Golf Psychology


Charles is all smiles on the range. But on the course it's a different story. (Image: Simplistic.Designs/Flickr)

Charles is all smiles on the range. But on the course it's a different story. (Image: Simplistic.Designs/Flickr)

Tonight’s episode was a case study in golf psychology.

Barkley has made enormous strides in practice. Hank Haney has worked with Charles to the point that Chuck was comfortable going on national television–on his NBA show on TNT–and hitting a few balls with his redesigned swing.  Swing looked great.  Hank then took Barkley to one of those golf simulators that I hate. Chuck was busting out over 300 yard drives.

But, then, Charles went out to the course. And, oh my, that was bad. Horrible. Embarassing. He reverted back to his old hitchy, stop and start swing, and hit some nasty looking shots. Hank was dissapointed. Chuck was disappointed.

Hank repeatedly says that Chuck’s problem is not in his head, but it’s  in his swing. But, really, it’s his head that is producing a different swing on the course. He’s comfortable on the range. But it’s the course that’s getting inside his head. And that’s the catalyst for these bad swings.

Here’s a guy who could stand in front of 15,000 people and sink free throws to win playoff games. But he can’t handle the pressure of playing with a few friends on the golf course. It’s crazy how the mind works, isn’t it?

In my own life, it’s amazing how I could hit a tee shot in front of 50 people and not even think about it. But you make me stand and talk in front of those 50 people and I’m like Ricky Bobby after he won his first race in Talledega Nights: What do I do with my hands? But I’m getting better at that.

So there’s tonights recap. Until next week…

I’m my own worst critic.

Some might call it a strength because I always see room for improvement, regardless of what I’m doing and how adept I might be at a certain task.

Others might label it a weakness because I rarely feel confident enough to compliment my own work. I’m abnormally quick to see a negative and painfully slow to see a positive.

In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Perhaps God has blessed me with a healthy amount of cynicism. So what’s the point? Well, I mention this because it’s a trait that naturally seeps into my golf game.

I’ve never struck a perfect 7 iron. Relative to my golf swing, I’ve hit many nice shots over the years, even holing out quite a few. But, the way I see it, a flawed beginning cannot produce a perfect result.

My swing is far from perfect. And if my swing always has room to improve, then a perfectly struck 7 iron is not a perfectly struck 7 iron at all. It’s more like a series of synchronized compensations that produce an acceptable result. I’m kind of joking there. Kind of.

Part of the reason I burned out on golf was my inability to silence, or at least temper, that negative voice. But then God led me to writing, and my inner critic began to cultivate, not suffocate, my talents.

Writing as an art is inherently a process of purification–in other words, filtering the excess and muck out of the content. Any writer worth his or her salt will never publish a first draft. The writer must massage and tweak copy to better convey meaning, to produce rythym and flow, and to weed out unnecessary fluff. So writing—and especially editing—involves finding and nuking the negative stuff. It’s a process, not an event.

Though I’ve come to accept blogging as different—a more casual, less anal, style of writing—I’m still incessantly bothered every time I post. Because I know somewhere on this page there’s an errant typo, a clunky cluster of words, a sucky word choice, or just a flat-out piece of crap sentence. It happens.

But back to golf. To become a better golfer, I believe you have to be a self-critic. You have to spot the flaws, the inconsistencies, the seemingly minute details of your game. Otherwise, you’ll never get better.

You have to compete with yourself. Though I’m a pretty low-key fellow at work and at home, when I get on the golf course I transform into somewhat of a competitive, bullheaded S.O.B.

My language seems to change—not for the better, and short of 14 fairways, 18 greens, and 68 strokes, there’s always something for me to be ticked about. But if I hit 14 fairways, 18 greens, and only shoot a 68, then my putting must have sucked. You see what I’m saying about self-criticism?

Anyway, I’m no Bob Rotella or Dr. Phil. But, in my opinion, if you want to be a good golfer–or if you want to be good at anything–you have to be able to criticize yourself.

Does that mean beating yourself up at every opportunity? No, I do enough of that for both of us. But you’ve got to be introspective enough to see your flaws and address them. Denial sucks.

And one more point: You’ve got to take in stride constructive criticism from others. Now, don’t worry about Joe the Wannabe PGA Pro who, without prompting, offers needless advice at every tee box. Ignore that guy.

But talk to the golf pro, the better players at your club, guys in your foursome who can at least identify any major flaws in the swing.

You’ve got to have thick skin. This is something I learned in writing that has helped me in my return to golf. Creative writing workshops in college quickly taught me to enjoy the power of red. Though it hurt to see a professor or a fellow student mark up my paper like a bad painting, it helped me see how others viewed my writing.

Golf is the same. The golfer who never looks for feedback will rarely improve.

Not that you asked for advice, not that you want advice, but I’m offering advice. I’m so old these days that it takes four or five practice swings for all my bones to stop cracking. So if I’m old enough for that, I think I’m old enough to offer unsolicited advice on my blog. But you get what you pay for.

Now go critique yourself and get better at whatever it is you do! Until next time…

My driver is new. But the putter is old, old school.

My driver is new. But the putter is old, old school.

Crazy round the other day. It was one of those afternoons when I realize why I’m an amateur golfer.

Six birdies. Four bogeys. Eight pars.  A round of 70, my low since I started playing again.  My first round with the Ping G10 was a solid one, though I didn’t hit it near as far–and nothing as spectacular–as I did in the demo round.  I swear they put something in those clubs while you demo them. It’s probably those same people that rig the golf simulators.

So the driver was just okay.   But the putter was on. I love that putter, one of the original Ping Ansers. My brother gave it to me about 20 years ago, and I’ve used it ever since. Made 26 putts in this particular round, while hitting 9 fairways and 11 greens.

My whole round on Saturday just illustrates the screwiness of golf psychology, which I discussed a bit yesterday.  Started the day birdie, bogey, birdie, bogey, before making a string of pars and another birdie for a front nine 35.

It’s kind of like there’s some type of mental block we golfers have.  For me, at least in my past golfing life, when I get around 2 under I start to realize that I’m playing good. So subconciously I’m thinking, okay, time to make a few bogies. Get it back to even.

We all have that comfort zone, don’t we?  Even the pros…I’m sure a 20-year tour pro starts to get feel it a bit when he’s closing in on a 59…even if it’s a casual Sunday round with a few friends.

The first time I ever broke 70, I had to go so low over a nine hole stretch–eight birdies and one bogey–that my choke finish of bogey, bogey on 17 and 18 left me with a 67. In other words, I basically had to play unconscious for a while, going so far past my comfort zone that even when I backed up a bit, I was still well under my nervous floor of 2 under.

It’s a weird sport, this golf.  In the end, you just want to make that “discomfort zone” lower and lower. If you can do that, the days in which you’re just playing average, not necessarily going low, will improve as well, I think.

Hopefully by next year I can drop my own discomfort zone to a shot or two. But I’m just glad to be playing again. In my last couple of rounds, I think I made a total of two birdies, so it was nice to make a birdie barrage like that.

Well, there’s the weekly playing update, if you care. Tune in tomorrow when we take a look at Paul Azinger’s wildcard Ryder Cup selections. Good times.

Did the man read Norman Vincent Peale over the last month or what?

Last month at the WGC Invitational, Vijay was barely guiding in 3-footers in route to his surprising win. This past weekend, he was like the lovespawn of Ben Crenshaw and Brad Faxon. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone make so many long putts in a single round. 180 feet of putts in 18 holes. That’s an average of 10 feet per hole.

The close-ups of Singh’s stroke last month were brutal. It looked as if the man was standing on a float in water while making his putting stroke—it was so loopy and unsteady. But he’s rock solid now.

At this level, it’s like 95 percent mental. The announcers on NBC yesterday discussed how Vijay’s turnaround is a result of his mantra: “I am the best putter in the world.” Apparently, after his recent putting woes, Singh—so well known for his mechanical and analytical approach to the game—just decided he would become a good putter by telling himself that he’s a good putter. It worked. Bob Rotella would be proud.

But, really, it just goes to show the power of the mind. Many of those guys out on the Nationwide Tour, and the more successful ones on the Hooters Tour level—they can make the shots. The hardest part is controlling what’s between the ears, though—keeping those negative, self-defeating thoughts out of your mind when you’re standing over a four-foot putt that you’ve made tens of thousands of times. Or trying to focus on the plush green fairway when you have O.B. right and a massive lake staring you down on the left.

It sounds so easy. For instance, I want to hit a 211-yard 8-iron like Camillo Villegas did yesterday. So all I need to do is just repeatedly tell myself I can hit a 211-yard 8-iron, right? I wish. It’s difficult, but you’ve got to believe it. I believe that I can hit a 200 yard 8-iron about as much as I believe I can outswim Michael Phelps.

But Singh knew he had positive putting experiences in the past, and he mustered up enough pleasant thoughts to truly believe he was the best putter in the world—if only for a day.

Now, as a friend asked me today, how’s he going to do when He Who Shall Not Be Named returns? We shall see. We shall see.