July 2012

Golf tips from a Pro- Golf Psychology

Author: Pete Popovich | Photographer: Photography by Anne

What separates the best from the rest in anything? It certainly is not the amount of time spent acquiring or improving their skill. If that were the case, the person who practiced or worked the most would win every time. It is not the person with the best technique, because there are so many techniques that work. What separates those who succeed from those who have ability to succeed but fail to do so, is the way they think, i.e. their brain and how they use it.

When put in an uncomfortable situation, the body and brain will always revert back to comfort. This means that when put under pressure, you will do what you feel comfortable with no matter if it is the right course of action or not. Understanding what to do in a particular situation will help you break through plateaus and comfort levels and take you to higher levels and more success. For those of you who think getting to the next level is the end-all, let me shed some light on it. It is not the end. It is just the beginning of going to yet another higher level. The process never stops, and as long as you are willing to do what it takes to achieve success, you will attain it.
Beginner—high handicapper

Golfers in this category are beginners or those who have been playing golf a few years and are just starting to understand how to swing and play the game. Most of their time has been spent at the practice area without much time on the course. Due to this, they are overwhelmed by all the variables (sand traps, out of bounds, water hazards) when they do step onto the course. Here their attention quickly shifts from what they want to accomplish (practice tee) to what they do not want to accomplish (on course dangers), and here lies the problem. Why? Because whatever direction you point your attention is the way you will go. If you are constantly thinking, “Don’t hit it in the water,” what inevitably happens? You hit it in the water. Why? Because your brain does not comprehend negatives, i.e. “don’t do this or don’t do that.” All it knows is “water,” and because your attention was aimed in that direction, that is exactly where you hit it. To improve, you must focus on what you want to do. “I am going to hit this onto the green”; “I am going to hit this in the fairway,” etc. If you do occasionally hit a bad shot, that is simply human nature. Accept it and move on while knowing you are a novice and the future holds the chance to improve.

Mid-Handicapper—accomplished 5x/week-er
Most golfers in this category have been playing for quite some time yet are finding it difficult to break through a plateau. Progression came at a quick pace early on, but now progression has slowed and oftentimes is at a stalemate. Breaking 90, 80 or even 70 for the first time is often the goal of this golfer. Expectation is the killer of this group. Why? Because they know they have the ability to raise their game to the next level and believe it should be there all the time. If it is not, they either become discouraged or practice harder. What this group often needs to improve is commitment—commitment to how they will hit each shot and committing to that shot regardless of outcome, despite what thoughts might jump into their head and sabotage the process. For example, if you choose to hit a bump and run up the hill with your 7-iron instead of flying the ball to the hole with your lob wedge, keep the thought of that 7-iron in your mind thru the entire process. Changing your mind while over the ball or mid swing, will only hurt your chances of improving. If something is important to you, would you continue pursuing it if you didn’t receive a commitment from it? No, so why would you not commit in your golf game?

Advanced player and professional
Most golfers at this level have spent a great deal of time working on their games. Their technique is consistent due to long hours on the practice tee. However, they are not reaching the level they desire compared to the amount of time practicing. Why? Because any golfer who spends an excessive amount of time working on technical aspects becomes attached to technique. When it comes time to play their brain is not tuned to playing golf but is attuned to playing swing. These players need to learn how to let go and let the technical aspect stand on its own. They have just spent countless hours honing technique, but when it comes time to trust it, they are unable. Like a child attached to a favorite blanket, a golfer’s attachment to technique is comforting, but it inhibits the golfer from reaching the next level. Once the golfer quits thinking of technique, improvement can go forward. The swing might falter a bit at first, just as a child standing on his own for the first time falters; but he soon self-corrects and so becomes stronger. The more he stands on his own, the stronger he gets until standing on his own becomes automatic. When technique becomes automatic, a golfer can commit to each shot and get back to playing golf without entertaining negatives.

Playing golf to your potential requires strong thought processes. Regardless of handicap, the more you can apply the proper thinking, the better you can play. Practicing our thought process allows us to take our game from the practice tee to the course, where we can avoid thinking in negatives, commit to the shot, and, ultimately, trust our technique to reach higher and higher levels of accomplishment in a great game.

If you would like to know more about psychology in golf and how to improve your game, call the Golf Performance Academy-Hilton Head at (843) 338-6737, e-mail pete@golfacademyhiltonhead.com or find us on Facebook at Golf Performance Academy-Hilton Head.

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