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Have you got Golfzheimers?

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While it has taken more than a quarter century of teaching golf to arrive at this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is an as-yet-unnamed epidemic condition afflicting a great majority of players. This condition is so prevalent that I think it is high time it was given a name. So let me be the first to navigate those uncharted waters and give it one in hopes that, once formally recognized, it will begin to be more seriously studied in search for a cure. I will call this condition “Golfzheimers,” as it is the complete inability most golfers have to remember the vast majority of good shots they have ever hit (even those hit only moments before), while having the uncanny ability to instantly recall every chunk, shank, skull, and chili-dip they’ve hit since sometime back around when balls were still covered with balata.

Now trust me, I’m not making light of a very troubling and serious disease. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and it is a heartbreaking condition. In truth, I could have just as easily named this “A Golfer’s Senior Moment,” since the term is ubiquitous enough, if I really believed someone would actually take offense (and I am truly sorry if you do). I didn’t, though, because it was after a conversation with my late grandmother one day that I was suddenly struck with how oddly similar her lack of short-term memory, combined with her ability to vividly remember things that happened 40 or 50 years ago, was in some ways to how most golfers tend to think.

As long as I have been playing and teaching, I’ve been searching for different ways to learn to accept bad shots, keep them in perspective, and move on without letting them affect the next shot, hole, or round. When it comes to swinging the golf club, I can generally teach someone how to hit pretty good shots in a fairly short period of time, but teaching them to remember them with the same level of clarity as those of the more wayward variety often seems like trying to teach a blind man to see. Despite a general awareness of this phenomenon by most players and its detrimental effect upon their golf game, little has been suggested until now as to why it exists and what if anything golfers can do about it. And while research in the field of neuroscience suggests that our brains are hard-wired from the caveman days to catalogue and assign more importance to events that are considered dangerous or threatening, what about the game can have become so dangerous (other than to our egos) that we all seem to be fighting such an uphill battle?

Numerous psychological studies have found that the majority of people can remember five bad experiences more readily than five good ones, and assuming this is true, it speaks a great deal about how we have been conditioned to think since an early age.  The concept of scarcity, a term popularized in the self-help world, essentially describes a lens through which many of us have been conditioned to look upon our world, our lives, and apparently our games, with far too much regularity. It is through the use of this concept that many of our parents kept us at the dinner table as children, far beyond our wishes and long after our dinners were cold. We were guilt-ridden, not because we might be unappreciative of the time and money that went into providing us with that dinner, but because there were millions of starving children in China or some other far-off country that would have been tripping over themselves for even the remnants of that liver and onions our mothers had beset upon us.

As a proud parent, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve used the scarcity tactic a time or two myself during moments of desperation. Being naturally an optimist, though, I try to avoid succumbing to its siren song because I prefer to teach my daughters a far better lesson. At the same time, my girls are proof positive of these same studies and our ability to recall, as evidenced by another thing we do at that very same dinner table — we play a game called high and low. I’m sure you’ve heard of it; it’s where you ask your kids what their high and low moments were during the day. With my kids, I ask them to tell me the low first, preferring to close their day’s reflection with something positive, but it’s uncanny how often recalling something positive makes them really pause and reflect, while if something negative occurred, their recall of it is nearly instant and typically very descriptive.

The good news for both my daughters and the general golfing public, however, is there is a very effective way to short-circuit this type of thinking, and it comes from the field of hypnosis. From this moment forward, make a point not only to remember every good thing that happens to you, but to stop and savor it. If you are paid a compliment, don’t just brush it off. Stop to relish it for a moment and recognize the responsible person with more than just the perfunctory, “Thanks.” If you accomplish a goal, regardless of how small, reward yourself in at least some small way, all the while reminding yourself how good it feels to follow through on your intentions. And if you actually hit a golf shot well, reflect a moment, make a point to enjoy it and remember the moment vividly, and actually thank your partners when they say, “Nice shot” rather than blowing it off with some sort of, “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while” type of comment.

Hitting the golf ball well is actually a near miraculous achievement when you consider the complexity of the swing and the incredible timing and hand-eye coordination it requires. Enjoy it (or anything else for that matter) when it actually comes off right. Do it several times a day for a month or more and there will be subtle changes in your brain chemistry, how you feel, and your outlook on life. You will notice, and so will those closest to you.  Make it a long-term habit and you might even be able to avoid ever having your playing partners ask this unfortunate question: “Have you got Golfzheimers?”

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Mike Dowd is the author of the new novel COMING HOME and the Lessons from the Golf Guru: Wit, Wisdom, Mind-Tricks & Mysticism for Golf and Life series. 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.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Dan Jones, PGA

    Dec 18, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    Personally, I can’t really think of any bad shots as I sit here and think about it, but I do remember several of my fathers because he would freeze up whenever he was near water. He once hit 22 straight into the drink (long story).

    That said, I personally typically remember my good shots, like my double eagle in which the second shot was absolutely covering the flag the entire flight of the ball, and the 3 wood I hit around and underneath a pine tree to save par after hitting my first shot OB on a par 5, which I consider one of the best shots I ever hit.

    I also remember unusual shots, be they bad or good, just because they were unique. Such as the 3 wood I mentioned above, or the time playing in Diamond Bar, CA, when I was a kid and everybody in my group commented that the net along the 57/60 freeway was definitely high enough to block any mishits, then I promptly hit my tee shot into the number 2 lane in heavy traffic and it bounced around 5-6 times without hitting a car. Or the time I was playing in a scramble and purposely tried to cut the corner on a par 5 dogleg left by landing on a road out of bounds, then letting it bounce back in bounds. I pulled it off and our group was only about 100 yards out for our second shot.

    Anyway, as someone with a masters in sports psych, we would have called it something to the effect of Intrinsic Focus on Negative Outcomes. That said, the above poster who mentioned Negativity Bias is probably on a much easier and less academic track, so I’d go there.

  2. Simms

    Dec 18, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    100% correct, I know I have that….Had three hole in ones in 2017 and had absolutely no clue how to hit a golf ball after every one of them…double bogies followed two of them and an 11 on a par four followed the latest one…how many 39’s on front nine are followed with 45’s or worse on back nines…and on a good day it is 45 on the front and 36 on the back…happens all the time…

  3. Hawkeye77

    Dec 17, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    All the apologies and explanations in the world don’t change the fact that the title is click bait and personally, I wish you had thought about it a little more. There is nothing about what you are talking about that relates in any way scientifically or anecdotally to what someone who has Alzheimers or their family may be going through. Obviously you were/are not immune to this tragedy and my prayers are with you, but simply saying “my grandmother has it” isn’t the free pass the article implies you give the impression you have.

    Not offended, but it really isn’t an appropriate title or comparison,. in my opinion.

    • Mike Dowd

      Dec 18, 2017 at 10:13 pm

      I do really appreciate your opinion Hawkeye. Having lost a close family member to this tragedy, I don’t tread these waters lightly, nor was I Iooking for a free pass. I apologize if I erred on the side of insensitivity in your estimation and will certainly accept the prayers in my efforts to avoid doing so again in the future. And while I didn’t claim the title related scientifically, it did occur to me that people’s inherent curiosity about it might make them more inclined to read it and subsequently be exposed to what is not only scientifically sound advice, but a very positive message that I believe can help people get not only more enjoyment out of their game, but out of life. Now that I think about it, I guess you maybe could call that “click-bait”. So while my intentions were good, if anyone else feels duped I will in turn apologize for that as well. Thanks for the feedback.

  4. JimW

    Dec 17, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    Golf is a game of fantasy and delusion for most because a vast majority of those who claim to play the game of golf are non-athletic crudd. They just show up at the first tee with their clubs and equally non-athletic buddies looking for a good time of clowning.
    Those who take up the game seriously usually start the wrong way by purchasing the ‘best’ clubs thinking they will help their deficient swing. They think the swing starts at the clubhead! Totally bass aawkard thinking!
    How many are willing to make a 2 – 5 year commitment to developing a decent golf swing entailing basic conditioning, sport-specific training and then performance play? None, because most consider golf a recreational pastime for social fun and yuks.
    Golf is truly the sport of last resort based on the performance of the 50 million worldwide ‘golfers’. Attempting to teach golf is truly an exercise in futility.
    Based on PGA statistics, 93% of all golfers cannot break 100… and they don’t seek out help from golf instructors either. Perhaps a new set of golf clubs will help them in their abject existence, and they buy buy buy!!

  5. Raidernut12345. "Russ"

    Dec 17, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Mike is a fantastic and deep writer. Think about. Do you say I had 2 birdies today, played solid 90% today…first? Or do you say I had 2 doubles and 4 bogeys, fell apart on he back etc!? I changed from the latter to the first 5 years ago and it changed my attitude and performance.

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Mondays Off: U.S. Open wrap-up | Steve plays against the new assistant pro

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Would Woodland have won the U.S. Open if he had to hit driver on the 18th hole? Knudson doesn’t think so. Steve loved the U.S. Open, but he didn’t really love the commentator crew. Also, Steve tees it up with the new second assistant pro at the club, how did he do?

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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The Wedge Guy: What’s your short game handicap?

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Well, that was a U.S. Open for the ages, in my book. Hallowed Pebble Beach held its own against the best players in the world and proved that small greens can really give these guys fits. Kudos and congratulations to Gary Woodland for putting on quite a show and outlasting all the others. And to Brooks Koepka for giving us reason to believe a three-peat could really happen.

To me, of course, what stands out is how Woodland elevated his short game for this event. Coming in he was ranked something like 165th on tour in greenside saves but went 16-for-20 last week. Of course, that also means he hit 52 of those small greens in regulation, which certainly outdistanced most of the field. Justin Rose was putting on a scrambling clinic for three days, but his inability to hit fairways and greens finally did him in. So that brings me to today’s topic – an honest assessment of your own “short game handicap.” Regardless of skill level, I have long believed that the key to better scoring is the same for us as for these tour-elite players – improving your ability to get up-and-down.

Almost all reasonably serious golfers have a handicap, just to allow us to keep track of our overall improvement with our golf games. But wouldn’t it be more useful if that handicap was such that it told us where we could improve the most? Unfortunately, that’s not the purpose of the USGA handicap program, so I’ve devised my own “Short Game Handicap” calculation to help golfers understand that this is where they are most likely going to improve their scoring.

The premise of my short game handicapping formula is the notion that once we get inside short iron range, the physical differences between golfers is increasingly neutralized. For most of us, our physical skills and abilities will never let us hit drives and longer approach shots like the best players. But I believe anyone can learn to execute good quality chips and pitches, and even full swing wedge and short iron shots. It really doesn’t matter whether your full-swing 9-iron goes 140 or 105, if you can execute shots from there on into the green, you can score better than you do now.

So, the starting point is to know exactly where you stand in relation to “par” when you are inside scoring range…regardless of how many strokes it took you to get there. Once your ball is inside that range where you can reach the flag with a comfortable full-swing 9-iron or less, you should be able to get up and down in 3 strokes or fewer almost all the time. In fact, I think it is a realistic goal for any golfer to get down in two strokes more often than it takes more than three, regardless of your skill level.

So, let’s start with understanding what this kind of scoring range skill set can do for your average score. I created this exercise as a starting point, so I’m encouraging you guys and ladies to chime in with your feedback.

What was your last (or typical) 18 hole score? ______

_____ Number of times you missed a green with a 9-iron or less
_____ Number of times you got up and down afterward
_____ Number of other holes where you hit a chip or pitch that ended up more than 10’ from the cup

Subtract #2 from #1, then add 1/2 of #3. That total ______ is your short game handicap under this formula. [NOTE: The logic of #3 is that you can learn to make roughly 1/2 of your putts under 10 feet, so improving your ability to hit chips and pitches inside that range will also translate to lower scores.]

I believe this notion of a short game handicap is an indication of how many shots can potentially come off your average scores if you give your short game and scoring clubs the attention they deserve.

I would like to ask all of you readers to do this simple calculation and share with the rest of us what you find out.

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Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the U.S. Open

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In “Hot & Cold,” we’ll be focusing each week on what specific areas of the game players excelled and disappointed in throughout the previous tournament. On Sunday, Gary Woodland claimed victory at the U.S. Open in spectacular style, and here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action at Pebble Beach.

Hot

Gary Woodland produced a masterclass both with his irons and flat-stick all week long at Pebble Beach to claim his first major title. The 35-year-old gained 8.4 strokes over the field for his approach play and a monstrous 7.2 strokes over the field on the greens at Pebble Beach. Check out the clubs Woodland used on his way to victory last week in our WITB piece here.

Brooks Koepka continues to impress on the biggest stage, and the American’s play tee to green was once more outstanding in California. Koepka gained 14.4 strokes tee to green last week, which was the best in the field in this area.

Viktor Hovland has just about every golf fan excited after watching his brilliant display at Pebble Beach. Hovland was second in the field for strokes gained: tee to green at the U.S. Open, gaining a whopping 12.6 strokes in this area. All that was holding the amateur back was his putting, where he lost almost four strokes to the field

Cold

Justin Thomas continues to struggle after his comeback from his wrist injury, with the American missing the cut at last week’s U.S. Open. Thomas lost 2.7 strokes to the field on the greens at Pebble Beach, and worryingly for the 25-year-old is the fact that he has now lost strokes with the flat-stick in his last six consecutive events.

Dustin Johnson’s performance on the greens cost the 34-year-old dearly at last week’s U.S. Open. Johnson came into the event as one of the favorites, but a poor performance with the putter, where he lost 6.1 strokes, put paid to his chances. It was the worst performance for Johnson on the greens since 2017.

Bubba Watson continues to struggle, and last week it was his short game which was woefully misfiring. Watson dropped a combined 10 strokes to the field for his play on and around the greens at Pebble Beach for the two days he was in town.

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