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Do you feel the golf pressure cooker?

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Does pressure in golf really exist?

Well, according to some researchers and experts, it really doesn’t. It’s all dreamed up by you to make it difficult for you to perform when it counts. According to a noted study (Beilock 2010), people create pressure for themselves. The only way we can ever experience pressure is to create it in our own minds. It is a product of our imagination. Another research paper explains that if we experience pressure, it is because we are projecting an imaginary view of the future (Markman et al 2008).

But, have these researchers ever had a 5-footer to win the match or had 20 friends standing around the first tee waiting for their opening tee shot and anticipating something great? Or have they ever acknowledged the pressure and used the energy as a positive tool that elevates their performance so they go beyond where they thought they could go?

Maybe not.

What is Pressure?

boil-buoy-boiling-water-chime-xl

Well, the general definition gives us a good picture of what pressure is … “the feeling of stressful urgency caused by the necessity of doing or achieving something, especially with limited time.”

Do you know this feeling?

You practice and practice in a controlled environment you’ve created; hit a few balls tweaking your swing, watch some video to analyze your mechanics, create a few putting stations to work on your stroke and casually work on your game. All good.

But then you arrive at the first tee, and everyone and everything seems more serious. Someone hands you a scorecard and a pencil, and the feelings of your controlled environment now seem slightly out of your control.

Sound familiar?

Where Does Pressure Come from?

Pressure can come from both within you or from the outside. Your own expectations are often sources of pressure where you expect a lot (sometimes too much) from yourself. After all, you’ve worked hard, spent hours practicing and would like a good result. Expectations can also come from the outside. With young players, parents can pile on what kind of results they may be expecting. Coaches can expect results, too. Any kind of expectations invites pressure for players.

There are a number of sources that raise the boiling point and can give you the feeling of pressure:

  • Thinking about your score (the outcome) and not focusing enough on “how” you are doing it on each shot (your process).
  • Timing: You have four holes left and you need two birdies to win.
  • I’m not ready: Your practice did not go well and you don’t feel ready.
  • You’re working on something new: Will it work when it counts?
  • The environment around you: Things are a little more serious than they were in practice.
  • Media and audience effects: If you are playing in a big event, there’s lots of drama and opinions all around you.
  • Doubting your own abilities: Can I do this?
  • Perception of importance: Wow, this is a big event! The spotlight is on me!

What the best do

I have the great privilege to work with some of the world’s leading athletes, those who are constantly surrounded by “pressure” and we talk about it often.

The great players all acknowledge pressures, but work on creating the best approaches for themselves to deal with it and maximize their abilities. The very best I work with welcome pressures; it means they have the privilege of playing for something worthwhile and the opportunity to test the hours and hours of work they’ve put in to get to where they are.

Great players acknowledge the reality of pressure and don’t pretend it’s not there. Pressure, for them, is in perspective and always positive. Consider Jordan Spieth in the 2015 Masters, marching to the first tee through thousands of people on Sunday knowing he had the lead and he was four hours from history. You can be sure the 21-year-old felt the pressure on that day, but used it in a positive way to focus himself and go about his business with his personal game plan and experience and reflections from 2014.

U.S. Open - Final Round

How to best create positive pressure for you

Acknowledging that pressure exists and turning it into a positive is your first step forward. You can also better prepare yourself for pressure situations by following a few key steps that will, like the greats, keep pressure in perspective and use it to your advantage.

Here are a few ideas to start:

  1. Close the gap between practice and play. For most players, the level of attention and focus is completely different. Consider a more structured routine for your practice. Apply approaches to reach targets and goals. For example, to move on to the next phase of your practice, you must hit five shots in a row that meet a certain standard.
  2. Thinking ahead to what you can’t control creates fear and additional pressure. Keep your focus on each shot and executing to the best of your ability. The current shot is what you can truly control.
  3. Align your expectations with your abilities right now. What is reasonable for you right now? You might overestimate your abilities sometimes and even you can’t live up to them. This creates additional pressure. The expectations of others is not within your control and should not be a reasonable source of pressure for you.
  4. Build confidence proactively. Your confidence is built over time from the ground up. Allowing little dips in performance to impact your overall confidence will add pressure that will impact your performance.
  5. Stick to the plan. Develop a plan that plays to your strengths and don’t deviate from it unless conditions really change. Jordan Spieth relentlessly sticks to his plan and wears everyone down with it.
  6. Enjoy the environment and activity around you, but remember that focusing on you and not on the drama or others around you is what leads to high performance.
  7. Remember why you play. This seems simple, but it’s important. Golf and sports are not life or death. You play for enjoyment. Embrace the opportunity to feel the privilege of playing, competing and putting yourself in a position to do something meaningful.

So does pressure really exist? Yes. Should you be afraid of it? No. Can you use it to your advantage and become a better player if you do? Yes. Start accepting pressure, use it in a positive way and enjoy the feeling of having meaning in your game.

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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

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Jim

    Feb 15, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    All well and saying the above the reality is in a big tourny things ARE different.Your heart beat races and swing gets a little quicker and suddenly your trusted draw becomes a pull hook into the drink.Now your heart races faster and your mental process becomes a blur.
    No amount of good practice on the range can prepare you for this .The golf world is filled with decent players who just can t perform under pressure and many prodigies who we never hear of again.
    If it was that simple this would not be the case.
    There are some who can handle it and many who cant its in your DNA.
    Ever wonder how the same guys always hole the clutch putt on the last to win.?

    • John Haime

      Feb 16, 2016 at 6:11 pm

      Thanks for the comment Jim.

      Yes, some have more talent than others and have higher levels of competitiveness etc. But, we have moved the needle on pressure with a number of athletes and it has made a noticeable difference in performance. It’s a process and most don’t/won’t do the work to make the changes. Thanks again – it’s a great topic for discussion.

  2. Troy

    Feb 15, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    There’s no doubt we create our own pressure even if it’s just hitting in front of 20 friends at a local golf course. I agree aligning the practice we make to our actual game is one of the best ways to play through it and achieve optimal performance.

    Most golfers are way too relaxed when practicing and playing a round of golf for them is hardly ever like that.

    Cheers

  3. ooffa

    Feb 14, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    What kind if pressure can there be on tour for most of the players. If they hit a good shot they are millionaire prima donna’s if they miss they are millionaire prima donna’s. Whats the diff if they win or come in second or third or 20th? Prize money is the smallest part of their income.

  4. m smizz

    Feb 14, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    8. Don’t listen to the media

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Instruction

Tip of the week: Let the left heel lift for a bigger turn to the top

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In this week’s tip, Tom Stickney gives a suggestion that would make Brandel Chamblee proud: lift the left heel on the backswing for a bigger turn.

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How I train tour players

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There is a lot of speculation about how tour pros train, and with tantalizing snippets of gym sessions being shared on social media, it’s tempting to draw large conclusions from small amounts of insight. One thing I can tell you from my time on tour is that there isn’t just one way that golfers should train, far from it. I’ve seen many different approaches work for many different pros, a strong indicator is the wide variety of body shapes we see at the top level of the game. Take for example Brooks Koepka, Mark Leishman, Ricker Fowler, and Patrick Reed. Put these four players through a physical testing protocol and the results would be extremely varied, and yet, over 18 holes of golf there is just 0.79 shots difference between first and last.

This example serves to highlight the importance of a customized approach to training. Sometimes common sense training programs backed by scientific evidence simply don’t work for an individual. One of the athletes I work with, Cameron Smith, over the course of a season recorded his slowest club-head speed when he was strongest and heaviest (muscle mass) and fastest club-head speed when he was lightest and weakest. That lead me to seriously question the widely accepted concept of stronger = more powerful and instead search for a smarter and more customized methodology. I’ll continue to use Cam and his training as an example throughout this article.

Cam working on his rotational speed (push band on his arm)

What I’m going to outline below is my current method of training tour pros, it’s a fluid process that has changed a lot over the years and will hopefully continue to morph into something more efficient and customized as time goes on.

Assessment

I have poached and adapted aspects from various different testing methods including TPI, GravityFit, Ramsay McMaster, Scott Williams and Train With Push. The result is a 5-stage process that aims to identify areas for improvement that can be easily compared to measure progress.

Subjective – This is a simple set of questions that sets the parameters for the upcoming training program. Information on training and injury history, time available for training, access to facilities and goal setting all help to inform the structure of the training program design that will fit in with the individual’s life.

Postural – I take photos in standing and golf set up from in-front, behind and both sides. I’m simply trying to establish postural tendencies that can be identified by alignment of major joints. For example a straight line between the ear, shoulder, hip and ankle is considered ideal.

Muskulo Skeletal – This is a series of very simple range of motion and localized stability tests for the major joints and spinal segments. These tests help explain movement patterns demonstrated in the gym and the golf swing. For example ankle restrictions make it very difficult to squat effectively, whilst scapula (shoulder blade) instability can help explain poor shoulder and arm control in the golf swing.

Stability and Balance – I use a protocol developed by GravityFit called the Core Body Benchmark. It measures the player’s ability to hold good posture, balance and stability through a series of increasingly complex movements.

Basic Strength and Power – I measure strength relative to bodyweight in a squat, push, pull and core brace/hold. I also measure power in a vertical leap and rotation movement.

At the age of 16, Cam Smith initially tested poorly in many of these areas; he was a skinny weak kid with posture and mobility issues that needed addressing to help him to continue playing amateur golf around the world without increasing his risk of injury.

An example scoring profile

Report

From these 5 areas of assessment I write a report detailing the areas for improvement and set specific and measurable short terms goals. I generally share this report with the player’s other team members (coach, manager, caddie etc).

Training Program

Next step is putting together the training program. For this I actually designed and built (with the help of a developer) my own app. I use ‘Golf Fit Pro’ to write programs that are generally split into 3 or 4 strength sessions per week with additional mobility and posture work. The actual distribution of exercises, sets, reps and load (weights) can vary a lot, but generally follows this structure:

Warm Up – foam roll / spiky ball, short cardio, 5 or 6 movements that help warm up the major joints and muscles

Stability / Function – 2 or 3 exercises that activate key stability/postural muscles around the hips and shoulders.

Strength / Power – 4 or 5 exercises designed to elicit a strength or power adaptation whilst challenging the ability to hold posture and balance.

Core – 1 or 2 exercises that specifically strengthen the core

Mobility – 5-10 stretches, often a mixture of static and dynamic

An example of the Golf Fit Pro app

Cam Smith has followed this structure for the entire time we have been working together. His choice would be to skip the warm-up and stability sections, instead jumping straight into the power and strength work, which he considers to be “the fun part.” However, Cam also recognizes the importance of warming up properly and doing to his stability drills to reduce the risk of injury and make sure his spine, hips and shoulders are in good posture and moving well under the load-bearing strength work.

Training Sessions

My approach to supervising training sessions is to stick to the prescribed program and focus attention firstly on perfecting technique and secondly driving intent. What I mean by this is making sure that every rep is done with great focus and determination. I often use an accelerometer that tracks velocity (speed) to measure the quality and intent of a rep and provide immediate feedback and accountability to the individual.

Cam especially enjoys using the accelerometer to get real-time feedback on how high he is jumping or fast he is squatting. He thrives on competing with both himself and others in his gym work, pretty typical of an elite athlete!

Maintenance

The physical, mental and emotional demands of a tournament week make it tricky to continue to train with the same volume and intensity as usual. I will often prescribe a watered down version of the usual program, reducing reps and sets whilst still focusing on great technique. Soreness and fatigue are the last thing players want to deal with whilst trying to perform at their best. It’s quite the balancing act to try and maintain fitness levels whilst not getting in the way of performance. My experience is that each player is quite different and the process has to be fluid and adaptable in order to get the balance right from week to week.

Equipment

Aside from the usual gym equipment, resistance bands, and self massage tools, the following are my favourite bits of kit:

GravityFit – Absolutely the best equipment available for training posture, stability and movement quality. The immediate feedback system means I can say less, watch more and see players improve their technique and posture faster.

Push Band – This wearable accelerometer has really transformed the way I write programs, set loads and measure progression. It’s allowed the whole process to become more fluid and reactive, improved quality of training sessions and made it more fun for the players. It also allows me to remotely view what has happened in a training session, down to the exact speed of each rep, as demonstrated in the image below.

Details from one of Cam’s recent training sessions

Examples

Below are some of the PGA Tour players that I have worked with and the key areas identified for each individual, based of the process outlined above:

Cam Smith – Improving posture in head/neck/shoulders, maintenance of mobility throughout the body, increasing power output into the floor (vertical force) and rotational speed.

Jonas Blixt – Core stability, hip mobility and postural endurance in order to keep lower back healthy (site of previous injury). Overall strength and muscle growth.

Harris English – Improving posture in spine, including head/neck. Scapula control and stability, improving hip and ankle mobility. Overall strength and muscle growth.

Recommendations

My advice if you want to get your fitness regime right, is to see a professional for an assessment and personalized program, then work hard at it whilst listening to your body and measuring results. I’m sure this advice won’t rock your world, but from all that I’ve seen and done on tour, it’s by far the best recommendation I can give you.

If you are a golfer interested in using a structured approach to your golf fitness, then you can check out my online services here.

If you are a fitness professional working with golfers, and would like to ask questions about my methods, please send an email to nick@golffitpro.net

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Me and My Golf: Top 5 putting grips

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In this week’s Impact Show, we take a look at our top 5 putting grips. We discuss which grips we prefer, and which putting grips can suit you and why.

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