Dr. Carol Comments
First Tee Jitters
"Standing on the first tee of my first major at Baltusrol, my mental game was gone. My knees locked and I wanted to use my driver rather than the 3 Wood I'd practiced with. I just wanted to be sure to hit the ball. It didn't really matter where. I just wanted to hit it, not miss it.
"Luckily my caddy knows me well, and broke into my mind haze as he said, 'What are you crazy? Play the 3 Wood like we planned.' With that I was back in the game in front of me, played the 3 Wood and made a reasonably good shot. I was under way."
Mental Game Strategies
Most of the group at the Southern New England Golf Expo seemed relieved to hear that even a successful PGA pro like Jeff Martin had times when the situation seemed too big to manage. We all have experienced those golfing "first times" and whether the first time is the first tee in a major or the club championship or playing on Saturday morning in a friendly game, the body and mind will react the same: little thinking, lots of emotion and usually restricted play.
I interviewed Jeff who is the 2 time New England Player of the Year and assistant club pro at Point Judith Country Club as he talked easily and also demonstrated how he
- relaxes under pressure (he discreetly takes a deep breath as part of his pre shot routine. He will also intentionally yawn.),
- visualizes his shot (this is a target sport, always look at where you want the ball to go and see the flight of the ball),
- commits to the shot at hand (if you're not committed to a shot before you take it, don't bother)
- keeps a good attitude (after a bad shot, let it go, it's over. Thinking about the last shot doesn't help the one you have to make next.)
- decides what shot he's going to take (I figure the odds of making the shot, evaluate the risks and rewards and whether I'm willing to take the consequences.)
- improves (after a match I go to the practice range and practice the shots the right way. I'll work on one shot for 30 min.)
Jeff was also willing to talk about a few aspects of his mental game that he wants to improve. As successful and physically capable and mentally tough as Jeff is, when he is in a major competition, everyone else is just as good as he is so he knows he needs the edge that he can get from tweaking his mental game.
Jeff wants more confidence with his comfort zone among his peers and he wants to be sure that he has his life and golf priorities and goals written as well as thought about.
With improvement in these two areas, you'll be hearing much more about Jeff! Stayed Tuned!
Dr. Carol's Comments
4 people, 1 concern
Four conversations yesterday with 4 different people had one common thread: I can't relax when I want to. For these 4 people the inability to relax interferes with drives off the tee, golf scores, team play and for one person, overall life satisfaction.
The conversations are not as important right now as what to do about changing the common problem of "inability to relax" to the solution of "I can relax when I want to under most circumstances."
Relaxation is a Skill, not a Gift
How can you learn to "relax on demand?" I think that relaxation is a skill that can be learned, it doesn't have to be left to chance, and in the next few blog entries I'll offer three ways of developing the "relax on demand" skill: breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and visualization.
With these skills will you be 100% successful? Probably not because everyone is different and as situations change our ability to perform as we would like can be compromised. However - the goal will be to increase your ability to relax more deeply when you want to so you can play more consistently and be more satisfied.
Just a note: I don't know anyone who expects to perform well in a sport unless they have practiced and learned basic skills. It's no different with mental game skills. Yet when talking with frustrated athletes I hear things like:
- I've read about visualization but can't seem to do it when I need it.
- I've heard about how breathing can help me to relax but I tried it the last time I was putting for birdie with this new group and it didn't work for me.
My response: It's too bad these attempts to relax when you're playing didn't work. But... there is no reason to think you can execute under pressure if you haven't developed proficiency before you need it. Mental game skills are like any other skill: the more you practice, the better you'll be. And the more you practice under stressful situations, the better you'll be. And sometimes it takes a coach to keep you accountable to learn the skills you need the most. And the only place to begin is at the beginning. So... next up:
MC Breath, Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Visualization for Relaxation.
(photos by CRG and taken at Newport National, RI)