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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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