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Five keys to building your golf toughness



Are you “golf tough?”

Do you have what it takes to deal with all of golf’s situations and challenges and really use your talent and capabilities?

While there will be some ebb and flow in your rounds, let’s face it, most rounds of golf look like the ticker tape on the stock market — way up and way down. Is your game like the stock market?

I think you might know what this looks like for you. Things are going well, and then, unannounced, a string of bad play or that nasty triple bogey creates the big black mark on your card — there goes another round! The symptoms of this syndrome are quite recognizable.

The Bum Drag

An important area I work on with athletes is resilience or mental toughness, as some call it. For our purposes, we’ll call it “golf toughness.” It really is a separator between those who have consistent performances and careers, and those who struggle. The line in competitive sports is fine — and wasting a shot here and there because of a lack of golf toughness can be the difference between winning and losing, a great season or a mediocre one, or a great round and an average one.

Over dinner at the Masters a few years ago, Butch Harmon was asked the difference between good golfers and great ones. He apparently didn’t take long to answer.

[quote_box_center]“The ability to recover from adversity faster than everyone else,” Harmon said.[/quote_box_center]

You need golf toughness to reach your capabilities and develop consistency in your game.

I just returned from watching a high-level junior event and it is fascinating watching the kids and seeing the heads go up and down — the body language come alive and then sag as they go through the peaks and valleys of a typical round. Peaks and valleys are a reality in golf, but it’s how long they last that separates players. For some kids at the junior event, this feeling lasts for one hole, some for four holes, and others more.

And, junior events aren’t the only events I see bums dragging! I see the spectrum of “golf toughness” at all levels and ages.

Bouncing Back

You are probably familiar with the PGA Tour’s “bounce back” stat. It calculates the percentage of time a player has a bogey on one hole and then comes back with a birdie on the next. It’s an important stat because it suggests resilience in a player — how quickly they are able to turn things around and not allow mistakes to dictate their play. The top three leaders in the bounce back stat in 2015 are Jordan Speith, Bubba Watson and Jason Day — all in the top 10 on the money list. J.B. Holmes, who has had the ultimate “bounce back” from brain surgery to the PGA Tour, is having a great year and well up on the bounce-back list.

jb holmes

J.B. Holmes underwent brain surgery in 2011. He regained his form and is once again a top Tour player.

Golf fans probably also saw Rory McIlroy in the recent WGC-Cadillac Match Play get down late in matches to world-class players, but he stayed the course, played to his strengths and turned the matches around. His “golf toughness” led him to the eventual win.

And like yours, the rounds of PGA Tour players ebb and flow, too. But how players recover from the “valleys” often determines the size of their paycheck. The bounce back stat demonstrates that there’s a definite relationship between resilience and great results.

I assess the emotional competencies of many players during the course of the year, and one interesting thing to note about their results is the link between emotional self control, focus and resilience (or “golf toughness”). As I have mentioned in previous articles, emotions run the show in golf and if emotion bubbles to such an extent you don’t have a handle on it, the ability to focus becomes a problem and the ability to bounce back also becomes difficult. All are intertwined and this performance drop can lead to extended trips on the bogey train, big numbers and overall inconsistency.

How Can You Become More Golf Tough?

So what are some actions you can take to begin building golf toughness in your game? It will take some work and won’t happen overnight, but here are a few keys you can apply to begin the process of creating some resilience in your game:

  • Have a game plan. Both a long-term plan for your development, and a day-to-day game plan to play the course will keep you organized, help you work toward an attainable goal and level out the short-term bumps. The ride will be much smoother if there is structure in your game and you know where you’re going. Stick to the plan and modify based on circumstances.
  • Accept that golf is a game of misses. The reality is you will miss a lot of shots. Tour players do, and you will, too. Decide to let go of those misses quickly if things don’t go to plan. View little setbacks in rounds as challenges and an opportunity to build your mental/emotional resolve. Use victories and failures as important feedback that can be looked at after the round.
  • Become emotionally aware. Developing golf toughness involves becoming more emotionally aware; remember you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. Pay attention to both the negative emotions that block your ideal playing state and lead you into the valley, as well as the positive emotions that can elevate you. High-level performance is about focusing on the shot you are playing with no distraction emotionally from the one you’ve just played or the next one you’ll play.
  • Be your own best friend or your own “emotional caddie.” This is where young people really struggle. They have trouble accepting mediocre/bad shots, they beat themselves up, and then bums drag. Support yourself like you would your best friend. The way you talk to yourself sets the tone.
  • Adapt to each situation. Jack Nicklaus says golf is primarily about emotions and adjustments. Pretenders allow unusual and unknown circumstances to negatively affect them. Contenders recognize that every situation they encounter on the course is completely different. They adapt and find a positive solution.

With some effort, these ideas will help to create some golf toughness in your game. Resilience or golf toughness is a non-negotiable competency if you want to be a contender. It will help you take advantage of your capabilities, trim shots off of your game and help you have more fun.

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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 for more. Email: [email protected]

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The Wedge Guy: Short game tempo



One of my favorite things to do is observe golfers closely, watching how they go about things from well before the shot to the execution of the swing or stroke. Guess the golf course has become kind of like going to the lab, in a way.

One thing I notice much too often is how “quick” most golfers are around the greens. It starts with grabbing a club or two from the cart and quickly getting to their ball. Then a few short jabs at a practice swing and usually a less-than-stellar result at a recovery.


If you are going to spend a morning or afternoon on the course, why hurry around the greens? I tend to be a fast player and despise five-hour rounds, but don’t fault anyone for taking a few seconds extra to get “right” with their recovery shot. You can still play “ready golf” and not short yourself in the close attention to execution. But let me get back to the specific topic.

Maybe it’s aggravated by this rush, but most golfers I observe have a short game tempo that is too quick. Chips, pitches and recoveries are precision swings at less than full power, so they require a tempo that is slower than you might think to accommodate that precision. They are outside the “norm” of a golf swing, so give yourself several practice swings to get a feel for the tempo and power that needs to be applied to the shot at hand.

I also think this quick tempo is a result of the old adage “accelerate through the ball.” We’ve all had that pounded into our brains since we started playing, but my contention is that it is darn hard not to accelerate . . . it’s a natural order of the swing. But to mentally focus on that idea tends to produce a short, choppy swing, with no rhythm or precision. So, here’s a practice drill for you.

  1. Go to your practice range, the local ball field, schoolyard or anywhere you can safely hit golf balls 20-30 yards or less.
  2. Pick a target only 30-50 feet away and hit your normal pitch, observing the trajectory.
  3. Then try to hit each successive ball no further, but using a longer, more flowing, fluid swing motion than the one before. That means you’ll make the downswing slower and slower each time, as you are moving the club further and further back each time.

My bet is that somewhere in there you will find a swing length and tempo where that short pitch shot becomes much easier to hit, with better loft and spin, than your normal method.

The key to this is to move the club with the back and through rotation of your body core, not just your arms and hands. This allows you to control tempo and applied power with the big muscles, for more consistency.

Try this and share with all of us if it doesn’t open your eyes to a different way of short game success.

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The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots



You are cruising through a round of golf, hitting it pretty good and then you somehow just hit an absolutely terrible shot? This isn’t a problem unique to recreational golfers trying to break 80, 90, or 100 — even the best tour professionals occasionally hit a shot that is just amazingly horrible, given their advanced skill levels.

It happens to all of us — some more frequently than others — but I’m convinced the cause is the same. I call it “getting sloppy.”

So, what do I mean by that?

Well, there was a USGA advertising campaign a while back feature Arnold Palmer, with the slogan “Swing Your Swing.” There’s a lot of truth to that advice, as we all have a swing that has — either frequently or occasionally – produced outstanding golf shots. While there is no substitute for solid mechanics and technique, I’ve always believed that if you have ever hit a truly nice golf shot, then your swing has the capacity to repeat that result more frequently than you experience.

The big question is: “Why can’t I do that more often?”

And the answer is: Because you don’t approach every shot with the same care and caution that you exhibit when your best shots are executed.

To strike a golf ball perfectly, the moon and stars have to be aligned, regardless of what your swing looks like. Your set-up position must be right. Your posture and alignment have to be spot-on. Ball position has to be precisely perfect. To get those things correct takes focused attention to each detail. But the good news is that doing so only takes a few seconds of your time before each shot.

But I know from my own experience, the big “disrupter” is not having your mind right before you begin your swing. And that affects all of these pre-shot fundamentals as well as the physical execution of your swing.
Did you begin your pre-shot approach with a vivid picture of the shot you are trying to hit? Is your mind cleared from what might have happened on the last shot or the last hole? Are you free from the stress of this crazy game, where previous bad shots cause us to tighten up and not have our mind free and ready for the next shot? All those things affect your ability to get things right before you start your swing . . . and get in the way of “swinging your swing.”

So, now that I’ve outlined the problem, what’s the solution?

Let me offer you some ideas that you might incorporate into your own routine for every shot, so that you can get more positive results from whatever golf swing skills you might have.

Clear your mind. Whatever has happened in the round of golf to this point is history. Forget it. This next shot is all that matters. So, clear that history of prior shots and sharpen your focus to the shot at hand.

Be precise in your fundamentals. Set-up, posture, alignment and ball position are crucial to delivering your best swing. Pay special attention to all of these basics for EVERY shot you hit, from drives to putts.

Take Dead Aim. That was maybe the most repeated and sage advice from Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. And it may be the most valuable advice ever. Poor alignment and aim sets the stage for bad shots, as “your swing” cannot be executed if you are pointed incorrectly.

See it, feel it, trust it. Another piece of great advice from the book and movie, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days In Utopia”, by Dr. David Cook. Your body has to have a clear picture of the shot you want to execute in order to produce the sequence of movements to do that.

Check your grip pressure and GO. The stress of golf too often causes us to grip the club too tightly. And that is a swing killer. Right before you begin your swing, focus your mind on your grip pressure to make sure it isn’t tighter than your normal pressure.

It’s highly advisable to make these five steps central to your pre-shot routine, but especially so if you get into a bad stretch of shots. You can change things when that happens, but it just takes a little work to get back to the basics.

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Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?



As you look at the impact positions of the best players in the world, you will find many different “looks” with respect to their body and club positions. Some of these impact positions might even appear unique, but don’t be fooled. They all have one thing in common: preserving the players’ balance throughout the impact interval! In fact, if you are not in-balance, then you will lose power, consistency, and have trouble controlling your launch dynamics from shot to shot.

This balance is a necessary key to playing well and one area that can be easily understood with a few graphics shown on GEARS 3D. As you examine the photo in the featured image, you can see a few things:

  • The player on the left has “fallen” backwards through impact slightly moving his head out of the circle established at address
  • The player on the right is more stacked at impact — meaning that his chest, zipper and hands are all in the same place at the same time (within reason)
  • The player on the left has reached this same position in the swing with different segments of the body reaching the ball at different times
  • There will be a difference of impact shaft lean between the two players due to one player reaching impact “together” and the other shoving his hands more forward as he falls back
  • The player on the right is more “connected” through impact…won’t be the longest hitter but will be able to find the ball in the fairway more often
  • The player on the left is putting more pressure on the rear portion of the lower back which could have a potential for injury if he’s not careful

Now, obviously there are pro and cons to both positions. Overall, if you want to be consistent and in-balance more often that not, I would suggest you try your best to focus on being “stacked” when you hit the ball.

Let’s dive in a touch deeper to show you what happens physiologically on 3D when you fall back through impact and I think it will really drive the point home.

  • At address notice the Vertical Spine Number 96.2, this is showing us where the spine is positioned at address
  • You can see the head is in the center of the bubble

  • On the way to the top of the swing you can see that the spine has moved “away” from the target laterally a slight bit to 98 degrees
  • The head has dropped downward and has also moved laterally as well- more lean over the right leg to the top

Now here is where the problem comes in…as you work your way to the top, it’s ok of your head moves a touch laterally but in transition if it stays “back” while your hips run out from under you then you will begin to fall backwards on the way to your belt-high delivery position.

  • We can see at the delivery position that the spine has continued to fall backwards as the hips rotate out from under the upperbody
  • When this happens the hands will begin to push forward- dragging the handle into the impact zone
  • Whenever you have too much spin out and fall back the hands move forward to accommodate this motion and this reduces your Angle of Attack and decreases your dynamic loft at impact
  • This will cause balls to be hit on the decent of the club’s arc and reduce loft making shots come out lower than normal with a higher spin rate and that means shorter drives

Now let’s examine impact…

  • The player on the left has reached impact in a more disconnected fashion versus the player on the right as you compare the two
  • The player on the right has a shaft lean at impact that is less than a degree (.75) while the player on the left has a much more noticeable forward lean of the shaft thereby reducing dynamic loft at impact

  • The player on the left’s spine has moved from 96.2 to 112.9, a difference of 16.7 degrees while the player on the right has only moved back a few degrees. We know this because his head has stayed in the bubble we charted at address
  • The hips have run out from under the player on the left in the downswing and this causes the head to fall back more, the hands to push forward more, and the impact alignments of the club to be too much down with very little dynamic loft (as also shown in the photo below)

Whenever the hips turn out from under the upper body then you will tend to have a “falling back effect of the spine and a pushing forward of the hands” through impact.  Notice how the hips are radically more open on the player on the right versus the left- 27.91 versus 42.42 degrees.

So, now that we can see what happens when the hips spin out, you fall back, and you fail to be “stacked” at impact let’s show you a simple way you can do this at home to alleviate this issue.


  • A great drill to focus on being more stacked at impact is to make slow motion swings with the feeling that the upper portion of your arms stay glued to your chest
  • These shots will be full swings but only 20% of your total power because the goal here is connection which allows everything to reach impact together and in-balance
  • The second thought as you make these swings is to pay attention to your head, if you can focus on allowing it to stay “over the top of the ball” at impact you will find that it will stay put a touch more so than normal. Now this is not exactly how it works but it’s a good feeling nonetheless
  • Once you get the feeling at 20% speed work your way up to 50% speed and repeat the process. If you can do it here then you are ready to move up to full swings at top speed

Finally, don’t forget that every golfer’s hips will be open at impact and everyone’s head will fall back a touch — this is fine. Just don’t over-do it! Fix this and enjoy finding the ball in the fairway more often than not.

Questions or comments? [email protected]





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