score was 88. She won the chipping category, placed second in the putting category and won the overall contest in her age group!

Both players did a fantastic job of staying present for each and every shot. What a treat it was to watch! Congratulations to Jeff O’Connor, winner of the Ferncroft Country Club’s Men’s Club Championship and Sydney DiGiulio, winner of the Sub-Regional Drive, Chip and Putt Competition! Well Done!!

 

 

 

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Improve Your Score With A Better Mindset

claret jugThis week, we may have the opportunity to watch history unfold. Jordan Spieth heads into The Open Championship having won the first two majors of the season. He is playing some great golf and I can assure you, it’s not just about his swing. In fact, his mindset and self-talk has played an even more critical role in his success over these past few months.

If you happened to watch Jordan Spieth’s interview on media day at St. Andrews, you would have heard him talk about his game plan for the week, what he was going to focus on or what he might change if anything.

He talked about spending some time on the range hitting shots with a focus on controlling trajectory. He mentioned he wanted to be able to flight the ball down when he needed to in order to keep it low into the wind. He also wanted to work on hitting it high so he could go after pins if the conditions were right.

But mostly, he talked about the mental side of his game. He was going to stay present, take it one shot at a time and through the process, he was going to be patient. He was going to visualize his shots and execute them to the best of his ability. This is by far the best part of his game plan.

Yes he is a skilled ball striker and a very good putter, but it’s the mental side of the game where he really shines. This brings me to a quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” Henry Ford I find this quote superbly applicable in golf. In Jordan’s case, when he steps up to every shot, he thinks he can!

When he says he is going to visualize a shot, he is seeing it go exactly where and how he wants it to go. He is in a positive mindset. He is intent on having a positive outcome.

This is something everyone can do regardless of handicap. Having a positive mindset is a key component to having a positive outcome.

Take for example, a par three that has water in front, sand to the right and deep rough behind. The distance is something you can easily attain using a mid iron or hybrid. In fact, you had a similar yardage on a previous hole and made a beautiful shot on to the green. Yet you step up onto the tee and proceed to dump it right into the water.

The challenge people face with the par three is not that they can’t hit a shot the distance required to get it onto the green, it’s that their self talk and visualization is negative. It shifts to an “I can’t” mode. This impacts the ability to stay present for the shot. It also affects the ability to commit to the swing. When the self-talk goes negative and sounds like this, “I hate this hole,” “I’m always in the water on this hole” or you dig in your bag for the water ball, you’re setting yourself up for a poor outcome.

What if you changed your self-talk and visualization into a positive? “This is the perfect distance for my 6 iron!” “In fact, I hit a fantastic 6 iron two holes ago this exact distance!” “It was one of my best swings of the day!”

What if you visualized the shot going high into the air and landing onto the middle of the green? I can promise you, if you shift your thinking to what you WANT to have happen when you play, you WILL have a better outcome. Change your belief system and your self talk to what you intend to do.  Not only will you improve your play, you will have a more positive feeling about the whole experience and enjoy your round of golf even more.

 

 

 

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beginner’s Guide To A Round of Golf

Let's Play

Time For Golf

If you have a golfing family, it’s very likely that “family time” may consist of getting together on a Sunday afternoon for a round of golf. Of course, it is very likely that food will be involved immediately following the round, but until then it’s off to the first tee for the family gathering of the week. Golf is a great opportunity to spend several hours together and even catch up on the week. The kids can show Mom and Dad how far they can “bomb” their drive and the parents can show their kids the finer points of raking a bunker. In any case, it will be an enjoyable afternoon for all…at least that is the plan.

The enjoyable round of golf with the family might take a turn to the “less than enjoyable round of golf” for the family member who is the beginner of the bunch. Everyone who has been trying to coax the “beginner” to join in on the fun, are likely to be card-carrying members of the handicap system of the USGA. They’ve been playing golf for a while and really love the game. They know that once the “beginner” gets going, they’ll love it too! They are probably right on the money…they know the “beginner” and know that they will love all the aspects of the game. There’s the social aspect of course, the natural beauty of the surroundings and they know the “beginner” loves being outside…and the walking..the”beginner” LOVES to walk. They walk everyday! Why not walk on the golf course? Then finally, there’s the game of golf itself. Playing golf is AWESOME!

The “beginner” has gone to the range a bit here and there, maybe even taken a few lessons and of course has received many suggestions from the card-carrying family members on what to do to hit the ball in the air. They’ve even snuck out on their own to the local par three course just to get their feet wet. Finally, the “beginner” says, “OK…I’ll go play” and off they go to the course. Suffice it to say, that the young guns in the group BOMB their drives hundreds of yards off the tee…the older more experienced player launches irons shots high into the air where the ball seems to always come to rest somewhere on the green and not too far from the pin. To the “beginner”, they all make it look so easy! The “beginner” takes 2 or 3 shots just to reach the first shot of one of those bombs off the tee. Then, another couple of shots to reach the green and then there is putting!

The experienced players roll the ball into the cup in one or two strokes! Amazing!! The “beginner” may take 2, 3 or sometimes 4 putts to hear the sound of the ball fall and land at the bottom of the cup! After a few holes, the “beginner” is thinking, “this is depressing, it takes me forever just to get to the green, then when I finally DO get to putt, the ball seems to avoid the hole at all costs!”…”And people go on vacation to do this?” In the meantime, the family of players encourages the “beginner” throughout the round, they tell them how well they’re doing for a “beginner” and yes, it takes time but you’ll get it and when you do, you’ll really love it! If this sounds at all familiar, you are not alone.

Of course, I happen to agree with the golfers in the family…once you have a good plan for your improvement, you will get better and you will love it! However, in the process of your improvement you want to have a way to play with the “golfers” in your family that allows you to have expectations that are meaningful to you and realistic to your skill level. Once you have a way to play with them, you’ll enjoy your time on the course far more than you thought you could. Here are a few ways to play in the weekly family golf outing all the while gaining experience on the course.

Pick A Drive – If you hit your tee shot and it is less than desirable, pick the best tee shot of the group and play your next shot from there. You’ll likely be further down the fairway and you won’t feel like everyone is waiting for you to catch up.

Par Plus 2 – If you do decide to play your own tee shot then your goal is to reach the green in par plus 2. That means you want to reach the green on a par 4 in six shots…if not, pick up your ball and drop it on the green about three feet from the hole and make a putt.

Scramble – This is a great one if everyone in the group is a beginner. Everyone hits their tee shot then everyone plays from the best tee shot of the group. Continue playing that way until you reach the green. Then everyone plays his or her own ball once it’s on the green.

If you really do want to play golf with the family, then finding a way to make it feel better when you play is key. Find a teacher you like to work with and stick with it. Map out a game plan for your short term and long term goals. Set some expectation that are realistic to your skill level now and know that you can and will modify those expectations as you get better. There is a universal sliding scale of goal setting in golf that exists for each of us, and it’s always on the move. We are always raising the bar and in golf and it can be raised again and again and again. That’s the beauty of the sport…there is always room for improvement. The funny thing is, when you set your goal to reach a par 4 in four shots, and you realize that you’re doing just that…you raise the bar right then and there! And that my friends, is exactly why golf is the best game in the world!

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What We Can Learn From Jordan Spieth’s U.S. Open Win

Photo credit:USGA Twitter feed

Photo credit:USGA Twitter feed

First things first; Congratulations to Jordan Spieth on a tremendous win at the U.S. Open! He did an amazing job at playing his own game to the best of his ability each and every day. Hats off to an amazing display of staying the course. And what a course it was!

The phrase, “It was a grind” was an understatement for this year’s major. There were comments flying from everyone, on air and off, regarding the conditions of the course, the layout, design and of course the greens. It was, according to some, a tricked out links style course, a ridiculous choice for a major, a place where no one would want to return…the list went on and on and on.  The chatter was so prevalent that it prompted a comment from Jack Nicklaus, who said something to the effect of how he loved to hear other players complain about a course as he figured for everyone who did, it was one less guy he’d have to beat that week.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing about it for quite some time as the dust settles post event and more people weigh in. In the end however, someone was going to take home the trophy regardless of layout, green condition, wind direction, good bounces, bad bounces and misread putts. Someone was going to be the winner and that winner, was Jordan Spieth.

Any USGA event is known to be an absolute test of skill and mental fortitude. The United States Open Championship is the penultimate test. In fact, if you’re not someone who is exempt from qualifying, you’ll  have to survive qualifying at a site that is set up under the direction of the USGA; where the rough is difficult, the length is long and greens are fast. All of which is a mere glimpse of what to expect if you move on to the Championship.

Jordan Spieth  didn’t complain about the course or its condition, he accepted it for what it was and he just played his very best. He put on an excellent display, not only of his ability to execute shot after shot, but his ability to stay present. He knew that if you were focused on the things you couldn’t control, such as the course, the conditions, the layout etc., your mental energy would be elsewhere.

To win at an Open, the golfer has to play to the best of his/her ability, accept what the golf course presents and play in as “present” a state as possible. There is no going back on shots of the past and shots that could have been.  They are absolutely over and if you are playing in the present, you are on to the shot at hand, focused on what you want to do and how you want to execute. Jordan had a mindset that allowed him to do just that. It was never more evident during the final round. He birdied the par 4 16th hole then arrived at the par 3 17th with a 6 iron and proceeded to block it right missing the green.  He finishing the hole with a double bogey. This could have easily derailed him but he stayed present. There was nothing he could do about the par 3, it was over. He had to move on to his next shot which he did, along with each shot thereafter. He stayed the course, his course and was clearly as present as ever during each and every shot during the final hole.

If there is a takeaway from Jordan Spieth’s win, it’s that the mental side of the game is critical to every player’s success. It’s not about hitting that perfect shot, not when you are playing. It’s about playing at your best, whatever that means for you at that moment in time and being absolutely present during each and every shot. There is no past or future when you’re out there trying to put up a good score, there is just the now. So next time you go out to play, do your best to take it one shot at a time and focus on that one shot, it’s the only one that matters at that very moment.

 

 

 

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tiger Woods and the 85..It’s Just A Bell Curve!



Everyone watched Tiger over the weekend with great anticipation. The first question was, will he make the cut. The answer was yes, he did make the cut shooting a 73 and 70 respectively. After having made the cut the next question was, where would he finish. I’m sure there were lots of projections that had him in the middle of the pack. To the shock of the masses, he went out on day three and put up an 85! There would be no middle of the pack for Tiger. He finished last in the event with a 4 day total of 302. Had he shot a repeat of his first two days he would have finished tied for 40th along with Stricker, Villegas, Van Pelt and others. Alas he did not. He did however play all four days unlike other notables such as Rickie Fowler, K.J. Choi, Jason Day, Ernie Els among others. Interestingly enough, there was not much talk about those who missed the cut..this as we all know, was caused by the Tiger Effect. So let’s get back to his numbers and how they relate to a bell curve and how even at the highest level of play, the bell curve is ever-present.

We all remember the Bell Curve from school, don’t we? Mrs. Smith would get up in front of the class and declare that the test we were about to take would be graded on a Bell Curve…so get your pencils out, sit up straight and when I say begin, you may turn your papers over…. Ahh, the memories of days gone by and the joys of test taking. In the end, there’s an average score, with the majority of test takers falling into that category. Of course there are the highs and the lows, and all the scores find their way on a graph. The bulk of us find ourselves smack dab in the middle. Not unlike the scoring average of every golfer who plays, even those on the tour.

Here is an example. You head out on a Saturday to play with your friends. Your handicap is a 13, you feel great and you’re hitting the ball like nobody’s business. You make a rough calculation that you’ll probably shoot anywhere from 80 – 85 today and off you go! The round unfolds and things are not going quite as you had anticipated. A couple of doubles and a triple and your number is climbing! That’s ok you tell yourself, you have 6 holes left to play.  “If I just par 4 of the last 6 holes and birdie the other two, I’ll be ok.” No problem! Well, the numbers you end up writing down on the card, are nowhere near the estimated calculation you’ve made to save the day. Your finishing score? 91. You are beside yourself. “What?! A 91?..how did this happen?” Actually, the 91 is right within in your range of scoring. The problem is, it’s on the higher end of your “bell curve” of scores and you only want to see the lower end. Here’s the dilemma….none of us want to believe we will have any more high scores, especially after our most recent handicap update! Now some of our scores are low (we love those), some are high (not our favorite) and the rest are about average. In statistics, the bell curve represents normal distribution. The shape of the curve indicates that the majority of scores will concentrate in the center with a decrease on either side. If we take all of our scores and plot them on a graph, we’re likely to see the beautiful bell. The 91 is in there along with the awesome 80 we shot the last week. They’re all part of the mix and the truth of the matter is, we can’t control or even predict when or which score will find its way to the score card! In fact, statistics prove that we will play average or better only 50% of the time.

This is essentially what happened to Tiger. His scoring average right now is just around 74. If you plunk a bell curve smack dab on his scoring average number, add 9  shots on either side, he shoots a 63 on a great day, 83 on a less than desirable day. Tiger happened to add two on top of that for good measure. The interesting thing here is the last day he shot right on his scoring average number, 74. Alas the bell curve is alive and well in all of us.

So what can we come to expect in this example? What we can always count on is that we WILL have a final score at the end of the round and it WILL be within our estimated scoring range. The more we understand and accept our Bell Curve and all the scores that lie within it, the more we take the pressure off our need to “post a low number”. Embrace YOUR Bell Curve and you’ll enjoy the game more than you ever thought you could. Power to the Bell!!

Posted in Fun and Interesting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Set Up For Success With The Pre-Shot Routine

LPGAIf you watched the ShopRite LPGA Classic this past weekend you watched Anna Nordqvist take home the victory but not without having to fend off Chrisel Boeljon, Morgan Pressel and Princeton grad, Kelly Shon.

The tournament had a very exciting finish and I’m sure the final group felt their nerves as the made their way toward the eighteenth green. Luckily they each had their pre-shot routines to rely on and help settle them down. You may have noticed how deliberate each player was with their pre-shot routine as they came down the stretch. They all incorporated the three most important elements of a pre-shot routine, yet each had some subtle and not so subtle differences.

Christel Boeljon had the most noticeably different routine. She of course stood behind the ball to find her target, walked to the ball to get her stance and alignment, established her posture, but once there and seemingly settled; she then raised the club up off the ground to waist high and held it a second or two. She then set it back down took one last look at her target then made her swing.

Morgan Pressel’s routine had more of a traditional pattern of getting ready for the shot. She stood behind the ball to get her target, then walked to the ball and stepped in for alignment and posture. Her final look at the target was not just one but three looks before she made her swing. Anna’s was much like Morgan’s except she took fewer steps to get to the ball, and made fewer looks to the target.

Although different in steps to the ball, looks to the target and the unusual lifting of the club to waist high, they each had unwavering consistency in their routines. And, they did it each and every time for each and every shot no matter the club.

This is something you can do as well. It helps prepare you for a good swing and best effort. It also helps you get focused and allows for the time you need to get into a good balanced posture before you pull the trigger. Here’s a simple routine that you can do before each and every shot. I call it T.A.P.S

Target, Alignment, Posture…Swing!

Target – stand behind the ball and while looking at your target, create an imaginary line that runs from your target through the ball. Select a spot on the ground within two feet of the ball that is on your target line. This becomes your intermediate target.

Alignment– walk up to the ball and place your feet in good alignment with your target line based on the type of shot you are intending to make.

Posture – Get into a good athletic and balanced posture and take one last look at your target.

Swing – Take a nice deep breath and give it a swing!

This is the basic framework for your routine. Keep in mind this routine is all yours so feel free to make it your own. If you want to waggle the club, then give it a waggle. If you want to look a couple of times to the target go right ahead. When you decide you like your routine, then incorporate it into each and every shot you make. Be sure to do it when you are hitting balls at the range. You want to do it in practice so you start to groove the feeling of the whole routine and swing as one. This will set you up for a better delivery of the club to the ball which in turn will produce more consistent shot making. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how it helps calm the nerves and gives you a very solid, reliable and repeatable element to your swing.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do You Get Nervous? Well, Lydia Ko Gets Nervous Too!

Lydia Ko is the number one ranked player in the world at just 18 yeaLPGArs of age. She’s ranked number one in the Race to the CME Globe and she has racked up 7 LPGA Tour victories so far in her fledgling career. She seems to have a very even keel way about her from tee to green and appears to just go with the flow each and every round.  Interestingly enough, she was recently quoted as saying that she does get nervous, even when playing a round with club members.

It’s obvious she has game, but it’s nice to hear that she gets nervous too! We all think that the tour players have ice in their veins and they play with nerves of steel. You never see them “sweating it out” or doing any deep breathing exercises on the tee, certainly not while watching it on a telecast.  Trust me, everyone has some amount of nerves when the pressure is on or it’s the first tee shot of the round.

There’s a common saying out there that having butterflies is not a bad thing…as long as they’re all flying in the same direction! So how do you get them to fly in the same direction? One of the things Lydia commented on was “keeping to her game plan.” This, along with a very solid pre-shot routine, will help calm the nerves.

You can start to gain better control over your nerves by incorporating a solid, repeatable pre-shot routine to your shot making. Often times what I hear from new golfers is that they feel they’re not good enough to do a routine. They’re afraid that by doing a pre-shot routine, they’ll give the impression that they are better than they really are. When I hear this, I am reminded of the time a friend and I were paired up with two men at a public course in upstate New York. I can’t remember the course, but I absolutely remember one of the gentleman we played with. He was a charming and very engaging fellow in his mid-forties playing with his good friend that day. It was a fairly busy day so we had to go as a foursome. My friend was a new golfer so we were going to play together from the same tees that day, the guys were playing from tees just a bit further back. We introduced ourselves to one another, made small talk on the tee then we were signaled to go. To paint the picture…the charming fellow we’ll call Tony was dressed to the nines! He looked like he had just walked out of a GQ Magazine that was the “stylish golf clothing” issue. He had shoes to match the outfit, a Greg Norman style hat, new bag with his name on it…the works! He looked like a former tour player for sure!

Now etiquette would warrant that the furthest from the hole play first, but the charming man from NY insisted we have the honors of the first tee.  It was about a 15 yard difference from the tee markers so we were happy to stroll up to the tee and fire away. The walk was helpful in allowing time for the butterflies to get together in formation and to take some nice deep breaths for the tee shots. My friend did her pre-shot routine and hit a decent shot off the tee. Now, just like everyone, I too get nervous on the first tee and am very happy to breathe and settle in to my pre-shot routine. A good tee shot off and we both stroll back to Tony, who because of his GQ style and confident presence, we believe is going shoot 68 today and consider going back out on tour! Of course Tony insists that his friend go first…obviously saving the best for last! His friend hits a good one down the middle. Tony gets up on the tee…puts the tee in the ground and does a “tour perfect” pre-shot routine. A final glance down the fairway eyeing his target and he’s ready to swing.

Tony pulls the club back, stops at the top and proceeded to almost swing out of his shoes! Luckily, his club just nicked the ball enough to send it rolling past tee box, over the cart path and into the rough. Tony, still holding his finish, turns his head toward us and said, “but don’t I look good?” “You thought I was going bomb it down there, didn’t you?” He went on to tell us how he was brand new at golf but he was going to look like he new what he was doing.  He was taking lessons and he loved it and he had a fantastic pre-shot routine. He did say that it was his favorite part!

I’ll never forget that round of golf and meeting Tony the GQ beginner from NY. He had a great attitude and had fun when he played.  I’m sure after all these years he’s not only a better golfer, but he is wearing the golf trends of today! Although I’m not sure I can see him wearing Ricky Fowler orange and a flat billed hat.

Click Here for a plan to create your pre-shot routine!

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment