OK, it’s time to come clean. I know the clean cut image of a child of the ’80s and a serious golf nut don’t exactly go hand in hand with playing bass in a rock band and being a metal-head, but that’s in fact what I was. Now, you won’t be able to Google any images of me sporting leather pants, spiked wrist-bands, or God-forbid a mullet. And while my band, The Air-Flow Souls, did churn out one cult hit (Y.A.A.), we never made any official recordings. And the only truly big gig we had the opportunity to play, opening for the then wildly popular hardcore punk band 7 Seconds, we turned down due to our lead singer’s realistic fear of having things thrown at us while onstage. So just in case you’re looking, you won’t likely turn up any golden footage of us on YouTube either.

Ahhh, the good old days, though. Driving my ‘74 Plymouth Duster to golf matches and listening to the classics of heavy metal by the likes of The Scorpions, Iron Maiden, and Y&T. Or standing on the range or the putting green, hour after hour, hooked up to that old Sony Walkman while the metal anthems of Judas Priest, Saxon, and AC/DC kept me company (and out there) despite my father’s insistence that it was nothing short of rotting my brain. There are some who might think the head-banging rhythm of one of popular music’s more aggressive inventions wouldn’t seem an inherently natural thing to want to be bombarded with while you’re trying to putt for birdies and pars, but the fact was it worked for me and I know I’m not alone.

So I bring this up, not simply to take a stroll down memory lane, but because there is now actual evidence that heavy metal not only wasn’t contributing to any decline in gray matter, but it might actually have been at least partially responsible for some of my finer moments on the links. If you’ve been paying attention, you’re likely aware of the USGA’s decision a couple of years ago to ban the playing of music during competition based on an interpretation of an existing rule. Rule 14-3 states that a player may not use any artificial device or unusual equipment that “might assist him in making a stroke or in his play.” In its interpretation, the USGA claimed that listening to music or a broadcast while making a stroke or for a prolonged period might assist a player by eliminating distractions or promoting good tempo. Really?

When I first heard this, I, like a good number of my members, thought, “Here were go again. Under the guise of protecting the game, The USGA, golf’s occasionally cantankerous governing body, seems at times bound and determined do away with about just about every non-traditional invention that comes along and adds a bit more fun to the game (square grooves, belly putters, long putters, driver heads as big as Volkswagens, etc.), and here was just another prime example. And in my mind, at least, this was where they’d finally crossed the line. So I had to go in search of evidence, because I needed to know whether or not there was any research backing up their decision to pick on my precious metal anthems.

We often witness professional athletes in other sports using music to pump themselves up, calm themselves down, or even help to synchronize their movement. But since most of these athletes are pretty young, I’d instinctively written that off as an affectation of youth. Either that or savvy business-folk are seizing an opportunity to get their products into the public eye with the aid of all-too willing (and compensated) accomplices. As it turns out, though, there is a mounting body of research highlighting the benefits listening to music can have on performance in areas ranging from running and cycling to weight-lifting. Certain music can increase arousal levels, raising your heart rate and blood pressure, helping you to lift more, push on, or train longer.

Fast and loud, bass-driven music, with a tempo range somewhere between 170 and 190 beats per minute, is perfect when gearing up for a workout. It has been proven particularly effective with running, where synchronizing your stride pattern with the tempo has been found to increase endurance by as much as 15 percent. The results of this research lead Costas Karageorghis, one of the leading researchers on the psychological and ergogenic effects of music, to claim music as the one “legal performance-enhancing drug.” When it comes to golf, though, the current interpretation of rule 14-3 means that it isn’t legal, at least not while you’re playing. And elevated arousal levels aren’t always ideal when it comes to some activities that involve fine motor skills, so was the mean old USGA actually barking up the wrong tree?

Well, at least one recent study attempted to measure whether or not music could enhance a golfer’s performance. Researchers examined the effects it had on putting, and in the end they concluded that most music had an almost magical effect on performance, with smooth jazz being the most effective. In the study, 22 Division I college golfers listened to five different types of music (country, classical, rock, jazz, and hip/hop), as well as no music, while putting 20 times under six different conditions. Both male and female golfers scored best when listening to jazz and worst when listening to rock music, hip/hop, and finally no music at all. Men scored almost two putts better listening to jazz versus no music. They averaged their poorest scores while listening to hip-hop. And the ladies?… Well, they performed worst with no music or rock playing and best with jazz as well.

So as much as I didn’t like it, when you consider this, I had to conclude that maybe just this one time the USGA had a point. But since I wasn’t about to just do away with my Whitesnake collection, I figured I had to find a legal way to keep enjoying it while employing the magic of it for myself and others. As it turns out, music has a couple of other nifty little side-effects, and they have to do with all that reminiscing I forced upon you a few paragraphs ago. There are many studies out there now highlighting music’s ability to both enhance the storage and recall of memories while affecting mood. Now I’m not going to get into the neuroscience of it in this short space, but if like me you’ve ever remembered an exact time, place, or event and how you felt when a certain song comes on the radio, then you know how well it works. So when I considered these things, alongside it’s now proven performance enhancing abilities, I saw my opportunity, and I decided to develop a training tool to augment my competitive students’ preparation for events.

I call this tool an enhanced visualization video. It’s a highlight reel of clips that I film of players hitting full shots, shots around the green, and putts (putts that go in) of varying distances that I pair to a favorite song or two that they have to both the mood and tempo we’re striving to attain during competition. Players are instructed to watch them a few times a day during a quiet moment and, if they listen to music during practice, listen to the same songs and/or songs of a similar mood and tempo that they enjoy. If you have an iPhone and the included iMovie app, they’re really quite simple to make. They’re also incredibly effective once you start employing the practice regularly. Many players find that they even start to incorporate the replaying of these songs in their heads, or even quietly humming them during their pre-shot routines (a practice I encourage) once they’re actually in competition. Try to stop that USGA!

So while that old Duster ended up being donated to the high school auto-shop when its engine finally gave out, and the Walkman fell out favor for a Discman (and ultimately an iPod), fortunately my affinity for that classic music never died. And though we can’t use it during competition, we can all use music to help enhance our preparation and increase the level of enjoyment we get out of the time we spend doing so. The key is to match the mood, tempo, and intensity to the activity and what you are hoping to achieve… and to make sure it’s something you enjoy. For me, much to my wife’s dismay, The Magic of Heavy Metal evokes memories of a time when I enjoyed some of the best golf of my life. And so despite the fact that studies might first suggest a bit of smooth jazz, when I want to really roll the rock, there’s nothing like some good old fashioned Rock’N’Roll.

See if it works for you.

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Mike Dowd is the author of Lessons from the Golf Guru: Wit, Wisdom, Mind-Tricks & Mysticism for Golf and Life. He has been Head PGA Professional at Oakdale Golf & CC in Oakdale, California since 2001, and is serving his third term on the NCPGA Board of Directors and Chairs the Growth of the Game Committee.

Mike has introduced thousands of people to the game and has coached players that have played golf collegiately at the University of Hawaii, San Francisco, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, University of the Pacific, C.S.U. Sacramento, C.S.U. Stanislaus, C.S.U. Chico, and Missouri Valley State, as men and women on the professional tours.

Mike currently lives in Turlock, California with his wife and their two aspiring LPGA stars, where he serves on the Turlock Community Theatre Board, is the past Chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock. In his spare time (what's that?) he enjoys playing golf with his girls, writing, music, fishing and following the foibles of the Sacramento Kings, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Francisco Giants, and, of course, the PGA Tour.

You can find Mike at mikedowdgolf.com.

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