As the golf clock ticks we all get trapped in repeating habits, and a golfer’s “comfort zone” is most often below where he or she is capable of playing.
What people may not know about these repeating habits is that they often don’t recognize them, and acknowledging them is key because they shape what they can and can’t do. People become comfortable with these behaviors, and they end up running the show.
Most people are familiar with the idea of comfort zone: the space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk. It’s a comfortable place where people aren’t threatened and everything always stays the same, and that offers mental security.
The Comfort Zone Explained
There’s a lot of science that highlights why it’s so challenging to break out of your comfort zone, and why it’s good for you when you do it. With a little understanding and a few adjustments, you can break away from your comfort zone on the course…and this will lead to rewarding improvement in your game.
In 1908, psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson showed that a state of comfort created a steady level of performance. They also highlighted that if you want to increase your performance, a state of relative anxiety is needed – a place where stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This is called Optimal Anxiety and it’s beyond your comfort zone. Further, they also showed that too much anxiety can produce too much stress, leading to performance drop-offs. So finding the right balance for you in your game is key.
You are not alone in the quest to expand your comfort zone. The leading professional golfers and other athletes I work with daily are constantly working to shift their comfort zone and find the place leading to higher performance. If you want to become a better player and see improvement, finding your own approach to shift your comfort zone is an important exercise for you too.
The Golf Treadmill
Let me give you an example of my first introduction to the comfort zone.
When I was growing up at the golf club, I did the scoring each year at the club championship. I stood at the scoreboard and marked scores of the membership. Players were categorized in four divisions (A, B, C and D) based on handicap index. I saw the same faces each year, and year after year the same players turned in basically the same scores.
I always wondered how it was possible that a golfer could play (and practice) the game for 10, 20 or 30 years and stay in the same division every year without any real shift in improvement. I saw little shift between divisions from year-to-year.
The answer is these players, over time, became comfortable with where they were and never addressed how they might shift their comfort zone and move to another level of play.
The longer you stay in the same comfort zone, the more it shrinks and the harder it is to expand it. And the more you continue to do the same things, make the same mistakes and engrain the same habits, the more your comfort zone shrinks – and you become THAT player – your identity.
What Causes You to Be in the Comfort Zone?
You’ve seen it many times. You or your playing partners start playing great or “out of your mind” and then whammo – a string of poor play occurs. This often happens when a player has some good play early and then subconsciously slips back to “where he or she should be.”
In your golf game, your comfort zone is determined by the range of scores you typically shoot – let’s say between 85 and 90. Whenever you play, you’d like to shoot a lower score, but you are expecting a result in your “usual” range. Inevitably, you’ll have rounds where you flirt with scores outside your zone; maybe you reach the turn at 3-over par, recognizing that a similar back nine will give you a score well under your normal zone.
Then what happens?
You start thinking about what could be. You start playing defensively, trying to “protect” your great round. Next thing you know, you’ve adjusted everything back to your comfort zone and the career round fades away.
I’m sure you’ve also seen the reverse happen. You are playing terrible and then a sudden surge of good play at the end of the round mysteriously puts you back in your comfort zone.
What are Your Roadblocks to Growth as a Player?
We all have roadblocks to growth. In spite of your efforts to grow and get better, certain walls can interfere with your progress. Here are a few that may be familiar to you:
Fear of growth (not feeling safe to grow): A major barrier is what is called the “I’m stuck” syndrome. “I’ve always played that way, so how could I possibly change?” You feel stuck at times, and when you do, you don’t feel great about yourself… or your game.
A negative view of yourself as a golfer: You see and know yourself as a “D” player or someone who struggles to shoot good scores, so that’s where you stay as a golfer.
Skepticism: You believe any steps you take to improve won’t work or will be a waste of time. “I tried that and it didn’t work.”
Uncertainty regarding how to begin or what direction to take: You don’t know how to get better, how to evaluate your game or what steps to take to do it.
Challenging yourself emotionally: Force yourself to work on your weaknesses. It’s not an easy thing to do, and not as fun as the feeling of working on your strengths and seeing a good result.
It’s too late for me to change, I’m too old or I don’t have enough time: You use excuses that it’s not the right time to improve your game. This is a state of procrastination.
The most important factor for you to break out of your comfort zone is asking yourself why you are doing it. It can’t be for contrived or superficial reasons. You must be genuinely interested in improvement, and know what benefits you want to get out of it.
Expanding the perimeter of your comfort zone by slowly and intelligently pushing your barriers will build confidence. The process should be methodical and progressive. Don’t run out and try to change your entire game overnight. Evaluate what needs to be done – physically, mentally and emotionally to move up a level – and create the steps to get there. It will be a gradual process and almost guaranteed won’t be a straight line.
Some Ideas to Start Expanding Your Comfort Zone
Face Your Fears: Stepping out of your comfort zone will probably cause some fear, and the dreaded “what ifs” are the downfall of many players.
- What if I fail?
- What if I really can’t do this?
- What if I’m not good enough?
Stay in the moment and do things slowly and purposefully. A committed plan with reasonable milestones will give you the confidence to get to a new place.
Change Your Routine: You can begin growing your comfort zone through small changes in your approach to the game, adding 45 minutes each week in short game practice, taking one lesson per week working on building limitations, or getting to the course 30 minutes early to warm up. Break out of your normal routine to help break through mental barriers. Create a goal to perform a new swing movement, task, or practice regime each week.
Get Out of Your Own Way: See yourself in a new light, because you probably put self-induced limits on yourself. The truth is that sometimes you’ve just got to get out of your own way. If you begin seeing yourself as a better player, chances are you will be. Raise your opinion of your game and yourself and you will set the table for better performance.
Time to Change: Comfort feels all cozy and warm when you’re in it, but it’s also a double-edged sword. Stay comfortable for too long and you begin to get bored, lazy and too satisfied. If you want to improve, avoid being a walking golf zombie: just another “D” player that does what he/she has always done. Challenge your status quo, push your limits and you’ll see the game in a new light.
It won’t be easy, but I think you’ll like the results.
What to look for in a golf instructor: The difference between transformative and transactional coaching
Golf instruction comes in all different styles, methods, and formats. With that said, you would think this would be a good thing due to there being so many different types of people in the world. However, it is my opinion that the lack of standardization within the industry makes it confusing for the athlete to determine what kind of golf instruction they should seek out.
Before we can discuss what may or may not be the best type of instruction for yourself, first we need to know what our options are. Whether we are taking a “broad-spectrum approach” to learning or a more personalized approach, it is important to understand that there are differences to each, and some approaches are going to take longer than others to reach goals.
Welcome to the world of digital golf instruction, where tips from the most famous coaches in the world are a click away. The great thing about the internet and social media for a golfer is there has never been more access to the top minds in the field—and tips and drills are plentiful. With that said, with there being so many choices and differing opinions, it can be very easy to become distracted with the latest tip and can lead to a feeling of being lost.
I would describe “internet coaching”—or YouTube and Instagram surfing—as transactional coaching. You agree to pay, either a monthly fee or provide likes or follows and the professional provides very generalized tips about the golf swing. For athletes that are new to golf or golf instruction, this tends to be the first part of their process.
There are people who prefer a more transactional approach, and there are a ton of people having success working together over the internet with their coach. With that said, for someone who is looking for more of a long-term individualized approach, this may not be the best approach. This broad-spectrum approach also tends to be the slowest in terms of development due to there being a lot of trial and error due to the generalized approach and people having different body types.
Individual Transactional Coaching
Most people who are new to golf instruction will normally seek out their local pro for help. Depending on where you live in the country, what your local pro provides will vary greatly. However, due to it being local and convenient, most golfers will accept this to be the standard golf lesson.
What makes this type of instruction transactional is that there tends to be less long-term planning and it is more of a sick patient-doctor relationship. Lessons are taken when needed and there isn’t any benchmarking or periodization being done. There also tends to be less of a relationship between the coach and player in this type of coaching and it is more of a take it or leave it style to the coaching.
For most recreational or club-level players, this type of coaching works well and is widely available. Assuming that the method or philosophies of the coach align with your body type and goals athletes can have great success with this approach. However, due to less of a relationship, this form of coaching can still take quite some time to reach its goals.
Individual Transformative Coaching
Some people are very lucky, and they live close to a transformative coach, and others, less lucky, have had to search and travel to find a coach that could help them reach their goals. Essentially, when you hire a transformative coach, you are being assigned a golf partner.
Transformative coaching begins with a solid rapport that develops into an all-encompassing relationship centered around helping you become your very best. Technology alone doesn’t make a coach transformative, but it can help when it comes to creating periodization of your development. Benchmarks and goals are agreed upon by both parties and both parties share the responsibility for putting in the work.
Due to transformative coaching tending to have larger goals, the development process tends to take some time, however, the process is more about attainment than achievement. While improved performance is the goal, the periods for both performance and development are defined.
Which One is Right for You?
It really depends on how much you are willing to invest in your development. If you are looking for a quick tip and are just out enjoying the weather with your friends, then maybe finding a drill or two on Instagram to add to your practice might be the ticket. If you are looking to really see some improvement and put together a plan for long-term development, then you are going to have to start looking into what is available in your area and beyond.
Some things to consider when selecting a coach
- Do they use technology?
- What are their qualifications when it comes to teaching?
- Do they make you a priority?
As a golf coach who has access to the most state-of-the-art technology in the industry, I am always going to be biased towards a data-driven approach. That doesn’t mean that you should only consider a golf coach with technology, however, I believe that by having data present, you are able to have a better conversation about the facts with less importance placed on personal preference. Technology also tends to be quite expensive in golf, so be prepared if you go looking for a more high-tech coaching experience, as it is going to cost more than the low-tech alternative.
The general assumption is that if the person you are seeking advice from is a better player than you are, then they know more about the golf swing than you do. This is not always the case, while the better player may understand their swing better than you do yours, that does not make them an expert at your golf swing. That is why it is so important that you consider the qualifications of your coach. Where did they train to coach? Do they have success with all of their players? Do their players develop over a period of time? Do their players get injured? All things to consider.
The most important trait to look for in a transformative coach is that they make you a priority. That is the biggest difference between transactional and transformative coaches, they are with you during the good and bad, and always have your best interest top of mind. Bringing in other experts isn’t that uncommon and continuing education is paramount for the transformative coach, as it is their duty to be able to meet and exceed the needs of every athlete.
The importance of arm structure
How the arms hang at address plays a vital role in the golf swing. Often overlooked, the structure in which we place the arms can dictate one’s swing pattern. As mentioned in the article How Posture influences your swing, if you start in an efficient position, impact is much easier to find making, the golf swing more repeatable and powerful.
To start, I opt to have a player’s trail arm bent and tucked in front of them with angle in the trail wrist. While doing so, the trail shoulder can drop below the lead with a slight bend from the pelvis. This mirrors an efficient impact position.
I always prefer plays to have soft and slightly bent arms. This promotes arm speed in the golf swing. No other sports are played with straight arms, neither should golf.
From this position, it’s easier to get the clubhead traveling first, sequencing the backswing into a dynamic direction of turn.
When a player addresses the ball with straight arms, they will often tilt with their upper body in the backswing. This requires more recovery in the downswing to find their impact position with the body.
A great drill to get the feeling of a soft-bent trail arm is to practice pushing a wall with your trail arm. Start in your golf set-up, placing your trail hand against the wall. You will instinctively start with a bent trail arm.
Practice applying slight pressure to the wall to get the feeling of a pushing motion through impact?. When trying the drill with a straight trail alarm, you will notice the difference between the two? arm structures.
What is ground force in the golf swing?
There is no doubt about it, the guys and gals on tour have found something in the ground—and that something is power and speed. I’m sure by now you have heard of “ground reaction forces”—and I’m not talking about how you “shift your weight” during the golf swing.
Ground force in the golf swing: Pressure and force are not equal
With respect to ground force in the golf swing, it’s important to understand the difference between pressure and force. Pressure is your perception of how your weight is being balanced by the structure, in this case, the human body. Your body has a center of mass which is located roughly one inch behind the belt buckle for men and about one inch lower in women. When we shift (translate and/or torque) the center of mass, we create a pressure shift as the body has to “rebalance” the mass or body. This pressure shift can help us understand some aspects of the golf swing, but when it comes to producing power, force and torque are where it’s at.
Pressure can only be expressed in relation to the mass or weight of the body. Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds, you can only create 150 pounds of pressure at one time. However, when we direct that mass at a larger object than our mass, all of a sudden that larger mass directs an opposite and equal reactionary force. So now, when a human being “pushes” their legs against the ground and “feels” 150 pounds of pressure, they now get 150 pounds of force directed back towards them from the ground, creating a total of 300 pounds of force that allows them to jump off the ground in this scenario.
If ground reaction forces don’t have anything to do with the “weight shift,” then what do they affect? Everything!
Most people use the same basic ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. However, almost everyone has chocolate chip cookies that taste slightly different. Why is that? That is because people are variable and use the ingredients in different amounts and orders. When we create a golf swing, whether we are aware of it or not, we are using the same basic ingredients as everyone else: lateral force, vertical torque, and vertical force. We use these same three forces every time we move in space, and how much and when we use each force changes the outcome quite a bit.
Welcome to the world of 3D!
Understanding how to adjust the sequencing and magnitude of these forces is critical when it comes to truly owning and understand your golf swing. The good news is that most of our adjustments come before the swing and have to do with how we set up to the ball. For example, if an athlete is having a hard time controlling low point due to having too much lateral force in the golf swing (fats and thins), then we narrow up the stance width to reduce the amount of lateral force that can be produced in the swing. If an athlete is late with their vertical force, then we can square up the lead foot to promote the lead leg straightening sooner and causing the vertical force to happen sooner.
While we all will need to use the ground differently to play our best golf, two things need to happen to use the ground effectively. The forces have to exist in the correct kinetic sequence (lateral, vertical torque, vertical force), and the peaks of those forces need to be created within the correct windows (sequencing).
- Lateral force – Peak occurs between top-of-swing and lead arm at 45 degrees
- Vertical torque – Peak occurs between lead arm being 45 degrees and the lead arm being parallel to the ground.
- Vertical force – Peak occurs between lead arm being parallel to the ground the club shaft being parallel to the ground.
While it may seem obvious, it’s important to remember ground reaction forces are invisible and can only be measured using force plates. With that said, their tends to be apprehension about discussing how we use the ground as most people do not have access to 3D dual force plates. However, using the screening process designed by Mike Adams, Terry Rowles, and the BioSwing Dynamics team, we can determine what the primary forces used for power production are and can align the body in a way to where the athlete can access his/her full potential and deliver the club to the ball in the most effective and efficient way based off their predispositions and anatomy.
In addition to gaining speed, we can help athletes create a better motion for their anatomy. As golfers continue to swing faster, it is imperative that they do so in a manner that doesn’t break down their body and cause injury. If the body is moving how it is designed, and the forces acting on the joints of the body are in the correct sequence and magnitude, not only do we know they are getting the most out of their swing, but we know that it will hold up and not cause an unforeseen injury down the road.
I truly believe that force plates and ground reaction forces will be as common as launch monitors in the near future. Essentially, a launch monitor measures the effect and the force plates measure the cause, so I believe we need both for the full picture. The force plate technology is still very expensive, and there is an educational barrier for people seeking to start measuring ground reaction forces and understanding how to change forces, magnitudes, and sequences, but I’m expecting a paradigm shift soon.
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