Do you expect things to go as planned?

I saw this post earlier today and I couldn’t help thinking how much it relates to golf and the way we approach it.

So often, we set high expectations for ourselves, especially when we’ve been working hard on a particular aspect of our game, like chipping, putting, or driving.  Then when things don’t go as planned we stop having fun.

The problem is that this way of approaching the game, makes it harder to perform well.  It gets in the way.  Or rather, our expectations get in the way.

I want to make a distinction between this and confidence.  You can have confidence without expectations getting in the way.  Confidence is a great thing to have.  In fact it’s what we want to develop in our game.  We want to have confidence that we can hit the shot we’ve committed to hitting.  But I think the greatest confidence comes from knowing that you’ll be all right even if things don’t go as planned.

Watching tournaments on tv you’ll often hear players who are playing well talking about the way they felt during the round.  They knew that even if they missed some shots, that they’d be able to get up and down.  This kept them in the moment.

You’ll see the opposite from players who are playing poorly.  Every bad shot is an arrow through the heart of their confidence.  Every bad shot makes them more miserable.  Frustration sets in and bad shots begin to pile up.

It’s not easy to play without expectations.  But I’ve found a few techniques that help.

1) Focus on this shot right now.  Forget about what happened on the last shot, or the last hole, or the front nine.

2) Make a conscious realization that if the shot doesn’t go as planned, you’ll still be ok.  Golf isn’t life or death.  It’s a game.  It’s a maddening game, but it’s just a game.  Learning to let go of the outcome is incredibly powerful for many reasons.

Never give up

Never Give Up
Never Give Up

GMac’s victory at the Chevron this weekend over Tiger Woods is a wonderful example of not giving up.

He continued fighting even as things seemed to be breaking down around him.  His miraculous bogey on 17 kept him in it.  Tiger then hit it tight on 18 giving McDowell a must make putt with a lot of pressure. He made a gritty 15 footer for birdie putting the pressure on Tiger’s short putt.

On the first playoff hole, as they played 18 again, Tiger left himself with an almost identical distance for his approach shot.  Graham had a shot from about 175 over the trees.  He hit a good shot and left himself a nearly identical putt to the one he made to force the playoff.

Tiger Woods hit a solid approach shot inside McDowell’s ball giving him an advantage.  As we all know, McDowell sank that putt again putting the pressure back on Tiger and Tiger’s putt slid past the cup, giving GMac an impressive victory.

I can’t really think of many people who would handle the pressure the way he did.  Think about how you would have handled the pressure.  I was absolutely amazed at the gritty resilience that GMac showed.  I know I couldn’t have handled that kind of pressure and it is inspiring for me.

I want to give you another example of not giving up.  In one of my last rounds this year I started out 7 over par for my first 9 holes.  Throughout those first nine, I just could not find my game.  My short game was off, my putting was off and my ball striking was off.  It was very frustrating.

I could have easily given up and gotten mad.  I could have complained about the weather, or the pace of play.  But stuck it out.  I determined that I was going to enjoy the rest of the round no matter what.

The back nine turned into the best nine holes I’ve had all season, scoring wise.  It was a real grinding round though.  On my tenth I hole missed the fairway way right.  I hit a short iron over the trees, onto the green and two putted for par.

On the next hole, a downhill par 5 with trouble right, I hit my tee shot into the right rough, laid up, missed the green short right with my approach from 115 but I managed to chip it to 8 feet and sink the putt for par.

The next hole brought the first birdie of the round along with the only fairway hit. Hit the green and sank a 10 footer for birdie.  The next hole is the number one handicap hole on the course.  I hit my drive through the fairway just missing a fairway bunker.  With 145 yards left, I hit an 8 iron to 10 feet and sank my 2nd birdie putt of the day.

The following hole brought me back to reality a bit.  A long par 3 with trouble left and long.  I hit my tee shot way right, hit a fat chip, chipped again into the bunker, splashed out on to the green and 2 putted for a double bogey 5.  I’m not going to lie to you, that one hurt.

On the next hole I hit a long straight drive that ended up in the rough through the fairway.  I had a decent lie and 225 yards left to a severely uphill par 5 green.  I took out my fairway wood and hit a solid shot out of the rough that came up 15 yards short of the green in the rough.  Chipped up and 2 putted for par.

The next hole, a dog leg right par 4 with severely tree trouble at the dog leg was next.  I hit a decent tee shot that got slightly past the dog leg but left me in the rough with a large overhanging tree.  I needed to hit a low shot that would get to the back of the green.  I hit a 3/4 6 iron from 155 that just got through the back of the green.  I had a decent lie so I opted for the hybrid chip and the ball stopped 2 inches from the cup.  Tap in par and on to the next hole.

The eighth hole on this back 9 is an uphill par 3 that reads 195 on the card but plays more like 205 – 215.  Although I was trying for a draw to the left side of the green, I left the club face open and the ball ended up down the right side.  I was left with a shot off hard pan, to a green 20 yards above my head and overhanging trees.  After much deliberation I selected a lofted club.  I hit a good shot and got a nice break off a branch that left the ball 4 feet from the cup.  I made the putt.

I call the last hole my nemesis.  It’s a hole that for some reason always gives me trouble.  It’s a long uphill par 4 with one of the toughest greens on the course.  I usually feel pretty good if I walk away with a bogey.  I hit my drive long, but right onto the next fairway.  I was left with a 200 yard shot over trees to a pin tucked on the right, 2 bunkers right in front of it.  The wind was swirling and in the end I picked a 4 iron.  I hit a good shot, but the wind killed it a bit and I ended up in the bunker, short sided to the pin.  My bunker play had recently been a strength so I felt the shot I wanted to hit.  I got cute with it and dumped it into the rough short of the hole.  Feeling par slip away, I took my PW and hoped to get it close.  Miraculously the shot went in and I saved my par.

On that back nine I hit 1 fairway in regulation, had a 1 chip in, and a grand total of 11 putts.  I don’t think that would have happened if I had given up after the first nine.  In the end I walked away feeling great.

Never give up.  You never know what can happen.

A long term approach to golf

2010-10-16 10.20.43

It is a game I plan on playing for the rest of my life.  A game that will teach me many lessons to come, introduce me to people who will become good friends, and open doors and opportunities.  It has already done some of this, but I believe it will do more.  They say golf is a microcosm of life.  They say you can learn a lot about how a person handles adversity by how they handle the unlucky bounces, duffed shots, and OB shots a round, a season, or years of golf will dish out.

All of these things help me to cultivate a long term approach to golf.  Look, I love getting new equipment, playing with the latest drivers and irons, just as much as the next guy. Love to try out the latest tour golf balls, and all the gadgets and gizmos that aim to help us play better golf.  Only I don’t see them as quick fixes.  I see them as tools that will help me in a long term goal to become the best golfer I can be.

Each of these tools helps with certain things.  I haven’t seen a cure all yet, and I don’t think I will.  They comprise my golf tool box.  Like any tool though you need to understand what you can and can’t do with it, as well as what you are trying to accomplish.

Frankly if I thought each of the training aids I use was a quick fix cure, I probably would have quit the game.  The thing is that they don’t always work as quickly as you like, especially if they’re not used for their intended purpose.  But if you use them at the right time, for the right problem, wow, they really can seem magical.  They can help to unlock at least that one piece of the puzzle, even if it’s just for a little while.

To me, that is part of the fun too.  Figuring out what happened, what went wrong and how to fix it.

So I’ve taken a long term approach to golf.  My goal remains to become a scratch or better golfer.  I do believe I will achieve it.  When will that happen I don’t know, but what I do know is that if I keep improving, then I’m moving closer to it.  As long as I’m moving in the right direction that’s really all that matters.  That and enjoying the process.

Part of the process means that you are going to have times when your game is on fire, when you’re making seemingly every 20 footer, chipping it in routinely, and hitting insanely long and accurate drives.

But there’s a flip side.  There will be times when you have no idea where your next shot is going to go, when a chip becomes a flub, and you’re skulling them out of every bunker.  Golf is like that.

Those times, when it’s just not going right, well those are truly wonderful opportunities to learn, if you can find the lesson.  Having a long term approach to golf makes it a little bit easier to find the lesson because you accept that you can’t control when you’ll play well and when you you don’t.  By looking out 5, 10 and even 20 years to where I want my game to be and what kind of player I want to become, I can step back and see the lessons that golf is constantly trying to teach.

Golf: A game for life

I don’t think that many of my friends who don’t play golf understand why I do play and love this game.  As Bagger Vance says:

What I’m talkin about is a game… A game that can’t be won only played…

Golf is a game that you can’t win.  Sure, you can win tournaments and bets.  You can win trophies, but you can’t ever master golf.  You can’t perfect golf.  You can experience perfect moments, but they are fleeting, they go as fast as they came.  And you never know when the next perfect moment is coming.  Golf, as many wise people have said, is in the journey.  The journey to get better, to feel those perfect moments and everybody has those.  They usually come at the end of a frustrating round when you’re ready to give up the game.  Each one of those moments keeps you coming back for more.

I had an experience recently that showed me a bit of what drives me in golf.  It seems unrelated but stick with me for a second.  I got one of those jewel puzzle games for my phone.  I’d play it here and there in either the normal mode or the timed mode.  I’d do my best and see where my scores ended up in comparison to all the other people that have this game.  Then I noticed it has an infinite mode.  I started playing the infinite mode and then I realized that no matter what I did in the game, I couldn’t lose.  The game wouldn’t end because it was infinite.  Right there, is where I lost interest, and I’m surprised the developer even put that mode in, because it almost made me not want to play in the other modes either.  But golf is different.

Well, it’s a good things there is no infinite game type for golf.  Because whether you are playing nine holes after work, or playing for the US Open, it’s still golf.  It’s you, the golf course, and your golf ball.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  There’s no guarantees.  You never know when you are going to stripe if down the middle.  You never know when a lucky bounce is going to put it inches from the hole.  Or when a perfect shot, hits a sprinkler and goes flying over the green.  You take the good, and you deal with the bad, and you try to do better.  Sometimes your best isn’t enough.  And sometimes, you do things you never thought possible.

I hope I play golf, like some guys I know, well into my 90s.  When I can barely walk, I’ll still be able to putt and chip.  And I’ll still love to hear the sound of the golf ball rattling in the hole.  And I’ll still love the feeling of a perfectly struck shot.  Me, the golf course, and a golf ball, going for a walk and playing a game that can’t be won.

Lessons from the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone

This week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational provided a unique learning experience.

Did their expectations do them in?

We saw the world’s number one player, struggle to his worst finish as a professional, while the number two player in the world was coping with a new kind of pressure, the chance to take the number spot away from Tiger Woods.

So why weren’t Tiger and Phil able to muster anything better than +7 and +8 respectively?  Was the course unfair?  Hunter Mahan shot a 64 on Sunday to win by two shots.  Goosen, Furyk, Harrington and Oosthuizen had good rounds in the mid 60s.  So I would say that the course was not unfairly setup.

I think two things happened.  It appeared that Mickelson became very technical. His swing wasn’t as fluid and powerful as he usually is.  And his putting was shaky at best.

I think Tiger phoned it in.  He had given up hope, he had lost his fight, and he just wanted to get out of there.

What’s interesting about the Tiger story for me is that he had felt that his game was where it needed to be.  He thought that he had found some keys to playing well again.  He also had a lot of confidence from the venue itself.  He had won 7 out of the last 10 times he played without finishing worse than 4th.  Given all those factors he came into the event expecting to contend, if not outright dominate.

Could Tiger’s expectations been his downfall?  Where they realistic based on the amount and the way he’s played this year?  Did he put pressure on himself in a way that he’s never really done?

Lesson learned

As a golfer who is working his game down to scratch (though I still have a way to go), I got a lot out of watching this event.  Surprisingly the lesson I came away with was to be kinder and more patient with myself.  If the world’s #1 and #2 players, can have days like those, why am I expecting so much of myself?  Why don’t I just play the game, shot by shot, and see where that takes me?

Recently I had worked really hard to prepare for my local city championship.  It was my first time qualifying for the event at the Championship division, meaning there was no handicap.  I prepared for several weeks, and felt my game was ready for the event.  I ended up playing some of my worst golf in recent memory in those two days and missed the cut by a wide margin, and although I can’t draw a direct comparison to what happened with Tiger and Phil, I believe I can learn from what I saw this week at the WGC.

It is frustrating to show up at the course without the game you know you are capable of.  It is even more frustrating when it is a tournament situation and you realize you just don’t have it that day.  How can you turn it around?  How can you post a good score, when you don’t have it, and how do you change what you are thinking so that you can change the experience?

Days like that happen to everyone.  If you come in with high expectations you automatically put more pressure on yourself.  But you can’t come into it with low expectations either.  I think one of the hardest things to do is to set aside your expectations and just play the game.

There’s a lesson in every shot

As I kept thinking about what the way Tiger and Phil played, for some reason I thought about that Rolling Stones song “You can’t always get what you want”.  I think that every round of golf, every shot has a lesson, “But if you try sometimes/you just might just find/you get what you need”.  I’m using that tournament experience as something I can learn from.  And just remember, it happens to everyone.  Be kind to yourself, stay patient, and good things are bound to happen when you get out of your own way.

Use your natural autopilot to play your best golf


“Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course…the space between your ears.”

Bobby Jones

Ah, the mental game of golf.  Have you ever noticed that some of your best rounds occur when you can just get out of your own way?

When you look at the literature surrounding the mental game, whether it’s Dr. Bob Rotella, Dr. Joseph Parent, or any of the other excellent sports psychologists and mental game coaches, one of the recurring themes is getting out of our own way,

They all have their own approaches to achieving this but it is certainly not easy.  Especially not when something is riding on the line (your club championship, your best round, your first time breaking 100, 90 or 80).

One of the reasons that I kept the word Zen in this website is that I have come to believe that the Zen philosophy is completely applicable to golf.  My view of Zen is that optimal performance occurs when the thinking mind is silent, when we allow the body to do what it has learned, to simply react to the shot and situation.  But how often does that happen?

The truth is that we enter an autopilot like state nearly everyday.  If you drive a car, you do it instinctively.  Have you ever had the experience of driving, and during the drive you “zone out” for a few minutes, and you look around and recognize that you are still driving perfectly well, miles down the road?  That’s the autopilot taking over.

That can be used in golf.

However the main obstacle that gets in the way is thinking about technique.  Often when we hit a poor shot, we automatically go into diagnosis mode and technique mode.  We try to figure out what went wrong.  Did my elbow stick out?  Was my backswing too long?  Did I take the club back too far inside?

I think the first response should be “Did I pick out a good target?”  or something along those lines.  Once you are on the golf course it is too difficult to change technique.  Many of the bad shots that we do have don’t come from bad swings, but they come from bad decisions.

A bad decision can happen when we don’t inspect the lie carefully.  It can happen when we don’t take the slope or the wind into consideration.  It can happen when we don’t know our distances very well and under club.   I would imagine that the average golfer can shave 5 strokes off their game by making better decisions.

Ray Floyd in his excellent book “The Elements of Scoring” says that if he was playing against you, and he had the same physical game as you, he could beat you every time because he would make better decisions.

That’s something to think about.  Those decisions are not related to swing technique (although your options are constrained by your skill level).  They are related to your game plan and what information you take into account.

Elements to a successful mental game

  1. Carefully evaluate the situation
  2. Plan your shot
  3. Visualize the shot vividly
  4. Fully Commit to the shot
  5. Execute

The steps above can help to keep you away from entering a technique mindset.  Focusing on the target, visualizing the ball flight, and trusting your swing will usually produce excellent results.  Focusing on technique brings your conscious mind into play.  Your conscious mind is not the best swinger of the club.  Your unconscious or subconscious mind that runs your body does a far better job.  Keep your conscious mind occupied on strategy, visualization and trust and you can allow your subconscious to produce the swing you need.

Do your best to keep technique-related thoughts out of your mind while playing a round.  Changing your mental game will take practice and discipline but it should pay dividends.

Tiger Humanized

It’s always sad when our heroes let us down.

It’s also a reminder that they are human and make mistakes. When someone is so good, so talented at what they do, that everything they touch turns to gold, it becomes difficult to see them as full human beings with flaws and conflicting emotions. I’m sure we can all think of heroes who have let us down. Andre Agassi recently confessed that he was abusing meth while competing on the professionally on the tennis circuit.

It’s always sad when our heroes let us down.

It’s also a reminder that they are human and make mistakes.  When someone is so good, so talented at what they do, that everything they touch turns to gold, it becomes difficult to see them as full human beings with flaws and conflicting emotions.  I’m sure we can all think of heroes who have let us down.  Andre Agassi recently confessed that he was abusing meth while competing on the professionally on the tennis circuit.

There are probably too many examples to name, and the truth is that almost everyone of our heroes would let us down if we dig deep enough.  Together, between our heroes and us the fans, we create an image that is impossible to live up to.  This does not excuse his behavior nor should it explain it away.  It’s just a reality that we have deep connections to our heroes and they will eventually let us down.

Although Tiger has been able to create and foster a squeaky clean image, I have heard other things about him that made me question the truth of it.  Regardless, there is no question about his talent, his drive or his dedication to the game.  But we can’t pretend to know what someone is like as a person based only on their professional results, whether it be trophies collected, money earned, albums sold, mansions bought, and the many other ways in which we judge how successful our celebrity heroes are.  Tiger’s image has been carefully groomed and manicured.  He has the best advisors money can buy, and he should have those.  Someone with as much influence as Tiger should have teams of people looking out for him.  He is responsible for the rise in popularity of golf.  It is the Tiger era.  With influence comes responsibility.  With celebrity comes the power to influence huge amounts of people.  And this will have an impact.  People will remember.

Tiger will recover from this incident. We won’t know what’s happening behind closed doors, away from the spotlight of the media.  We can continue cheer on his victories.  But in the end, we will always know that he is human.  That he is capable of making mistakes of judgment.  And in the end that makes him more like one of us.

Applying Fearless Golf

How difficult is it to play Fearless Golf?

In ordinary situations, on your favorite course, on your favorite hole, with your favorite club, and with ideal weather it’s probably not that hard.  But what happens when you are in a tournament, or there is some money riding on a putt, or you’re on the 16th hole needing pars in that last two holes to beat your best score.  Is it easy then to play fearless golf?  Probably not.

I think playing fearless golf requires awareness.  You must become aware of when the fear mechanism is triggered and act accordingly.  Too often we get caught up in the moment and instead of taking a moment to gather ourselves we push through, for whatever reasons we have.  Usually we end up with a bad result, a hooked or sliced shot, a shot OB or into the hazard, or a stubbed chip, or a weak or overly strong putt.

I set out this morning to play Fearless Golf in difficult conditions on my home course (temperature in the upper 40s, wind blowing around 30 MPH, with a threat of rain on the way).  You would think that in these conditions it would be difficult to play fearless golf.  What’s the wind going to do to my shots?  How much shorter will the ball fly in the cold?  What are the greens going to be like?  Will my hands be too cold to get any real feel putting or chipping?

I noticed the fear response came up a number of times.  I pictured a drive being taken by a slice wind way right OB.  At that point I had a choice.  What do I do about it?  I didn’t want to just hit then because I had a really ugly picture in my head.  I told my self “You’re playing fearless golf, you’ve hit this drive great before lots of times.”  I would then picture my ball flight as I wanted, relaxed by body, and especially my hands, and swung with confidence.  I hit it down the middle in ideal position.

I made several key birdie putts in the round by thinking “Fearless Putting”, including some breaking downhillers.  In the end I ended up with a score about 7 shots better than I expected.  I was fearless and it worked.

Fearless Golf

I got a new book today, by Dr. Gio Valiante and Mike Stachura.

One chapter into I would considering recommending it.  When I look at the differences when I am able to pull off great shots and when I’m not there does seem to be an element of fear in it.  I think a lot of pressure comes from fear; fear of losing, fear of looking foolish, fear of slicing, fear of hooking, fear of hitting it fat, etc.

Do you ever notice when you are practicing that effortlessly a lot of shots come off great.  Your chips are closer to the hole with several going in, your putts are firm, on line and track right in, your drives are long and straight?  Then you get on the course and that ease is gone…

I think a big reason is that there are now consequences, penalty shots, lost balls (OB or in hazards), difficult lies etc.  All of these things that can go wrong creep into your thoughts unless you are determined to keep a strong mindset.  But like Dr. Valiante says, we actually get the fear response before we can even consciously recognize it.  If we don’t do anything about it when we do recognize it (hopefully before we swing), then it’s too late.

The next time I go out to play, I’m going to make a point of approaching every shot with confidence and certainty that I can pull it off.  Obviously it is unlikely that I’ll pull off every shot, but going into it confident that I can will make a big difference.

Tiger Woods Rulebook to Success

A great article  (here is the orginal article) about becoming successful.

The Tiger Woods Rulebook To Being A Huge Success

Written on 6/25/2008 by Alex Shalman, creator of the Practical Personal Development blog.

If you believe in evolution, you know there wasn’t some superstar golfer caveman from which Tiger Woods evolved centuries later. His talent and subsequent success were not a genetic lottery win — let’s take a look at 12 factors that we can adapt from this legendarygolfer.

Even if Tiger Woods was somehow physically superior, all that gossip could be laid to rest, when Tiger Woods won this years U.S. Open playing with a bum knee. Ok, so maybe a knee isn’t that crucial to a golfer, but walking on it while experiencing a great deal of pain and keeping the focus does prove that there’s more to this man than his stroke.

12 Rules for Success From Tiger Woods

1. Constant and Never Ending Improvement

“No matter how good you get you can always get better and that’s the exciting part”~Tiger Woods

2. A Bigger Plan

“I think it’s an honor to be a role model to one person or maybe more than that. If you are given a chance to be a role model, I think you should always take it because you can influence a person’s life in a positive light, and that’s what I want to do. That’s what it’s all about.”~Tiger Woods

3. Embrace Defeat

“I’m trying as hard as I can, and sometimes things don’t go your way, and that’s the way things go.”~Tiger Woods

4. Take Life Lightly

“If you can’t laugh at yourself, then who can you laugh at?”~Tiger Woods

5. Don’t Stop

“Tiger may have used his golf club as a cane, but he refused to use his injury as a crutch.” ~Brian Clark

6. Live Your Own Expectations

“One of the things that my parents have taught me is never listen to other people’s expectations. You should live your own life and live up to your own expectations, and those are the only things I really care about it.” ~Tiger Woods

7. Do What You Love

“I get to play golf for a living. What more can you ask for – getting paid for doing what you love.”~Tiger Woods

8. Focus

“My main focus is on my game.”~Tiger Woods

Having one solid goal which you can devote all your focus into pools together all your available resources. You begin to enroll other people into your vision and they start to believe in you. This will give you access to new tools, mentors, and even more resources to get to your goal faster and better.

9. Pay It Forward

“My dad has always taught me these words: care and share. That’s why we put on clinics. The only thing I can do is try to give back. If it works, it works.”~Tiger Woods

You don’t know how much money you have until you give it away. I’m sure you’ve heard that before many times. The same thing goes for our talents, skills, and other opportunities. When we can empower people by giving a piece of ourselves to them we can leave a legacy or live on through them. Besides we’re programmed to feel good when we are kind to others.

10. Learn From All Mistakes

“The only thing you can do is take a learning experience from it, positives and negatives, and apply them to the future. What did you do right, what did you do wrong, and I did a lot of things right this week” ~Tiger Woods

You can subscribe to the idea that everything is put into our life as a challenge. When things are going bad it is our challenge to over come them. When things are going great it is our challenge to remain grounded and humble. It’s all there so that we can learn from it and grow, so there’s no point getting hung up on or experiencing a huge grief over a bad mistake. Be happy that you learned a valuable lesson.

11. Celebrate Your Victories

“It’s been a lot of fun to see some fruits of my hard labor.”~Tiger Woods

No matter how many times Tiger wins he treats each win as if it is special. This provides a constant positive reinforcement to keep him interested in giving the game his best. Perhaps if he only celebrated once a year, after the final stats were in and he saw he was still the best, he wouldn’t be living so much in the moment. If Tiger wasn’t living in the present, or at least one game at a time, there is no way he would be as happy as he could be.

12. Pay No Attention To Naysayers

“You know, all the nay-sayers said that I was doing the wrong things. They can understand why now I made those changes.”~Tiger Woods

Had Tiger payed attention to the first critic that told him he wouldn’t make it he would have given up when he started golfing at the age of 5. If he gave up the second time he wouldn’t be here either. During Tigers career there have been thousands upon thousands of people commenting and gossiping that this game wouldn’t be his game, and even if it is he still won’t win it all. Nonsense. By going for his goals despite the nay-sayers Tiger made it all happen.Practical Application.