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.

Stuart Appleby shows us why right brain golf is better

PGAtour.com had a good article on Stuart Appleby.

“I’m trying to be a little more relaxed about things,” Appleby said. “I felt like I probably shut down my natural abilities, talents, whatever it is to play golf. I’m trying to play more natural golf and (use) the feel that I have.”

If we can, as many sports psychologists say, “Get out of our own way”, then we have a chance to tap into our natural abilities.

I read a book that has had a big impact on my life outside of golf recently.  It’s called “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future” by Daniel Pink.  The central theme of the book is that our culture has been dominated by left brained activities that require analysis, and a rigid process, but that the future will be ruled by those who take more creative approaches and use the whole brain.  It makes sense in golf too.

If you look at the way instruction has changed over the past 20 years it has become more and more technical and analytical.  But what you are starting to see now is a move away from that.  More and more players seem to be returning to feel golf.  Jim Furyk is a prime example.  I recently wrote about how he was interviewed by Michael Breed on the golf fix and how he couldn’t really describe his approach to the game other than to say that he is a feel player and let’s his dad worry about his swing.

Another good example of a feel player is Rickie Fowler.  You might expect that because he’s young he might have been trained technically.  But his teacher, who is the only teacher he has ever had, was a strictly feel based teacher.  And Rickie Fowler has proven himself to be a phenom.  Super talented, plays fast, and is very exciting to watch.

I often hear recreational players talk about how they get overwhelmed with all the technical bits of the swing.  They get confused and they try to do everything with their left brain.  The thing is, golf is more of a creative sport than that.  I like to picture myself as an artist, my canvas is the golf course and my brush is the golf ball.  I want visualize and feel shots, then make them happen.

When I successfully do that, I play my best golf.  When I’m working on technical details, I don’t play nearly as well.

For example, yesterday I had my first round with a new set of iron shafts.  Same club head different shafts.  For the first 9 holes I was trying to get used to them and I wasn’t being creative with it.  I wasn’t seeing my shots clearly, and I struggled.  On the back nine I changed my approach and decided to visualize every shots carefully and feel it.  My second nine was 7 shots better and only 3 over par.  Not bad for being out on the course with a new set of shafts.  BTW the shaft change was significant.  I went from Project X 5.0 to Dynamic Gold X100.  Once I changed my perspective the feel came back and the shots improved and my scoring really improved.  Like Stuart Appleby by focusing on the shaft change I “shut down my natural abilities”, but by focusing on creativity and feel, I engaged my natural ability and let it play.

The risks of forcing shots

What can we learn from the professional golfers we love to watch?  We can learn a lot.

On this weeks episode of “Being John Daly” we saw Daly’s meltdown in the last round of the tournament in Mayakoba, Mexico.  By his own admission, he was going for too much.  He made some bad decisions and he compounded the errors by trying to hit it farther, or draw it more, or going after too many pins.  He was forcing it and he paid the price.

He knew that he didn’t need to hit driver, that it was a perfect 3 wood golf course for him.  But when things started to go south, the driver came out to play.

Instead of taking his medicine and getting back to the strategies that got him there, he took unnecessary risks, and he felt he had to do that because the tournament was getting away from him.  But that is precisely the time that he needed to play within himself.

I’m certainly guilty of doing this.  I know that sometimes when a round isn’t going well I’ll try to make up for lost shots with some hero shots and end up getting in more trouble.

Golf is a game of patience, and part of being patient is being in control of your emotions.  I think Daly let his emotions get out of hand on Sunday because he really wanted to be in the top 10 to get that exemption into the Waste Management Open with a top ten finish at Mayakoba.  When he saw that slipping away, he fought harder, but in fighting harder he brought more mistakes into play.  If he had hit 3 wood and off the tees instead of driver, he might have kept himself in the tournament.  But it’s hard to come back from 5 bogeys, multiple double bogeys and a triple.  Daly paid the price for trying to get too much out of each shot.  And it’s a lesson well worth learning from.

See also “Bad Decisions are Worse than Bad Swings“.

Bad decisions are worse than bad swings

I've had my share of Barkley's.According to the National Golf Foundation more than half of all golfers shoot 100 or more, and only 1 in 4 can break 90 consistently.

Only 5% of golfers can shoot lower than 80.

With all of the advances in technology and the the improvements in the quality of the golf courses as well as the availability of access to golf professional and teachers you would expect this number to have improved over the last 20 years but it really has not.  So what is going on?  Why are golfers not getting better?  And how can you use this information to become a golfer who does improve?

I think the number one reason golfers don’t score is they make bad decisions that costs them more shots than they should take.

Bad decisions are very costly.  They compound mistakes and they add many unneeded strokes.

So what makes a decision bad:

1) You are unlikely to pull the shot off.

2) If you don’t pull the shot off it brings a high number into play.

3) There are higher percentage plays that you can make but instead you take the low percentage play.

4) You don’t factor in all the information needed to make a sound decision.

5) You over estimate your abilities.

6) You don’t practice this shot so you really don’t know how to play it.

Not all of these are involved in every bad decision, but if you look at your bad decisions you will see that many of them are.

Now I want to differentiate a bad decision from a bad shot.  Since we are all human, and therefore imperfect, we will make bad swings.   That’s just the way it goes.  You may have made the right decision, but put a bad swing on it.  That happens.  Most scoring problems however, really happen when bad decisions and bad swings come together.

The difference between golfers who score well and golfers who don’t, is that golfers who don’t score well, consistently throw away shots.  Golfers who score well, make decisions that makes it difficult to throw away shots.

I’ve been taught to play defensive aggressive .  Play to a defensive part of the course (in other words away from trouble and away from your weaknesses) but put an aggressive swing on the ball.  In other words you play the high percentage shot that will leave you with a bogey at worst and takes double bogey or worse out of the equation.  It sounds like you’re hoping for bogey but that’s not what this does at all.  Playing this way actually enables you to make many more pars and even birdies while limiting the effect of mistakes.  Try it and let me know how your scores change. See also: Use your natural autopilot to play your best golf.

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.

How to keep breakthroughs from slipping away

So I read something interesting on a a forum last night.

The poster wrote that he often experiences breakthroughs while on the range, but they disappear as quickly as they came the next time he plays golf or practices.

I would bet almost everybody goes through this.

So how can you take a breakthrough and build on it, rather than letting it slip away?

Imagine what would happen if every breakthrough you had practicing, stayed with you?  You would quickly become an excellent golfer.  You would have a more consistent repeatable swing.  And you would have more fun on the golf course.

Here’s why breakthroughs don’t last.

  1. We don’t document what we did.
  2. If we do document, we document the wrong thing
  3. We try to extend the breakthrough
  4. If we can’t get it back quickly, we forget about it

We don’t document what we did

One of the best things you can do is keep track of your progress in some kind of written form.  A notebook, a pad, a laptop, or even a blog will do.  I hard that Annika Sorenstam kept copious notes of every practice session, every practice round and that she has notebooks filled with her insights, thoughs, and feelings.  Those are invaluable.  As golfers we go through periods when we are playing well, and periods when we’re not.  The game is filled with ups and downs.

It’s nice when you’re not playing well, to look back at times when you were, see what you were doing right, and it might spark some new enthusiasm or just get you back on track.  That is actually one of the main reasons I started this blog.  I know that any time I’m not playing well, I can just come back to this blog, see when I was playing well, and read some entries around that time.  It might lead to an a-ha moment that can set me on the right track.

If we do document, we document the wrong thing

If we do take notes of our practice sessions we tend to write about the wrong things.  We may write about some mechanical aspect of it.  Our elbow was here, or my feet were set like this…etc.  I think it’s more important to document feelings.  What felt right about the swing.  What did you feel in your body, your hands.  What was your mindset like?

These things are more important because they change how you approach your practice sessions.  By focusing on feelings you can learn to recreate those.  By recreating feelings you are more likely to get back to the results you were having that day.  If your swing has changed over time, the mechanics that you look at or remember, may no longer apply.  In fact you may be doing more damage by trying to work those mechanics back into your swing.

We try to extend the breakthrough

Ever notice that when you’re striking it particularly, there is a feeling of “wow, if I’m hitting it this far at 85%, I can really get it out there at 100%”.  These thoughts are deadly.  What happens is that you then lose the success.  The breakthrough dissipates and is not heard from again.  What happened here?

You tried to extend the breakthrough.  You tried to make it do more instead of keeping it, feeling it, and making it a part of your swing.  It’s sort of like killing the goose to get the golden eggs.

If we can’t get it back quickly, we forget about it

Ah defeat.  You’ve lost the breakthrough because you killed the goose.  Now what?  If you can’t get it back you wind up forgetting about it and hoping another breakthrough comes along.  It will, but you’ll probably lose it again unless you change what you do when you get a breakthrough.

So what should you do?

Focus on the things that are re creatable.  Mainly how things feel in your body, and your mindset.  At first it will be difficult to document how the swing feels.  Over time you will get better a describing it.  In describing it you’ll be accomplishing two things.  You’ll make the feeling more real so you’re body will remember it better, and your creating a document you can look back on to get you back on track when things are off.

It’s just as important to describe your mindset.  If you can get back to into the same mindset you will probably start to get those results back.  If you combine the mindset with the feelings, you should be able to quickly get back on track.

A shift in perspective is all you need sometimes

golfpuzzle

Sometimes all it takes is a change of perspective to improve in leaps and bounds.

When I was in college, I had a dream to visit my father in Japan.  I hadn’t seen him since I was a kid and I had always felt a void there.  I spent the first two years of college learning Japanese well enough so that I could go to Japan and see him.  He had no idea I was coming but it was an important, driving dream for me.

We managed to communicate and then I got to go spend some time with him.  He lived in south of Japan and I got to spend 10 days with him.  He had been a World Champion in Karate, and I had always wanted to ask him how he got to that level of success.  I remember hearing stories about him, and about his tournament success.  From when I was a kid, those stories about him really inspired me.

One of the first things I asked him was how he became so good at Karate.  He told me a story, that to this day serves to inspire me.

He told me that when he first started doing Karate, he wasn’t one of the best.  In fact, the first two years on the team in college he couldn’t win a fight.  But he worked harder than anyone else on the team, 3 times harder than anyone else.  Still he kept losing.

He says that one day, it clicked for him. He figured it out, and from then on he was basically unbeatable.  He didn’t tell me exactly what clicked, but whatever it was that he figured out enabled him to be a 3 time world champion.

I think the same is true in golf.  Over the last week I have had numerous insights while doing the 30 Day Challenge.  In giving up video analysis for 30 days and concentrating on feeling the swing I have made breakthroughs that really surprise me.  This has created a shift in my perspective and suddenly the game seems so much simpler.  I’m sure I’m not done learning and what gets me excited is feeling like this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Feeling like I’ve started down the rabbit hole.

Have you experienced anything like this in golf?  In other areas?  I would love to hear of other experiences like this.

Managing Expectations on the Golf Course

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Have you ever been so excited to go to the golf course because your practice sessions have been going great?  You tee it up, and wham, OB. Uh oh, this could be a long day.

Expectations can lead to frustration on the course.  Managing them properly is the best way to play your best golf.

Golf is played one shot at a time.  Anything that takes you out of that is asking for trouble.  Coming to the course with expectations that you are going to play great because you were striping it at the range can lead to disappointment.  If you don’t manage your emotions properly, that disappointment can quickly escalate and throw your entire round off.

The hardest thing in golf is to maintain the one shot at time philosophy.  It’s so simple in concept, and yet so difficult in practice.  Why is that?

I think the heart of it is that we are emotional beings.  We aren’t robots who can turn off the emotion.  But we don’t need to be robots to be successful either.  We can use our emotions to help us.  After all playing from feel is essentially playing from emotion.  When you play from you feel, you are feeling the shot, and going with what feels good, right, etc.  It’s a positive emotion that you have chosen the right shot.  So it’s actually based on emotion, but it’s not reactive.  This is using emotion proactively to play well.

The opposite side of the spectrum is reacting to bad shots, reacting to pressure poorly, reacting to your range session.  Reacting emotionally takes away from being in the moment, seeing the shot, and feeling it.

The more technical we are, the more reactive we can be.  Bad shots, tend to drive us to analyze, what went wrong, what happened, I was hitting it so well before, where did my swing go.  These thoughts happen, and the response, well my stance, my grip, did come over the top, did I tuck in my elbow right, did I get the right wrist hinge, did I turn my back fully….etc.

I think a better response is to say “Did I see my target clearly before taking the shot?”, “Did I feel the shot before I hit it?”, “Did I factor wind, slope, lie and temperature into my calculations?”.

So how does this relate to managing expecations?  Simply, your expectations, good or bad, take you out of the moment if not managed.  Whether you were striping it on the practice tee or not, you need to treat each shot as a single event.  Step outside the boundaries of the expectation and say, what do I want to create here?  Visualize, feel, and swing.

I’ve heard stories of tour players playing a brand new course, sight unseen, who ended up with a great round.  When they talk about it, they say things like “Well, I didn’t really have any expectations.  I haven’t played the course before, and I didn’t know where the trouble was.  So I just went at it, one shot at a time.”

CONI – The key to long term improvement in golf

COnstant and Never ending Improvement.  This is a huge to key to becoming successful in golf and in anything.

Improving drives me.  If I’m hitting my chips to 6 feet, I want to hit them to 2 feet.  So I’ll set up a goal and work toward it.  As I see my chips get to 5 feet, then 4 feet, etc, it drives me to get even better.  It’s exciting, it gets me to the range, or to the putting green, and it makes the game so much more fun.

That’s not to say that every golfer should try to do this.  Weekend players, who tee it up a few times a year shouldn’t have this attitude.  They just won’t practice enough to get the benefits of it.  But for anyone serious about becoming a good golfer this attitude is a must.

If you improve just 1% each day, in a year you will have transformed your game because improvement, in my experience does not happen on a linear scale.  When you work at it everyday, it begins to happen in a way, similar to compounding interest.  Over a year, it really pays off.

Review: Aaron Baddeley: Putting from seeitgolf

Aaron Baddeley putting

Aaron Baddeley:Putting from seeitgolf is unlike any putting video you have seen. It is designed to replace the images of doubt and failure and replace them with success and confidence.

This video is intended to be used both in a 30 day training program as well as before rounds of golf. The idea is that by watching perfectly executed putts free of distractions you build in your mind solid images of success and visualization you can call upon on the golf course. It is intended to be viewed on a portable video player like an iPod, iPod touch, an iPhone or any other portable video player.

The putts are beautifully shot using 4 RED cameras. These cameras record at a very high resolution and are known for fantastic images.

Zen Chili Rating for Aaron Baddeley:  Putting

5 Zens out of 5

• Effective at helping the mind visualize and remove fear
• Unique way of filming removes all distractions

5 Chilis out of 5

• Beautiful production with Red Cameras
• Great musical score
• High production values
• Effectively enables the body to react to what the mind sees

To learn more about the rating system click here.

Along with pristine footage of the putts is a musical score that is designed to help ingrain the images and tempo into your brain and memory. The music is beautiful and easy to listen to.

All in all it is an impressive package. Although it is not your typical training aid for your physical technique, it is an excellent training aid for your mind. With repeated viewings I felt my putting visualization significantly improve.

When you listen to the best mental game coaches they emphasize visualization. The objective is to visualize so well and so congruently that your body reacts to what your mind sees. Instead of thinking about your technique, your stroke, you can use the mind to drive the body.

Using this product I did feel my powers of visualization improve. I could more clearly see the line that I wanted the putt to start on and I was able to do that more consistently.

The more you use it, the easier it is to visualize success. Now obviously this does not mean that you will make every putt, nor does the product promise that. I did make more putts, but more importantly I could see the lines better and imagine much more vividly the putts rolling into the cup.

This is an excellent product. If you have an iPod or iPhone definitely get the mobile version so that you can have wherever you go. If you don’t yet have a portable video player or would also like to experience this on your TV (very nice on a large flat panel display), then get the DVD version, which also includes the mobile versions.

The product is endorsed by renowned sports psychologist Dr. David Cook and short game/putting guru Stan Utley.

seeitgolf Website