How do we survive the winter? Here are a few words of wisdom to ponder.
“Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you.”
– Arnold Palmer
“Resolve never to quit, never to give up, no matter what the situation.”
– Jack Nicklaus
In the midst of winter how can we make a total effort? How can we resolve not to quit in spite of the snow covered fairways? The first step would be looking at what we can do now to help us with our game during the golf season. Most golfers spend the majority of their time practicing their golf swing but very little time practicing the other skills needed to improve their game. Winter is a great time to focus on these skills.
James Y. Bartlett & the Professional Caddies Association authored a book last year called “THINK LIKE A CADDIE PLAY LIKE A PRO.” They talk about how important caddies are in helping the pro with the skills of focusing on the shot at hand, being present with each shot, and learning to take a vacation in between shots. These skills are critical if we want to play our best golf and we need to practice them as much as any other part of our game.
How many times did something distract you on a golf course and you missed a shot? Distractions on the golf course are going to happen. The question is, what can we do about it? The ability to focus on the task at hand filters out distractions. Our brains can only process so much information at one time. If we are totally immersed in the task at hand this is like a spam filter on your computer, keeping minor distractions in the back ground. Simply learning how to pay attention can help us reduce the number of distractions that affect us on the golf course.
To practice paying attention, place a golf ball in front of you. Try to simply look at the golf ball and think of nothing else but the ball. It’s difficult to do, isn’t it? Our minds tend to wander; a noise from another room, we revisit our day, thoughts about our “to-do-list” all creep in. If this happens to you, do not feel alone. Try to track the amount of time you can keep your attention focused and improve on it. Our goal would be to get to about 1-2 minutes. This is the amount of time we take to assess a golf shot, pick a target, select a club, and rehearse what we want to have happen before the actual swing, which takes less than 2 seconds.
Try again. This time really pay attention. How many dimples do you see? Imagine how the golf ball would feel in your hand. How is the light reflecting on the ball? What are the shadows like? Are there any markings on the ball? What type of surface is it sitting on? If your attention begins to drift, that’s OK. Just come back to the golf ball. Over time, with practice, you will get better at this skill of observation. Think about how many strokes you can save if you just observe the conditions of where your golf ball is and where you want it to go.
Being present in the shot at hand is another skill we need to practice. How many times did you have a good round going and then, suddenly, you started thinking about “this could be the day I break 100, 90, 80, 70?” You can pick the number that started playing with your head. Or how many times did you have a bad shot that upset you and from there on your round went spiraling out of control?
The key here is to identify when you are upset or placing demands on yourself. Make a list of the situations on the golf course that remove you from being present. Identifying your triggers is important to resolving this problem. Once you are aware that you are doing this, simply take a step back and allow yourself to re-group.
Imagine you are on the tee of the 18th hole. If you make par you will have your career low round. What are your thoughts? What is your body feeling? Is this a different feeling? How is it different? We need to learn what makes us ready mentally, emotionally and physically to take our best shot. We also need to create an awareness of how we think, feel and act when we are not ready so we can stop and re-group.
Caddies also play a vital role in helping their players take a time out from intense focus. Ask anyone who just completed 18 holes that really mattered to them. Intense focus is exhausting and we need to conserve our mental & emotional energy for when we need it the most. If you cannot take this time out you will become mentally exhausted and your round will suffer from bad decision making.
You can practice this by imagining you are playing a round of golf with the remote control in your hand. We want to learn how to change the channel from high intensity focus to low key entertainment. On the high intensity channel we are preparing for the shot at hand. Once the shot is taken and we evaluate the result, it is time to change the channel. Find your remote, your swing cue, this winter to learn how to change your channel. For some it would be talking with friends about sports or current events. For others it may be enjoying nature.
No matter if your channel is ESPN, The Animal Planet or the Food Network, we all need to relax a little in between shots to play better golf. If you stay on the high intensity channel fretting about a bad shot, or placing demands on yourself about what score you should make, you are not giving yourself time to re-group. Before long you will burn out and not be able to give the shot at hand your full attention.
Maybe Palmer and Nicklaus had these great words of wisdom for us because they shared a close proximity to our Erie winters. Arnie from Latrobe, Pennsylvania and Jack from Columbus, Ohio, overcame the northern white fairways and overcame adversity with their mindset of a champion. Use these cold winter months to develop your golf skills of focus, being present and knowing when to take time to refresh & re-group, so you too can have a winner’s mindset and enjoy the great game of golf.