BO GFW: What’s your pink elephant?

Gayle_and_elephant What is it you try sooo hard not to think about that you can’t think of anything else?

We’ve heard it time and time again – golf is a mental game – a game of inches – ie. the 6 inches between your ears.

We all know it. But…do we all believe it and I mean believe it so much that we practice our mental game as much as we practice hitting our drivers at the range?

When was the last time you called yourself an idiot on the golf course? For me, it’s not a question of when, but how many times I say it during a single round. How many times have you walked up to your ball and said to yourself, “Don’t hook/slice/shank/skull this one.” OR “Stay right of the water.”

And what happens? ….You slice/hook/shank/skull the ball right into your “pink elephant”.

Why is that? Why is golf such a mental game? Is it true for all sports?

Well, according to Dr. Graeme Clark, an Edmonton psychologist who was quoted in the news article below, “Most of us play fear-based golf.”

Fear-based golf…hmmm…I don’t live a “fear-based life”, so why do I play a “fear-based” sport? Well, according to the experts in this article, it’s simple…we think too much.

If you ask any of the world’s best golfers what they are thinking about just before they pull the trigger, the answer will invariably be the same. Nothing. It’s just target. Seeing that target and then letting the body respond.

“The simplest way to say it is to ask someone to stand up and walk across the room and have them pay attention to their walking. Guess what happens? All of a sudden, it all changes. They start going ooh and aah, noticing things they never noticed before.”

Thinking merely impedes the process. The human body is at its best when the conscious mind is turned off. Like learning how to walk, at some point muscle memory has to take over.

So how do you stop thinking? Imagery — positive visualization — self talk — breathing — self-hypnosis. We’ve heard these solutions before. But what I liked about this article was that they put those techniques into the pre-shot routine, basically saying that it’s as important to practice these mental elements in your pre-shot routine as it is to waggle.

I tried this mental waggle one weekend this summer when I was playing at the University Golf Club in Vancouver. I like that course, but it has beat me up many times. As a high handicapper, I score usually in the low-mid 90’s leaving at least 5-10 shots on the course that never should have happened. I decided to change that with a change in my attitude on the course and a better mental pre-shot routine. Here’s what I did:

1) I started my pre-shot routine at the bag – not after I chose the club to hit, but before. In the past, I just grabbed a club that I liked because I didn’t trust the clubs that caused me trouble in the past. So, I’d often overclub and try to hit half a swing. Guess what happened… 🙁 This time, I told myself to pick the “right” club and trust it – really trust it. It’s the right club – it’s the right thing to do – so…do the right thing! You can do this – just do it!

2) Then I focused on where I wanted to hit a shot and I even said it out loud in my pre-shot routine standing behind the ball.

3) I slowed everything down – my walking, my breathing and my swing. I made sure my practice swing felt really really good and only then did I let myself hit the ball. It didn’t really take any longer from a time perspective, but it really helped me relax.

4) Then, if I hit a bad shot (which were fewer because of 1, 2 and 3 above), I’d laugh and say to who ever was listening “Now here’s an opportunity to prove what a great scrambler I am.”

5) In putting, I really focused on what was happening on the green as I walked up to putting surface – looking at slope, grain, etc. I watched as others chipped up on the green to see how their ball behaved once it landed. So when I went to line up my putt, I had a good feel for speed and line already. I made one practice swing, looked at the hole just once (like Aaron Baddeley does) and said to myself, “This is going in.”

Now, it was very hard for me to do all of this over 18 holes – it took discipline and a lot of focus. But…it was worth it. I really enjoyed the game (miserable weather and all) and I walked off the course with my lowest round ever – I shot an 86 with only 29 putts. For good golfers, this is no big deal, but for me, it was a revelation.

We all agree that being fit is important for golf, but most of us think that’s about physical fitness. To me, mental fitness is even more important. So, I’m going to continue to work on this mind game as much, if not more, than my physical game this year and see where it gets me. My goal was to get a handicap of less than 20 by December and I achieved that in August with this routine. I know I can do it as long as I think I can…I think I can… I think can…before I swing the club. But the moment I start my back swing…all thinking stops.

Pink Elephant by: © Frederick Matzen

Positive visualization is key to your game
Edmonton Journal
09 Jun 2008

Look at all that water between me and the hole. I’ve gotta stay down or I just know I’m going to blade this one right into the water. I think I’ll use an old ball just in case. Splash. Or: Oh, no. Not another three-foot putt. I miss these all the time;…read more…

Tech Tags: Edmonton Journal newspaper GOLF
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