Golf: The Mind

This blog is about the mind, not the brain, and there is a difference. Boy, is there a difference. If you look up information about the mind, you will get a large variety of ideas and theories.  What I found interesting is, if you start with googling the brain, you will get mostly, if not all, academic and scientific sites.  If you google the mind, you will get philosophic sites, and some of the other two sites.  The mind has much more debate, about where it is,( yes not everybody thinks it is in the brain), about what it does, and how to control it.   The mind seems to encompass all facets of life, the past, the present, and the future. Most sites seemed to be interested in what the mind can do with the future.  The mind can change the way you eat, behave, and perform various activities relating to work and recreation.  These are all related to changing thought processes and attitudes. Mind control is discussed at various sites, ranging from brainwashing, hypnosis, and marketing ploys, to affect the mind.  On the other hand, the brain sites are much more scientific and discuss the functions of the brain.  We have learned a lot about the brain, over the last 40 years because of advance neuro imaging, which shows which parts of the brains are functioning, when we are thinking, or performing simple tasks. However, all this brain imaging has at times led us down the wrong path concerning how the brain really works, and has not helped us much in answering questions about the mind.

There have been plenty of books on the “Golfing Mind,” and these books could be classified as books on the mental game of golf.  These books discuss a variety of subjects.  They range from visualization, planning of the shots, first tee preparation, positive thinking, and handling pressure, to name just a few.  But does all this have anything to do with the mind.  Before I started reading all these sites on the mind, my answer would have been a 100% positive yes.  After looking at some of these sites, I am not too sure  these golf mental processes have anything to with the mind.  The other question is, what controls the mind?  On the site wikiHow, there is a list of things you can do to control your mind.  They are various things but all of them are related to thoughts. Now where do thoughts originate from?  That can have many answers, including nowhere.  As you can see these questions can go around and around with many perspectives and answers.  But the bottom line is this, do we, as golfers, really care, or should we be concerned with this? This time the answer can be an unequivocal, no.

After pouring through numerous sites on the brain, the mind, and thoughts, here is one man’s view, on what all this means for the golfer.  I think you can forget about a lot of the so called mental preparation that would go into playing a round of golf.  If you like to do these things, plan your round, visualize shots the day before, pre game relaxation exercises, then go ahead. They are not going to hurt you game at all, but probably, they are  not going to help much, either.  Listen, it’s always good to not beat yourself up, think positively, and have an upbeat attitude on the golf course, no matter what happens. This not only can make you a better golfer, but a better person to be around. No one wants to play with a grouch, who gets upset at the first bad shot of the day.  Is there one thing that you can count on from the mind?  In my view yes.  I  believe there is one thing that you can count on from the mind.  I am 100% sure of this. I do not have proof of this, or articles I can reference, because there are just as many articles, that would refute what I am about to conclude.  I think the mind controls the body 100%.   It controls the body so well, that it can even tell us what not to do.  It’s not like our thoughts.  It’s not like the old story, about telling  a person to think about anything but a white elephant in the room.  What do they think about, the white elephant. If your mind tells your body not to do something then it will not do it.  By the same token, if the mind tells you body to do something, it will do it.  I will explore this further in future blogs, and how it applies to playing golf much better.  For now, let this sink in and believe it. The mind controls the body.  The mind controls the body. The mind controls the body. Am I trying to brainwash you? Never mind.

Golf: Wrist Cock, Part III

It’s hard to believe, but the last time I wrote about the wrists in the golf swing was December of 2015 The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer.  Since that time, I still feel the same, that the  wrists are  the most misunderstood aspect of the golf swing.  I have changed my mind on what the golfer should do, in regards to the position of the club face at the top of the swing.  Back in 2015, I said just let the wrists do what they are going to do, and don’t worry about.  But after doing some experimenting, on what the wrists do in my own golf swing,  I think I can come up with some recommendations on what to do, depending on your clubhead position at the top of the golf swing.  But first lets briefly review what the wrists can do and why this is so confusing to the golfer.

Rather than to get into such terms as supination and pronation, and other wristy terms, lets just take a look at the thumb, when you grip the club.  Just grip the club with one hand, either one is fine, and put your thumb straight down the shaft.  Now by just moving your wrists, you can make your thumb do six things.    You can move your thumb straight up and down.  You can turn your thumb to the left and to the right.  Finally you can roll your thumb to look at the right side of your thumb, and then the left side of your thumb.  These are very distinct moves.  The problem is, that the wrists can do any of these moves partially and some fully during the golf swing.  This results in the clubface being in various positions at top of swing.  None of these positions are wrong.  First let’s look at the two extreme positions.   The clubface is closed or you will hear the term shut faced at the top.  It’s easy to tell this position. At the top of the swing the club face is pointed to the sky.  The two best examples of this position are Dustin Johnson and Brooke Henderson.    Then there is the clubface that is open at the top of the swing.  This position will see the toe of the club pointed to the ground.  This position you can see in the swings of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and in today’s game Webb Simpson.  In modern professional golf, most players will use the  shut faced or closed position. The open position is the least popular today.   You will see many positions in between, with some players  being square at the top of the swing. You would think this would be ideal, but certainly these players are not dominating the tour.  It really doesn’t matter what they are doing, as long as you know what you are doing at the top of the swing. You should also know the basic shot pattern that your position tends to create. Then you need to decide if you  should  make a conscious change.

The first modern great golfer with the closed clubface at the top was Arnold Palmer.  He did this because it helped him to keep from hooking, and most  of the shut faced players today, are faders of the golf ball.  Even though the club face is closed at the top of the swing, as the club starts down the wrists will rotate the club head in a clockwise fashion, delaying the release of the wrists, which prevents  the toe of the club head turning over resulting in a hook.  Despite being shut faced at the top, Palmer, because of his strength in the hands and wrists still hooked the ball. The shut faced position  helped him to keep from duck hooking.  Hogan had an extremely weak grip combined with being open at top, was his way of obtaining a full release of the wrists without worrying  about hooking the ball.   Sam Snead,  also had big strong hands and wrists, but a beautiful graceful swing, had no trouble drawing the ball from the open at the top club position.  So what is the recreational golfer to do?  The first thing to do, is to determine what is your natural wrist action in the golf swing.  Through video, or just stopping  and looking  at the top of your backswing, determine what is your club face position at the top.  Face pointing to the sky you are closed.  Toe of the clubhead pointing down to the ground, the face is opened.  Somewhere in between you are getting closer to square but try and determine if you are closer to open or shut faced.  It may be perfectly square.  If you are closed at the top, and hitting relatively straight shots, maybe with a little fade or draw, then you need to do nothing.   But if you are closed at the top and hitting a lot of shots to the right and slicing like crazy then maybe you better square up or go open at the top.  This is unnatural for you, so how do you do it.  At the start of your backswing, feel a distinct rolling of the wrists so that you feel that the right palm is facing the sky as your hands reach hip high.  This will easily get your club face in the open position at the top of the swing.  Now on the downswing the toe of the clubhead will begin to rotate in a counter clockwise direction which will help you draw the ball or hit it fairly straight, with a nice full release.  As you get use to this position at top of the swing, then you may not have to rotate the wrists so early in the backswing, but whatever works is fine.   If you are already an open at the top player and you are hitting everything pretty straight or with a slight draw or fade then you don’t want to change a thing.  But if you are open at top and hitting a bunch of duck hooks to the left, then you might want to try to get  closed at the top of the swing.  In order to do this you will need to rotate your wrists in the early part of the swing so you feel your right palm is pointing to the ground at the hip high junction of the swing.  Once you get the feel of your new position then you may not need to do such a distinct move at the start of the swing.   If you find you are somewhere in between but having a hooking or slicing problem then follow the above instructions accordingly. Get shut faced to help a hook and get open to help a slice.

What about doing this for the type of shot you want to play or the situation you are in.  This is what I am doing at the moment.  If trouble is on the left or I want something straight or with a little fade, then I will go shut faced which is more my natural swing. I will go shut faced if I want to take something off an iron shot.   If the trouble is on the right then I will go with an open face at the top. If I want to draw the ball and get a little more power then I will go to the open face position at the top. Since the moves of the wrists are infinite, the possibilities of what you can do with golf ball is infinite.  But in order to get all this benefit to your game you must use your wrists first, and then know what your natural position is at the top of the swing, and go from there.  Good luck, and here is to lower scores.

100% Mental Golf: Rounds 68 to 80

I am back to the 100% Mental Golf concept and my last 13 rounds have been pretty good. Ten of the thirteen rounds have been between 79 and 74.    One 74, four 75’s, two 76’s, one 77, and two 79’s.   A couple of blips in there with rounds in the 80’s, but over all some good if not spectacular scores.   I will be taking a small break from the game as we are heading for the beach for about five days.  The season is around half way through and I feel I am back on track with the original concept.

Again putting has been a problem, but with five rounds 75 and below it has had it’s good moments.   We played South Park today and this was one of  the 75 rounds and even though I hit a lot of good putts none of them found the hole.  I did not miss any short ones today and I had two birdie putts that were between six and 10 feet that I made. I have made some adjustments to my stance and posture and I think these may bode well for me in the future.   My short game continues to be plagued by some yipping but even that has not been too bad lately.  I am getting more comfortable with my new irons and getting use to the increased distance I am hitting the ball.  We have had a good stretch of weather during this time and that has  helped.

As I head into the second half of the season, one of the things I will be working on is trying to feel relaxed during the golf swing.   Can you be too relaxed while executing the golf swing, your short game, and putting. There are lots of instructors that think you can be.  I am not too sure this is correct.   Can you be as relaxed in your body, as when you are meditating, and still make a powerful golf swing.   Certainly any tension in your body can make executing the swing more difficult.  Not to get too deep here, but is there a spirituality in playing golf, which can be transmitted to the golf swing itself.  Can a relaxed body allow you to focus better and visualize the shot better.  I aim to find out in the coming weeks.  Won’t be playing the game for about a week, with the trip coming up, so will have to wait and see.  This has been some of the adjustments I have been making at address, with removing tension from my set up and grip.  There are others but again I have only been doing this over the last 3 rounds.  Small sample size, as they like to say on MLB Now.      See you in about 3 weeks

100% Mental Golf: Rounds 48 through 67

Have not blogged for about 6 weeks, and that usually means things are not going all that well.    Things are not going great, as my index has inched up to 4.8, but there have been some other circumstances that have made this a bit of a blog drought.  So let me count the ways.

First, I have gone though a major equipment change.   I have gone with graphite shafts in my irons and have gone from stiff to regular.   The irons I have now are the Titleist AP 3 irons 5 through the gap wedge.  The “gap wedge” is 48 degrees and the rest of the clubs are strong lofts too.  The irons are investment cast, and I have always been a forged guy.  I hit these irons freakish long and that has taken some time to get use to.    I have also gone to a regular shaft on my Driver and 3 wood.  My 5 wood still has a stiff shaft but I have not gotten around to get a new 5 wood yet.  My only steel shafted clubs now are a 54 degree Volkey Wedge and 58 degree  Calloway wedge.    I acquired a 51 degree gap wedge with the same graphite shaft.  I call it gap wedge II.   I don’t know why I am getting so much distance with these irons.   The clubs are about what I would call about a half a club stronger than normal.  I would consider my 5 iron, a 4.5 iron.  My normal 4 iron distance would be about 200 yards but that would be a true solid hit.   Now my 5 iron carries about 205 to 210.  Could be the shafts or the club head.

Second, the weather is still terrible.  There is not one thing you can do about it, but it is discouraging.  Most golf courses are a mess.  It’s not their fault but we have had more rain in the last 11 months that probably in history.  Since last August 1 we have not gone more than 5 days without rain and a lot of these days we have had heavy rains.  Its tough hitting balls where normally you would just walk up and find it, but now the area is not cut, because it is just one big mud hole.   I admit, I try not to let this get me down, but I have never experienced this before, for so long and I have been playing since 1958.  You can only say it is what it is, so many times and there is no end in sight.

Third and probably the most important, I have not really been 100% Mental all that much over the last 5 weeks.  I hang my head in shame.   This is one of these things that is hard to explain,  so I won’t really try.   When you are not getting the desired results, it’s almost impossible not to try something different with the golf swing.  The other thing about 100% Mental Golf is that it can be quite difficult to keep the concentration level up over the 18 holes of golf.  I don’t know if golf was meant to be this hard.  Putting has still been a problem  with luck not being on my side much.  On the plus side my last 3 or 4 rounds have been pretty good.  I can honestly say over the last 2 rounds in particular my short game has evolved to average.   That is a huge jump for me and we will see how long that lasts, and if that may improve.   In the next few weeks I will see how some of these physical changes I have made work, and see if the putting can get better.  Should be playing 3 to 4 times per week until the beginning of August when I take a little 5 day vacation to the beach.   I am not sure I should be that close to the ocean, depending how things go on the golf course.  Will blog again in about 8 or 9 days.

100% Mental Golf Rounds 35-47

I have played 13 rounds since the last blog on May 8.  It has been a bit of a roller coaster and I must say I don’t really know if I stayed the course of 100% Mental Golf. Maybe I should change the name to just 100% Mental.  Played a few courses for the first time this year such as Quicksilver, Hartmans, North Park and Highland Springs.  My scores ranged from 74 to 85.  During the stretch I have 4 rounds in the 80’s and 9 rounds in the 70’s. I had a run of three straight rounds in the 80’s from May 16 to 21.  This little streak caused some concerned, that a slump may be brewing and led to some of the things I did, which apparently helped as the next 5 rounds were all in the 70’s.

After the 3rd round in the 80’s, and it being the worse at 85, I decided that I had to do something a little different.   I decided to concentrate on my breathing while getting ready to hit the ball and during the swing itself.  Now this is not something that is new, but I did put a little different twist on it.   When reading about breathing and the golf swing the advice is to inhale on the backswing and exhale on the downswing.  I did not follow this rule.   I did not try to time my breathing with the golf swing  at all.  I just tried to follow my routine and swing.   My swing may have started when I was beginning my exhale or when I was in the middle of inhale.   I did this for all phases of the game, long game, short game and putting.  The results were quite good, with the very first round  coming in at 74.  The next 3 rounds were good also, 75, 76, and 77.    Then on Memorial Day at Highland Springs I got away from it and had a bad front nine of 5 over par and made another philosophical change that seemed to right the ship and shot 2 over on the back, to end with 79.  The front nine was a major putting problem with 21 putts contributing to the bad score. For now I am not going say what that philosophical change was.  What does this all mean?  I am not too sure.    Thinking of breathing during the golf swing may not be  better than any other swing thought that we usually do.   I am not quite  sure why I stopped the process on Monday.    Have not been able to play the rest of this week because of very unstable weather and I think I needed a little break anyway to mull all this over.  In the coming 2 weeks there is not going be a lot of golf played because next week I am  heading to San Diego to see the grandkids.  Maybe I will ask them, especially the 4 year old.

So where do I go from here and how does this affect 100% Mental Golf.  I will probably play 3 more rounds of golf before a I leave for San Diego and hopefully will learn more. I will go back to the breathing and on the next blog I will talk about the philosophy change whether it works or not. Feel like I am coming down the home stretch here.  Rounding 3rd and heading for home.  Just don’t know if I will be safe or out.

100% Mental Golf: Rounds 27-34

I have played 7 rounds since the last blog and not much progress has been made.  I did have 2 good rounds, a 76 at Fort Cherry and a 76 at Rolling Acre which has a par of 73.  The other 5 rounds were all in the 80’s at the familiar places, Scenic Valley and Fort Cherry, with one round at Pheasant Ridge.  The weather has not been too bad but we are getting rain at least every 2 to 3 days and I must admit I feel that I  have been playing soggy courses forever. This really isn’t an excuse for the bad rounds but it does get old having to clean your ball almost after every shot. I had the 76 at Rolling Acre this past Sunday and it was by far the best ball striking day of the year.  I hit 14 greens in regulation and made 3 horrible iron shots, that led to the 3 bogies.  My putting was not bad but obviously my ball did not find the hole on all those birdie putts. I thought this was going give me some momentum for the week, but both on Monday and Tuesday my game was off and it was hard to tell why. It is still very hard not to think the old fashion way of looking at your swing, when things go wrong even when you know that this is not the answer.    Let’s go back to the Sunday round which was a great ball striking day, and look at those three bad shots.  This may show what 100% Mental golf really means.

I had parred the first 4 holes and came to the 180 yard par 3 fifth hole.  The conditions were chilly and damp.  The hole is slightly uphill.   Even though the pin was cut on the left I chose to cut a 5 iron because I wanted to get the ball in the middle of the green. I was not flag hunting here and this was good thinking.  What was bad thinking, was that the 5 iron was not enough club in those conditions.  I closed the club down at impact and hit a dead straight pull about 35 yards left of the green .  Even with the over the top swing, I was not green high and the pin was in the back.  If I  would have hit a draw 5 iron or  cut the 4 iron, I am sure the results would have been better. From that point my play was stellar but missed about a 4 foot birdie on 8 and a twisting downhill left to right 12 putt on 9 to shoot one over on the front.   The 10th hole is a par 4 and I hit a nice drive down the right side of the fairway.  The pin was cut on the right front of the green and I had about 150 yards to the pin. I took dead aim at the pin which was a mistake.  I did not have a good picture of the shot and hit it way right almost 30 yards off line.   I parred the next 4 holes.   They moved up the tees on the 15th hole a par 5 and after two good shots I was about 40 yards short of the green on the right and the pin was cut on the mid right of the green.   The problem was my ball was on a pretty good down slope.  I tried to hit a high shot and wound up chunking it about 20 of the 40 yards.  Even though I was close to the green and should have played a more conservative shot which would have gone lower and slightly left of the pin and would have wound up around 8 to 20 feet from the pin depending on how far the ball had gone.  Then I went on to par the final 3 holes.

The mystery to me was my bad play on Monday and Tuesday.   But then, when I think about it, I went back to some physical remedies that I did not really need to do.  I am not going into what they were.  It does go to show you just how brainwashed I am when it comes to trying to “fix” your golf game when it does not need really fixing.  Bad decision making leads to bad swings.  Once that gets better then the scores will come.  See you next week.

100% Mental Golf: Rounds 20-26

Played seven rounds of golf since the last blog, and I am floundering a bit, and it may have been because of the last blog.  Lets get to the numbers: Fort Cherry 85   Scenic Valley 78   Ponderosa 77     Fort Cherry 79    Scenic Valley 77    Ponderosa  78    Scenic Valley  78.  Other than the horrendous day at Fort Cherry  the rounds were obviously consistent. If I wanted to be hard on myself, I could say, consistently lousy.  The weather was not great, mostly dark and dreary with some rain here and there, cool temperatures but with little to no wind.  The weather was not the issue.  The Fort Cherry round was a total disaster but I managed to right the ship to the point of making 5 pars and 2 bogeys on the last 7 holes.  Fort Cherry’s par is 70 so I was 13 over after 11 holes and everything was bad.    The rest of rounds were ok  with the normal things from keeping me scoring better.  We all know them.  Putting and short game, with some bad decisions mixed in.

What does the last blog have to do with all this?   I wrote, does 100% Mental Golf mean you totally ignore the physical side of the game.  My answer was no and I explained that I was making sure I was turning my body on my swing and gave this credit for my really good round of 75 at Scenic Valley.  Four days later I follow this round up with one of the worst of the year.  I repeat the question.  Does 100% Mental Golf mean you totally ignore the physical side of the game?  Now my answer is yes.  Now again this is for just us poor pathetic single digit handicappers who are stuck on the number.  How to get to a single digit handicap and be miserable, is another blog altogether.   I am not going to defend this position today, because maybe it will change again, but after the last 7 rounds, I don’t think so.  Obviously turning my body did not help me at Fort Cherry.  In the last blog I made the comment that there is a difference between thoughts and feelings.  Who cares.  Neither one is worth a good crap for very long on the golf course.  It boils down to the body and mind and how they function together.  I think now that some of our preconceived ideas about the golf swing, short game and putting are not right for our own particular golf game.   I am not going to get into specific examples, because this could change  by next week.

We will see what happens over the next few rounds.   I feel there should be 3 golf books that need to be written.

  1.  How to Become a Single Digit Handicap Golfer (At Least a 12)
  2.  How to Become a Scratch Golfer or Die Trying
  3.  Putting:  Get the Damn Ball in the Hole Any Way You Can

See you next week.