Monday, April 16, 2012

Line Up Your Head, Heart and Gut


 
Today's blog is about learning and playing golf with all of your modes of intelligence.  If you want to be great, you have to use your head, your heart and your gut.  Too much time spent in only one area will cause problems and not learning to use all three will make you less of a player. 

Yesterday, I watched a player cry because she was so sad with how she was hitting the ball.  Before I arrived at the driving range, I read an impassioned email from a recruit who had just played a tournament very poorly.  Both of them mentioned self-doubt as the reason for their imagined failures.  I use the word imagined, because failure is only real if it signals the end of your quest for greatness.  Otherwise, it signals the need and opportunity to learn.  How can you seemingly be so far from what you believe you can do and still be on the right track?  That seems to be the question that comes to mind when things go wrong on the golf course.

Even the best players in the world feel far from their goals at times.  This is Rory McIlroy during the final round at The  Masters in 2011.  His collapse on the back nine was memorable.

Golf is a sport that requires you to be in charge of your own momentum.  A teammate cannot pick you up when you are down.  An opponent won't give you a point by making a mistake.  There are no time outs or substitutions.  It is simply, you, the ball and eighteen holes.  Your task is very clear, yet it can seem so complicated.  If you can learn to tap into all of your intelligence and power sources as a person, you can learn to avoid things like self-doubt, anxiety and anger on the course. 

Just a few short months later, Rory won the U.S. Open.  His resilience and tenacity was what marked his year, not the collapse at The Masters or even his win at the U.S. Open.
This blog entry could easily become a book, but we will talk only briefly about each area and how to use your intelligence and power as a golfer.  Everyone who plays this game is unique and every time you step on the course, your experience is unique.  That means that each of you will use your intelligence in different ways and probably not the same way every time you play the game.  We will also talk about how each area of intelligence can be misused to not just take away its power, but to lead you in the wrong direction. 

First, you have to figure out how to best use each area of intelligence.  Here is a list of what each area is in charge of during a round of golf:

Head
            1.  Planning/Strategy
            2.  Analyzing
            3.  Decision Making
            4.  Calculating
            5.  Judging
Heart
            1.  Focus
            2.  Fight
            3.  Attitude
            4.  Joy
            5.  Gratitude
Gut
            1.  Connectedness
            2.  Decision Making
            3.  Feel
            4.  Trust

Head
           
1.  Planning/Strategy
Okay, lets start with what your head does for you.  Before you tee it up on one, you have hopefully already formulated a plan.  Your game plan is your map to take you from the first tee to the eighteenth hole in as few shots as possible.  It is an important tool to playing great golf. There might be some detours, but you start the day with your goal in mind.  While you are playing, it is actively engaged in your strategy.  It weighs odds and helps you decide what you want to do.  It is important at this point to remind you that your head works with your heart and gut in all things, especially when it is at its best. 

How can your head be misused when it comes to planning?  If your mind is too busy with planning while you are on the course, you are in the wrong frame of mind.  An example of this would be how you approach a really windy day.  Every club choice is agonized over and every aim point is second-guessed.  Your mind spins and it feels as though everything is going too fast.  You are over the ball and hitting the shot before you ever committed to any shot.  Give yourself some standard practices for windy days, such as, today, I am going to take ¾ swings and keep spin off the ball on my irons. Or whatever I face today on the course, I am going to trust my gut and go with my first instinct and keep my head clearly focused on executing the shot that my instinct tells me is right.

2.  Analyzing
On every shot, you need to analyze your lie, the slope, the wind, the distance, the spot you need to land the ball and how you feel about the shot.  This analyzing becomes second nature to experienced players, but the process is an important one, whether done consciously or unconsciously. 

If analyzing leaks over to you thinking about your game in terms of success and failure, you are in trouble.  This is a trap that many young players fall into and it leads to loss of focus to the task of ball and hole and introduces self doubt.  Even if you are having a great day, if you analyze your play as being great, you will relax and lose your edge that day.  Mostly though, it happens when a shot or two doesn't go as you hope or plan. Your head gets busy with what your swing is doing, why it isn't working, what needs to change and how you can "fix" it.  When your head is busy with analyzing your body motion, your golf swing or what is going wrong, it isnt busy with your goal of getting the ball in the hole.  

Is this you on the golf course?


3.  Decision Making
When you make a decision on the golf course, does your head check in with your heart and your gut?  If so, you are managing your intelligence centers very well and if not, your head is doing too much.  Have you ever stood over a chip shot and knew that you were going to make it?  Then, you step into the shot and darn it if it doesnt go in.  That is an example of your intelligence centers all lining up together.  Your eyes see the shot, your head knows where to land it and how it will break, you feel it in your gut and your heart attaches itself to the picture so perfectly that it becomes reality.  Those moments seem to make time stand still for their beauty.

What is the opposite of not aligning all of your intelligence for a shot?  We have all been there over a shot when we know it isnt going to go where we want it to go.  Instead, it is going to follow the sick feeling in the gut and go straight into the water or woods, or bunker, or whatever trouble you perceive is insurmountable at that moment.  If your head was in the right place, it would say STOP to your actions, and start over and line everything up.  Your head would choose a shot you feel in your gut and commit to in your heart.  There are so many reasons that this doesnt always happen.  You might be thinking about what you SHOULD do instead of what youre capable of at that moment.  You might be pressing due to mistakes or thinking about your score.  You might be playing for someone else and working to impress or do what you think he would want you to do.  The why doesnt matter, but what you need to pay attention to is your discomfort over a shot and let it be a signal to you that your head just took over from your heart and gut.

4.  Calculating
This is a simple task for the head.  This is also one that gets botched when the head is busy with other things.  We arent going to talk too much about this, but the next time you play and you get a wrong yardage, subtract when you were supposed to add or take the yardage to the hole instead of where you should land the ball on the green, ask yourself what your head was REALLY busy with at that moment.

5.  Judging
Judgment is an important tool for golfers.  It is also the most dangerous tool of the mind.  Judgment is how you weigh risk and reward, how you decide how much wind is up there, and what effect the slope will have on your putt.  Judgment is critical to your play, but is as much of a culprit for poor play, as it is a guide for good play.  If you use your judgment to help you with decision-making, it is doing what it should be doing.  If, instead, you use it to consider how you are playing, how you are swinging the club, or how you did with your last shot, your head is busy with the wrong stuff.  Here is an example of what I mean.  Lets say you are just off the green, with a perfect lie (an unneeded judgment) and a simple (another unneeded judgment) chip shot.  If your approach is that this is easy and you then leave it six feet short, you will be very disappointed.  Since you approached the chip shot with a lot of judgment, you will probably also judge your efforts and decide you did poorly.  Sure, that might all be true, but the time to think about it is after the round or the next time you have a chipping practice.  It also puts you into the wrong mode when you approach your six foot putt.  Since your judgment is that you just blew an easy chip, the pressure to make this goes up.   Your head is probably busy thinking about how you just chipped and that adds to the problem.  

Tiger seems displeased with his play in this shot.  Even though you are on the golf course for four hours, is there time for your head to go here or can you keep it focused on what is important?
 When you judge a shot, simply see it for what it is, not how easy or hard it is.  Judge what effect the lie will have on the shot, but not whether or not it is a good lie or a bad lie.  When you hit a shot, you have to play the result, so there is little need to judge yourself or your effort in between.  Some people are so ingrained to judge their every move on the course that they think this is just spin or a form of self-talk that is meant to pump you up.  True players of the game manage their golf ball around the course and judge the results of their game following play.

The main message is, your head needs to work during a round of golf, but it needs to work on the right things and in the right way.  How is your head working?

This blog post was the first in a series of lining up your three areas of intelligence to play better golf.  If you want to read the next one, which talks about using your heart on the course, it can be found here.
The third and final entry is about trusting your gut and it can be found here.

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