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Unlocking Your True Golf Potential Is a Mindset

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Golf is such a great sport for anyone who wants to challenge themselves in an enjoyable manor, but sometimes we can become our own worst enemy when we are trying to improve our game. We often can be easily frustrated when we don’t live up to the expectations of the skill level at which we feel we should play. I’ve seen grown men and women act like spoiled children, almost crying with frustration on the golf course when their game isn’t going as they planned.

Yes, having a competitive mindset is healthy and a necessary part of growth. When a mindset is so fragile and juvenile that golfers easily allow themselves to become frustrated, however, they put themselves into a self-destructive state of mind that affects their body. They overflow their systems with a stress hormone called cortisol, which causes their body to go into “fight-or-flight” mode. It’s a great state to be in if you need to fight for your life or sprint away from a hungry tiger. The downfall is that cortisol overwhelms your body’s vital organs that are necessary for immediate survival, and at the same time, it shuts off your body’s other organs that are necessary for surviving your round of golf. The fight-or-flight state of mind will also put a damper on your ability to make rational decisions, which can be difficult enough for some of us on the golf course already.

Here’s the thing; golf is challenging… period. If you didn’t find it challenging, you probably wouldn’t enjoy playing golf so much. It’s kind of a catch 22; the very reason we enjoy golf so much is the challenge, though we become self-destructive if we find it too challenging or if things don’t go according to plan during our round.

We all have basic expectations of who we think we are and what we are expecting from ourselves before we start our round. If you’re a scratch golfer, you will expect that you will play your round somewhere close to par. Whatever level your play, you expect to play at a skill level that’s familiar to you. The moment you begin to play much better than what you feel is your current skill set, you will be in uncharted territory. You may get kind of excited and anxious, causing you to begin to overanalyze the situation. That may cause you to fumble.

The same goes if you are playing poorly and much worse than you are familiar with. You are again put outside of your comfort zone and will need to adjust your way of thinking to cope with it.

On top of carrying the burden of our own expectations around with us, most people also carry the burden of being over-concerned with what other people might think of them on the course. They want to look good, and this causes them to get trapped in a mindset that is only focused on results instead of improvement. So instead of daring to challenge themselves at the risk of looking bad if they don’t play well, they’d rather stay in their comfort zone and play it safe so that at the end of the day they will still feel comfortable with who they are. This makes it much more likely that golfers will focus on not screwing up instead of trying to get better.

Unlocking your true potential is a mindset, and it starts with you accepting what has happened and not worrying about what “might” happen (and most likely won’t happen if you’d just stop worrying about it). This mindset is all about losing your sense of self image. That person you think you are is preventing you from reaching your potential. If you want to play your best, quite simply, you have to lose that image of who you feel you are when you play golf. You can’t let the past or future own you, because it will prevent you from pushing your envelope of performance. Lose those expectations of what you think your current skill set is and play in the now, one shot at a time.

Many top athletes and musicians describe this state of mind as being in what is called the “zone” or the “pocket” of performance. You might have experienced this state of mind before, on or off the golf course. Being in the “zone” is a moment or moments in time when you aren’t concerned with anything except the task at hand. Your focus is so deep that you are unaware of any distractions, noise, or concerns of looking bad in front of others.

Being in the zone is for many a feeling of losing their sense of time and their sense of self, which makes perfect sense. Time is controlled by the part of our brain called the pre-frontal cortex, which is also the part of the brain that is self-critical and creates doubt in our ability.

Developing a mindset that allows you to tap into the zone so you can unlock your true potential happens when you get out of your own way. Stop being concerned with the results of here and now and start focusing on the process of improvement. Nobody gets there overnight, so get invested in the long haul so that when you are on the golf course you don’t trap yourself in a mindset that is full of expectations and frustration. You will play your best golf when you lose your sense of self and are engaged in the enjoyment of the challenge of each shot.

Developing this mindset is a skill that can be developed just like any other skill set on the golf course, and for most of us, it’s probably the most important part of our game that we need to work on. Your potential is out there, and only you have the ability to reach it. But you can only achieve it by having self-belief in your abilities and the drive to get up every time you get knocked down. The process to achieving your potential will come with the mindset and the drive of accepting what has happened so that you can keep moving forward.

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Adam is a PGA Professional and TPI Certified Fitness and Medical Coach. He enjoys working with golfers of all ages and levels of expertise, and his approach is to look at every golfer as an individual to try to help them achieve their goals as effectively and efficiently as possible. He is also the author of two books: The Golfers Handbook - Save your golf game and your life! (available on iTunes and Amazon) And his new book, My Mind Body Golf Coach Adam also offers online lessons and offers a monthly membership to help golfers stay committed to the process of improvement. All this and more can be ordered through his website www.golfadamstevenson.com "The golf swing may be built from the ground up, but the game of golf is built from the head down" - My Mind Body Golf Aside being an author, Adam is also a public speaker, doing workshops and lectures introducing concepts of athletic movement for golfers of all ages and levels of expertise.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Ryan

    Sep 3, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    I read until the word MANOR. I can’t suffer someone who doesn’t know the difference.

  2. Vombie

    Aug 30, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    Be the duck yo

  3. Bob Jones

    Aug 30, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    All pep talk, no substance. How about telling us HOW to develop the mindset you recommend? That would be useful.

  4. mark

    Aug 30, 2017 at 10:35 am

    I played with an 82 year old this past week. We played from our tees, he played up at his tees. 5800 yards. His swing is what an 82 year old swing would be. Plays 5 days a week. This player shot 68/69 in a two day tournament. WOW. He believed in his-self. That’s all I can say….Wouldn’t believed it if I didn’t see it. I’m working on in-locking my brain….82 years old shoots 68/69. That’s money!

  5. alan b

    Aug 30, 2017 at 1:56 am

    Click on Adam Stevenson’s name and you will discover 7 great articles he posted on GolfWRX. He is a next generation golf instructor who appreciates physical fitness through his TPI certification.
    If your body is stiff and decrepit please don’t attempt golf, unless you commit yourself to intensive physical conditioning and golf-specific training. Just reading about it and trying it a few times doesn’t count.

    • Steve S

      Aug 30, 2017 at 9:44 am

      I have an old, stiff, decrepit body and I play to a 10-11. I would be a single digit if my eyes were better and I could still read greens. At 66 I’m playing the best golf of my life(from the white tees) because I have adapted my swing to my physical limitations and don’t attempt “low percentage” shots. This has virtually eliminated “blow up” holes for me. Do I have an occasional bad day, of course. But I have never enjoyed golf more. Part of it is my mental state which tries to savor every shot and every bad joke from my playing partners. As for as physical conditioning I do some light stretching everyday and work around the yard. I never lift anything more than 30lbs without help or mechanical assistance. Keeps my back pain free.

  6. alan b

    Aug 30, 2017 at 1:33 am

    “…almost every word”? How about:
    “Golf is such a great sport for anyone who wants to challenge themselves in an enjoyable manor [sic],…”.
    See, this is what happens when you are educated in phonics… your spelling betrays you!

    • alan b

      Aug 30, 2017 at 1:35 am

      Oooops ….. comment meant as a reply to Peter Schmitt at the beginning of this topic thread.

  7. alan b

    Aug 30, 2017 at 1:29 am

    It’s also known as “mind over matter” state of mind. However this only works for near scratch golfers who have conscious control over their body. They knowingly, consciously practice the parts of the golfswing and then assemble it into and automatic package for testing on the golf course.

    You won’t find these ‘players’ playing a prolonged round on the weekends. They secretly play on the weekdays and sometimes only 9 holes with 2 balls during twilight golf because 2 x 9 = 18 holes.

    Giving recreational golfers false hope is cruel so just let them buy new clubs and hope for the best. They can’t make a complete commitment to the game so psyching them up with psycho mumbo jumbo is useless, fruitless and plain wrong.

  8. nodoubles22

    Aug 29, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    I realized this a while back when wondering why I could pull off escape shots – punches from the trees, flop shots, etc. – so much better when practicing them than I did in a “real” round. The conditions were exactly the same, but because I’d purposely put the ball in a bad spot on the course to work on playing from there, I could play the escape shot without the feelings of frustration and anger about the previous poor shot. It’s impossible for me to fully forget about a bad shot during a meaningful round, but I try to remember that the recovery shot will be better if I pretend I’d put the ball there on purpose. It does help a little.

  9. Scott

    Aug 29, 2017 at 9:40 am

    Is this a way to help yourself play better or except mediocrity?
    OK, then how do I take an honest assessment of who I am to unlock my potertial? I agree that I have gotten in my own way. But what is my honest assessment of me as a player, in order to unlock my potential? Am I the guy that has broken par or the guy that has shot in the 90s? If the answer is “yes”, and any given day I could do either, than why bother? If both, high and low scores, are an anomaly, then how is knowing myself going to improve my play?
    I think that I just blew my own mind.

    • Boss

      Aug 29, 2017 at 10:59 am

      You mean ACCEPT.
      No, you didn’t blow your mind. Not even close. That’s why you fail. lol

  10. Woody

    Aug 29, 2017 at 8:39 am

    Great article, the best line “That person you think you are is preventing you from reaching your potential”. Our own self perceptions are our biggest blocks to improvement and success. What a great article, I throughly enjoyed it.

  11. acemandrake

    Aug 29, 2017 at 8:20 am

    “But you can only achieve it by having self-belief in your abilities and the drive to get up every time you get knocked down.”

    True, but exhausting! Especially in this game where most of us hit more bad shots than good ones.

    I guess having (& keeping) realistic expectations would help ?

    • acemandrake

      Aug 29, 2017 at 8:30 am

      Is it even possible to play without expectations?

  12. Peter Schmitt

    Aug 29, 2017 at 8:15 am

    Great article and so very true. Completely agree with almost every word. However, just letting go of expectations and getting in the zone mentally is not a “just do it” kind of thing. Oh, how I wish that were the case, but most days I find myself frustratingly trying to figure out how to just unplug my brain. Knowing something needs to be done and knowing how to do it are two different things.

    • alan b

      Aug 30, 2017 at 1:36 am

      “Completely agree with almost every word”? How about:
      “Golf is such a great sport for anyone who wants to challenge themselves in an enjoyable manor [sic],…”.
      See, this is what happens when you are educated in phonics… your spelling betrays you!

      • Peter Schmitt

        Aug 30, 2017 at 9:12 am

        Yeah I did notice that. Hence the word ALMOST in my comment 😉

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Instruction

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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Instruction

Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?

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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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