I’ve decided to bring to golf some of the concepts, techniques and drills I utilized when working in other sports and endeavors that deal with the mental side of performance. More on this in a moment. And, I’ll share my views on why golf lags behind this area versus most other sports.
Please bear with me. As a way of introduction to some, and as few of you may know, I worked with the armed forces commandoes and trainers on the “visual-mental” challenges they would expect to face. Every so often, they would send trainers for a five-day workshop on performance training.
So why am I bringing up sports or disciplines other than golf and why the label, visual-mental? For starters, the eyes supply over 80 percent of the information that the brain focuses on daily.
In most endeavors, a people must visually dominate the situation. Sports’ challenges are heavily visually based and golf is no exception. Sports require a great deal of visual skills - target accuracy, alignment, balance, eye-hand coordination, vision-balance, etc. Also, performance-based, mental training encompasses a plethora of what I label, "visual-mental training." Being in the moment, the here and now, is a visual challenge for golf. So is the high-level skill of visualization.
Do you realize that concentration in sports requires, among other areas, visual endurance? That is to say, when unfolding the concepts of centering and concentration, a higher level of certain visual skills allows for the ability to avoid self-distraction, keeping you “in the moment.” Having a strong and enduring visual system is vital to concentrate for as long as it takes.
I was also privileged to work with the Secret Service instructors and agents and the Chicago branch of Federal Air Marshals, as well as spending four days working with the Golden Knights 8-Man Sky Diving Team on dynamic visualization. I’ve also witnessed success with athletes in a variety of sports.
One of my trainees who enjoyed the fruits of my workshops — going on to win his first National Shooting Medal with competition at 1,000-yards — subsequently joined me as an assistant. He brought a lot of credibility to our presentations since his personal performance was a perfect example of my work in action. In fact, he went on to record performances beyond his expectations.
I was honored to have him state at presentations, “Wherever Dr. Farnsworth goes, he changes the face of training.”
So, in this and other blogs, I hope to continue my success at building a better foundation for performance with you! I’ll provide some information on the program and little tidbits that should help you start thinking a bit differently about performance in golf, whether you are more recreational or in it to make a living. More importantly, this blog will introduce a program for golf for players of all levels. I am unwrapping years of experience and training for your benefit.
Golf Has a Scorecard!
Even if you are more in the recreational category, but use a scorecard to register your score, why wouldn’t you desire to be better? And, these concepts apply to life! As one attendee stood and shouted out at a workshop, “Men, I hope you are paying attention. We are talking life-skills here!”
Let me ask you. How much time do you spend away from the course, building your mental skills? How about your eye-hand skills? Your eye-body-balance skills? Your target localization skills? These are among several of the true, basic skills of golf.
Most other sports I’ve observed and worked with not only do home training but also lab training, with instrumentation. Here, they can isolate a skill and work to improve it while they perform a drill that’s sensory loaded and within a stressed environment.
NBA’s Kiki Vandeweghe appreciated these concepts, becoming a dedicated vision performance basketball player to the point that he even carried a huge eye-hand training device onto planes (when you could) for the NBA Denver Nuggets road trips. In one season, he scored 40 or more points in every game after doing visual drills in my office. He was third in the NBA scoring for the year.
I can’t add up how many Tour players, as wells as other golfers, when asked what do they do for off-course work, comment that they do strength and conditioning with very few exceptions, and zero discussion of mental homework. In my opinion, golf has become so obsessed with “the swing's the thing,” that the mental challenge of golf has been relegated to the depths of the unknown.
We all know there are countless golfers we see in high school and college with great looking swings. But, how many of them actually make it to the “big-time” and remain on that stage for any length of time? I’ll answer for you; very, very few.
So, let’s get started on some points for you and your approach to practice and play that will help you start thinking about improvement from the brain on down.
First, the power of off-field training cannot be over-emphasized! While I don’t expect you to purchase a $5K device, how about doing some homework on eye-hand skills, which is what I state are basic skills for chipping and pitching? You can even work on elevating your non-dominant hand through some ball-or-coin-toss into a jar or the like, every evening for a few minutes.
Be sure to stress, relaxed, more tension free muscles of your shoulders, arms and hands when performing the drills. Additionally, attempt to use less energy (more efficient energy) than too much energy. It is often beneficial to attempt to reduce your effort and tension by a click or two.
Performance Replay Q&A: Does your mind often go to the negative portions of your last performance? Instead, spend quiet time replaying your round in your mind and visualizing successful shots replacing the poor ones. Spending time on the negatives appears to be a natural habit that one must break to not compound the negative experience.
So, do yourself a favor and make it a point to restrict your post-round evaluation to a minimum, especially the negative areas, when discussing it with others. And, if necessary, just highlight the positives, leaving the discussion with your internal voice saying, “I have things to work on.”
Write this “promise” down as part of your 2018 resolutions! You can also head to the practice area, post-round, and work on these negative areas. But, ideally, this should be preceded by some quiet time of replaying good results in your mind.
By now, you may have more than a hint that I am a big believer in the power of off-field training. Yes, this can, at times, be done in the comfort of your living room. So, do yourself a favor and block off a few minutes each day or so of uninterrupted “quiet time” to work on some of the ideas presented here. Remember, off-course training is a key ingredient toward making changes more reflexive and reducing thinking on the course, and especially during the swing.
Practice Do’s and Don’ts!
Yes, golf allows you some ideal practice on the range, that is if you know how to move away from learning-based practice, only. I bet even in your practice 90-to-100 percent of the time it is with learning as the focus! I see this on the front and back ranges at The Palms GC, a club noted for accomplished players. Learning relates to swing keys and swing function, and not to performance-based training that goes well beyond how-to’s or mechanically based practice. Performance-based training encompasses more of the concentration drills and techniques that are musts in order to maximize performance.
In our full-swing training sessions, we demonstrate how this modality encompasses more of how you learned every day, until you started working on “swings the thing! “
Even if you spent 10-to-20 percent of your time “dry-firing” without a ball in place, or at least, swinging with more of a slow motion, reduced energy swing, you may find learning practice more productive.
We’ve already discussed the role of visual-mental training, but let’s give it more clarity. The hierarchy of this area is the skill of visualization. Visualization, simply put by Webster’s dictionary, is the ability to regenerate a previously seen visual situation.
But, optometry sees it as much more than that. Functional optometry calls visualization the pinnacle of performance. Here is what SEE & SCORE uses as a key mantra;
Peak performance is almost always characterized by having a clear,
accurate picture of what you want to do before you do it
Visualization is a high-level nervous system activity, which aids current sensory experience
through binding and closure, transcends real time and space, drawing on past events and
events yet to occur. It is the core of pure thinking. Whereas, visual imagery is just a visual
picture that Webster defines, visualization encompasses all the senses.
Visualization is the aspect of vision which is critical for the deriving of meaning so we can
direct action. The degree to which visualization is not functioning is equal to the degree to
which vision is not functioning and is proportionate to the numbers of inefficient visual
behaviors of the individual.
One of the most damaging of habits, is the negative form of visualization. It is so powerful that it has ruined many a career in sports, in particular. This sets us up for failure like no other! The point is we all to often set ourselves up for failure by imagining it happen!
How much do you understand and utilize visualization? Visualization is a skill where past and future can be done in the present; the only way this can be accomplished. And, how accurate is that skill when using it for a long putt as part of your pre-putt routine? Maybe as good a question is, "How often do you leave it out of the equation?"
For this, challenge yourself with more difficult putts, such as uphill to downhill or quite long putts on the practice green. Use the experience to learn, both by having a pre-putt plan, discussed in previous blogs, and writing down what you did or should have done with each putt, both the good and the not-so-good.
Jobs are “can do’s.” I’d love to have you email me what you could use as a pre-round job that you would accomplish and could improve your level and consistency of play. Hint: Jobs are not goals, such as hitting 10 fairways or 12 greens in regulation. They should be items you can accomplish most or all of the time during play.
Do you spend some quality time on the practice area working on what ailed you on the course? It’s a great time to get the bad taste out of your mouth. Also, please share with me your last couple of rounds and what you learned or, better yet, what you wrote in your Daily Performance Log.
The Comforts of Home
In addition to home drills that can be physically done, such as eye-hand drills or dry-firing, some time going over a round to see where you need to work and write a plan to attack the deficiency. This is such an omitted portion of the learning experience for most players. Make it a habit to include this post-round “positive replay” as soon as possible after your round. When you start to drift back into the negatives that happened, replace this with a positive picture, please! This won’t be easy initially, but persevere!
A Performance Based Program
So, do you want to jump in with both feet? Well, I have good news! I’m launching an introductory program at The Palms GC that will help you move up to a higher level of play by learning and practicing the things we’ve discussed in this blog.
The training will be composed of classroom discussion, practice-area work, on-course activity, home drills and techniques. I’ll be teaching this course along with PGA Tour veteran Jeff Gove. We’ll start in January 2018. Once we’ve finalized the agenda and determined the pricing, I’ll announce the workshop schedule via email blast and on this website.
Here is a glimpse:
BLAST OFF (Clubhouse Session, 90 minutes)
FOCUS YOUR MIND (Full-Swing Practice Session, 120 minutes)
ON-COURSE (Three Nine-Hole Sessions)
REVIEW (Two Sessions Per Player)
When I ask students if visualization is important the answer is always a resounding “YES!” Yet, when we discuss what is most often left out of their pre-shot routine, especially in putting, visualization is mentioned all too often. So, why is this valuable skill of visualization often omitted? First and maybe foremost, it’s one of the highest visual-mental processes. It does take discipline, patience and energy, for sure.
Visualization is described in the dictionary as “a regeneration of a previously seen object.” No imagination isn't a visualization, per se, but it is two visualizations put together that are commonly not seen, such as a cow in a tree!
For the sake of awareness, let's start with a fun drill. Please time your response in seconds or minutes. It’s a simple drill.
Grab a #2 pencil or a golf pencil. Lay it in front of you along with a stopwatch or watch with a second hand. Get ready. Now, note the exact time! Immediately, and out loud, describe the pencil as if you were talking to someone who had never see a pencil. (If you don't have one, describe a pencil as if one is in front of you.)
Go ahead, please. It's a fun drill. Talk out loud and record it if you want. When you have finished describing the pencil, note how much time has elapsed.
How long did it take you to describe the pencil. Was it 20, 30 or 40 seconds, or more?
I gave this exact test, as part of a battery of tests, to the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team a few years ago. The lesser ranked shooters completed the task in 20-40 seconds. The top shooters (on site at the time) took one an average of 70 seconds to describe it.
How did you rank with the task, compared to the shooting team?
Now, when I was asked by Ivan Lendl’s golf instructor to work on Ivan's putting skills, I jumped at the chance, noting he was a former world #1 ranked tennis player. So, he had to have some basic skills, such as good eye-hand coordination.
One evening, as we all were chatting after Ivan went through some of my visually related tests and subsequent putting drills, he recalled an event when he was the top ranked player in the world.
He described a trip back to the Czech Republic, as the sports performance people wanted to discover what “skills he had that made him tops in the game.” After all, he wasn't, comparatively, a big physical specimen. Nor was he the fastest on his feet. And, he didn't appear to have other traits of the tennis greats of the past.
Ivan then mentioned the pencil test they performed. It was similar to a test that I used to perform and should start doing again! He described the same like pencil you were just asked to do.
Now, get this! Ivan took 10 minutes to describe the pencil.
What this told me and them, was that Ivan was a master of detail, to say the least. What gave Ivan a huge oneupmanship, was his observing the other players weaknesses in a warmup session; where his contact with the ball wasn't perfectly centered in their racquet in certain areas of his backhand or forehand. Ivan, of course, attacked those areas the best he could.
So, to transcend some physical decencies, how about becoming a better observer!
After all, the biggest key to being a good-to-great visualizer is the ability to observe detail, so you can regenerate it when asked. In other words, look at items and other areas of interest in more detail!
One drill that should assist you in being a more accurate visualizer so you can depend upon it, especially in “crunch time,” is called the Paint Brush Drill. It's a simple drill that needs to be implemented every day!
Simply, when observing a painting on your wall, pretend your eyes are a paint brush, with the ability to dip into different colors that match those in the painting. Now, pretend to paint over all the detail with your eyes. In other words, you are repainting or duplicating everything in the painting.
Note the size, the detail, the proximity of the objects, for instance, so you can be more accurate when recalling the detail. And, when finished, close your eyes and recite the detail of the painting you just did as if talking to someone on the phone.
Repeat this drill as often as you can with a person as the object, or a car, a scene or another painting. Attempt to start looking at the world around you with detail, especially as if you had never laid eyes on the subject matter before but were asked to describe the object or objects to another person.
Pretty soon, you will amaze yourself in how well you can visualize and better apply it to golf, let alone your life!
After all, visualization is basic to Peak Performance!!
The previous blog on how your perception can influence your speed control, presented some quick perceptual tests as well as ideas to counter your distance misperceptions.
I presented my ideas of using a "soft focus" to view the cup distance, using "primary gaze", walking the distance with your eyes or actually walking the distance. And, I discussed the importance of viewing the putt while standing off to the side, approximately equal distance from the ball and the cup to better appreciate the terrain between ball and cup and to visualize the ball's intended roll.
In this blog, we will cover more powerful means to tackle the challenge of speed control.
To potentially enhance your ability to appreciate visualization of the ball’s intended roll and speed, try this technique: Standing to the side of the ball’s path, point your dominant hand at the ball. Now, track the intended speed of the ball with your arm and hand as you imagine the ball being impacted by the putterface. The first part of the roll is an accelerated skid, what I referred to as the acceleration phase of the putt.
The hand will increasingly slow down its movement as it approaches the hole, with the last few feet seeing a slow approach to the cup with a speed that would leave the ball 6-12 inches beyond the cup. The entire roll of the ball from start to finish should approximate the actual time of the putt’s roll. In other words, you need to be an accurate visualizer as well. More about this technique in a bit, but first, lets look at your visualization accuracy skills.
For an example, a 20-foot, level putt on a nine Stimp (speed) took three seconds from start to stop.
Now, answer a question.
How long would it take if the 20-footer was a moderate uphill putt? More, less or an equal amount of time? Now, how long will it take for a 20-foot, downhill putt? More, less or an equal time?
If you said the uphill putt and the downhill putt took the same amount of time as the level putt, you would be wrong. The same if you said the uphill putt took MORE time than the level putt, due to your reasoning that the uphill terrain acts like it is a longer putt. While true in terms of adjusting for the terrain, it shows that you could better appreciate the effects of gravity on the ball’s roll. Don’t feel too bad, the vast majority of students in my clinics were guilty of inaccurate visualization.
To appreciate the correct answers, it may be easier to first imagine the ball’s roll on a downhill surface. You don’t impact the ball with the same energy as you would an level or uphill putt. So, the ball must go slower off the putterface. As well, the ball rolls out farther than a level or uphill putt, based on gravity offering less resistance to the ball, keeping the ball rolling longer.
A downhill putt may take two or three seconds longer than an uphill putt. So, the answer is; uphill putts take less time than a level putt, due to the increased acceleration of the putterface and the quicker slow-to-stop phase of the ball’s roll due to gravity pushing against the ball, and the downhill putt takes more time than a level putt of the same distance.
When implementing the eye-hand technique while viewing from the side of the ball and hole, you may discover that by the time your eyes and hand reach the cup, it took longer or appeared farther than you initially expected. This should signal to you a misperception of the actual or true distance.
Going back to the original test in this article, if you pointed short of the target with your perception, looking beyond the target for your last look before pulling the trigger can provide the muscles with an assist to get the ball farther toward the cup. You can play with how far to look beyond the target, then opening your eyes after you point to see if that point allows you to accurately point to the actual target.
As well, practice putting behind the ball by a few feet, versus at the ball, if it is difficult for you to look at a point beyond the cup or vice versa, if needing to look in front of the target because your perception is long. Likewise, if you are faced with a downhill putt, looking at a point in front of the target, depending on the degree of slope, gives the brain's command a more accurate focus.
Of course, if you are one of the few who feels you got to the cup quicker than expected, or you pointed beyond the target on the initial test, you, too, can benefit from the side-view visualization. It may be of benefit to fixate in front of the cup on a level surface, to help you adjust to your misperception.
Either misperception can be remediated more quickly with the side view appreciation of true distance. For some, the side view and the eye-hand technique can be even more powerful while watching a good-speed-control player putt while performing the technique. This becomes experiencing an accurate visualization that can enhance your skills at mastering distance control.
Bobby Locke's good friend, Phil Ritson, once shared with me Locke's approach to speed control. Phil once asked Bobby, "You ALWAYS have such awesome speed control on EVERY putt, what is your mental approach that yields such consistent touch?"
"That's easy," Bobby said. "I just imagine the ball's roll to the cup in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet colors." (Those seven colors form the acronym "ROYGBIV.")
Phil thought that was "nuts!" Then, after my discussion of visualization in colors at the Phil Ritson Academy instructors, Phil said, "Now I better realize Bobby was visualizing in Technicolor!"
"I thought he was crazy and now I see he was not just a motor-skilled golfer but also a VISUAL GENIUS!"
Along with the above, Mike Adams recommendations in Golf Magazine's Best Putting Instruction Book, Ever! that a player should stand farther behind the ball for uphill putts, so as to better help visualize the true length as well as standing closer to the hole, near your putting line for downhill putts. If you tend to be short on level and uphill putts, stand farther from the hole, behind the ball for your practice putts. This can provide the brain with the extra energy necessary to compensate for your misperception. Remember, nothing beats giving yourself all kinds of distance challenges on the putting green to learn from.
Lastly, understand that being a better green-reader can only improve your speed control. The AimPoint instructors are tops in minimizing your read mistakes. Even if you have taken the AimPoint Express class, revisit your instructor for more help on speed control techniques!
I hope these two blogs will assist you in creating a plan to master speed control.
To Perceive or Misperceive!
Many instructors will state that speed-control, or the lack of it, is the common fault of most players. Speed control can be minimally or largely affected by your perception. You may need to alter your perception for better speed control to reduce or eliminate your three-putts. Are you among the majority who misperceive distances? If so, you may want to change how you look at things.
In this and future blogs, we'll take a look at several keys to mastering speed control. For those of you who have Blast Motion, we'll discuss the four key elements of the "app" that can enhance your speed-control skill.
When it comes to the brain’s chief information-gatherer, the eyes, there are tests to help you discover and overcome maladies that affect your performance, maybe none more common than three-putting a green, time and time again.
Sports vision optometrists' performance testing has shown that one common area of perception, that of the estimation of the distance to the target, is too often misperceived as shorter than the actual distance. In some cases, the perceptual evaluation is off by as much as 25-to-30 percent. This translates to a 50-foot putt leaving the golfer with a second putt that could be 15 feet from the cup.
There are several tests that you can perform by yourself, right in your home, that can help you determine if your errors are at least partly due to a faulty visual perception system as well as what to do to remedy these problems.
Testing Your Perception
A significant reason that most of your putts and even pitches and chips come up short of your intended mark is from the eyes and brain misperceiving the true distance to the target. Take the following tests and see how your perception measures up.
Find a target in front of you, preferably on the floor or ground, as it replicates the look to a cup. Ideally, the target should be approximately 30-to-40 feet away. You may need to look out a window for this distance if you are at home.
Take a last look at the position of the target before closing your eyes. Now you have to visualize the target’s location, just like on the putting green, except your eyes are open and using “spatial localization” to assess the target’s point in space.
Now, with your eyes closed, stretch out your arms and point to the visualized target with your two index fingers touching, forming a triangle with your arms. Now open one eye, preferably your dominant eye, and check where your fingers are pointing.
(By the way, this test is depicted in the video on my home page.)
If you are accurate and pointing right at the target, you are one of the few who are accurate localizers. Still, if you are accurate, you should be able to repeat this test with the same results. If you aren’t good with speed control, you have other issues than your perception.
If your fingers were pointing below the target, that tends to show your perception of the target is short of its actual location. This is, by far, the majority of the golfers and non-golfers we have tested.
If you are also right or left of the target, you also have directional issues of aiming. If you are above the target, you tend to perceive the target as farther than it actually is.
Still another test is to toss a quarter to a spot on the floor, five or so feet away. Again, it is good to have another person pick up the coins so you can do the test two or three times. If your results are inconsistent, with a long and a short, it can indicate your lack of skill in combining the eyes with the hand (eye-hand coordination) or you have a difficult time with consistent perceptual evaluation.
One of the best tests, used by eye doctors, in sports testing away from their offices, is called the Brock String Test (shown above). Using a string or small diameter rope and approximately 15-20 feet in length, tie one end to a chair or table leg. Hold the other end against the tip of your nose. You should see two strings, one from your left and one from your right eye (representing your “visual axis”).
If you do not readily see two strings, pluck the string to get it in motion. This may “jump-start” the eye that may be temporarily suppressing the other string. This shows you may be relying more on one eye for distance than you would have thought and this can greatly compromise your distance judgment. If so, schedule a trip to your eye doctor to do more significant binocular performance tests and some exercises to overcome this problem.you do not readily see two strings, pluck the string to get it in motion. This may “jump-start” the eye that may be temporarily suppressing the other string. If so, you may be relying more on one eye for distance than you would have thought and this can greatly compromise your distance judgment. If that's the case, you should contact your eye doctor to do more significant binocular performance tests and some exercises to overcome this problem.
Ideally, the strings should come together at the far end of the strings. If they do, then you either have good perception, or you perceive targets farther in space than they actually are. Players with a farther- than-actual perception often hit their putts or chips beyond the cup, often well beyond the cup, due mainly to their faulty perception!
If the strings do not come together to form a “V” at the far point of the string, and they cross well short of the end, so they form more of a “Y” or an “X”, then you have a tendency to leave your putts and even your chips short of the intended target because of your perception.
The ideal test is the string test, as the next recommendations can be readily appreciated as to their value in altering your perception.
A Plan for Success