Monday, July 1, 2013

Do You Need a "Play" Intervention?

No offense to all the swing gurus out there, but there is more to the game than how you swing the club. To play the game of golf, you need to play!  You don't need a perfect swing, you don't need perfect shots, you don't need to be perfect at all!

If I asked you what the word "play" means in any regard, what would your definition be?  Here is what has to say:

verb (used without object)
to exercise or employ oneself in diversion, amusement, or recreation.
to do something in sport that is not to be taken seriously.
to amuse oneself; toy; trifle (often followed by with  ).
to take part or engage in a game.
to take part in a game for stakes; gamble.
Compare what you are doing on the golf course to that definition.  I know you are a serious golfer.  I understand that you want to be the best and compete at the highest level.  I totally get that you can't go out there and lollygag around the course.  I get it.  BUT, you might be too serious.  You see grinding as a way to manage the bad stuff.  You think about mechanics ALL THE TIME.  You expect perfection and get down on yourself when you don't live up to it.  You are constantly judging yourself when you play.  You aren't excited to do what you love.  

Simply stated, you have lost the ability to play.  
You need an intervention.  

Interventions aren't easy.  They require hurtful honesty.  They require giving up your way of doing things.  They require change.  OUCH! 
When you get to the first tee, do you see the shot you want to hit?  Do you connect to your target?  Is the shot you chose easily within your grasp?  Does it suit the wind, the shape of the hole, the best place to land and how you like to hit it?  Now, can you see it in your mind, trust that its right and commit to it? Can you hit it?  If you can do all of that on each and every shot, you are playing golf.  It is that simple.  

Play means to do what you can in an enjoyable manner and to get lost in the action.  If you walk to the first tee and you are thinking about the competition, the pressure, the outcome or the gallery, you are not playing.  If you tee it up and think about not hitting it right into the trees, you are not playing.  If you force yourself to hit a draw because that is what good players hit, you are not playing.  If you feel the need to hit a driver because you don't want a long second shot, you aren't playing.

In other words, if your focus is on anything other than simply doing what you are capable of and good at on the first tee, it is in the wrong place.  Feeling pressure to choose a club or a shot shape when you aren't comfortable with it means you aren't listening to your inner voice.  That voice might say, "Hey, you can hit a sweet 3 wood right down the gut.  So what if you have a 6 iron in, its a big green."  Instead of, "You really need to hit a driver here.  You should get the ball down to 8 or 9 iron distance, because you need to put your approach close to score and start off well."  

Can you see the difference in the self talk in those two instances?  Words like sweet, so what and big are pressure relievers and words like need, should, score and well are pressure adders.  If you are in a playful state, you can relieve pressure from yourself with a simple bit of self talk. 

If you focus on results, you are in the wrong state of mind.  Results are in the future or the past and don't have too much to do with a playful state.  Results are consequences.  Heavy word, eh?  True play happens in the moment.  Does this sound too light and happy for a round of golf?  Do you have the idea that you need to walk determinedly, with a serious face and a straight back bone?  If that is how you normally walk through life, then by all means, that is the right way to be on the course.  Be yourself, but remember to be your playful self.  Take a minute and think about what you look like when you are playful and lost in the moment.

Remember, you can't control what others think when they watch you.  Let it go. Don't be Charlie Brown!

If you are worried about what other people will think of your decision to hit 3 wood, you are thinking of things outside of your field of play and things outside of your control.  Figure out what you can and can't control and let go of all the silly stuff that you can't control.  Especially during play. 
Are you thinking about what your right arm is doing during your swing and how your swing looks and feels?  Play happens outwardly, not inwardly.  In other words, your concern needs to be focused on what the ball is doing on the contours of the golf course.  As soon as your thoughts become focused inwardly, you are out of the state of play and into self analysis.  There might be times on the range when self-analysis is a good thing, but it is never a good thing on the golf course.  When you are in the state of self-analysis, your goals become based on your mechanics or movements.  You begin to judge a move, react to it, adjust it and perfect it.  Come on, don't tell me you aren't doing that!  I see you practicing out there.  Practice is different than play.  

When you play, you use all the same skills.  You analyze, judge, react, and adjust.  (We never work to perfect, because this is play, remember?)  You are analyzing your lie, the grass and the distance.  You are judging the wind, the slopes and the firmness.  You are reacting to how much the ball bounced on the last green or how much your last downhill putt rolled out.  You are observant of the golf course and how your ball is traveling around it.  It is up to you where you place your focus and if it is focused inwardly, you will miss out on all that is happening around you.  That is a tough way to play golf.  Sure, you might see stuff happen, but are you really paying attention?  

As Ty Webb told us so eloquently in Caddy Shack, "be the ball"  Change your perspective or you will land a future in the lumber yard. 

Finally, evaluate yourself based on how well you do playful things.  For example, decide that you will track how well you do it after every hole.  You can think about connecting to a target on every shot.  You could evaluate how well you visualized the shot before you hit it.  You could keep track of your commitment.  Keep it simple.  Focus on one thing and one thing only.  You either do it or you don't.  There is no level of doing it.  You can't do it perfectly.  You can't do it poorly.  It is a simple yes or no.  "I connected to my target on that shot."  or...."I didn't connect to my target."  Forget the story telling.  If you are telling yourself stories on the course, you are simply giving yourself excuses.  For example, "I didn't connect with my target there, but it's because I have hit it in the water here for two days straight."  No one cares about your story.  It is a yes or no answer.  SIMPLE!
This might not sound playful, but you will get it as soon as you start doing it successfully.  You will enjoy the process of playing and time will fly.  You won't get all tired out from the grinding you are doing now trying to be mechanically perfect and grinding to control everything.  
Bottom line, GO PLAY GOLF!

Oh yea, one last thing; playfulness happens everywhere on the golf course.  Be a playful putter, too.  

Here is a great quote from In Bee Park after yesterday's U.S. Open win:
Q.  You said you were nervous last night, but you were not nervous.  You were calm on the golf course today.  Did you talk to your mental coach last night or this morning?  What was the key for you being really calm today?
INBEE PARK:  I think it's because I feel the happiest when I'm at the golf course.  And I feel calm when I'm on the golf course.  I think I'm just a much better person when I'm on the golf course.
Yeah, outside the golf course, I feel the pressure and I feel what everybody else is feeling.  But on the golf course, it's just the golf ball and clubs.  And when I have that, it just puts a lot of pressure off of me.  It just makes me very calm looking at it, yeah.
In Bee Park holding her U.S. Open trophy and signaling that it was her 3rd straight major win.  Photo from

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