My thanks to all of you who sent get well wishes during my recovery from having both my knees replaced, a result of many years of wear and tear from playing multiple sports. Due to my fitness and positive mental imagery I was able to walk without a cane after three weeks, and back swinging a golf club after six weeks.
While I was recovering I read a delightful book centered around Pinehurst, NC which brought back wonderful memories of playing in national tournaments there and at Pine Needles. The book is: “A Son of the Game” by James Dodson. His premise is what I have been teaching for 18 years….. that golf is a game we play for the fun of it. It upsets me when I read that we “golf” or “go golfing” making the game something other than a game that we play for our own enjoyment. I believe that the first step in developing a good mental game is to determine why you play the game. If fun isn’t your number one reason then you need to put it at the head of your list now.
Bobby Jones, is most famous for his unique "Grand Slam," consisting of his victory in all four of the major tournaments in his era in a single calendar year. He quit competitive golf after capturing the Slam, in large part because he was tired of playing in tournaments that made him an emotional wreck. He wanted to get back to playing golf for the fun of it.
Jones said that there are two kinds of golf. There is golf and then there is tournament golf. He said that tournament golf causes even very skilled golfers to have jangled nerves and to make mistakes due to the pressure. (Ed. Anxiety is the enemy of golfers.)
We now accept that Jones was right when he said, "Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears." We also now know more about the mental game of golf and how to focus positively to avoid those negative thoughts that cause fear and nervousness. One of the ways is to stay loose and have fun playing the game, rather than focusing on mechanics or on the outcome.
As fall begins, the US professional and amateur tournaments are winding down for the year. This is the time to reflect back over the last six months to see what you have learned. Following are some thoughts from recent world-class winners.
Camilio Villegas, 2-time winner on PGA Tour in 2008
“Golf isn’t a game of playing better, but playing more consistently. You can tap into your innate skills anytime by staying loose and relaxed. Golfers tend to make hurried, uncoordinated swings when they’re tense. That’s why when I step on the tee, I take a deep breath. As I inhale in and out, I can almost feel the tension drop out of my body. If the breathing trick doesn’t work for you, try making your body as tense as possible and then let every muscle go slack all at once.”
Villegas stated about chipping, “Good chippers aren’t born, they’re made. They also know something most amateurs don’t – the hole is rarely the target. I focus on where I want the ball to land and the kind of bounce I want it to make once it hits.”
(Ed. The fun comes in picking the right spot and watching the ball end of near the cup.)
Stewart Cink, winner of The Open Championship, July 18, 2009
“I’m ranked low in a lot of statistics, but I’m usually high in scoring average and on the money list,” Cink said. “That’s because of intangible stuff like decision-making.” (Ed. Picking the right clubs, seeing the right shot, etc.)
Tiger Woods, World Ranked Number 1 player
Tiger at winning the BMW Championship by shooting 62 Sept 13 by 8 strokes at 19 under par. “I hit the ball well, similar to how I have been: Woods said after tying Walter Hagen for most BMW/Western Open titles. “The difference is, I made putts.”
“I just hit a lot of lips before,” he said. “I just told myself through the stretch that I hit good putts that weren’t going in, that it was just a matter of time. I was patient, and here we are.”
His new style: “I was playing what the golf course gave me.” “That’s one of the things I’ve learned and matured over the years is play with what the golf course gives you. That’s one of the reasons I’ve become much more consistent. I may not go as low, I may not win by as big of margins, but you don’t have to. The whole idea is just play for what the situation gives you. There’s nothing wrong with being a little more conservative and trusting your putting and getting yourself around that way.”
Nick Price, winner on the Champions Tour at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, April 19, 2009
Nick price reflected about not winning; “I was sitting at home by the barbecue after missing the cut in the Senior PGA Championship trying to figure out what was different with my game. And then it was like a penny dropped. I needed more width on my swing.
When I went to the range, I went out with a purpose instead of just hitting the ball around.” He said it has added 25 yards to his game. Price finished 11th or better in his four starts since the Senior PGA.
Ricky Barnes, tied for 2nd at US Open, June 21, 2009
Barnes was the front-runner after shooting 67-65 at Bethpage Black. Describing his following 70-76 rounds on Saturday and Sunday he said, “I got quick. Everything was in fast forward. I couldn’t find the rewind button or at least the pause button to slow it down.”
Zack Johnson, 2007 Masters Champion
How do you get calm when you are getting upset on the course?
“I go through my (preshot) routine and concentrate on my shot process. I have a process for every shot – if I stick to it, it helps eliminate angry feelings.”
K. J. Choi, 2008 Sonaj Open winner
“I pray, sing hymns, and try to make the best of the situation. If I feel my body or rhythm is off, I try to repress any negative thoughts and think positive ones to get back on key.”
Steve Stricker, 3rd in Official World Golf Ranking
After losing at the Hope, Northern Trust and the Barclays, Stricker said, “I still kept a positive outlook. I didn’t beat myself up over those. “It’s just a process with me.”
Suzann Pettersen, winner of the Canadian Women’s Open
September 6, 2009 at the CN Women’s Open, Pettersen said she never lost faith in her ability. She stayed aggressive throughout the final round, shooting 1 under 70 for a 5-shot win. “You’ve got to believe you can do it,” she said. “Don’t fear anything, the door is wide open. You’ve just got to keep doing what you’re doing.”
Diane Lang 3-time winner of the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur
Getting ready to defend her 2008 title, Diane Lang said,
“I’m trying to mentally imagine the possibility. I want to win. You can’t be half committed to this thing. You have to really put yourself there – picture it, imagine it, see it, feel it.”
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