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How to improve your mental and emotional strength on the golf course

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About 6 months ago, a young, aspiring golfer was referred to me. He was just turning pro and having a difficult time making the transition from amateur to professional golf. The primary problem was he didn’t have some of the key fundamentals and skills to move forward and develop as a player. He was struggling with the transition and the day-to-day responsibilities of a professional golfer, and he did not have the tools to maximize his capabilities: the achievement factor. So, no fun and no results.

With the pressures of professional golf, financial burdens and expectations, he was considering quitting and starting something new… or being proactive and doing something about it. Fast forward 6 months. A mental/emotional development process helped him develop the critical skills he needed to both achieve his targets, put him on the right path, bring a great attitude to the game, and enjoy his golf.

From the Player’s Dad: “This has been the difference. Adding some structure in his mental game was the key to bring it together and put things on the right track. He is confident, has a real plan, and he’s excited to continue the journey with new skills.”

Why Mental/Emotional High Performance Should Be Important to You

Working in high-performance sports everyday, I see the emerging trend to put more emphasis on the mental and emotional game as the golf industry approaches limits in technical, physical, and equipment advancement. The next frontiers are in proactive mental/emotional development and the fuel factor, maximizing the value of nutrition.

Forward-thinking modern players like Jordan Spieth understand the importance of mental/emotional performance development. Listen to any of his interviews and you’ll hear consistent references to all key areas of mental/emotional performance. The Champion Golfer of the Year said it well after winning The Open in July:

“You have to conquer the golf course first and foremost,” Spieth said. “You also have to conquer yourself, your own emotions, you have to win the mental battle with yourself.”

As the physical gap between players continually closes, golfers will need a stronger mental and emotional framework. “The edge” will be found in the mental/emotional component and other key areas like nutrition.

There are many benefits to developing your mental/emotional game. Here are a just a few benefits that you might not have considered:

1. Build self-awareness. Working with the world’s leading athletes everyday, one of the critical keys to sustainable high performance is the competency of self-awareness. When we assess athletes at all levels, results show that eight out of 10 performers do not have an adequate level of self-awareness to be a high performer. It therefore must be developed for a golfer to maximize his or her abilities. Development of self-awareness through golf will also enable high performance in other areas of your life.

2. Build confidence. What is confidence? How do you build it? How do you keep it? A great mental/emotional development plan will ensure you understand confidence and you bring it with you every time you step on the course.

3. Develop a clear path forward. A detailed, concise player plan is required, including a vision for your golf career and a plan in place to reach your targets. Most players have no plan, no fundamental structure, no defined path to reach targets. For that reason, most get lost along the way and don’t reach targets.

4. Become aware of your emotion. Human beings are emotional. Often your emotions direct you and pull you in a variety of directions. Awareness and regulation of emotions is a key element in mental/emotional high performance development. With development, emotions can be channeled in the right direction and used to maximize enjoyment and achievement.

5. Build focus. We live in a world of distraction: phones, social media, big events, expectations. In order to maximize abilities, a level of mindfulness must be developed to center the focus on what’s important. Mental/emotional high performance development builds a new level of focus.

6. Enjoy the game! The ultimate result of the time you spend in golf is you enjoy yourself and have fun. Many players lose perspective of the primary reasons for playing and get caught up in traps that don’t allow them to fully enjoy the sport they love.

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So what are you waiting for?

There are golfers all over the world who have technical and physical talent, but they never reach their targets or gain full enjoyment from the sport. Be like proactive players on the PGA Tour who embrace the value of mental and emotional development, building their mental and emotional muscles to both have more fun and achieve more.

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John Haime is the President of New Edge Performance. There is a reason that John Haime has been published in leading publications around the globe. People believe his story. And so will you. His highly anticipated first book, You Are a Contender! Build Emotional Muscle to Perform Better and Achieve More … in Business, Sports and Life, was released in December 2009 by Morgan James (New York) and became a bestseller in the United States in mid-2010. It was re-released in 2016. From 1985 to 1991, John successfully competed on international golf tours in Canada, Australia, Asia, South Africa and the United States. Along with several professional victories, career highlights include a career-low 62 in a professional event in Melbourne, Australia. Before turning professional, he was one of Canada’s top amateur and junior golfers. As a world-class Coach in the area of performance and a leading authority in Emotional Intelligence, as it relates to performance in sport, John coaches top athletes, executives and artists in a variety of performance areas. His client list includes some of the world’s leading athletes in a variety of sports, including professional golfers on all tours. See www.johnhaime.com for more. Email: john@newedgeperformance.org Twitter: @johnhaime

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Vegas Bullet Dodger

    Oct 5, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Got to say SteveK is on to something….
    Look at the nba

    • Demar

      Oct 5, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      Very low IQ multi-millionaires…. laughing at the tribal honking cracker fans paying to watch and fantasize about jumping and scoring and big donging.

  2. Vegas Bullet Dodger

    Oct 5, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Bring something to eat and stay hydrated

  3. Dude

    Oct 4, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    This was covered in the movie, Happy Gilmore. Spoiler Alert:

    Chubby takes Happy to the miniature golf course so that he can find his “happy” place. As a result, Happy was able to overcome the untimely passing of Chubbs, the fact that his Grandma’s house was being taken away, and win the tour championship.

  4. John Haime

    Oct 4, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    Hi Jake – “how” is a process and individual for everyone. For example – to acquire self-awareness – many pieces need to be looked at – strengths, limitations, triggers, values, purpose etc. This article is a first step to create awareness – you have options to get customized “hows”. Thanks for the great comment!

    • SteveK

      Oct 5, 2017 at 12:52 am

      How about my cogent comment? Why do top amateur and pro golfers have an emotional/mental deficiency after playing golf starting from the tender ages of 4-6 y.o.? Is it a parental problem that haunts these emotionally/mentally challenged athletes? Surely you must determine the root causes before you can prescribe a remedy.

      • John Haime

        Oct 5, 2017 at 8:06 am

        Hi Steve,

        Re – you first comment. When I see “people who play golf for a living have a low IQ” – I stop reading and won’t take time for statements with no basis of fact and are insulting to professional golfers.

        In your second question – you are pointing out the entire problem. Almost everyone is reactive – waiting for things to break before “fixing” it. The solution is a proactive approach to develop the mental/emotional skills in the first place – just like you might develop the basic fundamentals of the golf swing. And yes, if the athlete does not have these fundamentals, then they are open to issues and getting in their own way – and the root cause is the starting point. Thanks!

        • Steve K

          Oct 5, 2017 at 11:13 am

          IQ tests are a test of broad intellectual capacity and most professional athletes do not have a high IQ because the game of golf and most other sports does not require such intellect.
          Athletes are specialized people who function athletically and intellectually in their particular sport. They don’t require a high IQ and the point I was making that their mental and emotional development is stunted by a lower intellectual level.
          Nothing wrong with that observation…. and you have taken my statement out of context where I say “… it’s a masochistic endeavor requiring an obsessive-compulsive mentality and a huge commitment to solo practice.”
          Golfers are no great minds as with most top athletes. They only live for their sport. Of course there are some exceptions that I am not aware of. In general they are fine people with a specialized brain power that may not include mental and emotional strength. “IQ” and “EQ” (Emotional Quotient). That’s a likely ‘root cause’ of the problem.
          Don’t let political correctness blind you to the ‘root’ causes of psychological problems in top immature athletes.

  5. SteveK

    Oct 4, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Improving mental and emotional strength is in essence a maturation process. Children have low mental strength and emotional control because they are creatures of instinct and feeelings. They grow out of their childish mentality by the age of 40!
    People who play golf for a living are probably low IQ (85-90) people because golf is not intellectually challenging…. it’s a masochistic endeavor requiring an obsessive-compulsive mentality and a huge commitment to solo practice.
    Sure, golf is a specialization and pro golfers have reached the top of the specialization physically. Was it Bobby Jones who said that golf is played within the 5 1/2 inches between the ears? Some pro golfers do mature and they play with great mental and emotional strength. Most don’t.
    As for recreational golfers, they are simply children seeking fun on the golf course with their incompetence and equally incompetent buddies. Geerheads are an example of the immaturity of golfers who revel in the artistic shapes and subjective feel of new model golf clubs. The OEMs know how to market their toys to customers with weak mental and emotional conditions.
    There is a child within every adult male… and I believe somebody wrote a pop-psychology book on that topic.

    • SteveKisadummy

      Oct 4, 2017 at 3:45 pm

      Congratulations on writing the dumbest comment of the year. 10 months into the rear and we have a runaway winner. I had though I had seen it all but you have shot as low as possible and hit a bulls eye. You are a true meatball.

      • SteveK

        Oct 5, 2017 at 12:46 am

        And you fall into the category of 85 – 90 IQ and it’s obvious my comments cause you much personal anguish … and I am a much smarter ‘meatball’.

      • Steve K

        Oct 5, 2017 at 11:06 am

        No, my comments are cogent and valid, and they explain the cause of low mental and emotional strength in top athletes … people who don’t need a high IQ to function at a high athletic level.
        Not only is their IQ generally low, their “EQ” Emotional Quotient is low. Athletes live for their sport and themselves as performers. This is well known in psychological circles.
        Stop with your political correctness that protects the feelings of those on this ‘safe space’ WITB forum.

  6. Jake

    Oct 4, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Where is the how? This is what you need to do. How to do those things is missing.

    • Think or Thwim

      Oct 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      If you recognize your mental and emotional problems playing golf visit a professional sports psychologist, not somebody who claims to be competent to diagnose problems that may have their roots in a medical condition. e.g. hormonal imbalance.

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Self-discovery: Why golf lessons aren’t helping you improve

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Of all the things I teach or have taught in golf, I think this is the most important: It’s not what we cover in a lesson, it’s what you discover. 

Some years ago, I had a student in golf school for a few days. She was topping every single shot. Zero were airborne. I explained that she was opening her body and moving forward before her arms and club were coming down. “Late” we call it. I had her feel like her arms were coming down first and her body was staying behind, a common correction for late tops. Bingo! Every ball went up into the air. She was ecstatic.

Some time later, she called and said she was topping every shot. She scheduled a lesson. She topped every shot. I asked her why she was topping the ball. “I think I’m picking up my head,” she said to my look of utter disbelief!

I had another student who was shanking the ball. At least 3 out of 5 came off the hosel with his wedges. I explained that his golf club was pointed seriously left at the top of his backswing. It was positioned well OUTSIDE his hands, which caused it to come down too wide and swing OUTSIDE his hands into impact. This is a really common cause of shanking. We were able to get the club more down the line at the top and come down a bit narrower and more inside the ball. No shanks… not a one!  He called me sometime later. The shanks had returned. You get the rest. When I asked what was causing him to shank, he told me “I get too quick.”

If you are hitting the golf ball better during a golf lesson, you have proven to yourself that you CAN do it. But what comes after the lesson is out of a teacher’s hands. It’s as simple as that. I cannot control what you do after you leave my lesson tee. Now, if you are NOT hitting the ball better during a lesson or don’t understand why you’re not hitting it better, I will take the blame. And…you do not have to compensate me for my time. That is the extent to which I’ll go to display my commitment and accept my responsibility. What we as teachers ask is the same level of commitment from the learners.

Improving at golf is a two-way street. My way is making the correct diagnosis and offering you a personalized correction, possibly several of them. Pick the ONE that works for you. What is your way on the street? Well, here are a few thoughts on that:

  • If you are taking a lesson at 10 a.m. with a tee time at 11 a.m. and you’re playing a $20 Nassau with your buddies, you pretty much wasted your time and money.
  • If the only time you hit balls is to warm up for your round, you have to be realistic about your results.
  • If you are expecting 250-yard drives with an 85 mph club head speed, well… let’s get real.
  • If you “fake it” during a lesson, you’re not going to realize any lasting improvement. When the teacher asks if you understand or can feel what’s being explained and you say yes when in fact you DO NOT understand, you’re giving misleading feedback and hurting only yourself. Speak up!

Here’s a piece of advise I have NEVER seen fail. If you don’t get it during the lesson, there is no chance you’ll get it later. It’s not enough to just hit it better; you have to fully understand WHY you hit it better. Or if you miss, WHY you missed.

I have a rule I follow when conducting a golf lesson. After I explain the diagnosis and offer the correction, I’ll usually get some better results. So I continue to offer that advice swing after swing. But at some point in the lesson, I say NOTHING. Typically, before long the old ball flight returns and I wait– THREE SWINGS. If the student was a slicer and slices THREE IN A ROW, then it’s time for me to step in again. I have to allow for self discovery at some point. You have to wean yourself off my guidance and internalize the corrections. You have to FEEL IT.

When you can say, “If the ball did this then I know I did that” you are likely getting it. There is always an individual cause and effect you need to understand in order to go off by yourself and continue self improvement. If you hit a better shot but do not know why, please tell your teacher. What did I do? That way you’re playing to learn, not simply learning to play.

A golf lesson is a guidance, not an hour of how to do this or that. The teacher is trying to get you to discover what YOU need to feel to get more desirable outcomes. If all you’re getting out of it is “how,” you are not likely to stay “fixed.” Remember this: It’s not what we cover in the lesson; it’s what you discover!

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Jumping for Distance (Part 2): The One-Foot Jump

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In Part 1, I wrote about how I think this concept of jumping up with both feet for more power may have come about in part due to misinterpretation of still photography and force plate data, self-propagation, and a possible case of correlation vs causation. I also covered reasoning why these players are often airborne, and that can be from flawed setups that include overly wide stances and/or lead foot positions that are too closed at setup or a re-planted lead foot that ends up too closed during the downswing.

In Part 2, let’s look at what I feel is a better alternative, the one foot jump. To me, it’s safer, it doesn’t complicate ball striking as much, and it can still generate huge amounts of vertical ground force.

First, set up with an appropriate stance width. I like to determine how wide to stand based on the length of your lower legs. If you go to your finish position and stand on your lead leg and let your trail leg dangle down so your knees are parallel, your lower trail leg should extend only as far back as it will go while being up on the tip of your trail toe. If you roll that trail foot back down to the ground, viola, you’ll have a stance width that’s wide enough to be “athletic” and stable but not so wide you lose balance when swinging. You can go a little wider than this, but not much.

To contrast, the stance below would be too wide.

Jumping off the ground can be caused by too wide of a stance and lead foot position that is too closed at setup

Second, make sure your lead foot is open sufficiently at address. I’ve previously outlined how to do both these first two points in this article.

Third, whether you shift your weight to your trail foot or keep a more centered weight type feeling in the backswing, when you shift your weight to your lead foot, be careful of the Bubba replant, and then push up with that lead leg to push your lead shoulder up. This is the one-foot “jump” and it will take advantage of parametric acceleration (read more about that here).

But also at the same time, shift your lower spine towards the target.

From a face-on viewpoint, this can look like back bend, but in 3D space it’s side bend. It kind of feels like you are crunching the trail side of your mid-section, or maybe just bending over to the side to pick up a suitcase, for example. This move helps lower your trail shoulder, which brings down the club (whereas this is more difficult to do if you try to two-foot jump with your trail leg). It also helps you to keep from getting airborne off your lead foot. Further it doesn’t change your low point (by not changing the relative position of the C7 vertebrae in its general orb in space) and complicate ball striking like a two-foot jump does.

At this point, the club releases and you can stand up out of the shot (you don’t need to transition in to any sort of dangerous back bend) in balance on your lead foot having generates tons of vertical ground force without having jumped off the ground or putting yourself at risk for injury.

“Movember” mustache… not required!

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Move Your Legs Like the Legends: The Key to the Snead Squat

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It’s important not to overdo the “Sam Snead squat.” Understanding the subtle leg movements of the game’s greats is key to making your practice purposeful and making real improvement.

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