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Vosgerichian: Thinking Like a Champion

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Great golf and playing up to your full potential all starts from within your mind.

Henry Ford put it simply and eloquently, “Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t – you are right.” 

The thoughts and beliefs you have will either set you up for success or set you up for a lack of success. This is why my focus as The Director of Mental Training at The Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy is to get our players to Think Like a Champion.

Self-belief is as important as a great swing and a great short game in golf. You need to believe in yourself and your ability. You can have all the ability in the world, but if you don’t believe you can pull a shot off when it matters you will dramatically limit your chances of pulling off that shot successfully.

Tiger Woods put it similar to Henry Ford.

“The road to failure is paved with negativity. If you think you can’t do something, chances are you won’t be able to.”

The power of thought in creating action is extremely important. A positive solution-oriented focus leads to positive results and outcomes, while negative distracting thoughts will lead to inefficient haphazard results and outcomes.

One of the keys to developing and mastering your attitude and outlook is by mastering how you think and talk to yourself. Master your thoughts and you will master your attitude and outlook. Golf will still be demanding and you will still face challenges, but the challenges will make you better and mentally stronger.

Follow these five tips to kickstart your thinking and get on your way to thinking like a champion. 

Be your own best caddie

All too often on the golf course, golfers talk to themselves in negative ways and say things they would never say to their playing partners, even if their partners were playing against them. Golf is a game of sportsmanship and class, but a lot of the time golfers will belittle and berate themselves. On the other hand, if you were caddying for someone else, you would stay positive and your focus would be to keep them positive and believing in themselves. So talk to yourself the way that you would want your own best caddy to talk to you. Also remember, this is not only for the golf course – always be your own best friend, your biggest fan, and your greatest coach.

See setbacks & challenges as temporary

There are two ways to view the length of a negative situation – very short-lived and long-lived. The truth is that the majority of situations last a second, however, our thoughts hold on to them much longer. Not only do some people replay bad memories over and over again, but they also believe that a bad situation will always happen in the future. If you miss a shot, it was only one shot and it lasted a second. It doesn’t mean that you will continue to hit shots in that manner. You can choose to forget and move-on.

Focus on your successes

What’s wrong is always available, but so is what’s right. It’s a person choice of what they are going to focus on. Focusing on what is right and what your successes are will always lead to better results and a better mindset. It will also lead to better physical health. So, if you want confidence and a great golf game, learn to focus on your successes. I guarantee you, there is always a positive!

See opportunities in challenges and adversity

Every challenge is an opportunity to prove that you can handle it. Become more resilient and build character. It is also an opportunity to find a solution and get better. Whether it’s the ball not going where you want it to, or getting over a difficult loss; something can be learned. Once you see the lesson, put it into action.

Ask yourself good questions

The way the mind works, it always wants to fill in gaps and continue the conversation. Think about it. If you went up to someone at a bus stop and asked the person sitting there a question and they didn’t answer you, it would be considered rude. Your mind doesn’t intentionally want to be rude, so it answers. But if you ask a bad question, it may still be rude. For example, if you ask, “Why I’m I such a loser?” Your brain will comeback with a list of reasons. But if you ask, “What was the best shot I hit today?” it will comeback with a better answer. When you ask yourself good questions, you get good responses, which helps breed confidence and mental toughness. If you ask bad questions, however, you will get bad answers which breed doubt and fear.

Follow these five tips and you will be well on your way to thinking like a champion.

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Dan Vosgerichian Ph.D. is owner of Elite Performance Solutions. Dr. Dan earned his doctorate in Sport Psychology from Florida State University and has more than 10 years of experience working with golfers to maximize their mental game. His clients have included golfers from The PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Web.com Tour, PGA Latin America, as well as some of the top junior and collegiate players in the country. Dr. Dan has experience training elite golfers on every aspect of the game. He served as The Director of Mental Training at Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy, as well as a Mental Game Coach for Nike Golf Schools. He’s also worked as an instructor at The PGA Tour Golf Academy and assistant golf coach at Springfield College. Dan's worked as a professional caddie at TPC Sawgrass, Home of The Players Championship, as well as an assistant to Florida State University's PGA Professional Golf Management Program.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Mike

    Feb 14, 2015 at 12:34 am

    I fully enjoyed this article. I really like the advice you offer. What I like even more are topics that take on this aspect of the game.
    I think we can all feel better about ourselves on the course if we can start to be positive and be in the moment… Great article!!!

  2. leftright

    Feb 9, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Has anyone ever thought that you can teach all you want but that person may not be a “I can” person for parts of their life. Not everyone can be very positive about golf or sports but when it comes to something else they may be very good at it. Not everyone is going to be good or bad at everything. A good psychologist will recognize this and work on what the player can do with success. Tiger Woods is an extremely great golfer and had the mental game down at or exceeding the level of all the previous great golfers. He is either the 1st or 2nd best golfer that ever lived depending on who you talk to…but he is a failure in other aspects of his life. The “gluteous” comments were absolutely absurd and point to why he is a wreck currently. Who in their right mind thinks of glutes activating this or that. I have got to admit, it’s the first time I have ever heard them used in this context. Lindsay Vonn better watch out, she will be disappointed in the future because Tiger has a whole boatload of demons he is fighting currently.

  3. other paul

    Feb 9, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    It just drives me nuts that I can do well at the mental game (positive self talk, I get over a bad shot really fast, and am naturally easy going) yet mechanics can fall apart randomly. I practiced my butt off this winter, used a net, played virtual golf, and all I shot in 4 rounds on vacation was a lousy 87, which is still better then I did last year. But I pretty much thinned every shot I hit for 4 rounds. Need more lessons I guess. And a personal high speed camera.

  4. MRC

    Feb 6, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    At the end of the day it’s only golf. It’s something we do, not who we are.
    Stay positive, breath and enjoy!
    Great tips, great article.
    Thanks

  5. Mtek VersaSpeed

    Feb 6, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    Great article Dan, very insightful & helpful to golfers of all skill levels! Yes, getting & staying “in the zone’ or playing like a champion consistently is where the pro or top amatuer seperates themselves from the rest no doubt.

    At the top level pro golfer’s know their psyche & their swing mechanic’s intimately, which leads them to be extremely confident in their “games”. I learnt that one without the other (mental + physical game) is where, for the amatuer golfer like me, their game can go a little or a lot awry lol depending on the day lol!

    I’m obviously generalising a touch here but the fact remains confidence & trust in your swing (which i eventually found) will come through the right knowledge (theory + teacher), fitted club’s & hard work at the range etc.

    Imo having the “right” mental attitude like Dan suggest’s on course (& in life, perhaps) is the second part of the puzzle that helps you pull off the legend shot’s & putt’s just like your favorite pro, get the first part of the puzzle right then combine it with Dan’s great & proven advice, surely you will be on the way to golfing nirvana in no time!

    cheer’s,
    M. Kaloustian
    Mtek Versaspeed

  6. Golfraven

    Feb 6, 2015 at 7:27 am

    I like all of what you say. Psychology can be a weird thing and can separate the good from the avarage. I see all of that on the golf course and by all means I am not immune to belittling myself at times. However with time comes experience and I started to trust my ability and acknowledge failure as temporary. This can make huge difference on the scorecard and well being at the end of the day.

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Opinion & Analysis

A road trip to St. Andrews

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In 2017, my son Brian and his wife Lauren, proposed a family trip to Scotland. Both of them have traveled a surprising amount for a couple barely 30 years old, but for us it would be a huge trip. We couldn’t get it scheduled for 2018 but everything lined up for October, 2019, a trip that might even include playing the Old Course in St. Andrews, if we got lucky. The amazing Lauren made all the arrangements, beginning with multiple email exchanges with the staff at the Old Course, who were extremely gracious and encouraging in their communications.

Unlike most other courses, in order to play the Old Course, you have three options: One is to book a very expensive trip through a travel broker who will guarantee a tee time. This is the only way to make your arrangements in advance, but you’re paying thousands for the package, which would include at least three other days of golf. Sounds great but above our budget. Secondly, you can take a real gamble and just show up at the starter’s window the day you are hoping to play, and get in line as early as 3 a.m., put your name on the list and then wait, maybe all day, maybe hopelessly. It’s no way to budget an entire day on your vacation. The third way is to use what is called the “ballot system,” submitting your request for a tee time via email to standrews.com, 48 hours ahead and hopefully getting a spot.

Now, it’s not as grim a prospect as it may sound for planning to play golf in St. Andrews. The above only applies to getting onto the Old Course. We were able to make a tee time for the Jubilee Course, one of six other courses (Jubilee, Castle, New Course, Eden, Strathtyrum, and Balgove), all part of the St. Andrews Links complex, “The Home of Golf” as their brochure proclaims. Since we were scheduling our trip for the tail-end of the golf season, the gentleman from St. Andrews wrote that he was cautiously optimistic we would be successful using the ballot system.

This wasn’t just a golfing vacation, the five us had an outstanding time touring the west coast of Scotland, including the Oban Whisky distillery, the Harry Potter train in Glencoe, Ben Nevis—the highest peak in the UK, Fort William, and the spectacular Highlands, the town of St. Andrews, and finally the marvelous city of Edinburgh. We ended up spending one night in St. Andrews, at The Saint, a lovely four-room hotel, a 10-minute walk from the Old Course. That evening, walking down cobblestone streets, with the R&A clubhouse coming into view, was like walking in a dream.

Our day started out by driving directly to the new Links Clubhouse, which has wonderful views of the courses from the restaurant. We had lunch, and I must admit to being a bit nervous over my chicken bacon mayo sandwich. We’d parked our bags in the locker room down below, it’s just what you’d expect in terms of world-class accommodations and feel. I could just imagine the pros suiting up there as they prepare to play in The Open.

Our day of golf at the Jubilee Course was spectacular, although it got off to a rainy start, but the weather cleared by the fourth hole. Mary, Jill, and Lauren formed our gallery as we teed off, then they went for a walk around the lovely town. I parred the first hole and told Brian that made my entire trip to Scotland. I was on fire, shooting 42 on the front nine but hitting only three fairways and two greens in regulation. Brian shot 45. We’d decided on match play, and I was up by three on the 11th hole. Brian then said the fateful words, “You haven’t hit into a pot bunker all day!” Which I promptly did. My game immediately tanked while he proceeded to make a total of nine pars, shooting 42 on the back, and won the match 2 & 1. Our gallery re-appeared on the 17th hole, the sun was shining, and we were in golf heaven! We ended the day with a pint at the famous Dunvegan Pub by the R&A clubhouse.

Earlier in the day, Brian had received an email from St. Andrews, unfortunately stating that we had not been selected for the ballot to play on the Old Course the next day. He resubmitted our request for the following day with fingers crossed. We headed to our next stop, Edinburgh, looking forward to exploring this ancient yet cosmopolitan city. During our walking tour, Brian received the email notification that we’d scored an 11 a.m. tee time on the Old Course for Friday. He and I would be making a road trip back north while the ladies spent the day in Edinburgh.

It was about an hour ride back to St. Andrews but traffic was quite manageable and we arrived at 9:30, plenty of time for breakfast at the Links Clubhouse. I felt that anticipatory excitement I always have right before marshaling at a big event, like a U.S. Open, where the atmosphere of the place is nearly overwhelming. Not really nervousness, but we were about to play the Old Course! Isn’t that every golfer’s dream? To say Brian was wound up tight would be an understatement, he could barely choke down half a scone. The walk over toward the starters shack, where we would meet our caddies, with the R&A clubhouse right there at the first tee was unreal.

The clerk was so gracious, taking our 130 Scottish pounds green fee (about $160), and handing us a very nice valuables pouch complete with an amazingly detailed yardage book, tees, pencils, divot tool, and scorecard. We were then approached by our two caddies, who between them had nearly 30 years of caddying experience. I got John, whose personality was perfect for me, quiet, calm, not too chatty, yet personable. Brian’s guy, Steve was just right for him as well, right from central casting with a thick Scottish brogue. He instantly bonded with Brian to become his playing partner/coach, which was just what he needed to get over the first tee jitters.

The starter, Richard, approached us as we made our way over to the first tee, greeting us much like you see them do at the start of the Open Championship. He made our presence there seem extra special, despite the fact he’d probably done the same routine 10 thousand times. He even took our picture. We were then introduced to our two other playing partners, both former members of the course, so they didn’t need caddies to show them the way. These guys were hilarious, self-deprecating, with brogues so thick I could understand maybe one word in three, not the best golfers by any stretch, which was somehow quite reassuring and certainly less intimidating. Brian proved to be the best golfer in our foursome by far although he had a rough start, hitting his drive into the Swilcan Burn.

I was really calm on the tee, it helped that there were very few spectators as it was drizzling and maybe 50 degrees. John told me where to aim, (“at that gorse bush off in the distance”) and I was able to do exactly that. As we walked off the first tee Steve said “now you can all breathe again!” I found having a caddy to be such a wonderful added dimension to this whole experience—not just as a guide to point out where in the world I should be aiming on this alien golf layout, but also to set an expectation for me on each shot which I then tried my best to fulfill. The greens weren’t too scary as I felt used to the speeds having played Jubilee, but having John read the subtle breaks and provide aiming points was terrific.

I played bogey golf through the first 12 holes but the rain only intensified and despite John’s best effort to keep things dry, the final 6 holes were a mess. Brian was one up on our match at the turn, then went on to win decisively at 5 up, with a total for the day of 5 pars and a birdie, including par on 17, the famous Road Hole. As the day went on, we found ourselves saying over and over to each other, what a wonderful experience this was despite the conditions. Steve took the traditional picture of us on the Swilcan Bridge, on our way to finishing on 18, which Brian almost parred. He later said he had such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, having conquered the Old Course.

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Podcasts

TG2: Brooks and Peter Kostis rip Patrick Reed

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Brooks Koepka and Peter Kostis both talk about Patrick Reed and his cheating allegations. Brooks was on SiriusXM and Kostis on No Laying Up don’t hold back their feelings on cheating. Kostis also has some PGA Tour beef, saying that they don’t care about the television broadcast.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Watch for players lofting up at altitude at the WGC-Mexico Championship

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This week, at the PGA Tour’s WGC-Mexico Championship, we are going to watch some of the best and longest players on the planet play what will effectively be one of the shortest courses on tour.

Now, 7,341 yards is by no means a cakewalk, and there are shorter courses from a pure yardage perspective played on tour—Harbour Town, as an example, only plays at 7,099 yards from the very back. The difference is Harbour Town is played at sea level while Club de Golf Chapultepec is at over 7,500 feet of elevation, and when you factor in the altitude difference between the two courses, they play very differently—more on the math in a moment.

The altitude will also factor in how some players will be setting up their equipment and we could see some adjustments. The most obvious is lofting up the driver or fairways woods to increase carry, which is something Tiger Woods specifically mentioned last year.

The biggest misconception when talking about playing golf at altitude is that the ball doesn’t spin the same in thinner air and players “loft up” to maintain spin. Let’s get into the physics to bust this “spinning less” myth and simplify the science behind playing at altitude,

The golf ball is an inanimate object, and it has no idea it’s at altitude; the air will not have an impact on how much the ball will actually spin. Yes, increasing loft should, by almost every imaginable measure, increase spin but the air it travels through will not change the spin rate.

However, playing at altitude has an effect, Let’s break down what happens

  • Thinner air exerts less drag force (resistance/friction) on the ball. The ball moves more easily through this less dense air and won’t decelerate as quickly as it flies. But note that the faster an object moves the more drag force will occur
  • Less resistance also means that it is harder to shape shots. So you when you see Shot Tracer, the pros are going to be hitting it even straighter (this makes Tiger’s fairway bunker shot last year even more unbelievable)
  • Less force = less lift, the ball will fly lower and on a flatter trajectory

Time for some math from Steve Aoyama, a Principal Scientist at Titleist Golf Ball R&D (full piece here: The Effect of Altitude on Golf Ball Performance)

“You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”

Not every player will be making changes to their bag, and some will instead focus on the types of shots they are hitting instead. When speaking to Adam Scott earlier this week, I was able to ask if he planned on making any changes heading into Mexico the week after his win at the Genesis Invitational.

“It’s very rare for me to make club changes week-to-week beyond playing in the Open Championship and adding a longer iron. The one thing I focus on when playing at altitude is avoiding partial shots where I’m trying to reduce the spin because as spin goes down the ball doesn’t want to stay in the air. I’ve experienced partial shots with longer clubs that end up 25 yards short, and because of that I want to hit as many full shots as possible”

With Club de Golf Chapultepec sitting just over 7,800 feet above sea level, we’re looking at 9.048 or an increase of just over 9 percent. That makes this 7,341-yard course play 6,677 yards (+/- where the tees are placed).

 

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