Monday, April 16, 2012

You Gotta Have Heart!

That quote by Picasso sums up what your heart's role is for your game.  Your head is often telling you what isn't possible, but it is your heart's job to invest in what seems impossible.  That is your hearts work during a round of golf.  Your heart makes great golf possible.  Your heart also makes the game enjoyable.  When your heart is in use, you see the beauty of the course.  Your nose likes the smell of the grass.  You notice how blue the sky is or how much you enjoy laughing with your playing partner after a funny shot.  Your heart also keeps you engaged and working for the best score possible.  It is where your pride resides.  It is what leads you to focus on what is important on every hole.  Your heart gives you your rhythm and leads you to stay in the moment.  Your heart is where joy originates and it is what leads you to feel grateful.  There is no doubt in my mind that there is a connection between Bubba Watsons win at the Masters and having a new son two weeks prior to the Masters.  His heart was full of gratitude and joy and his persona on the course was calm even though he was nervous.  His heart kept his focus on the game and didnt allow him to get caught up in negatives, what ifs or unneeded emotions.

Bubba Watson shows his emotions after his win at the 2012 Masters.  His heart was full!

When can your heart lead you off track?  Whenever golf seems unfair or leaves you feeling betrayed, your heart will feel the pain.  Even though you do all you can at practice and in preparation to play great, you will still fall short at times.  On those days, your heart will hurt.  Anger and sadness are emotions that the heart produces when you have a passion for something that doesn't seem to be working, but you can't allow your heart to go there while you are playing the game.  You have to actively get the heart involved in the five areas it controls. Here are the ways to do that on the golf course.

1.  Focus
Your heart is the center of your focus.  You might think that focus is your heads job, but go play a round of golf that is unimportant to you and you will find that when your heart isnt in it, your mind wanders.  Rarely does the order go the other way.  We have all heard it said that a player has a lot of heart.  When I hear that, I know that the player focuses on what is important throughout every round she plays.  She doesnt allow distraction or negativity. 

Your heart is the center of both your emotions and your rhythm.  Many young players have the belief that emotions just happen and that rhythm is a mechanical facet of the swing.  Neither is true.  When you feel a negative emotion taking hold of your heart, you can learn to change it and instead fill your heart with a positive emotion, such as appreciation.  There has been a lot of research about your heart and you can find it at  I learned about this through Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, golf professionals who use this in their teaching.  Laird Small, another great teacher, also uses Heart Math in his golf instruction to help players control their state on the golf course.

2.  Fight
What is fight on the golf course?  In my opinion, it is the art of staying in the moment.  How is that related to your heart?  Being in the moment on the course signals a commitment to doing the very best you can with what you have.  Your heart must stay attached to your task and your focus must be complete to have great fight.  How can you see fight?  Have you ever duffed a chip and then chipped the next one in?  That is a common example.  Instead of lamenting the missed shot, you are even more committed to hitting a great shot.  Your heart is in the shot.

It is possible to fight the wrong stuff on the course.  If your heart is worried about things other than your score, your focus will follow it.  This sort of fits in with the blog I wrote about the five deadly sins of course management.  If you are paired with a long hitter and your goal is to hit it as long as him, your heart is wrapped with envy, not scoring.  If you think you are your score and cant separate your ego from what you do, your heart is involved in pride, not scoring.  Make sure that you are fighting to hit good golf shots and score, no more.

3.  Attitude
Attitude is the reflection of what your heart is busy with on the course.  It is one of my keys for recruiting, because it is tough to fake a great attitude.  Players who look angry, sad, distracted, frustrated, impatient or disinterested on the course reflect what their hearts are feeling.  There is an old adage in coaching, fake it til you make it, which means:  you should act the way you want to feel.  This is a good start to choosing an attitude that helps you play well.  However, I think you need to go a little deeper and figure out how to get your head, your heart and your gut to all be lined up with playing the game.  I rarely quote from scripture, but the power of positive thinking was written long before Norman Vincent Peale, Tony Robbins or Dr. Phil and here is a great example of how your attitude is from the heart:  Above all else, guard your heart, for all you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23
Keegan Bradley in a joyful moment on the golf course.

4.  Joy
Your heart is the source of joy.  This has been known since ancient times.  A happy heart makes a face cheerful. Proverbs 15:13 This idea is of great importance for golfers.  Many players think good play brings happiness.  But does good play come first or does happiness?  How can you be happy when you arent playing well?  That is the first question whenever this concept is brought up.  Putting a golf score in perspective is a tough chore for young players, especially when they feel as though they have invested so much to produce it.  First, it must go back to the fight you have on the course.  Are you committed to doing the very best you can on every shot you face?  If you are in the moment, you arent thinking about happiness or sadness, you are simply focused.  Second, there are many things about playing golf that can give you joy.  The physical pleasure in hitting shots and walking the fairways; the camaraderie you feel with your playing partners; the beauty of the course, the sky, the colors, and the singing birds; all of it can provide joy if your heart is open to it.  The trick is keeping your heart focused on the right stuff on the golf course and allowing it to lead your head and gut to keep you going the right direction.

5.  Gratitude
I am not sure if gratitude should get its own category in the Heart section of this blog, but it seems to me that it is the hearts best asset for a golfer.  If you have a grateful heart, you will view your mistakes as opportunities to learn.  You will seek help when you need it and give help in return to others.  The game will seem to give you a special path in life that allows you to meet fantastic friends, see beautiful places, apply lessons learned on the course to what you face in life and get lost in the moment whenever you pick up a club.  Gratitude will help you see the positive in any situation by putting it into perspective.  It is one of the most powerful emotions you can feel and it leads to all the other positive emotions you want to encounter on the golf course.  

Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues, but the parent of all others. Cicero

Can you learn gratitude?  YES!  There have been studies that show the power of keeping a gratitude journal.  These have been for life, but what if you did one for golf?  After every round you play, jot down in a notebook or on your smart phone or ipad what you are grateful for that day.  It can be one thing or many things, but it has to be from the heart.  You cant fake it!  If the habit takes hold, you will soon find yourself noting experiences to jot down later.  As soon as your focus begins to look for what is good, you have become more grateful.  Once again, getting your mind and your heart aligned is a powerful thing for golfers.  This is a great first step to get them not only aligned, but moving the right direction.

This blog post was the second in a series of lining up your three areas of intelligence to play better golf.  If you want to read the first, which introduces the premise of the blog, you can find it here.  The third and final blog can be found here.

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