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How great golfers build confidence

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You recently saw one of the biggest tests of self belief you will ever see. Jordan Spieth, just 21 years old, stood alone on the Augusta National practice tee before the final round of the Masters with the opportunity to win golf’s biggest prize and potentially change history.

Spieth was about to make the final walk to the first tee, through crowds of screaming people, and with his own voice reminding him that he was about to play the most important round of golf he’s ever played.

How can a 21 year old pull off something that would make most gag, choke and stumble, and what can you learn from Jordan’s experience to make yourself a better golfer?

One of the key areas I work on with any athlete client (golfers included) is confidence: understanding it and building it. Confidence is a golfer’s bullet-proof vest. It was for Jordan Spieth on Sunday at the Masters and it can be for you.

What is Confidence?

Well, it’s a feeling. It’s about trust and belief in your abilities and decisions, and expressing those beliefs and decisions in challenging circumstances.

You know the feeling of confidence. You’re playing great and everything is going right for you. There is an easy belief in what you are doing. You also know the other feeling. You just don’t have it and nothing is going right. There’s little faith in what you are doing.

“I’ve Lost My Confidence”

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When my phone rings, leading athletes or agents are sometimes on the other end. They or their player has “lost their confidence.” If it’s a golfer, the putter has gone cold and the ball’s not going in, or they can’t take their game from the practice tee to the course. They tell me there is little belief in what they are doing when it counts.

I always ask these players where they think their confidence has gone. Most are in the top professional leagues in the world and have risen to the upper echelon of their profession. It’s funny that these players don’t really know where the belief has gone. Something small has triggered some little doubts and the downward spiral begins from there.

This is where golfers get confused. Confidence requires some understanding, and some work. Sports, like life, are about patterns and cycles. Sometimes you “have it” and other times you don’t. No exceptions. So you must work on important areas like confidence and understand how to build it and how to find it. The mental/emotional game is like your physical practice. Do the work and it will pay off.

Is Your Confidence Proactive or Reactive?

So here’s a perspective of confidence I work on with leading players, helping them understand that maintaining confidence is within their control; and confidence is more of a choice than they know. They must take responsibility for their own confidence.

And this perspective can help you.

Great athletes are proactive with their confidence. When Jordan Spieth was walking to the first tee at Augusta before the final round, you can be sure he was reminding himself that he was playing great in 2015. He had built the foundation since he was 12 years old to handle a lead at The Masters on Sunday.

Proactive confidence is a decision that you will be sustainably confident from all of the great, positive experiences you have had in the game (and there will be many). All the work you have done on your game and the coaching and support from others is the foundation of your belief in yourself as a golfer. Your confidence will not be shaken by small, unavoidable cycles of not your best play.

On the other hand…

Some players insist on sabotaging their own belief in themselves. Reactive confidence is a decision that one small collection of challenging circumstances or difficulties will overcome your successes and support and crack your golf “foundation.” In this scenario, you declare that your confidence is shaken by small failures.

I don’t know how many times I have heard a great athlete declare after a stretch of poor play that their confidence is gone. Really? Where does it go? Golfers also allow others to have an impact on their confidence in a negative way — coaches, parents, other players. Reactive confidence is essentially a choice to lower your confidence and allow challenges and other distractions to penetrate your foundation.

Does this sound familiar to you?

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Spieth failed to close the 2014 Masters, shooting a final-round 72 and lost to Bubba Watson by three strokes. 2015 was a different story.

I see this everyday, even among the best athletes in the world. For some reason, they aren’t playing well and the foundation of confidence they have built over years suddenly disappears. A few mistakes become the basis for their confidence. After some reminders that their confidence is about everything they have achieved and all the work they’ve done, there is an “ah ha” moment and confidence mysteriously returns! The decision is made by the player to recover it. They take responsibility for their confidence.

This is important for you to know. If you can feel confidence slipping away, you have the choice to reel it in and not allow emotions to run the show.

Building Your Confidence

It’s important to continually build the foundation so small, short-term failures will not penetrate your long-term foundation. So what can you do to work on your confidence and build it?

Here are a few key ideas that you can use to build the foundation and create belief in your game:

  • Preparation. “Build it and it will come.” It is a secure feeling on the first tee. You know you’ve put the work and effort in each part of your game to deal with the shots you’ll need on the course. Make your practice functional, and related to the shots you’ll need on the course or in competition. Have a plan. Keep it simple.
  • Be proactive and allow all the great experiences you’ve had in the game to be the foundation of your confidence. Decide that temporary low points in your game will pass quickly and will not have any impact on your “foundation.”
  • Understand your strengths, limitations and triggers very well. It’s easier to win believing in something you understand versus something you don’t. Jordan Spieth believed in Jordan Spieth’s ability to play Augusta. The results followed.
  • Get great coaching matched up to your values and needs. The greatest thing a coach can do for a player is believe in them and believe in their abilities, bolstering their own confidence. A great coach’s belief in you can matter.
  • Create a clear and defined goal plan. If you know where you are going and have the step in place to get there, there will be a sense of security that you are on the right track.
  • Create a positive, supportive internal voice. Your own voice should be the most supportive and create a positive internal environment. A negative voice can erode confidence in your abilities and create doubt in your capabilities.
  • Focus on your good shots, not the bad ones. Ben Hogan, the greatest ball-striker of all-time, felt he only hit about five or six shots in a round that were great. Ben had many misses and so will you. Focus on your good shots and accept there will be many misses.
  • Focus on your development as a player and the process to reach the next level. Focusing on a very solid process will inevitably lead to great results.

Working on your confidence is an investment in you as a golfer, but this skillset is transferable to everything you do in life: business, career, relationships and any other “performance” activity you engage in.

Consider it an investment in your future.

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John Haime is the President of New Edge Performance. He's a Human Performance Coach who prepares performers to be the their best by helping them tap into the elusive 10 percent of their abilities that will get them to the top. This is something that anyone with a goal craves, and John Haime knows how to get performers there. John closes the gap for performers in sports and business by taking them from where they currently are to where they want to go.  The best in the world trust John. They choose him because he doesn’t just talk about the world of high performance – he has lived it and lives in it everyday. He is a former Tournament Professional Golfer with professional wins. He has a best-selling book, “You are a Contender,” which is widely read by world-class athletes, coaches and business performers.  He has worked around the globe for some of the world’s leading companies. Athlete clients include performers who regularly rank in the Top-50 in their respective sports. John has the rare ability to work as seamlessly in the world of professional sports as he does in the world of corporate performance. His primary ambition writing for GolfWRX is to help you become the golfer you'd like to be. See www.johnhaime.com for more. Email: john@newedgeperformance.org

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. James Fairbank

    Apr 25, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    Sigh. Another “psychology” article, written by a non-licensed psychologist. This is effectively equivalent to someone who has an interest in medicine giving medical advice online. Behavioural and cognitive change is incredibly difficult, and no article written online will be enough to eliminate long-standing patterns – especially without individualized and formalized assessment to understand the root of the issue. I guess this is why people such as Marcus above think psychology is a “bogus” science (which couldn’t be further from the truth).

    • John Haime

      Apr 27, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      Hi James,

      Sports Psychology and clinical psychology are very far away from each other. Often, the very best “sports psychologists” are coaches who communicate well, understand the psyche and motivations of an athlete. As an example, John Wooden was a farmer from Indiana with an English degree from Purdue – but his mental/emotional/spiritual platform for athletes was exceptional and he got incredible results – producing great athletes and great people.

      This is a long discussion so I won’t continue at length but I will tell you I hire students from sports psychology programs often and most do not generate results and help the athlete reach their goals. The real world of getting results with athletes and the academic world of fluffy theories are very, very different. Most athletes want someone who has been there done that at the highest levels in sports and can relate to their challenges, feelings and pressures. To turn your argument around – how can anyone who doesn’t have significant experience in sports competition, know the feelings or felt the pressure practically understand someone who has?

      FYI – People today want short, sharp well written content that will give them ideas and help them. It may also be the catalyst to explore further and gain real, long-term results. This is the value of WRX. Great content that can be consumed in a short period, entertain and give people ideas they can further explore or work on. Great communication and connection with athletes can generate results in a short time – I do it everyday and see athletes make major jumps to bigger heights in professional sports, college scholarships and great performances. My objective is always sustainability and creating an independent athlete/person.

      Sports Psychology is much more about coaching, development and motivation and not about clinical psychology – clinical psychologists assess and treat people with psychological problems. They may act as therapists for people experiencing normal psychological crises (e.g., grief) or for individuals suffering from chronic psychiatric disorders. I periodically deal with athletes who have deep rooted emotional problems and professional therapy may be necessary – but that is rare.

      I hope this explanation helps. The only thing that matters is results. Education gets the foot in the door – but the professional and elite athletes I work with aren’t interested in letters after a name – they want to develop, grow and get results.

      I hope this adds value to the conversation.

      The best to you and here’s to great golf!!

      John

  2. marcus

    Apr 17, 2015 at 9:51 am

    This is a great article. And I think psychology is largely a bogus science. But John Halme makes valid points here for sure.

  3. Andy

    Apr 16, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    A huge part of great coaching is creating an environment allowing the player to reach thier potential. This can be done by the parents or high school coaching or other. I too had aspirations of professional baseball, but bad coaching actually derailed that dream. And funny thing, this happened at the same high school Spieth went to only 40 years ago.

  4. Philip

    Apr 16, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    The only aspect I disagree somewhat with is “Get great coaching” as you described it. If the “greatest thing a coach can do for a player is believe in them and believe in their abilities, bolstering their own confidence” then I say the player has not reached a true level of self-confidence and is still relying on an artificial crutch. Of course, maybe the whole point is we all need a fail back whenever we falter and cannot seem to rise again. I suspect for many PGA professionals that great coach is their spouse and children to a large degree.

    • John Haime

      Apr 21, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Hey Philip,

      Great point – but would like to add something here to help.

      I agree with you that at some point athletes must be responsible for their own confidence – but his comes later. When athletes are young and developing their “foundation” of confidence, it is critical for coaches to believe in them and help them develop this confidence. Trust me, working with athletes everyday, there are issues with athletes related to coaches who do not build this confidence and in fact damage the psyche of the athlete. So, at young ages, the best thing a coach can do is care about the athlete and believe in them. This gives a young athlete permission to believe in themselves.

      Later on, when the foundation has be primarily built, athletes must be responsible for their own confidence. Negative impact of coaches etc. should not “penetrate” this foundation.

      Make sense?

      Thanks for your comment!!

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Instruction

Clement: Best drill for weight shift and clearing hips (bonus on direction too)

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This is, by far, one of the most essential drills for your golf swing development. To throw the club well is a liberating experience! Here we catch Munashe up with how important the exercise is not only in the movement pattern but also in the realization that the side vision is viciously trying to get you to make sure you don’t throw the golf club in the wrong direction. Which, in essence, is the wrong direction to start with!

This drill is also a cure for your weight shift problems and clearing your body issues during the swing which makes this an awesome all-around golf swing drill beauty! Stay with us as we take you through, step by step, how this excellent drill of discovery will set you straight; pardon the pun!

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Confessions of a hacker: Chipping yips and equipment fixes

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There’s a saying in golf that, paraphrasing here, it’s the person holding the weapon, not the weapon. Basically, if you hit a bad shot, it’s almost certain that it was your fault, not the fault of the golf club. It has a better design than your swing. And while that truism is often correct, it ain’t necessarily so.

For example, if I were to try to hit one of those long drive drivers, I’d probably mis-hit it so badly that the ball might not be findable. That stick is way too long, stiff, and heavy for me. Similarly, if I were to use one of those senior flex drivers, I’d probably hit it badly, because it would be too floppy for my swing. It’s clear that there are arrows that this Indian can’t shoot well. Maybe a pro could adapt to whatever club you put in his hand, but there’s no reason he would accept less than a perfect fit. And there’s little reason why any amateur ought to accept less than a good fit.

I was never a competitive athlete, although I’m a competitive person. My path led a different direction, and as my medical career reached its mature years, I was introduced to our wonderful and frustrating game.

Being one who hates playing poorly, I immediately sought instruction. After fifteen years, multiple instructors, a wallet full of videos, and a wall full of clubs, I am finally learning how to do one particularly vexing part of the game reasonable well. I can chip! But as you may have guessed, the largest part of this journey has to do with the arrow, not the Indian.

We may immediately dismiss the golf shaft as a significant issue since chipping generally involves a low-speed movement. And as long as the grip is a reasonable fit for the hands, it’s not a big deal either. The rubber meets the road at the clubhead.

Manufacturers have worked hard to get the best ball spin out of the grooves. Their shape is precisely milled, and then smaller grooves and roughness are added to the exact maximum allowed under the rules. Various weighting schemes have been tried, with some success in tailoring wedges to players. And some manufacturers market the “newest” designs to make it impossible to screw up wedge shots. And yet, nothing seemed to solve my yips.

So I went on a mission. I studied all sorts of chipping techniques. Some advocate placing the ball far back to strike a descending blow. Others place it near the center of the stance. The swing must have no wrist hinge. The swing must have a hinge that is held. It should be a short swing. It should be a long swing. The face should be square. The face should be open. There should be a “pop.” There should be no power added.

If you are confused, join my club. So I went on a different mission. I started looking at sole construction. Ever since Gene Sarazen popularized a sole with bounce for use in the sand, manufacturers have been creating massive numbers of “different” sand wedges. They have one thing in common. They are generally all built to 55 or 56-degrees of loft.

The basic design feature of the sand wedge is that the sole extends down and aft from the leading edge at some angle. This generally ranges from 6 to 18-degrees. Its purpose is to allow the wedge to dig into the sand, but not too far. As the club goes down into the sand, the “bounce” pushes it back up.

 

One problem with having a lot of bounce on the wedge is that it can’t be opened up to allow certain specialty shots or have a higher effective loft. When the player does that, the leading edge lifts, resulting in thin shots. So manufacturers do various things to make the wedge more versatile, typically by removing bounce in the heel area.

At my last count, I have eight 56-degree wedges in my collection. Each one was thought to be a solution to my yips. Yet, until I listened to an interview with Dave Edel, I had almost no real understanding of why I was laying sod over a lot of my chips. Since gardening did not reduce my scores, I had to find another solution.

My first step was to look at the effective loft of a wedge in various ball positions. (Pictures were shot with the butt of the club at the left hip, in a recommended forward lean position. Since the protractor is not exactly lined up with the face, the angles are approximate.)

I had no idea that there was so much forward lean with a simple chip. If I were to use the most extreme rearward position, I would have to have 21-degrees of bounce just to keep the leading edge from digging in at impact. If there were the slightest error in my swing, I would be auditioning for greenskeeper.

My appreciation for the pros who can chip from this position suddenly became immense. For an amateur like me, the complete lack of forgiveness in this technique suddenly removed it from my alleged repertoire.

My next step was to look at bounce. As I commented before, bounce on sand wedges ranges between 6 and 18-degrees. As the drawing above shows, that’s a simple angle measurement. If I were to chip from the forward position, a 6-degree bounce sand wedge would have an effective bounce of 1-degree. That’s only fractionally better than the impossible chip behind my right foot. So I went to my local PGA Superstore to look at wedges with my Maltby Triangle Gauge in hand.

As you can see from the photos, there is a wide variation in wedges. What’s most curious, however, is that this variation is between two designs that are within one degree of the same nominal bounce. Could it be that “bounce is not bounce is not bounce?” Or should I say that “12-degrees is not 12-degrees is not 12-degrees?” If one looks below the name on the gauge, a curious bit of text appears. “Measuring effective bounce on wedges.” Hmmm… What is “effective bounce?”

The Maltby Triangle Gauge allows you to measure three things: leading-edge height, sole tangent point, and leading-edge sharpness. The last is the most obvious. If I’m chipping at the hairy edge of an adequate bounce, a sharp leading edge will dig in more easily than a blunt one. So if I’m using that far back ball position, I’ll need the 1OutPlus for safety, since its leading edge is the bluntest of the blunt. Even in that position, its 11-degree bounce keeps the leading edge an eighth of an inch up.

Wait a minute! How can that be? In the back position, the wedge is at 35-degrees effective loft, and 11-degrees of bounce ought to be 10-degrees less than we need. The difference here is found in combining all three parameters measured by the gauge, and not just the angle of the bounce.

The 1OutPlus is a very wide sole wedge. Its tangent point is a massive 1.7″ back. The leading edge rises .36″ off the ground and is very blunt. In other words, it has every possible design feature to create safety in case the chip from back in the stance isn’t as perfect as it might be. Since a golf ball is 1.68″ in diameter, that’s still less than halfway up to the center of the ball. But if you play the ball forward, this may not be the wedge for you.

Here are the measurements for the eight sand wedges that happen to be in my garage. All are either 56-degrees from the factory or bent to 56-degrees.

A couple of things jump out from this table. The Callaway PM Grind at 13-degrees has a lower leading edge (.26 inches) than the 11-degree Bazooka 1OutPlus (.36 inches). How can a lower bounce have a higher leading edge? Simple geometry suggests that if you want a higher leading edge, you will need a higher bounce angle. But it gets worse. The Wishon WS (wide sole) at 6-degrees (55-degree wedge bent to 56-degrees) has a leading-edge height of .28 inches, higher than the Callaway which has over twice the nominal bounce angle!

One thing is missing from this simple discussion of angles.

If I place one line at 34-degrees above the horizontal (loft is measured from the vertical), and then extend another at some angle below horizontal, the height above ground where the two join depends on how long the lower line is. This means that an 18-degree bounce with a narrow “C” grind will raise the leading edge a little bit. A 6-degree bounce on a wide sole may raise it more because the end of the bounce on the first wedge is so close to the leading edge.

 

Let’s look at this in the picture. If the red line of the bounce is very short, it doesn’t get far below the black ground line. But if it goes further, it gets lower. This is the difference between narrow and wide soles.

This diagram describes the mathematical description of these relationships.

Our first task is to realize that the angle 0 in this diagram is the complement of the 56-degree loft of the wedge, or 90 – 56 = 34-degrees since loft is measured from vertical, not horizontal. But the angle 0 in the bounce equation is just that, the bounce value. These two angles will now allow us to calculate the theoretical values of various parts of the wedge, and then compare them to our real-world examples.

My PM Grind Callaway wedge has its 3rd groove, the supposed “perfect” impact point, 0.54 inches above the leading edge. This should put it 0.8 inches back from the leading edge, roughly matching the measured 0.82 inches. So far, so good. (I’m using the gauge correctly!)

The 13-degree bounce at 1.14″ calculates out to 0.284″ of leading-edge rise. I measured 0.26″, so Callaway seems to be doing the numbers properly, until I realize that the leading edge is already .45″ back, given a real tangent of .69″. Something is out of whack. Re-doing the math suggests that the real bounce is 20-degrees, 40 min. Hmmm…

Maybe that bounce angle measurement isn’t such a good number to look at. Without digging through all the different wedges (which would make you cross-eyed), we should go back to basics. What is it that we really need?

Most instructors will suggest that striking the ball on about the third groove will give the best results. It will put the ball close to the center of mass (sweet spot) of the wedge and give the best spin action. If my wedge is at an effective 45-degree angle (about my right big toe), it will strike the ball about half-way up to its equator. It will also be close to the third groove. But to make that strike with minimal risk of gardening, I have to enough protection to keep the edge out of the turf if I mis-hit the ball by a little bit. That can be determined by the leading edge height! The higher the edge, the more forgiveness there is on a mis-hit.

Now this is an incomplete answer. If the bounce is short, with a sharp back side, it will tend to dig into the turf a bit. It may not do it a lot, but it will have more resistance than a wider, smoother bounce. In the extreme case, the 1OutPlus will simply glide over the ground on anything less than a ridiculous angle.

The amount of leading-edge height you need will depend on your style. If you play the ball forward, you may not need much. But as you move the ball back, you’ll need to increase it. And if you are still inconsistent, a wider sole with a smooth contour will help you avoid episodes of extreme gardening. A blunt leading edge will also help. It may slow your club in the sand, but it will protect your chips.

There is no substitute for practice, but if you’re practicing chips from behind your right foot using a wedge with a sharp, low leading edge, you’re asking for frustration. If you’re chipping from a forward position with a blunt, wide sole wedge, you’ll be blading a lot of balls. So look at your chipping style and find a leading-edge height and profile that match your technique. Forget about the “high bounce” and “low bounce” wedges. That language doesn’t answer the right question.

Get a wedge that presents the club to the ball with the leading edge far enough off the ground to provide you with some forgiveness. Then knock ’em stiff!

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Golf 101: What is a strong grip?

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What is a strong grip? Before we answer that, consider this: How you grip it might be the first thing you learn, and arguably the first foundation you adapt—and it can form the DNA for your whole golf swing.

The proper way to hold a golf club has many variables: hand size, finger size, sports you play, where you feel strength, etc. It’s not an exact science. However, when you begin, you will get introduced to the common terminology for describing a grip—strong, weak, and neutral.

Let’s focus on the strong grip as it is, in my opinion, the best way to hold a club when you are young as it puts the clubface in a stronger position at the top and instinctively encourages a fair bit of rotation to not only hit it solid but straight.

The list of players on tour with strong grips is long: Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Fred Couples, David Duval, and Bernhard Langer all play with a strong grip.

But what is a strong grip? Well like my first teacher Mike Montgomery (Director of Golf at Glendale CC in Seattle) used to say to me, “it looks like you are revving up a Harley with that grip”. Point is the knuckles on my left hand were pointing to the sky and my right palm was facing the same way.

Something like this:

Of course, there are variations to it, but that is your run of the mill, monkey wrench strong grip. Players typically will start there when they are young and tweak as they gain more experience. The right hand might make it’s way more on top, left-hand knuckles might show two instead of three, and the club may move its way out of the palms and further down into the fingers.

Good golf can be played from any position you find comfortable, especially when you find the body matchup to go with it.

Watch this great vid from @JakeHuttGolf

In very simple terms, here are 3 pros and 3 cons of a strong grip.

Pros

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and helps you hit further
  2. It’s an athletic position which encourages rotation
  3. Players with strong grips tend to strike it solidly

Cons

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and can cause you to hit it low and left
  2. If you don’t learn to rotate you could be in for a long career of ducks and trees
  3. Players with strong grips tend to fight a hook and getting the ball in the air

 

Make Sense?

 

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