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How great golfers build confidence

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You recently saw one of the biggest tests of self belief you will ever see. Jordan Spieth, just 21 years old, stood alone on the Augusta National practice tee before the final round of the Masters with the opportunity to win golf’s biggest prize and potentially change history.

Spieth was about to make the final walk to the first tee, through crowds of screaming people, and with his own voice reminding him that he was about to play the most important round of golf he’s ever played.

How can a 21 year old pull off something that would make most gag, choke and stumble, and what can you learn from Jordan’s experience to make yourself a better golfer?

One of the key areas I work on with any athlete client (golfers included) is confidence: understanding it and building it. Confidence is a golfer’s bullet-proof vest. It was for Jordan Spieth on Sunday at the Masters and it can be for you.

What is Confidence?

Well, it’s a feeling. It’s about trust and belief in your abilities and decisions, and expressing those beliefs and decisions in challenging circumstances.

You know the feeling of confidence. You’re playing great and everything is going right for you. There is an easy belief in what you are doing. You also know the other feeling. You just don’t have it and nothing is going right. There’s little faith in what you are doing.

“I’ve Lost My Confidence”

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When my phone rings, leading athletes or agents are sometimes on the other end. They or their player has “lost their confidence.” If it’s a golfer, the putter has gone cold and the ball’s not going in, or they can’t take their game from the practice tee to the course. They tell me there is little belief in what they are doing when it counts.

I always ask these players where they think their confidence has gone. Most are in the top professional leagues in the world and have risen to the upper echelon of their profession. It’s funny that these players don’t really know where the belief has gone. Something small has triggered some little doubts and the downward spiral begins from there.

This is where golfers get confused. Confidence requires some understanding, and some work. Sports, like life, are about patterns and cycles. Sometimes you “have it” and other times you don’t. No exceptions. So you must work on important areas like confidence and understand how to build it and how to find it. The mental/emotional game is like your physical practice. Do the work and it will pay off.

Is Your Confidence Proactive or Reactive?

So here’s a perspective of confidence I work on with leading players, helping them understand that maintaining confidence is within their control; and confidence is more of a choice than they know. They must take responsibility for their own confidence.

And this perspective can help you.

Great athletes are proactive with their confidence. When Jordan Spieth was walking to the first tee at Augusta before the final round, you can be sure he was reminding himself that he was playing great in 2015. He had built the foundation since he was 12 years old to handle a lead at The Masters on Sunday.

Proactive confidence is a decision that you will be sustainably confident from all of the great, positive experiences you have had in the game (and there will be many). All the work you have done on your game and the coaching and support from others is the foundation of your belief in yourself as a golfer. Your confidence will not be shaken by small, unavoidable cycles of not your best play.

On the other hand…

Some players insist on sabotaging their own belief in themselves. Reactive confidence is a decision that one small collection of challenging circumstances or difficulties will overcome your successes and support and crack your golf “foundation.” In this scenario, you declare that your confidence is shaken by small failures.

I don’t know how many times I have heard a great athlete declare after a stretch of poor play that their confidence is gone. Really? Where does it go? Golfers also allow others to have an impact on their confidence in a negative way — coaches, parents, other players. Reactive confidence is essentially a choice to lower your confidence and allow challenges and other distractions to penetrate your foundation.

Does this sound familiar to you?

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Spieth failed to close the 2014 Masters, shooting a final-round 72 and lost to Bubba Watson by three strokes. 2015 was a different story.

I see this everyday, even among the best athletes in the world. For some reason, they aren’t playing well and the foundation of confidence they have built over years suddenly disappears. A few mistakes become the basis for their confidence. After some reminders that their confidence is about everything they have achieved and all the work they’ve done, there is an “ah ha” moment and confidence mysteriously returns! The decision is made by the player to recover it. They take responsibility for their confidence.

This is important for you to know. If you can feel confidence slipping away, you have the choice to reel it in and not allow emotions to run the show.

Building Your Confidence

It’s important to continually build the foundation so small, short-term failures will not penetrate your long-term foundation. So what can you do to work on your confidence and build it?

Here are a few key ideas that you can use to build the foundation and create belief in your game:

  • Preparation. “Build it and it will come.” It is a secure feeling on the first tee. You know you’ve put the work and effort in each part of your game to deal with the shots you’ll need on the course. Make your practice functional, and related to the shots you’ll need on the course or in competition. Have a plan. Keep it simple.
  • Be proactive and allow all the great experiences you’ve had in the game to be the foundation of your confidence. Decide that temporary low points in your game will pass quickly and will not have any impact on your “foundation.”
  • Understand your strengths, limitations and triggers very well. It’s easier to win believing in something you understand versus something you don’t. Jordan Spieth believed in Jordan Spieth’s ability to play Augusta. The results followed.
  • Get great coaching matched up to your values and needs. The greatest thing a coach can do for a player is believe in them and believe in their abilities, bolstering their own confidence. A great coach’s belief in you can matter.
  • Create a clear and defined goal plan. If you know where you are going and have the step in place to get there, there will be a sense of security that you are on the right track.
  • Create a positive, supportive internal voice. Your own voice should be the most supportive and create a positive internal environment. A negative voice can erode confidence in your abilities and create doubt in your capabilities.
  • Focus on your good shots, not the bad ones. Ben Hogan, the greatest ball-striker of all-time, felt he only hit about five or six shots in a round that were great. Ben had many misses and so will you. Focus on your good shots and accept there will be many misses.
  • Focus on your development as a player and the process to reach the next level. Focusing on a very solid process will inevitably lead to great results.

Working on your confidence is an investment in you as a golfer, but this skillset is transferable to everything you do in life: business, career, relationships and any other “performance” activity you engage in.

Consider it an investment in your future.

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John Haime is the President of New Edge Performance. He's a Human Performance Coach who prepares performers to be the their best by helping them tap into the elusive 10 percent of their abilities that will get them to the top. This is something that anyone with a goal craves, and John Haime knows how to get performers there. John closes the gap for performers in sports and business by taking them from where they currently are to where they want to go.  The best in the world trust John. They choose him because he doesn’t just talk about the world of high performance – he has lived it and lives in it everyday. He is a former Tournament Professional Golfer with professional wins. He has a best-selling book, “You are a Contender,” which is widely read by world-class athletes, coaches and business performers.  He has worked around the globe for some of the world’s leading companies. Athlete clients include performers who regularly rank in the Top-50 in their respective sports. John has the rare ability to work as seamlessly in the world of professional sports as he does in the world of corporate performance. His primary ambition writing for GolfWRX is to help you become the golfer you'd like to be. See www.johnhaime.com for more. Email: [email protected]

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. James Fairbank

    Apr 25, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    Sigh. Another “psychology” article, written by a non-licensed psychologist. This is effectively equivalent to someone who has an interest in medicine giving medical advice online. Behavioural and cognitive change is incredibly difficult, and no article written online will be enough to eliminate long-standing patterns – especially without individualized and formalized assessment to understand the root of the issue. I guess this is why people such as Marcus above think psychology is a “bogus” science (which couldn’t be further from the truth).

    • John Haime

      Apr 27, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      Hi James,

      Sports Psychology and clinical psychology are very far away from each other. Often, the very best “sports psychologists” are coaches who communicate well, understand the psyche and motivations of an athlete. As an example, John Wooden was a farmer from Indiana with an English degree from Purdue – but his mental/emotional/spiritual platform for athletes was exceptional and he got incredible results – producing great athletes and great people.

      This is a long discussion so I won’t continue at length but I will tell you I hire students from sports psychology programs often and most do not generate results and help the athlete reach their goals. The real world of getting results with athletes and the academic world of fluffy theories are very, very different. Most athletes want someone who has been there done that at the highest levels in sports and can relate to their challenges, feelings and pressures. To turn your argument around – how can anyone who doesn’t have significant experience in sports competition, know the feelings or felt the pressure practically understand someone who has?

      FYI – People today want short, sharp well written content that will give them ideas and help them. It may also be the catalyst to explore further and gain real, long-term results. This is the value of WRX. Great content that can be consumed in a short period, entertain and give people ideas they can further explore or work on. Great communication and connection with athletes can generate results in a short time – I do it everyday and see athletes make major jumps to bigger heights in professional sports, college scholarships and great performances. My objective is always sustainability and creating an independent athlete/person.

      Sports Psychology is much more about coaching, development and motivation and not about clinical psychology – clinical psychologists assess and treat people with psychological problems. They may act as therapists for people experiencing normal psychological crises (e.g., grief) or for individuals suffering from chronic psychiatric disorders. I periodically deal with athletes who have deep rooted emotional problems and professional therapy may be necessary – but that is rare.

      I hope this explanation helps. The only thing that matters is results. Education gets the foot in the door – but the professional and elite athletes I work with aren’t interested in letters after a name – they want to develop, grow and get results.

      I hope this adds value to the conversation.

      The best to you and here’s to great golf!!

      John

  2. marcus

    Apr 17, 2015 at 9:51 am

    This is a great article. And I think psychology is largely a bogus science. But John Halme makes valid points here for sure.

  3. Andy

    Apr 16, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    A huge part of great coaching is creating an environment allowing the player to reach thier potential. This can be done by the parents or high school coaching or other. I too had aspirations of professional baseball, but bad coaching actually derailed that dream. And funny thing, this happened at the same high school Spieth went to only 40 years ago.

  4. Philip

    Apr 16, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    The only aspect I disagree somewhat with is “Get great coaching” as you described it. If the “greatest thing a coach can do for a player is believe in them and believe in their abilities, bolstering their own confidence” then I say the player has not reached a true level of self-confidence and is still relying on an artificial crutch. Of course, maybe the whole point is we all need a fail back whenever we falter and cannot seem to rise again. I suspect for many PGA professionals that great coach is their spouse and children to a large degree.

    • John Haime

      Apr 21, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Hey Philip,

      Great point – but would like to add something here to help.

      I agree with you that at some point athletes must be responsible for their own confidence – but his comes later. When athletes are young and developing their “foundation” of confidence, it is critical for coaches to believe in them and help them develop this confidence. Trust me, working with athletes everyday, there are issues with athletes related to coaches who do not build this confidence and in fact damage the psyche of the athlete. So, at young ages, the best thing a coach can do is care about the athlete and believe in them. This gives a young athlete permission to believe in themselves.

      Later on, when the foundation has be primarily built, athletes must be responsible for their own confidence. Negative impact of coaches etc. should not “penetrate” this foundation.

      Make sense?

      Thanks for your comment!!

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Clement: Load up the full power package in the backswing!

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This video is FUNDAMENTAL FOR POWER GAINS in the golf swing; the arm anatomy BEGS TO BE USED in this manner from casting a fishing pole, to serving a tennis ball to batting a baseball to driving a golf ball. YOU WILL LOVE how much SNAP you will get through the ball and the sound the ball will make coming off the club from the compression off the face. BLISS ON A STICK!

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Drop the mic on how the wrists should load and be positioned for compressive power, accuracy, and longevity! There is a better way, and this is it!

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Short Game University: How to hit wedges 301

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In golf, there is nothing harder than judging a flop shot over a bunker to a tight pin out of long grass. Why? Because there are so many variables to account for — in addition to what you can and cannot do with a wedge. In fact, up until very recently in the world of wedge design, we were limited to only increasing the landing angle to stop the ball, because relying on spin from this lie and this close to the green was next to impossible.

Now with the advent of things like raw faces, different CG locations, new groove design, and micro-ribs between the grooves, we can now spin the ball out of lies that we never could have done so before. This is not to say that you can now zip the ball back from these types of lies, but we are seeing spin rates that have skyrocketed, and this allows us to not open the face as much as we needed to do before in order to stop the ball.

Before we get into the shot around the green itself, let’s talk a bit about wedge design. For that, I called a great friend of mine, Greg Cesario, TaylorMade’s Staff Manager to help us understand a bit more about wedges. Greg was a former PGA Tour Player and had a big hand in designing the new Milled Grind 3 Wedges.

Cesario said: “Wedge technology centers on two key areas- the first is optimizing its overall launch/spin (just like drivers) on all shots and the second is optimum ground interaction through the geometry of the sole (bounce, sole width, and sole shape).”

“Two key things impact spin: Groove design and face texture. Spin is the secondary effect of friction. This friction essentially helps the ball stick to the face a little longer and reduces slippage. We define slippage as how much the ball slides up the face at impact. That happens more when it’s wet outside during those early morning tee times, out of thicker lies, or after a bit of weather hits. Our Raised Micro-Ribs increase friction and reduce slippage on short partial shots around the round – that’s particularly true in wet conditions.”

“We’ve been experimenting with ways to find optimal CG (center of gravity) placement and how new geometries can influence that. We know that CG locations can influence launch, trajectory and spin. Everyone is chasing the ability to produce lower launching and higher spinning wedge shots to help players increase precision distance control. In that space, moving CG just a few millimeters can have big results. Beyond that, we’re continuing to advance our spin and friction capabilities – aiming to reduce the decay of spin from dry to fluffy, or wet conditions.”

Basically, what Greg is saying is that without improvements in design, we would never be able to spin the ball like we would normally when it’s dry and the lie is perfect. So, with this new design in a wedge like the Milled Grind 3 (and others!), how can we make sure we have the optimal opportunity to hit these faster-stopping pitch shots?

  1. Make sure the face is clean and dry
  2. Open the blade slightly, but not too much
  3. Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the AoA
  4. Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

Make sure the face is clean and dry

If your thought is to use spin to stop the ball quicker under any situation, then you must give the club a chance to do its job. When the grooves are full of dirt and grass and the remaining exposed face is wet, then you are basically eliminating any opportunity to create spin. In fact, if you decide to hit the shot under these conditions, you might as well hit a flop shot as this would be the only opportunity to create a successful outcome. Don’t put yourself behind the eight-ball automatically, keep your club in a clean and dry condition so you have the best chance to do what you are capable of doing.

Open the blade slightly, but not too much

Without going into too much extra detail, spinloft is the difference between your angle of attack and your dynamic loft. And this difference is one of the main areas where you can maximize your spin output.

Too little or too much spinloft and you will not be able to get the maximum spin out of the shot at hand. With wedges, people equate an open clubface to spinning the ball, and this can be a problem due to excessive spinloft. Whenever you have too much dynamic loft, the ball will slide up the face (reduced friction equals reduced spin) and the ball will float out higher than expected and roll out upon landing.

My thought around the green is to open the face slightly, but not all the way, in efforts to reduce the probability of having too much spinloft during impact. Don’t forget under this scenario we are relying on additional spin to stop the ball. If you are using increased landing angle to stop the ball, then you would obviously not worry about increasing spinloft! Make sure you have these clear in your mind before you decide how much to open the blade.

Opened slightly

Opened too much

One final note: Please make sure you understand what bounce option you need for the type of conditions you normally play. Your professional can help you but I would say that more bounce is better than less bounce for the average player. You can find the bounce listed on the wedge itself. It will range between 4-14, with the mid-range bounce being around 10 degrees.

Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the angle of attack

As we know, when debris gets in between the clubface and the ball (such as dirt/grass), you will have two problems. One, you will not be able to control the ball as much. Secondly, you will not be able to spin the ball as much due to the loss of friction.

So, what is the key to counteract this problem? Increasing the angle of attack by setting the wrists quicker on the backswing. Making your downswing look more like a V rather than a U allows less junk to get between the club and the ball. We are not using the bounce on this type of shot, we are using the leading edge to slice through the rough en route to the ball. Coming in too shallow is a huge problem with this shot, because you will tend to hit it high on the face reducing control.

Use your increased AoA on all of your crappy lies, and you will have a much better chance to get up and down more often!

Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

The final piece of the puzzle through the ball is speed through the pivot. You cannot hit shots around the green out of tall grass without keeping the club moving and having speed. A reduction of speed is obvious as the club enters into the tall grass, but you don’t want to exacerbate this problem by cutting off your pivot and letting the arms do all the work.

Sure, there are times when you want to cut off the body rotation through the ball, but not on the shot I am discussing here. When we are using spin, you must have speed to generate the spin itself. So, what is the key to maintaining your speed? Keeping the rear shoulder rotating long into the forward swing. If you do this, you will find that your arms, hands, and club will be pulled through the impact zone. If your pivot stalls, then your speed will decrease and your shots will suffer.

Hopefully, by now you understand how to create better shots around the green using the new wedge technology to create more spin with lies that we had no chance to do so before. Remembering these simple tips — coupled with your clean and dry wedge — will give you the best opportunity to be Tiger-like around the greens!

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