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Opinion & Analysis

The Magic of Heavy Metal in Golf

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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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Opinion & Analysis

A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy

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New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.

In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.

The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.

The new transfer rule

In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.

Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.

The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:

  1. New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
  2. Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
  3. Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
  4. What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
  5. New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
  6. What implications do you see for this rule?

In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.

Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

  • Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
  • A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
  • In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.

The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.

Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.

As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:

  1. With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
  2. Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
  3. Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers

Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.

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Opinion & Analysis

Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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Opinion & Analysis

What is “feel” in putting… and how do you get it?

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You’re playing a course for the first time, so you arrive an hour early to warm-up. You make your way toward the practice green and you see a sign at the first tee that reads, “GREEN SPEED TODAY 11.”  That brings up two issues:

  1. How did they arrive at that number?
  2. How is that information valuable to me?

How did they arrive at that number?

They used what’s known as a stimpmeter — a device that’s used to measure the speed of a green. With a stimpmeter, the green’s surface is tested by rolling a ball down the 30-inch ramp that is tilted downward at a 20-degree angle. The number of feet the ball rolls after leaving the ramp is an indication of the green’s speed. The green-speed test is conducted on a flat surface. A total of three balls are rolled in three different directions. The three balls must then finish within eight inches of each other for the test to be valid.

For example, if the ball is rolled down the ramp and were to stop at 8 feet, the green would be running at an “8.” Were the ball to roll down the ramp and stop at 12 feet, the green would be running at a “12.”

Stimpmeter history

The stimpmeter was invented by Edward S. Stimpson, Sr., a Massachusetts State Amateur Champion and former Harvard Golf Team Captain. After attending the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he saw the need for a universal testing device after watching Gene Sarazen, who was at the top of his game, putt a ball off the green. He was of the opinion that the greens were unreasonably fast, but he had no way to prove it — thus the motivation for creating the invention.

The device is now used by superintendents to make sure all of their greens are rolling close to the same speed. This ensures that golfers are not guessing from one putt to another if a green is fast or slow based on the way it is maintained. The device is also used by tournament officials who want to make sure that green speed is not too severe.

Do Stimp readings matter for my game?

Not very much. That piece of abstract knowledge is of little value until you can translate it into your own personal feel for the speed of the putt. There is a method that will allow you to turn green speed into a legitimate feel, however, and you don’t even need a stimpmeter or a stimp reading to do it. I call it “Setting Your Own Stimpmeter.”

Before we get to how to do it, the first step is to determine if the putting green is the same speed as the greens on the course. The best source of information in this regard are the professionals working in the golf shop. They will be happy to share this information with you. You only need to ask. Assuming that the speed of the putting green is close to the speed of the greens on the course, you are ready to begin setting your own stimpmeter. This is done by inputting data into your neuromuscular system by rolling putts and visually observing the outcome.

Contrary to what most golfers believe, a golfer’s feel for distance is based in the eyes — not in the hands, which only records tactile information. It’s just like basketball. On the court, you look at the distance to the hoop and respond accordingly. While you would feel the ball in your hands, it doesn’t play a role in determining the proper distance to the hoop. Based on what you saw with your eyes, you would access the data that had been previously inputted through shooting practice.

Setting your own Stimpmeter

  1. Start by finding a location on the putting green that is flat and roughly 15 feet away from the fringe.
  2. Using five balls, start rolling putts one at a time toward the fringe. The objective is to roll them just hard enough for them to finish against the edge.
  3. You may be short of the fringe or long, but it is important that you do not judge the outcome— just observe, because the feel for distance is visually based.
  4. You should not try and judge the feel of the putt with your hands or any other part of your body. You can only process information in one sensory system at a time — that should be the eyes.
  5. You should continue to roll balls until you’ve reach the point that most of them are consistently finishing against the fringe. Once you can do that, you have successfully set you stimpmeter.

The key to the entire process is allowing yourself to make a subconscious connection between what your eyes have observed and the associated outcome. You must then trust what you have learned at a sub-conscious level. A conscious attempt to produce a given outcome will short-circuit the system. When it comes to judging speed, you must be prepared to surrender your conscious mind to your sub-conscious mind, which is infinitely wiser and more capable of calculating speed. Want proof? Work through the steps I’ve outlined below. .

  1. After having loaded the data as described in the exercise above, pace off a 25-foot putt.
  2. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole as you would normally using your conscious mind to control the outcome.
  3. Mark the location of the five balls with a tee pushing them down until they are level with the surface of the green.
  4. Allow your eyes to work slowly from the ball to the hole while clearing your conscious mind of any thought.
  5. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole allowing your subconscious mind to control the outcome.
  6. Compare the proximity of the five putts that you just hit to those marked with a tee. What do you observe?

Did you have trouble clearing your mind of any conscious thought? Assuming that your conscious mind intruded at any point, the outcome would be negatively affected. You should then repeat the exercise but this time, emptying your mind of any thought. You will have mastered the technique when you are able to quiet your conscious mind and allow your subconscious to take over.

This technique will improve your proximity to the hole on longer putts. And you know what that means? Fewer three-putts!

Editor’s Note: Rod Lindenberg has authored a book entitled “The Three-Putt Solution”  that is now available through Amazon. 

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