New strategy for effortless golf has surprising results

Zen GolfToday was one of the great practice sessions.  Even though I set out to do something I was practicing on the simulator, I ended up going in a completely different direction with my driving range session.

At home I had been practicing with the driving range portion of my golf simulator.  I noticed that I had difficulty squaring the face, but once I concentrated on having an inside path and getting the face slightly closed at impact I hit beautiful draws.

I wanted to see how that would translate on the driving range I go to, to hit actual golf balls.  So I started out doing that, and quickly got bored of it.  I followed an intuition I had and instead practiced in a different way.

I started with the pitching wedge and picked out a target about 75 yards away.  And the thought I had in preparing for the swing was this “What is the smoothest slowest full swing I can do to hit it to that target 75 yards away.”  So I felt the smooth swing in my body, and then did the same thing with a golf ball.  That smooth swing created a gorgeous pitching wedge shot.  It arced high, and went right at the my aim point but effortlessly carried to 130 yards.

I felt no effort in the swing.  In fact, it almost felt as if there was anti-effort.  That was interesting so I wondered if I could do that consistently.  I hit about 10 more shots, to the exact spot give or take a couple of feet.  The ball just exploded off the face and the sound was completely different from the way it sounded at the beginning of the session.

Earlier in the session I had been trying the ideas from the simulator session and I was hitting my 7 iron about 165.  I wondered if it would work the 7 iron.  I grabbed my 7 iron and picked out a spot 125 yards from me on the line I wanted to hit the shot to.  Again I thought, what is the easiest smoothest and slowest swing that will take it to 125.  Once I felt that I had it, I stepped up to the ball.  The swing felt slow and smooth, and the ball sailed to 175 yards, bouncing off the back of the green at the range.  Again it felt effortless.  I was trying to do less and ended with a better result.

Have you ever experienced this?  Give it a shot, I think you’ll like it.

The golf brain

The Golf Brain

I saw an amazing video today from Ted.com.  Neuroanatomis Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a stroke and learned first hand the differences between the right brain and left brain when she had a massive stroke one morning.  Watch this video if you have some time.

Although she never mentioned golf in her lecture, it got me thinking about the golf brain.

I think most golfers play left brain golf.  They have a tremendous amount of mental chatter going on.  They are also thinking a lot about the sequence of the swing along with the 32 million other swing thoughts cramming their brains.

Just go to a driving range and watch golfers hit.  You can immediately tell that there is so much chatter going on.  In addition to the chatter they are constantly reliving golf mental and emotional baggage.  They’re constantly getting angry because they hit a poor shot, and then they remember a good shot and think that’s how they should be hitting it all the time.  I watched one golfer mumbling at the golf ball after every shot, trying to tell it what to do.

Now, the right side of the brain is the more like a parallel processor than the left side of the brain.  Instead of thinking in sequences, it sees the whole picture right now as it gets all the information from the senses.  It is also the side of the brain that runs much of the body like your heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing etc.  In addition it is also the creative center.  I believe that golf is a creative activity.  The best golfers are like artists who use the golf course and the golf ball as a canvas on which to create amazing things.

When you put all this together it makes sense to have the right side of the brain be the main driver of the golf swing.  Now obviously you need both halves to play well.  The left side of the brain can be used to create strategy and analyze the situation.  Once that is over and you’ve decided on a course of action, you need to let the right side of the brain take over and hit the golf shot.

I went out to the range and experimented with a number of ideas to reduce mental chatter and engage the right side of the brain in my shot making.

The hardest part to do was to quiet the chatter.  The left side of the brain is really chatty and wants to constantly give you information.  I found that I could quiet it by focusing on my environment.  I could look out the range and notice the trees in the back of it, or notice the patterns that the mat made, or the feel of the grip under my fingers.  All of these things could quiet the left brain chatter.  I also found that once I decided on what I wanted the shot to do, I didn’t need to remind myself of it.

So what happened on the swings where I was able to cut the chatter out?  I was able to hit some really good shots.  They felt pretty effortless and it was as if everything was nicely in sync.

I also noticed, that at times, the chatter would come back in the middle of my back swing.  That was annoying, and would take make out of the moment.  It also resulted in average to below average shots.  Luckily I experienced that less than I expected to.

Rob LaRosa, the Head Golf Professional at Sterling Farms Golf Course where I play and practice, came over and noticed how good I was swinging.  I hadn’t seen my swing on video since the first 30 day challenge I had and so he took a video and showed it to me.  It was really smooth and fluid.  He told me that it looked really good.

I think this is a great area to explore.  If I can begin to use my right brain more when I play I think it will really help to improve my ball striking.  It certainly felt really good to quiet the mind and just swing.

How to warm up properly to play your best golf

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Do you ever show up to golf course only minutes before your tee time, dash to give yourself a quick stretch, take 2 swings, and then hit your first tee shot deep into the woods, OB or in the rough?  Does this happen all the time?

How can we give ourselves the best opportunity to play well?  How can you expect to play well without giving yourself an adequate warm up?

I want to offer a different way to warm up for your round of golf.  It’s going to be designed to help you quickly get into the groove so that you can play your best.

First, let’s talk about what the purpose of the warm up is.

Certainly part of the warm-up should be designed to get your body moving.  Golf after all is an athletic activity.  It requires coordination, flexibility and strength (to varying degrees).  Any tightness in your muscles will affect how you play.

The other part of the warm up is to prepare you for the round you are about to play.  You want to see what your swing is doing that day, and you want to give your self the best opportunities to play well without having to think about mechanics on the golf course.  Any sports psychologist or mental game coach will tell you that thinking about mechanics while you’re doing the activity will lead to decreased performance.  So how do we give ourselves the best opportunity to play well.

I’m going to share a routine that works well for me.  But I want you to understand what I’m trying to accomplish with it.  I want to eliminate 2 variables from the warm up so that we can get off to a great start.  I also want to make sure that we engage the imagination and feel parts of our brain.  This will help us on the golf course.

Eliminate the variables

The first variable I want to eliminate in the warm-up is club length.

Why would I want to do that?

The average golfer does not practice nearly enough to have a consistent swing.  This is a big reason their handicaps have not improved in the last 20 years.  If you are constantly changing the length of the club, than you are going to need to constantly adjust.  When you don’t practice enough, it becomes difficult to make those adjustments quickly.  By warming up with the same club, a 6 or 7 iron only for the first part of it, you have a consistent ball position, a consistent bottom of the arc, and a consistent length of the club.  By not having to adjust to changing those variables you can more easily get a true sense for what your swing is doing that day.  You can also groove consistency.

The next variable I want to eliminate is loft.

Again by warming up with the same club you can groove consistency.  You can get some rhythm.  And you can prepare to play great golf.

Engaging Feel and Imagination

So I’ve taken away two variables.  But what I do want to do is really get your feel and imagination warmed up and ready for play on the golf course.  When you watch the best players in the world, you will find that each shot is unique.  They are normally not playing the same stock shot every shot.  Each shot has a unique trajectory, curve and target.

I’m not going to expect the average golfer to practice unique trajectory, curve and target but I do want to engage feel and imagination.  So here is what to do.

With your 6 or 7 iron you are going to hit to different distances, straight out in front of you.

Take a few balls and hit between 3 and 5 to each distance below.

15 yds

30 yds

50 yds

80 yds

100 yds

120 yds

150 yds

By starting with short chips and moving to longer shots you began to engage feel and imagination.  You need to try and feel the length of the shot. Your imagination becomes engaged in the process.  Starting with shorter shots also builds your consistency.  As you strike short shots accurately your confidence goes up.  If after moving to the next distance you see shorts start to go off line, take a few balls and hit some short ones again, get that feeling solid and return to hitting the longer shots but with that solid feel in mind.

After doing this first part of the warm up, you should be ready to hit some longer clubs including driver.  Maintain the feeling you had when you were hitting crisp shots with your 6 or 7 iron and you should see improved ball striking on the course. For more on practicing see managing your expectations on the golf course or using your natural auto pilot to play your best golf.

30 Day Challenge – Day 5

Practice in the tundra

Well not a tundra, but the driving range was covered in about 6 inches of snow, and more snow was coming down as I was hitting balls.  I turns out I was the last customer before they closed for the day.  To top it off , the heat was not working.

So what did I do?

I hit balls.  I hit one large bucket of balls and kept focusing on my hands and shot shape.  The past 4 days I was practicing with only a lob wedge, 8 iron and driver.  Today I got a little bit more variety.  I hit some 5 irons as well as a fairway wood (4w to be exact).

I find it truly amazing that what I do with my hands has so much of an effect.  I tried a very interesting little drill.  With the driver in hand, I alternated between hitting high cuts and high draws.  So I would hit one high draw, then one high cut and rinse and repeat.  It was pretty cool.  I had never had this amount of control with the driver.  Occasionally my high draw, would go straight and not really draw back, and occasionally the high fade would stay a bit left.  Still I was not disappointed by that.  I was thrilled that I could get as much consistency as I did.

The driving range really did look pretty covered in a blanket of snow.  Problem was that I couldn’t see where the balls landed.  Still I was very happy with the trajectory and shot shapes I was able to create.  Interestingly the 2 hybrid gave me the most trouble.  I’m not sure why.  But the 5i was beautiful to hit.