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Learn from the Best: A Q&A with Mental Game Guru Karl Morris

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My name is Richard Cartwright, and I’m a PGA Professional in the UK. I teach golf for a living, and I’ve always made it a point in my career to seek out the best and brightest minds in the game so I can pick their brains. I thought, why not share what I learn with the GolfWRX Community?

For my second installment of “Learn from the Best,” I speak with mental game guru Karl Morris. Morris has worked with major winners Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen, and he has also written the very popular book, “Golf: The Mind Factor” with Darren Clarke.

With his experience of coaching some of the best in the world, Morris gives his expert analysis on Alex Noren’s win at The BMW Championship at Wentworth, as well as an insight into how a tour winner thinks. Note: This Q&A has been lightly edited for grammar and style. 

Richard Cartwright: Let’s talk about Alex Noren, who just recently won the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship. Apart from the work he has done with (swing coach) Matt Belsham and his recovery from tendonitis in both wrists in 2014, what other contributing factors have stood out for you when it comes to Alex Noren’s rise to No. 8 in the world?

Karl Morris: One thing is for sure Noren looks supremely confident with the work he has done with his coach to the great credit of Matt Belsham. Having real clarity on what you are working on technically allows you to free up mentally. Having really good pictures of how your swing functions so that when the swing misfires you know why. This allows the mind to then get on with the job of PLAYING golf, as you are not in constant “fix-it” mode.

It is also clear that Noren now “sees” himself as a winner, and he is now in that wonderful position of finding ways to win as opposed to finding ways to lose. There is a phrase that goes along the lines of “what the thinker thinks, the prover proves.” A part of our psyche seeks to “prove” what we believe. If I truly believe I can win, then my brain goes in search of evidence to support that. So even in unlikely circumstances like Wentworth, from way back in the field, Noren found a way to win.

There’s a now famous picture on social media of Alex and his “workman’s hands,” showing his audience how much he practices. Is this sort of work ethic advisable, or is it over the top and not always necessary to reach the top of the world of professional golf?

A photo of Alex Noren's hands after a practice session.

A photo of Alex Noren’s hands after a practice session.

A lot has been made of Alex Noren’s work ethic, his calloused hands bearing testimony to the time he puts into practice. This works wonderfully well for him. What I would say, though, is that the individual is “sacred.” What works for one doesn’t necessarily transfer to all. In golf, we need to avoid absolutism. It is not about finding THE way to do it, but YOUR way.

I have worked with some of the best players in the world, and some of them need to hit lots of shots in practice. Others hit relatively few shots on the range, but they spend a lot of time on the course. You need to put the time in, but it needs to be time that suits you as opposed to some model of what is “correct.” The most important person a golfer needs to find out about is himself or herself.

Noren talks about when he approaches a shot, he tends to work on “feel” of a swing rather than technique. This is despite a lot of his practice swings, where he’s trying to exaggerate a leftwards path to help encourage a fade. Is a feel-based game the best way to help the average golfer, and is one or two swing thoughts to be completely discouraged in a round of golf?

Noren talks about “feeling” his swing out on the course as opposed to thinking about it.
Again, this is key. On the golf course, you do not want to be over the ball giving yourself lots of conscious commands of what to do in the swing. Having your attention on a certain feel in your swing is fine as long as it’s a singular focus of attention.

The mistake many players make is to allow their attention to flit around various “solutions” to what the ball is doing. This comes back to the answer in the first question of working with a good coach and having absolute clarity on how your swing functions, especially through impact. Know what your impact tendencies are and work with that. Noren knows his path tendency is left through impact and that lovely powerful fade is built around that.

Predictions for the U.S. Open? Who’s your favourite to win and why?

I don’t make predictions! It is something I actively get my players to avoid. The only thing we really know is that we don’t know what will happen. Predicting is just wasting mental energy.

A better way to go is to “expect nothing, but deal with everything.” The problem is that if we make predictions and they don’t look like working out, we can feel lost. There is a big difference between having a belief that you have the capability to win and predicting it will actually happen. One has you lost in a fantasy perceived future; the other one has you focused on the task in front of you.

Thank you for the chat, Karl. 

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Richard is the Head Golf Instructor at Whittlebury Park Golf and Country Club in Northamptonshire, UK. He's on a journey to discover why he couldn’t achieve success as a Tour Pro at a young age, and is helping golfers understand what they can do to reach their potential. He uses using Trackman and GASP LAB video analysis, and well as his own experience, to help his students discover the "why" in their games.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Dave R

    Jun 12, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    I knew a guy with hands like that only had a finger missing. He was a welder.

  2. Chuck

    Jun 11, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    I’d like to know where the photo was taken. Is it inside the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient? Wentworth? Sunningdale?

    Bob Jones’ history at St. Andrews is well known. He also shot one of the great rounds of his career, a flawless 66 with almost no long putts made, at Sunningdale. (Every hole a 3 or a 4; 33 strokes and 33 putts.)

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The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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