BREAKING 100, 90, 80 – FOCUS ON THE SHOT, NOT THE STORY - PUBLISHED IN GOLF DIGEST SOUTH AFRICA

When we think about breaking a score barrier, we become involved in an emotional story that has nothing to do with the specific job or task of the very next shot.

BREAKING 100, 90, 80

By Dr Deon van Zyl

Dr Deon van Zyl is a Clinical Psychologist and a former Associate Professor at the University of Pretoria. He’s been working in the field of Golf Psychology since the early 1980’s, and has assisted many of our top golfers and teams. His E-mail address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

FOCUS ON THE SHOT, NOT THE STORY

We get what good players call “ahead of ourselves”, and loose our focus on the here-and-now moment. The story of breaking a barrier and the emotions of excitement or anxiety accompanying it, are unnecessary distractions to the specific “where” and “how” challenge of the next shot.

BREAKING 100

For the golfer on the verge of breaking 100, the emotions of disappointment after a bad hole or after hitting a bad shot are the most prevalent. Thoughts like “Now I can forget breaking 100”, or “There I go again, I’ll never do it”, create feelings of hopelessness and wanting to give up. When you catch yourself thinking and feeling this way, you need to learn to keep on “plugging”. Give yourself a small challenge on the next hole, like a challenging but realistic score (remember a one-over is par for you), and then revert back to ONE swing-thought or feel that worked for you in the past. This will help you to re-focus and start again. This attitude of never giving up will become a habit, and carry over from round to round, and soon the 90’s will become a habit too! Keep a “mental score” of how well you “hung in there” today, and soon you “golf score” will reflect the results.

BREAKING 90

The emotional story of the golfer becoming aware that he/she can break 90 is mostly one of anxiety. “I mustn’t botch it now”, “Don’t hit it out of bounds now!” Anxiety on the verge of breaking 90 is often driven by “DON’T” thoughts. This is absolutely part of the game, and that is what golf is about. You just need to go one step further after the “don’t” thoughts, and that is, “OK then, WHERE INSTEAD?”. Become absorbed in what you want. Move from the tyranny of the “Don’t” to the power of the “Where instead?”, and your focus will shift from the emotional goal of breaking 90, to the specific target of the moment. This way you will give yourself a much better opportunity to score in the 80’s.

BREAKING 80

The golfer who has the potential to score in the 70’s must learn to “score messy”. Brad Gilbert calls it “winning ugly”. At this level you focus so much on perfecting your technique that you want to have a good-looking swing and pretty moves as you score in the 70’s. Your story becomes a perfect style, an attractive form, instead of getting the ball into the hole. Some golfers are happier scoring 83 while looking good, than scratching around for a 78. Who’s going to walk away with the spoils? The one who “scored messy” of course. Do you want a perfect method or a useful score? Perfect your swing and good moves on the practice tee, but on the course, engage yourself with the job of getting the ball into the hole. During play, become practical and get the job done, in whatever way you can, on that particular day, even though it might look “messy” here and there. Don’t worry, because soon the 70’s on your scorecard will look pretty to you and your mates!


BREAKING 100, 90, 80

By Dr Deon van Zyl

BE BUSY WITH THE TASK, NOT THE OUTCOME

I’ve read about and listened to many winners over the years. They all have one thing in common. On the verge of winning, while being in contention, they don’t think about winning or beating others, just about the SHOT AT HAND. Nick Price, when he won everything in sight in 1993/4 said: .”I’ve been really disciplined in my ability to isolate each shot I play. I’m not thinking of winning, or finishing second or what score I’m going to shoot. When you add it up at the end of the day, you have a pretty good score”. He realized that scoring and winning come as a result of playing the shot, as a byproduct of focusing on, and playing each shot as it comes, one at a time. So just play the shot to the best of your ability, and let the score take care of itself.

BREAKING 100

At this level, thinking too much of the outcome, the score, breaking 100, puts pressure on your performance. This is fine as long as you are enjoying the pressure and having fun with your own competitiveness. A Dr Jim Loehr actually found out that winners in sport and in business are those people that enjoy pressure and have fun with tough competitive situations, like breaking barriers. Winners interpret, and experience, the adrenalin rush of performing as pleasurable, while “also runs” experience it as unpleasant and anxiety-provoking. So, do you enjoy and love the pressure of trying to break through 100? If you do, the pressure will not be a source of stress, but of excitement and peak performance. After all, the adrenalin rush of competition is exactly the same as during your first kiss after the Matric dance! One of the secrets of managing pressure was revealed by Chris DiMarco in the 2005 U S Masters, after sticking to his guns on the last 9 holes and forcing Tiger into a playoff. “I told my caddy as we were walking on 18, ‘If you’re not having fun doing this, boy, something is wrong with you’” His stomach was going crazy he said, but he was still performing, because he ENJOYED it! This is exactly what Dr Jim Loehr found with all top sport people and winners, they love and enjoy the anxiety of being in contention. How much do you enjoy the adrenalin of pressure on the verge of scoring in the 90’s for the first time?

BREAKING 90

At this level of play, thinking about breaking through 90 can cause you to become anxious and fearful of mistakes. This will cause you to become over-careful, hesitant and “steering”. Bobby Jones observed how “fearing leads to steering”. The best antidote for this is to “trust, release and let go”. Make sure that your swing thought or swing feel has some form of release in it. This will counteract the impulse to steer, born from anxiety and fear of mistakes. One can still score well, in spite of anxiety/fear. Tom Kite once said that you can still make a 6-foot putt in spite of feeling anxious. You can still get it on the fairway in spite of feeling scared. Being cool, calm and collected obviously will give you a better chance, but having emotions is not a train smash. Say to yourself: “It’s just a feeling”. In the final analysis, it is just an internal feeling, nothing else. Walk a touch slower, stretch in-between shots, and take a good old deep breath or three, where your out-breath is slightly longer than the in-breath. Then always get back to focusing on the details of the next shot – the “where and how”, and execute it with “full trust, release and let go”.

BREAKING 80

One of the best ways of focusing on the task and not the outcome at this level of play is to stick to a systematic, step-by-step and repetitive pre-shot routine. Tiger Wood’s dad called it a “Standard Operating Procedure”. The goal of this routine is solely to help you focus on the job of “where” (my target) and “how” (my ideal move). This makes the so-called “shot for shot” focus possible, instead of obsessing about the score or outcome. At this level, if you hit a poor shot, you should then also do a POST-SHOT ROUTINE, instead of giving way to the emotions of disappointment, anger, worry or frustration. I often used to watch Gary Player in his prime. Whenever he hit a poor shot, he immediately showed himself what he did wrong, by repeating the poor swing once, and then followed it up by three or four good swings, the opposite motion, how he wanted to swing it. Jim Furyk did exactly the same throughout his US Open win, and still does it to this day. Instead of  allowing your blood pressure to rise, show yourself what you felt the mistake was, and show yourself the ideal move. Focus on the job at hand with a good pre-shot routine, and get back to the job through a good post-shot routine. Do your best with this task process, and the outcome of breaking 80 will take care of itself.