CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP – A SERIES OF SHORT WEEKLY INSERTS IN ED HOLDING’S NEWSLETTER

We often hear someone say: “Golf is all in the mind”. This is too good to be true.

CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

Although the mind plays a vital role, if you are wrongly aligned, your posture is wrong, your grip poor, and you break all the spine angles during the swing, your mind can be how good, you will not perform at your best. With a highly technical sport like golf, there is no substitute for good technical coaching, and repeated practice to ingrain the correct mechanics. When you start hitting the ball well because of good technique and practice, you will develop a feeling of confidence, of “I can”, which is one of the best mind-states to have for golf.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

Last time we emphasized the importance of proper technique and practice to build confidence. A lack of confidence, doubt or anxiety, can in turn also affect your technique. There is a wonderful saying that “fearing leads to steering”. If you don’t have confidence in a shot, you will either try to over-control it, and then technically come “over the top”, or you will hold back, and not release. So, once you have the right technical moves over the ball, add some confidence to each shot, be bold and fully committed to it, and handle the result, whatever it is.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

When you say to your better-ball partner “come on now, concentrate!”. What do you actually mean? In essence you want him to be fully involved and absorbed in the WHERE and the HOW of the shot. The “where” can the focus on the target, including some inner picturing (visualization) of ball flight or path. The “how” should be a simple swing-thought or cue that triggers or “dials” the swing. If you have changed your grip, posture or alignment recently, you can go through a quick checklist before you hit the ball, but on the actual move (the swing or stroke), you should not have more than one thought, and it should be very simple. Discover what works for you through good professional coaching and practice.

 

CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

Last time we mentioned the importance of a simple swing-thought or cue to trigger your swing just before you hit the ball. This thought can be one, or a combination, of three kinds of thought: an inner picture, inner self-talk (a word or short phrase), or an inner feeling. We all differ in the ways we concentrate and process information on the inside. Finding the best thought for you depends on your unique style. With a good coach, and on the practice tee, explore all three and see which works best for you.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

One of the very best practices in mind management is the so-called “pre-shot routine”. Tiger Wood’s dad called it the S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure) and drilled the importance of it into Tiger’s mind from a very young age. All good players have a routine that is uniquely suitable to them, but all routines aim to achieve three things: to align yourself accurately to the target, to set up properly, and to focus your thinking/feeling positively on the shot at hand. A good pre-shot routine does not take more than 45 seconds, zooms you away from all external and internal distractions, reduces negative emotions, and keeps you fully in the present moment. Find a routine that suits you, and does not irritate your fellow competitors!


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

Last time we discussed the importance of a good pre-shot routine. Whatever you do in the 45 seconds before you hit the ball, you should make two big moves in your mind:
1. Move from a broad external awareness (slope, wind, terrain, humidity), to a narrow external awareness (your lie and your target).
2. In the light of this information, you now move from a broad internal awareness (calculating yardage and club selection), to a narrow internal awareness just before you hit the shot (your simple one swing thought or cue – which can be a picture, a word or a feeling).
Remember what the Philosopher Plato said: “Take charge of your thoughts, you can do what you will with them” or in simple terms “where the mind goes, the behind follows!”.

 

CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

So far we’ve seen the role of a good simple swing thought in concentration during the pre-shot routine. Here are a few swing thoughts that won major championships. Note the visual and “feeling” nature of these thoughts:
• Seve Ballesteros while winning the British Open - “Right shoulder to neck” (on the backswing!)
• The same Seve while winning the U.S. Masters – “One Piece”
• Gary Player – “I’m a chicken on a spit” (rotating around the spine)
• Bobby Jones – “Hit past the chin”
• Sam Snead – “Oily”
• Jan Stephenson (Multiple LPGA winner) – “Feathers” (during putting)
• Hale Irwin – “Hands sliding down a Supertube”
• Ernie Els (just before the 5-iron on the 17th that won him the 1997 US Open) – “Low back and slow through”

The swing thought “dials your swing”, triggers the desired move, and establishes a connection between the brain and the muscles. But remember to keep it simple, visual and full of feeling.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

The coming new year is a time of reflection on your life and where you want to go with it. A well-known sport psychologist found through research that winners in sport, business and life have a laser-like focus on only one or two priorities at a time. His conclusion after studying the success patterns of winners makes for some great advice: “Set one or two goals, achieve one or two goals. Set three to five goals, achieve only one. Set six or more goals, achieve none”. I suppose he is saying if you chase too many rabbits at a time, all of them will escape!


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

The holiday season is a time of enjoyment and fun, and hopefully golf is part of that. But do you need to take a break from pressure to have fun, or can pressure and competitiveness be your fun? 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. Winners interpret, and experience, the adrenalin rush of being in contention as pleasurable, while “also runs” experience it as unpleasant and anxiety-provoking. So, do you enjoy and love pressure? 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!


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

The new year is a time of resolutions to change old habits and acquire new ones. As we all know, this is easier said than done, as many a resolution was already history by the morning of the 2nd of January. The reasons for the failure to change are twofold: desire to change, and repetition of new behaviour. In golf, do you really want to learn something new, or do things better than before? Are you sure you really want to? Because that’s the first step (desire). After this, there is no substitution for repeating (again and again) the desired new move. Champions are life-long learners – they desire change, and then repeat the desired new behaviour until it becomes automatic. Tiger Woods once said that his goal is not to win 20 Majors, but simply to learn from every single round and tournament, and be a better player by the 31st of December than what he was on the 1st of January of that year.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is “Why do I hit the ball so well on the range, but the minute I get onto the course…”. There are two reasons: PURPOSE and CONSEQUENCE. On the range your purpose is feeling the swing, and there are no penalizing consequences, like lost balls, penalties or double drops. On the course your purpose suddenly becomes performance (score) instead of swing-feel, and you become aware of the possibility of consequences that can be penalizing. One day, try a switch: On the range, play as if in competition. Make your purpose some kind of score or performance (like plus points), and give yourself penalizing consequences (like minus points). On the course, make your purpose purely to feel the swing, and don’t give a damn about the consequences…take what comes like a man!


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

Last time we discussed some reasons why we battle to transfer the great shots on the range to the course. Another important reason why we fail is because we don’t take a simple swing thought with from the range onto the course. Hitting balls on the range has one single purpose: to develop a swing thought/feel that works for you, and to take this thought/feel onto the course. It is a simple question of memory. Remember the swing thought/feel on the range. Capture it in a picture, sound, word or feel, and take this thought onto the course. That will be your transfer link, and make more range shots happen on the course.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

For the next few weeks we will be discussing ways to find confidence with your game. Confidence is simply the belief in your ability to be successful, and can be summarized in two short phrases: “I will” and “I can”. One of the best ways to give yourself a feeling of “I will” is to set challenging but realistic and achievable goals. Goals build positive expectations, prepare you to act and take charge, and create laser-like focus. So, what do you want to achieve with your game? By when? How are you going to get there? What is the next step? What have you done today towards that goal?


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to develop confidence, the belief in your ability to be successful (“I will” and “I can”). We cannot over emphasise the importance of practice and repetition in creating a real feeling of “I can”. There is no substitute. Do you think Ernie Els will be confident with your job, or confident with doing a double summersault off the high diving board? Of course not! He hasn’t practiced it. The same applies for us in his job. Ben Hogan once said: “Every day you miss practicing means one day longer to be good”. Your swing thought that you develop during practice, or with your Professional coach, should be a confidence inducing cue or trigger that not only gives you a feeling of “I can”, but has been shown in practice and in play, to work for you.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to develop confidence, the belief in your ability to be successful (“I will” and “I can”). One of the best ways to cultivate confidence is to teach yourself to be decisive and then committed to the decision. Make up your mind about what you want to do with the shot, and commit fully to the decision. Phil Mickleson attributed his success in the 2004 US Masters to “…choosing the shot I’m confident with”, and then executing it with gusto, with full release. Debbie Massey, two-times British Woman’s Open Champion compares it to show-jumping: “The first thing that goes over the fence is the rider’s heart”. So, make up your mind, stand up to the challenge, put your heart into it, and commit yourself fully. If you miss, you’ve done everything you can.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to develop confidence, the belief in your ability to be successful (“I will” and “I can”). Another way to give yourself a feeling of confidence is to remind yourself of past successes, good shots, good rounds, good tournaments. In his first US Open win, Retief Goosen constantly reminded himself during the playoff of all his Alfred Dunhill match-play wins. During his 2004 US Open win, he constantly said to himself during the last round: “I’ve done it before, I can do it again”. Make mental notes of your good shots. Have a long memory for success, and a short memory for failure.

 

CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

For the next few weeks we will be giving practical tips on how to handle the various emotions on the golf course. Emotions like anger, anxiety and depression (giving up) can wreak havoc with a golf swing. The whole body chemistry changes amidst high emotion, and it directly affects the muscles and good co-ordination as well. For example, anger makes you want to rush, force and overdo things. Anxiety makes you tentative and tight, with subsequent steering and “holding on”. Depression just makes you weak and without energy, with no commitment in your movement. We all experience these emotions. They are part of the game, but they need to be managed to avoid their interference with your golf swing and your game.
The best starting point is to recognize them. Awareness of what you are feeling is the first important step, and then to realize that they are all self-created. YOU are the creator of your feelings. They don’t exist in the ball or the club, or in the outside circumstances. They come about as a result of YOUR VIEW of the circumstances. So, own up to whatever you are feeling, and see it for what it is, just an inner feeling. Mere awareness of the feeling, without acting it out, without fighting it or suppressing it, often already takes away its sharp edges.

 

CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to practically handle extreme emotions on the course, and keep them from wreaking havoc with your game. Emotions like anger, anxiety and depression (giving up) take away your ability to reason and think logically and systematically. They are self-centered and not task-centered. One of the best antidotes for any emotion therefore, is to become absorbed in a task, a step-by step procedure. On the course, this is your pre-shot routine. Sticking to a systematic and step-by-step procedure, where your focus is on the job of “where” (my target) and “how” (my ideal move), will cool you down considerably.



CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to practically handle extreme emotions on the course, and keep them from wreaking havoc with your game. 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 angry or depressed. 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. The ball, club, grass and cup are all neutral, without emotion, so just get back to “What’s the best way to get the ball to the hole?”


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to practically handle extreme emotions on the course, and keep them from wreaking havoc with your game. Hale Irwin once said: “No matter how mad I get or how poorly I play, I will not let on to my opponent or fellow competitor how I feel”. This is commonly called “playing poker”. Giving vent to feelings makes them worse. Feel them, but don’t act them out. Follow Sam Snead’s philosophy (that he borrowed from the old Samurai Warriors) during high emotions on the course: “I feel the fire but I control the flame”.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to practically handle extreme emotions on the course, and keep them from wreaking havoc with your game. One of the best ways to handle any emotion, is through so-called “non-judgmental awareness”. Standing in a river is a completely different experience than observing the river from the bridge. Being immersed in emotion is completely different than observing it “from above”, almost like a neutral witness. The old Samurai Warriors never said “I am angry”, they merely observed it as an interesting phenomenon from a neutral non-judgmental position: “Mmm…that’s interesting, there is anger here”. I know you are laughing now, but give it go! Observe your emotions just like you would observe the Jukskei river from the bridge in front of the first tee.

 

CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to practically handle extreme emotions on the course, and keep them from wreaking havoc with your game. Anger is often due to your perception that some standard of yours was not met. So whenever you feel angry, ask yourself: “What standard of mine was not met?”, and also “Was my standard fair?” If it was fair, takes steps to rectify it. If your standard was too high, lower it or let it go. Remember even the great Ben Hogan once said that he only plays 4 to 5 perfect shots per round. Who are we to get upset about every miss-hit or offline shot?


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to practically handle extreme emotions on the course, and keep them from wreaking havoc with your game. 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, 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. It is called a post-shot routine. In stead of being irritated with a poor shot, venting your anger and allowing your blood pressure to rise, show yourself what you felt the mistake was, and show yourself the ideal swing. Get back to the job through a good post-shot routine.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to practically handle extreme emotions on the course, and keep them from wreaking havoc with your game. Phyllis Bothome once said: “There are two ways of meeting difficulties; you alter the difficulties or you alter yourself to meet them” If somebody else irritates you on the course, change the difficulties by asserting yourself in a gentlemanly manner: “Could you please…I’ll appreciate it when …Thank you” If you cannot alter the difficulties in this way, see the situation as a test or a gift to develop your patience, inner peace and composure. It is easy to be patient on top of a quiet mountain, but use the irritating circumstance to develop patience in the middle of it. Now THAT will be REAL patience! Of course you all know that one teaches what you need to learn! But, peace in the middle of a storm has much more substance than peace in a quiet meadow.

CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to practically handle extreme emotions on the course, and keep them from wreaking havoc with your game. One of the worst extreme emotions is fear and anxiety, and where can you get worst anxiety than during the last 9 hole of the US Masters? One of the secrets of managing it is revealed by Chris DiMarco, 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 we enjoy the adrenalin of pressure?


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to practically handle anxiety and fear on the course, and keep it from wreaking havoc with your game. Tom Watson stated an interesting fact: “We all choke, the one who does it last, wins”. One can perform in spite of anxiety/fear. You can postpone it or prevent it from influencing your game by walking a touch slower, stretching in-between shots, and taking 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”


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to practically handle anxiety and fear on the course, and keep them from wreaking havoc with your game. Bobby Jones observed how “fearing leads to steering”, so “trust, release and let go” is always the best antidote for anxiety and the impulse to steer. 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. Of course I know it easier said than done, but as I told you a while ago, one preaches what you need to learn!

 

CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to practically handle anxiety and fear on the course, and keep them from wreaking havoc with your game. Anxiety is the emotion of future fear. You are anticipating something that hasn’t happened yet: “What if I …(botch it, hit it in the water etc etc)” is the central refrain of anxiety. So to manage it, move from “What if” to “WHAT IS”. Awareness of the moment is the opposite of anticipation of future disaster. Look, listen, be aware of your surroundings, and come back to “Where do I want this shot to end?” and your current swing thought or feel to get it there. “NOW, HERE, THIS” was the motto of the woman’s parachuting team who broke the world record last year of 148 woman in formation during a jump. No “What ifs”, just doing the best you can do, right now, in the moment.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

We are busy discussing a variety of ways to practically handle anxiety and fear on the course, and keep them from wreaking havoc with your game. Anxiety is often driven by the simple self-talk instruction “DON’T”. “Don’t bugger it up now. Don’t hit it out of bounds – into Rolf’s house” etc. But “don’t” is absolutely part of the game, that is what golf is about. You just need to go one step further after the “don’t”, and that is, “OK then, where instead?”. Move from the tyranny of the “Don’t” to the power of the “Where instead?”.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

How many of you, including me, Tiger Woods, Vijay Sing and Ernie Els, had a bad round recently, or a bad patch of holes or rounds? I’m sure, almost all of us, except if you are Fred Bowles of-course! Just a joke Fred!  Bad patches are part of the game, as long as we can learn from it. Is it due to a technical problem (like my up to S… swing at the moment), a course management problem, a mental issue, or a physical challenge? Identify the cause, and rectify it. As the famous saying goes, “If you’ve lost the game, learn the lesson”



CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

When you are really having a bad day on the course, and feel like giving up, do what Johhny Miller did: give yourself a small challenge for the remaining holes, like a challenging but realistic score, and then revert back to ONE swing thought or feel that always worked for you in the past. This will help you to re-focus and start again. If you’re still having a bad day, then just enjoy the surroundings and the company, and learn from the causes of the poor round.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

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: .”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”. He realized that score 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.


CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK-UP
Dr Deon van Zyl

Winners often talk about OUTCOME focus versus PROCESS focus. Outcome focus is on scoring, trophies, prestige, winning, beating others, birdies & eagles, and the team’s/coach’s/parent’s expectations. When your focus is on that, you “get ahead of yourself” as the pros say. Process focus is on taking it hole by hole, shot for shot, and just following your concentration process of “where and how”, target and swing thought/feel. Do your best with the process, and let the outcomes take care of itself.