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Your mind controls your golfing destiny, so stop segmenting your abilities

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While teaching at a corporate outing this week, I had an interesting conversation with Stan Utley and Mike Shannon, two of the world’s best putting instructors. The topic of the conversation was how the mind of a golfer works while putting.

Many golfers intrinsically understand that their attitude controls their destiny on the course, and can make or break them when their score counts, but it was interesting how insistent Utley and Shannon were that golfers must believe they are good putters regardless of their daily outcome. They reminded me of something in my own game that I’d like to discuss with you, and hopefully it will help you become a better putter in the process.

When discussing the belief system of the brain and body, I think back to a book I read when I was trying to play golf for a living called Psychocybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. He was a plastic surgeon who said the way you see yourself influences your actions and shapes your entire future.

Let me paraphrase a passage in his book that hit home with me.

A patient walked into his office with what she perceived to be a crooked nose, and that made her very insecure about her looks. Measuring the amount of the misalignment, Dr. Maltz noticed that it was hardly noticeable to the human eye, but in the mind of the patient it was huge. He went on to explain to the patient that what she wanted him to alter wasn’t worth the time and money, so he initially refused to do the surgery. The patient was persistent, however, and he complied. What Maltz noticed over the course of her recovery was that her entire perception of herself changed, and she began to feel better about herself. He found that over time that her life began to improve; she was more successful in her personal life, and married a handsome husband years later.

Why?

Her perception of herself was better, and thus she became more open to allowing things to happen within her life. He concluded that a her perception of herself determined her path of your life, and more broadly, if you see yourself as beautiful you act beautiful, and so on.

Now, I am not suggesting that you can just think yourself into being a great golfer if you have terrible mechanics; however, I will say that if you took Brad Faxon or Brian Gay’s attitude regarding putting and put it into the brains of most PGA Tour players’ brain they would become instantly better with no mechanical change whatsoever. Obviously, you need some type of mechanical competency in order for this to work, but after that I believe it is all about attitude and what you as the player allow yourself to come to believe as true. Let me give you a personal example that supports my thoughts.

I am and have always thought of myself as a great driver of the golf ball. My drives do not go very far, but they usually go very straight regardless of the amount I play or practice. Like all players, however, I have gone through struggles off the tee for a few rounds, but it always seems to come back.

Why does my driver tend to “work” for me over the long term? I think it has a lot to do with my attitude regarding my driving ability. Whenever I have a poor driving round, I always say, “It was just a bad day, so forget about it.” The worst case scenario is that I might have to practice for an hour or two regain the proper feel.

Here’s an example of the opposite.

I am a self-admitted bad putter, and have thought of myself that way for most of my golfing life. I’m guilty of going to the course many times wondering just how many strokes my putter is going to cost me. Anyone can see that my attitude about my putting is self-defeating, and when I miss a lot of putts during a round, it only makes me feel worse about my putting.

But what if I took the attitude I have with my driver and transferred it to my putter? I know I would be a much better player and a much more consistent putter over time.

So here is the secret. In order to be the best you can be, you must have unwavering confidence in your abilities, and convince yourself that you are a great putter regardless of the actual daily outcome. It sounds simple, but is more difficult when put into practice. But as Dr. Maltz showed in his book, your perception becomes your reality, whether it be your looks, your career, or even your putting.

For your golf game, and the rest of your life, I suggest you check out Dr. Maltz’s book. There just might be something there for you. As for me, I’m going to take Mike and Stan’s advice, and learn to feel the same way about my putting as I do my driving. While so many instructors refer to golf as several games within a game, it’s really just one. Why should I approach the putting green any differently than I do the tee box?

Thanks Mike, Stan and Dr. Maltz!

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Tom F. Stickney II, is a specialist in Biomechanics for Golf, Physiology, and 3d Motion Analysis. He has a degree in Exercise and Fitness and has been a Director of Instruction for almost 30 years at resorts and clubs such as- The Four Seasons Punta Mita, BIGHORN Golf Club, The Club at Cordillera, The Promontory Club, and the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. His past and present instructional awards include the following: Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, Golf Digest Top 50 International Instructor, Golf Tips Top 25 Instructor, Best in State (Florida, Colorado, and California,) Top 20 Teachers Under 40, Best Young Teachers and many more. Tom is a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 25 people in the world. Tom is TPI Certified- Level 1, Golf Level 2, Level 2- Power, and Level 2- Fitness and believes that you cannot reach your maximum potential as a player with out some focus on your physiology. You can reach him at [email protected] and he welcomes any questions you may have.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. smizzle jr

    Jun 24, 2016 at 2:38 am

    while i agree with the article, the fact is she married a successful man.

  2. Christosterone

    Jun 20, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Stephen Hawking’s PhD thesis was immediately debunked by Stephen Hawking….then the debunking was debunked by any and every freshman physics student….his theoretical assertions have been uniformly dismissed by any and all distinguished academic institutions…

    • Snoopy

      Jun 21, 2016 at 2:18 pm

      In math and science though, a wrong answer to a question is way more useful than NO answer to a question. Most brilliant people have no fear of being wrong, rather, they embrace when they are wrong about something, because then they can set about finding the right answer. I think this kinda ties right back in to this article… instead of worrying about fears and mistakes, you can do better by just believing in yourself.

  3. Steven

    Jun 20, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    You are spot on Tom. Confidence alone can make a huge difference in how we play. The higher our confidence, the more likely we persist through struggles. The persistence generally leads to success, which then builds more confidence. The good news is faking the self-confidence originally can start the cycle. Craig Sigl has great mental game information. Golf Digest had a great article in July or August 2008 about Hunter Mahan. He talked about changing his attitude and the effect on his game.

  4. 8thehardway

    Jun 20, 2016 at 9:14 am

    I always thought my ping-pong skills destined me to be great at putting. I was horrible, but ‘knew’ I’d be great; when different techniques failed, I tried different putters until I found one that significantly compensated for my flaws, at which point practice became rewarding and got me where I should be.
    Although the same perception should have worked with driving, I framed it hitting longer rather than better – a result rather than a process – and never progressed. I’m going to get that book today. Thanks

  5. Philip

    Jun 19, 2016 at 11:12 am

    I think it is a combination of perceptions of ones abilities and expectations. From 12+ feet and out I sink a higher percentage of putts than one would expect, to the point that I believe I can do it, however, I do not expect it – thus little fret. Whereas from 3-5 feet I currently have no belief one way or the other, however, I expect to be able to do it because I sink so many longer putts – thus I can doubt myself if I take to long. Lately after I chip/pitch, if the ball rests 5 feet or less I just walk up with my wedge and putt in with it – since I have no expectation with the wedge I do not start to tense over the ball. A couple of years ago I believed and expected myself to sink everything from 6 feet and in – thus I was an aggressive putter as I did not fear the missed putt. Belief is very fragile – a silly little thing happens and it can rocket – however, just as simple – another silly little thing can bring it crashing down – it is as fluid as an ocean. Nice story.

    • Bill Mac

      Jun 20, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      You sink all your 5 footers with your wedge? I’m wasting my time.

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Instruction

Wedge Guy: The top 7 short game mistakes

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I’ve written hundreds of articles as “The Wedge Guy” and I’ve made it my life’s work to closely observe golfers and their short games. So, I thought I’d compile what I see into a list of what I believe are the most common mistakes golfers make around the greens that prevents them from optimizing their scoring. So here goes, not in any particular order:

  1. Tempo. Maybe the most common error I see is a tempo that is too quick and “jabby”. That probably comes from the misunderstood and overdone advice “accelerate through the ball.” I like to compare playing a golf hole to painting a room, and your short shots are your “trim brushes”. They determine how the finished work turns out, and a slower and more deliberate stroke delivers more precision as you get closer to the green and hole.
  2. Set Up/Posture. To hit good chips and pitches, you need to “get down”. Bend your knees a bit more and grip down on the club – it puts you closer to your work for better precision. Too many golfers I see stand up too tall and grip the club to the end.
  3. Grip Pressure. A very light grip on the club is essential to good touch and a proper release through the impact zone. Trust me, you cannot hold a golf club too lightly – your body won’t let you. Concentrate on your forearms; if you can feel any tenseness in the muscles in your forearms, you are holding on too tightly.
  4. Hand position. Watch the tour players hit short shots on TV. Their arms are hanging naturally so that their hands are very close to their upper thighs at address and through impact, but the club is not tilted up on its toe. Copy that and your short game will improve dramatically.
  5. Lack of Body/Core Rotation. When you are hitting short shots, the hands and arms have stay in front of the torso throughout the swing. If you don’t rotate your chest and shoulders back and through, you won’t develop good consistency in distance or contact.
  6. Club selection. Every pitch or chip is different, so don’t try to hit them all with the same club. I see two major errors here. Some golfers always grab the sand wedge when they miss a green. If you have lots of green to work with and don’t need that loft, a PW, 9-iron or even less will give you much better results. The other error is seen in those golfers who are “afraid” of their wedge and are trying to hit tough recoveries with 8- and 9-irons. That doesn’t work either. Go to your practice green and see what happens with different clubs, then take that knowledge to the course.
  7. Clubhead/grip relationship. This error falls into two categories. One is those golfers who forward press so much that they dramatically change the loft of the club. At address and impact the grip should be slightly ahead of the clubhead. I like to focus on the hands, rather than the club, and just think of my left hand leading my right through impact. Which brings me to the other error – allowing the clubhead to pass the hands through impact. If you let the clubhead do that, good shots just cannot happen. And that is caused by you trying to “hit” up on the ball, rather than swinging the entire club through impact.

So, there are my top 7. Obviously, there are others, but if you eliminate those, your short game will get better in a hurry.

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The Wedge Guy: Short game tempo

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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.

Why?

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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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots

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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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