Letting the golf brain take over

Letting the golf brain take over

Letting my golf brain take over to play better

Golf improvement is a long and tortuous process. Sometimes it rains too.

Previously on Céline Stupidly Decides to Tell Everyone She Wants to Lower her Handicap:

After an intensive period of lessons and practice that brought many benefits and definite improvement, a couple of weeks ago, progress screeched to a halt. All I could produce were shanks of various shades of ugliness. Mucho frustration ensued and after a chat with Anthony, I decided that my problem wasn’t to do with technique, but mindset. I stopped trying to control my swing and just started clearing my mind, engaging my golf brain and hitting the ball. And it’s worked! The shanks are gone! My inconsistent, average golf is back!

However, I mustn’t make the mistake of taking this reversal of fortune for granted and fall back into bad habits, like analysing every inch of my swing. Last week, I subscribed to golfgooroo‘s golf lessons and coincidentally, the one I received this weekend describes exactly where I am at the moment and what pitfalls I must avoid. This will probably be familiar to most golfers:

Evan: So what are the biggest problems with traditional golf coaching?

Cameron: How long have you got? Here’s one of the most serious issues I see. Almost all modern golf coaching activates the left brain. This is our analytic

al brain – it does all the thinking and analysis. When you’re told to rotate your wrists and swing on plane, that certainly activates that part of your brain. And the issue is that we need to use a different part of our brain to actually swing the club. The part that performs a motor skill has no function to understand language. So you can pump as much information in, but there’s no capacity for it to understand.

Let me put it this way.

If I tell you to cock your wrists and swing on plane, your adult mind understands this perfectly. You know what you have to do. But the part of the brain responsible for the swing doesn’t work the same way. It can’t take that information and use it effectively. What you get is an ugly sort of over-controlled action that is stiff and unnatural.

Evan: Sort of sums up a lot of golfers’ swings…

Cameron: It does. And it’s ugly because your system is manually trying to perform the golf swing but it can’t. But then it gets worse.

Evan: What! It can get worse than this?

Cameron: We haven’t even started yet. It can get way worse than this. So you’re struggling. You’re fighting your system and you’re getting all sorts of inconsistent outcomes. What happens next?

Evan: You try and fix it?

Cameron: Yes. You try and fix your golf swing with more information. You feed more words into your left brain, words that your golf brain can’t really use. The worse you play, the more information that gets dumped in. And the more information that comes in, the worse you’ll ultimately play. It’s an awful merry-go-round that is the cause of poor scores all over. It’s the main reason why golfers are frustrated, confused, angry and just plain fed up. But it can get even worse!

Evan: How can it get any worse than this?

Cameron: Try this on for size. When you’ve been battling for a while; and it could be 5 minutes, 5 months or 5 years something strange can happen.

Evan: What is it?

Cameron: You get tired and you stop feeding all that info into your brain. You give things a rest because it’s just so exhausting. Then guess what happens?

Evan: [not sure] You play better?

Cameron: YES! When you finally give things a rest your subconscious takes over and does what it does best. It performs the motion and you’ll start getting good results. You could even have that unexpected great round that comes from nowhere.

Evan: But I don’t see where you’re going with this. Why is this bad? In my world, good golf is awesome!

Cameron: The good golf isn’t the problem. The good golf highlights your potential and gives you an injection of confidence and a surge of enthusiasm. It may just reignite your passion for the game and help you renew your membership for the following year. No, the good stuff isn’t the issue. The issue is what happens after you play some good golf with this more relaxed mindset. What invariably happens is your left brain goes into overdrive;

  • “Why am I hitting the ball so well?”
  • “What am I doing right?”
  • “I think I’m swinging slowly, this is why I’m hitting the ball so good”
  • “I hope I can take this swing into next week. I’d be a certainly to beat Freddy!”
  • “I’ve worked it out. I’ve finally got this golf thing worked out”.

Evan: Arrgh. You’re right. This is exactly what happens. I’m guilty of this – my mind starts spinning and I try and consciously figure things out.

Cameron: And then what happens?

Evan: Bad golf.

Cameron: Yes. You return to the crappy golf because you are using the wrong part of your brain to perform.

Does this mean that I should stop having lessons and practicing? No! Just that I need to trust that the learning that happens off the course will translate into better golf on the course without having to think about it. Practice with your left brain, play with your golf brain. Take the good and the bad with a gallic shrug and stop overanalysing everything. That’s what I’m planning on doing.

Time to stop thinking and embrace automatic golf

Time to stop thinking and embrace automatic golf

The end of the purple patch

All golfers know that the worst thing you can ever do is to think, let alone say, that you’ve cracked it, that you get it, that you’ve got golf sorted out. This happens when you’ve had a period of uninterrupted good golf. Suddenly, the game seems so easy. Of course there are mistakes, but the majority of shots are well hit and go in the general intended direction. You wonder why you ever found the game difficult. It’s all so obvious and you’re looking forward to continuous progress and the lower handicap you’ve claimed you were going to reach. You always knew you could get there and you even started a blog about it.

Then it all comes to a halting start. Your swing feels clunky. You start spraying the ball all over the course. Even your favourite club refuses to play nicely. This is where I am. What is it all about? The general consensus is that I am overthinking my game. Yesterday I went out and Anthony’s orders were that I was to step up to the ball and hit it with no thoughts of technique (or as he said, “play unconsciously”). The problem is, when you’ve spent the last five months trying to perfect your grip, the plane of your backswing, the turn of your shoulders and everything else, it’s a difficult thing to achieve. I went out on my own and he must have seen that I had lost two balls after two shots, because as I made my miserable way up the fairway, he screeched to a halt next to me in a buggy. He threw a ball on the ground and said: “Close your eyes and hit the ball.” So I did, opened my eyes and asked: “Where did it go?” He pointed at the green. It was two feet from the hole.

Stop thinking and trust your instinct

I’d like to say that this was the end of my trouble and that I played a perfect round, but I definitely am not a princess and this is not a fairy tale. It was mostly awful, but there was some progress. I did have some good shots. I did, however, struggle to stop thinking about my technique, mostly because I didn’t quite trust that it was a good idea. What’s the point of working so hard to improve your swing, if not to use your newly acquired skills and knowledge on the course?

Then last night, I was playing football when it struck me. I never think while I play football. When the ball comes my way, I don’t think about the position of my body, whether my bodyweight is on my right or left foot or how high I need to place my knee to cushion the ball so it doesn’t bounce up in my face. Those skills I learnt during practice, through repetition, and anyway, there’s just no time to think on the football pitch. So maybe I need to adopt a football mindset on the golf course.

Automatic golf: learn to play without conscious thought

I was doing a bit of digging along those lines when I came across Golfgooroo.com. Cameron Strachan, the author, has come up with the concept of Automatic golf:

Golf is hard. The ball is sits on the ground, the clubface is small and the club long. Add to this a high clubhead speed and it’s actually amazing that we can hit the ball at all. And this is the reason that YOU must allow your subconscious to take over. It’s brilliant at performing fine motor skills. Your conscious mind is not.

This is close to what Anthony was trying to achieve with his “close your eyes and hit the ball” demonstration. When I shut out all outside interference, my subconscious had to take over. It knew what to do after all the practicing and the playing I’ve been doing and I hit a good shot. As far as I understand it, this is the idea behind automatic golf.

This passage also rings very true:

Once you’ve chosen a club (and are clear on your target and goal) you are now free to hit the ball. This part of the process is performed by your subconscious (read: without conscious thought).

This means that you’re not trying to hit the ball correctly or thinking about the lesson you had last week. You are swinging the club (or hitting the ball) in a natural and instinctive way. What works really well is tying up your conscious mind for the duration of the shot (so your subconscious is free to perform)

  • you can sing a song
  • you can count numbers
  • you can feel your swing
  • you can smell the grass
  • you can think about what you had for dinner last night

It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’re not consciously trying to control your swing. Manual control gives you a contrived and unnatural swing. You get a mixed bag of results – like a perfect shot one minute and then an ugly duck hook the next (sound familiar?). But subconscious play almost always guarantees YOUR real swing will shine through. Your “real” swing is that amazing golf swing that hits all those incredible shots every now and then. Interference (what happens when you try and control the motion) makes golf way harder than it needs to be.

I like all this. Embracing automatic golf feels like a continuation of my learning process rather than a sudden shift. I’ve done the practice, it got on top of me, but now I need to change my mindset to make it work for me. I’ve downloaded Cameron’s “How to play better golf by the weekend” even though I need to play better golf by tomorrow, as I have a match. However, I’m a fast learner, so it might work! I’m hoping that with his help, I can get out of my rut and start playing well again.

To be continued…

The importance of playing golf with the right mindset

The importance of playing golf with the right mindset

After a long period of steady, happy progress, things have taken a nasty turn, and this has led me to ponder the question of golf and mindset. Three weeks ago, my main concern was that my handicap might come down too quickly. Then my golf progressively deteriorated until it reached rock bottom on Saturday. In fact, without wanting to be too melodramatic, I found myself staring into the abyss of golf misery.

As my golf started going wrong, I tried to play and practice my way out of it, to no avail. In fact, things got worse, to the point that on Saturday, I didn’t hit one decent shot in my match. After consulting the Oracle (golf forums) and every golfer who would listen, I decided to take a break from golf. The consensus seems to be that I’ve been playing and practicing too much and that my brain is all scrambled. I’ve been absorbing so much information that I’m confused and am suffering from some kind of weird golf paralysis. Also, I’ve been arrogant. I did think I had it all worked out and the golf goddesses don’t like that. Basically, my mindset is all wrong.

So today I found myself in a very strange and unusual situation. My team had a match and I was up at the club, but I wasn’t playing. Instead, I went for a run. One of the things that golf has brought me is a real connection with the South Downs. They have always been on my doorstep, but I only started appreciating them when I started spending all my free time there. It was a gorgeous run and it really took my mind off my golfing woes:

After I came back, happy and relaxed, I started reading The ten commandments of mindpower golf, that my vice-Captain Kim lent me. The introduction is immediately relevant to my situation:

Taking a break from golf - Ten commandments of mindpower golfYou intuitively know that “practice makes perfect” and you are motivated to want to do well, so you try hard to perfect your golf swing and work on your mental game. You spend hour after hour on the practice range hitting balls and working on your shot-making technique. You devote many of your nights to reading the latest golf strategy tips that your favourite guru has written. Now, armed with all this information, you feel that you’re ready to go to the course and break all of your personal scoring records. Before you know it, you find yourself out on the course tied up in knots trying to hit the ball “just right” and looking for “the zone”. Alas, try as you might, you become paralysed by too much thinking and victimised by poor results.

I’m clearly not an isolated case and it should be an interesting read. Then I had a really nice chat with Anthony about my current trauma and, surprisingly, he went all Buddhist on me and also pointed out that my problem was all in my head. He asked me about my mindset when I’m on the course and on the practice range. He thought that my main problem is that I’m taking my practice range mindset on the course. I should practice consciously on the range and play unconsciously on the course. Feel rather than thought. I need to let my swing flow instead of trying to control every angle and minute detail. He recommended I have a look at a Facebook group called Conscious Golf to learn more about the relationship between golf and mindset.

As for the next few steps to try and get over my predicament, he agreed that I needed a little break. However, he suggested that I should go out and play nine holes on Wednesday and just hit the ball with one thought in mind: I want it to go there. Also, he said I should try hitting outrageous shots, mess around and have fun. So that’s what I’ll do. I’m hoping all this will help me press the reset button because I have important competitions coming up and, more importantly, I miss enjoying playing golf.

How to get out of bunkers like a pro

How to get out of bunkers like a pro

A couple of weeks ago I had a lesson on bunkers, because one of two things tend to happen when I end up in the sand: either the ball stays in or it flies 40 yards past the green. It turns out my positioning was all over the place, my feet were the wrong way around and don’t get me started with the clubface. Anthony explained how to use the bounce of the club and where to stand to get the ball out of bunkers. It’s helped a bit, so I thought I’d share his tip. It’s worth watching to see his happy little face at the end – it only took him 12 takes to get it right!

So I bought a new set of Lynx irons

So I bought a new set of Lynx irons

When is a good time to change your irons?

Opinions vary wildly on golfers’ forums, but the consensus seems to be “whenever you find a good excuse to treat yourself to a shiny new set”. Drivers, woods and irons don’t really wear out, so it can’t really be because they become unusable. In my case, I have been thinking about it for a while, because I’ve always struggled with my irons. They’ve always been a weak part of my game, as established when Anthony and I came up with a plan and then again before my golfing holiday. I bought mine four and a half years ago, six months after I started playing. In the meantime, my swing has changed a lot and what was appropriate at the time probably no longer is.

I know what you’re thinking: a good workwoman never blames her tools. But I will. Even though they’re excellent TaylorMade irons, I never thought they were right for me. However, I couldn’t really justify the expense of buying a new set. Until… I lost my 9 iron two weeks ago. I waited and waited two whole days in case someone handed it in, but nothing, so I decided to buy a new set of irons.

New set of irons

The day I lost my 9 iron, I found a bee. It’s amazing what you find on a golf course.

It’s imperative to test several brands before making your choice

When I mentioned getting new irons, several people advised me to book a fitting at a place offering all the various brands. I should try all of them, test them and compare them to make sure I picked the exact right irons for me. Brands and types of clubs vary widely and I needed to make sure I picked the ones with the feel and performance that suited me best. The problem is, I don’t like shopping and I’m incredibly indecisive, so this sounded like a nightmare to me. So I decided to do the exact opposite. It just so happened that a Lynx rep was coming to the club to sell his wares last week.

I decide to test just one brand because I don’t like shopping

This was perfect: I didn’t even have to travel far. Did I know anything about Lynx? No. I did a quick search and it seemed to be a decent, good value brand. And that’s good enough for me. I’m an average amateur and I really don’t think spending a lot more money on a premium brand will make a big difference to my golf. I did a search to try and have a vague idea of the questions I should ask and what I should be looking for. I found that there are different types of irons, I learnt about iron club terminology and that choosing the right shaft is essential. Also, men’s and women’s clubs are very different. But really, I was counting on the rep to guide me through my purchase.

Trying men’s and women’s club heads and shafts

He asked me about my game and watched me hit a few balls. He was trying to get an idea of what type of club head and shaft I needed. Indeed, women don’t necessarily need clubs that are made for women. A woman’s swing is generally slower than a man’s, so the club manufacturers compensate by making club heads that are slightly lighter and shafts that are more flexible than the men’s. This helps with getting the ball in the air and adding distance. However, my shots, although inconsistent, have always been lofty, so I don’t need extra help in that department, and my swing speed is ok.

We decided to try a woman’s club head with a man’s shaft: a mix of better forgiveness and less flexibility should help me achieve good loft, distance and consistency. The Frankenstein club didn’t really work out. So we tried men’s club heads and that was better, strangely. He gave me three club heads to try with a man’s shaft (regular flex), as he thought that my current shaft was too flexible for my swing, which could explain my inconsistency problem. One was quickly discarded because I didn’t like the look of it. The other two were a cavity back and a blade heads and I hit the first one better than the second. This was expected, as cavity back irons are known for being easier to hit. The weight is moved to the periphery of the iron head, which means that balls are easier to get off the ground and you get away with not hitting the ball dead centre. On the other hand, blade heads are less forgiving, but they give extra control and feedback and make it easier to “shape” shots if you know how to (I don’t). Anyway, the balls went far, high and mostly straight. The price was good (£340 for 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and PW), so we did the deal.

The lowdown

They arrived on Thursday and I spent Saturday and Sunday practicing with them. The result was a bit up and down, but I didn’t worry too much, because it takes time to get used to new clubs. Then yesterday I had a match and apart from a thin approach with my pitching wedge, I didn’t hit a bad shot. And the dodgy approach was after the match was over, so I was distracted by the thought of sandwiches and cake. The clubs felt solid, heavier in a good way and consistent. I’m really pleased, but I’m moderating my enthusiasm, because I tend to play well in a match situation. Now I need to play well in a stroke play competition to finally, finally get my handicap down. Will my new irons help me? To be continued…

Statistics and SkyPro to improve my putting

Statistics and SkyPro to improve my putting

Statistics to properly analyse my putting stroke

On Friday my lesson was on putting with the help of some nifty statistics. I waste a lot of shots on the greens, so improving this area of my game could really help with my goal. Best of all, Anthony had a gadget to analyse my stroke. I love gadgets! Gizmos! Machines! Anything with flashing lights and buttons, really. Ideally a screen. Better yet: SkyPro analyses your technique under every conceivable angle to help you work out how to improve it with a game! Say you’re hitting the ball with your club face too closed. The gizmo gives you ten shots to correct it. You end up with a score and you keep practicing until you get close to 10/10. It’s very satisfying.

A dizzying array of statistics

A dizzying array of statistics

Face angle at impact and shaft lean at address are the main problems

We identified that pretty much every single aspect of my putting stroke was off. The worst statistics were the face angle at impact, which was too open, and the shaft lean at address, which was too backwards. So that’s what Anthony asked me to work on. Move my hands towards my left leg at address, then imagine that the club face is finishing towards my left heel. Basically, the club face needed to follow more of an arc.

A more efficient stroke

The results were very interesting. I always thought that I was useless at lining up my putts, because although they go towards the general direction of the hole, they never actually finish in it. However, with this new stroke, the ball followed the intended line a lot more closely. I also noticed that the ball seemed to go further with less effort. This is due to the change of face angle, according to Anthony. He warned me that I was probably going to make more putts, but also to three putt more as I needed to get used to a different pace. This was somewhat inconvenient, as I had a match the day after.

The impact of the changes during my match the day after

The result? Statistics don’t lie. Actually, they do. Quite a lot. These are the numbers from yesterday’s back 9.

Back 9 statistics

Lies, damn lies and statistics

Statistics to improve my putting

I lost my putter headcover, but then I found this really nice one on the course, but then I lost it as well *sad face*

First, it should be +6 and just one double bogey, as my Garmin Approach X40, which I otherwise love, doesn’t realise that women play golf. The scorecard it uses is the men’s and we have one more par 5, so our standard scratch is 35, not 34. Second, 2.3 putts per hole is pretty dire, isn’t it? Yes, but no in this case. I putted well. I did! As Anthony predicted, it was a mix of 1 putt and 3 (and even one 4) putts. I struggled with the different pace. Besides, we’ve had a beautiful week, so our greens have gone from sluggish to lightening fast. Net result: I overhit a lot, but this is something I should be able to correct with a bit of practice. I should end up with a better, more consistent putting technique.

So, 6 over on the back 9, then. It just so happens that I was also 6 over on the front 9. 6+6 = 12. Maybe finishing the year with a 12 handicap isn’t so impossible after all.