Thursday, October 24, 2013

Goals, Golf Shots & Busy Minds

Imagine a caddy and a pro talking through a shot:

Caddy:  You have 152 to the pin.  This green releases, so you want to land it at 145.  You want to be a bit left of this pin.

Player:  Okay, I'm going to grip down on my 9 iron and hit a little, low draw.  I'll start it at the tallest tree branch a few feet right of the pin and let it release a few feet left of it.

That was a very clear conversation.  The caddy gave the player facts, observation and strategy.  The player gave the caddy a plan, a visual of the shot and an aim point. 

With this plan, visualization and aim point in mind, the player commits to and executes the shot.

Phil Mickleson talks over a shot with his caddy, Jim "Bones" Mackay.

It all seems pretty simple on t.v., doesn't it?  Here is what I often hear when coaching.

Coach:  What's the plan here?  What's your yardage?  Where are you going to land it?  What shot do you see?

Player:  I don't want to be short on this shot.  (You can substitute the words left, right, long or over for the word short).

Coach:  Okay, what's your target?

Player:  I have 152 to the pin.  I guess I'll hit my 150 club. (You can substitute the words "I should probably", "maybe it's a 7 iron" or "I think it's a" in place of I guess I'll hit....)

When Tom Brady throws a pass, what is his goal?  To avoid interceptions or to complete the pass?  When you play golf, what is your goal?  To avoid trouble or to hit your target?  In both cases, it you focus on the second, the first is also accomplished. 

So far, as the observer of the situation, the coach, has learned what the player doesn't want and what the player is guessing.  Imagine what the player's brain is doing.  It is hard at work thinking on what to avoid, what could happen, what should happen and which doubtful decision presents the best option.

Instead, the conversation you have in your head needs to be as follows:
  1. Anchored in facts.  Yardage, lie, wind.
  2. Observant.  Hard green, room behind the hole, tough putt from the right.
  3. Produce a plan.  ie.:  I want to hit a shot that lands at 145 and releases to the hole and ends up a little left of the hole.
  4. Creates a vivid visual.  ie.:  I see a low shot that draws, lands and rolls out 5 yards and moves left.  It is going to start right at that tree and land on that dark spot on the green.
  5. Leaves the player with a clear target and the ability to commit and execute. 
This conversation needs to happen on every single shot you hit all day long.  It is okay to respect trouble on the course.  It is part of the second step; being observant.  If there is an overhanging branch on the right side of the fairway that could catch your drive or block your second shot, you see that and plan a shot that avoids it.  However, your goal for your shot isn't, "I want to avoid that tree branch."  Instead, your goal is, "I'm going to drive the ball on the left side of the fairway at that pine tree with a bit of a cut."  If you choose your goals by what you avoid, you can be successful and unsuccessful at the same time.  If you said you wanted to avoid that tree on the right, you could be in the left rough or even out of bounds left and both drives would have achieved your goal.  

It's important to have a clear goal and not a wish for what you don't want.

It would be nice if we all had caddies when we played who provided us with the facts of the shot, took care of our observations, provided a clear plan, painted a picture of the shot and stepped away after a commitment to the shot and the target, but we don't.  We have ourselves and our cluttered mind that is busy with avoidance, fear, doubt, guessing, shoulds, and mechanics.  If you unclutter your mind and talk to yourself as a caddy would talk with you, it will help you to have a goal for your shot.

We also worked this week with busy minds.  One of our players gets bogged down with mechanics during the round.  Another has a mind that is busy telling her what not to do.  With both, we played a little game of saying your name as you swing.  Once they saw the shot and committed to it, they started saying their full name.  It is a technique I learned many years ago from Fred Shoemaker, who introduced it to my players as they putted.  It simply keeps your mind busy which means it can't get busy on things you don't want.  I learned to use a mantra as a young player.  We had mental game help from our wrestling coach, Chuck Patten, who was also a +3 handicap and a black belt in karate.  He taught us the power of playing without allowing unwanted thoughts in your head.  Mine was simple and I kept it for ever.  It was, "take it back slow and hit it hard".  It allowed me to go to the shot without thinking about the water on the right or the last shot I chunked.  It was a powerful tool.

If your mind is busy with all the wrong stuff, spend some time playing and practicing while making it busy on nonsensical stuff.  Then, replace the nonsensical stuff with a mantra that is specific to you.  It might be focused on your tempo or a swing thought.  There is no right or wrong thing to say to yourself, because the goal is to busy your mind in a way that you can control and better yet, repeat.

Have fun with this process.  Create conversations with yourself about the shots you face that cover the five points outlined above.  Busy your mind in ways that you choose and have a goal for each and every shot!

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