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The Power of Trust and Focus

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Whether you’re playing in the Presidents Cup with the world watching, or in a $5 nassau with your buddies, there are shots presented during a round of golf that have immense pressure on them; when your back is against the wall and you must hit that chip shot to get up-and-down, or hole a 4-footer to continue the match.

If you’re able to control your emotions and funnel your focus, however, you have a great chance to do what you’re capable of when the moment matters most.

The mind is an asset when used correctly. As we all know, however, when you let your emotions get the best of you, it can also be quite the deterrent for success. I’d like to remind each of you that you can only focus on the process NOT the outcome, and if you do so, you have conquered all you can… the rest is up to the golf gods.

So here are a few ways I suggest you work on the power of your mind and its ability to focus, and for you to TRUST you can make the shots when it matters.

The Trusting Mentality

After training and focusing extra hard on changing an old swing flaw, there comes a time when you have to trust what you have done on the range and in front of the mirror. You must allow your body to react in the new manner naturally; that is why you practice. You take these conscious feelings and manipulations of new swing motions and, through lessons and proper practice, you must allow them to move into your subconscious. This will allow you to simply play golf, and not keep 4,000 swing thoughts swimming through your mind. Unfortunately, most people never achieve this trusting mindset due to their over-analytical state. When people ask me to describe this sensation to them, I cite two examples.

1) Perspective  

If I put a 2×10-foot board on the floor and told you to walk across it, you would have no trouble at all. If I placed it 50 feet in the air, however, all of a sudden after years and years of walking you would suddenly forget how to put one foot in front of the other.

Why does this happen? You lose that Trusting Mentality, which is necessary to walk across that plank, and you rob yourself of success by thinking about how to walk instead of simply walking. By letting your mind get in the way, it will only be a matter of a few feet before you cause yourself to interfere with your body’s natural homeostatic mechanisms that we use for balance. Guess what happens next… another one bites the dust.

It is the same on the golf course; after working on a new motion on the range, allow yourself to slip back to Trusting Mode when you are on the course. You do this in stages by using small partial swings on the range with a high percentage of successful repetitions, building your way slowly up to full swings. My theory is that if you cannot hit small shots the proper way then it will be impossible to do them at full speed. If the ball goes sideways, it only tells you that you need more practice on the practice facility and in your mirror. You cannot expect to have ANY shot consistency on the course, and especially under pressure, if your golf swing checklist is longer than your grocery list.

2) Effortlessness 

My second example of Trusting comes from everyone’s experience of hitting balls or putting while talking with one of your friends… something weird happens. Every shot is effortlessly straight and pure. Why does this happen? For a brief moment in time, you allow your body to do what is natural for it to do. You propel the ball at your target without allowing your mind to tell you how to do it. Your body knows how to swing if you will let it work thought-free. Doubt comes from the mind intercepting the muscles’ natural motions, especially on the big shots. You know, such as trying to kill the ball on a long par 4, the stigma of trying to hit long irons in the air off a tight lie, or trying not to chunk the ball into the pond on No. 8. This Trust must be gained slowly and in stages; if not you will never reach the level of shot purity that you can; that is a promise from me!

The Test

If you don’t believe in this idea, I will give you one test. Hit 50 balls with your 5-iron and consciously think all during the swing about your mechanics and how to make your swing correct during that full shot. I bet you hit 80 percent of those balls horribly unsolid and offline. Now, wear headphones playing soothing slow music, and hit the same number of balls allowing your mind to only do one thing: be free of any thoughts. I’ll bet you hit a far greater percentage of those shots better and tension free.

Any teaching professional worth his salt will tell you that they do NOT encourage you to focus on too many things on the course — that is what the range is for. The practice facility is a conscious place for thought and swing mechanic experiments while the course is for getting the ball into the hole, pretty or not. I teach my students to identify their problems and solve them objectively though mirror work, follow-up lessons, and proper, efficient practice. My goal is not to tie my students’ minds up in knots on the golf course. I firmly advocate keeping the mind free and keeping things simple on the golf course; leave mechanics on the practice facility and in the mirror.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 60 people in the world.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Fredo

    Oct 2, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    Great article, love the practicing in front of the mirror, it has helped me bigly! In my younger days when I did a lot of skiing I would always practice by mental visualization when trying to hone my carving technique… and it works for golf as well, at least for me haha.

  2. ac

    Oct 2, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    keep trolling and soon ob will stand for obese because you spend to much time typing long witty comments you think are getting a rise out of people. the only thing rising will be your body mass index and blood pressure from sitting on your cpu.

  3. OB

    Sep 30, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    What Tom is telling us is that ‘unconscious’ performance is for the golf course and ‘conscious’ practice is for the golf range and then transition to the unconscious automatic focused golf swing.
    Most recreational golfers read a golf ‘tip’, try it on the range and then carry it consciously to the golf course. The results are obvious and no amount of ‘trying hard’ to focus will cure the problem.
    What I find questionable is somebody posting on a golf forum and telling us that he watched a video of a pro golfer and noticed how his right elbow folded and unfolded in the downswing, tried it with miraculous results. Such postings are cynical attempts to get into the heads of other golfers-in-need to mess them up. They are lies.
    If you want to incorporate a swing change, you must practice that change consciously for at least 90 days until it’s happening “semi-consciously/unconsciously” and before you take it on the golf course. Of course your swing will suffer while you attempt to incorporate the change. This happens to the pro golfers and it will happen to you.
    There is no ‘miracle’ swing tip and if you believe otherwise you are ignorant about reality.

    • The dude

      Oct 1, 2017 at 6:18 pm

      Your comment is too long

      • doesnotno

        Oct 2, 2017 at 8:41 am

        Perhaps your brain is too small

        • Triple Mocha Man

          Oct 2, 2017 at 4:17 pm

          OB writes the most boring, foolish know-it-all comments of all the ladies on this site.

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Instruction

How the Trail Arm Should Work In Backswing

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Stop getting stuck! In this video, I demonstrate a great drill to help you move your trail arm correctly in the backswing.

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Instruction

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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Instruction

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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