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How to improve your mental and emotional strength on the golf course

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About 6 months ago, a young, aspiring golfer was referred to me. He was just turning pro and having a difficult time making the transition from amateur to professional golf. The primary problem was he didn’t have some of the key fundamentals and skills to move forward and develop as a player. He was struggling with the transition and the day-to-day responsibilities of a professional golfer, and he did not have the tools to maximize his capabilities: the achievement factor. So, no fun and no results.

With the pressures of professional golf, financial burdens and expectations, he was considering quitting and starting something new… or being proactive and doing something about it. Fast forward 6 months. A mental/emotional development process helped him develop the critical skills he needed to both achieve his targets, put him on the right path, bring a great attitude to the game, and enjoy his golf.

From the Player’s Dad: “This has been the difference. Adding some structure in his mental game was the key to bring it together and put things on the right track. He is confident, has a real plan, and he’s excited to continue the journey with new skills.”

Why Mental/Emotional High Performance Should Be Important to You

Working in high-performance sports everyday, I see the emerging trend to put more emphasis on the mental and emotional game as the golf industry approaches limits in technical, physical, and equipment advancement. The next frontiers are in proactive mental/emotional development and the fuel factor, maximizing the value of nutrition.

Forward-thinking modern players like Jordan Spieth understand the importance of mental/emotional performance development. Listen to any of his interviews and you’ll hear consistent references to all key areas of mental/emotional performance. The Champion Golfer of the Year said it well after winning The Open in July:

“You have to conquer the golf course first and foremost,” Spieth said. “You also have to conquer yourself, your own emotions, you have to win the mental battle with yourself.”

As the physical gap between players continually closes, golfers will need a stronger mental and emotional framework. “The edge” will be found in the mental/emotional component and other key areas like nutrition.

There are many benefits to developing your mental/emotional game. Here are a just a few benefits that you might not have considered:

1. Build self-awareness. Working with the world’s leading athletes everyday, one of the critical keys to sustainable high performance is the competency of self-awareness. When we assess athletes at all levels, results show that eight out of 10 performers do not have an adequate level of self-awareness to be a high performer. It therefore must be developed for a golfer to maximize his or her abilities. Development of self-awareness through golf will also enable high performance in other areas of your life.

2. Build confidence. What is confidence? How do you build it? How do you keep it? A great mental/emotional development plan will ensure you understand confidence and you bring it with you every time you step on the course.

3. Develop a clear path forward. A detailed, concise player plan is required, including a vision for your golf career and a plan in place to reach your targets. Most players have no plan, no fundamental structure, no defined path to reach targets. For that reason, most get lost along the way and don’t reach targets.

4. Become aware of your emotion. Human beings are emotional. Often your emotions direct you and pull you in a variety of directions. Awareness and regulation of emotions is a key element in mental/emotional high performance development. With development, emotions can be channeled in the right direction and used to maximize enjoyment and achievement.

5. Build focus. We live in a world of distraction: phones, social media, big events, expectations. In order to maximize abilities, a level of mindfulness must be developed to center the focus on what’s important. Mental/emotional high performance development builds a new level of focus.

6. Enjoy the game! The ultimate result of the time you spend in golf is you enjoy yourself and have fun. Many players lose perspective of the primary reasons for playing and get caught up in traps that don’t allow them to fully enjoy the sport they love.

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So what are you waiting for?

There are golfers all over the world who have technical and physical talent, but they never reach their targets or gain full enjoyment from the sport. Be like proactive players on the PGA Tour who embrace the value of mental and emotional development, building their mental and emotional muscles to both have more fun and achieve more.

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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]

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Vegas Bullet Dodger

    Oct 5, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Got to say SteveK is on to something….
    Look at the nba

    • Demar

      Oct 5, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      Very low IQ multi-millionaires…. laughing at the tribal honking cracker fans paying to watch and fantasize about jumping and scoring and big donging.

  2. Vegas Bullet Dodger

    Oct 5, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Bring something to eat and stay hydrated

  3. Dude

    Oct 4, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    This was covered in the movie, Happy Gilmore. Spoiler Alert:

    Chubby takes Happy to the miniature golf course so that he can find his “happy” place. As a result, Happy was able to overcome the untimely passing of Chubbs, the fact that his Grandma’s house was being taken away, and win the tour championship.

  4. John Haime

    Oct 4, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    Hi Jake – “how” is a process and individual for everyone. For example – to acquire self-awareness – many pieces need to be looked at – strengths, limitations, triggers, values, purpose etc. This article is a first step to create awareness – you have options to get customized “hows”. Thanks for the great comment!

    • SteveK

      Oct 5, 2017 at 12:52 am

      How about my cogent comment? Why do top amateur and pro golfers have an emotional/mental deficiency after playing golf starting from the tender ages of 4-6 y.o.? Is it a parental problem that haunts these emotionally/mentally challenged athletes? Surely you must determine the root causes before you can prescribe a remedy.

      • John Haime

        Oct 5, 2017 at 8:06 am

        Hi Steve,

        Re – you first comment. When I see “people who play golf for a living have a low IQ” – I stop reading and won’t take time for statements with no basis of fact and are insulting to professional golfers.

        In your second question – you are pointing out the entire problem. Almost everyone is reactive – waiting for things to break before “fixing” it. The solution is a proactive approach to develop the mental/emotional skills in the first place – just like you might develop the basic fundamentals of the golf swing. And yes, if the athlete does not have these fundamentals, then they are open to issues and getting in their own way – and the root cause is the starting point. Thanks!

        • Steve K

          Oct 5, 2017 at 11:13 am

          IQ tests are a test of broad intellectual capacity and most professional athletes do not have a high IQ because the game of golf and most other sports does not require such intellect.
          Athletes are specialized people who function athletically and intellectually in their particular sport. They don’t require a high IQ and the point I was making that their mental and emotional development is stunted by a lower intellectual level.
          Nothing wrong with that observation…. and you have taken my statement out of context where I say “… it’s a masochistic endeavor requiring an obsessive-compulsive mentality and a huge commitment to solo practice.”
          Golfers are no great minds as with most top athletes. They only live for their sport. Of course there are some exceptions that I am not aware of. In general they are fine people with a specialized brain power that may not include mental and emotional strength. “IQ” and “EQ” (Emotional Quotient). That’s a likely ‘root cause’ of the problem.
          Don’t let political correctness blind you to the ‘root’ causes of psychological problems in top immature athletes.

  5. SteveK

    Oct 4, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Improving mental and emotional strength is in essence a maturation process. Children have low mental strength and emotional control because they are creatures of instinct and feeelings. They grow out of their childish mentality by the age of 40!
    People who play golf for a living are probably low IQ (85-90) people because golf is not intellectually challenging…. it’s a masochistic endeavor requiring an obsessive-compulsive mentality and a huge commitment to solo practice.
    Sure, golf is a specialization and pro golfers have reached the top of the specialization physically. Was it Bobby Jones who said that golf is played within the 5 1/2 inches between the ears? Some pro golfers do mature and they play with great mental and emotional strength. Most don’t.
    As for recreational golfers, they are simply children seeking fun on the golf course with their incompetence and equally incompetent buddies. Geerheads are an example of the immaturity of golfers who revel in the artistic shapes and subjective feel of new model golf clubs. The OEMs know how to market their toys to customers with weak mental and emotional conditions.
    There is a child within every adult male… and I believe somebody wrote a pop-psychology book on that topic.

    • SteveKisadummy

      Oct 4, 2017 at 3:45 pm

      Congratulations on writing the dumbest comment of the year. 10 months into the rear and we have a runaway winner. I had though I had seen it all but you have shot as low as possible and hit a bulls eye. You are a true meatball.

      • SteveK

        Oct 5, 2017 at 12:46 am

        And you fall into the category of 85 – 90 IQ and it’s obvious my comments cause you much personal anguish … and I am a much smarter ‘meatball’.

      • Steve K

        Oct 5, 2017 at 11:06 am

        No, my comments are cogent and valid, and they explain the cause of low mental and emotional strength in top athletes … people who don’t need a high IQ to function at a high athletic level.
        Not only is their IQ generally low, their “EQ” Emotional Quotient is low. Athletes live for their sport and themselves as performers. This is well known in psychological circles.
        Stop with your political correctness that protects the feelings of those on this ‘safe space’ WITB forum.

  6. Jake

    Oct 4, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Where is the how? This is what you need to do. How to do those things is missing.

    • Think or Thwim

      Oct 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      If you recognize your mental and emotional problems playing golf visit a professional sports psychologist, not somebody who claims to be competent to diagnose problems that may have their roots in a medical condition. e.g. hormonal imbalance.

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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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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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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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