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)