The head game

Hi Bradley,

I am 47 years of age, playing off 6 now, and trying to get better. Goal is to break par. Not once in a life time, but to get to a level where this is accessible quite often. Making a bunch of pars isn’t that hard, and when the birdies go in it should be accessible.

I have been a fairly consistent 5-6 handicapper for several years which has been OK since I really haven’t had time to improve. But the last year I’ve had time to practice and play a lot, but I seem to have reached a platau. I’ve decided to do the ABS school to see if I can improve my ball striking. But to tell the truth, I believe there is more room for improvement between the ears.

The typical OK round for me has a stretch of 6-12 holes where I strike the ball very solid and have a bunch of firs and girs and two putts. But eventually I lose the good ball striking, struggle for a few holes and drop a few shots before the round ends or I get back on track. My self diagnosis is that I am not good enough at keeping the thinking consistent for 18 holes. If I hit the ball well I want to hit it better and new thoughts creeps in. And so it goes. So I am having problems puttin 18 holes of good golf togeter. Never mind doing it several days in a row. Not talking about nerves here. I rarely play well enough to get nerves. But simply a drifting mindset.

I watched the videos from when you became the Australian Champion. It seems to me like you know better than most how to keep playing well when you’ve found your form. (salut)

I was wondering whether you could tell us a little about how you think yoru shots and how you manage your thought process through 4 round of competitive golf.

Yes, please do shed some light on how to keep ones own head from exploding when playing well.
The minute I start caring about the outcome of a round my swing breaks down like Barbaro in the Preakness :frowning: (and it’s just as heart breaking)
I don’t even recognize it. It is not the same swing I practice or used to start the round.
I have tried many different things to remedy this and keep my head together; deep breathing, yoga, lucky coins, extra practice swings, different snacks, walking vs riding, all to no avail…
Don’t be too worried if you see someone standing on the first tee in a tightly wound turban, it will just be me :laughing:

I do not have the luxury of getting really nervous because I’m playing “too well” very often. I need to be close to the 18th hole with a chance to beat par to do that. Either that or play exceptionally well in competition. But I’ve experienced it a few times, and I’ve seen it firsthand many times.

It seems to me like the touch in the short game is the first thing that disappears. Makable putts that suddenly 2 feet short of the hole etc. Then on the next tee, a bad tee shot. Perhaps a recovery that still holds promise of a par. But suddenly the touch is gone so it’s a bogey or worse.

We have an expression in our club: the “Club Championship Bounce”. A lot of players seem to get a lot of bad breaks in the Club Championship. Bad shots that would have produced a bogey or maybe a lucky par on a regular wednesday often produces a double and worse.

I play best when I play without expectations. I’ve turned a lot of bad starts around by just forgetting about the score and be in the moment. And before you know it you’re into it againg. But even if I’m in the comfort zone I have a tendency to change my thinking.

I belive you either need to know what you’re doing when you strike the ball or you need to think the same ignorant thoughts over and over again. Possibly both to play to your potential. A quiet mind that really knows how to strike the ball.

There is a saying…“Confidence breeds Confidence”

Most professional golfers are fighting something on a daily basis when they play…either their grip feels weird or their body is out of sorts or their tempo is off.
It is very rare to have that “I feel awesome and an invincible feeling” 100% all round long …let alone all tournament long.

However…the better player has been through these feelings or circumstances many, many times over and over and learns to not let these bad feelings or sensations get in the way of actually playing the shot at hand that is being presented.
Pressure is all self inflicted. Bad thoughts are all self inflicted. It all goes along with the crappy saying that you always hear…“well Jim, I am just going to go out there and take it one shot at a time”… it’s stupid predictable saying in my estimations, BUT…it really is the truth… What happened previous OR what can happen in the future holds no bearing because the only thing that matters is the next shot…and that’s it…
That’s why you see people all the time who are playing great and have 6 holes to go and all of a sudden think…WOW…I am 1 under par…Even if I bogey in I will still have my best score ever…and what happens?..An absolute blow up because they think future result instead of just going along with what got them to that best round ever after 12 holes point.

The brain is a very advanced tricky thing…If you mentally think or say… “don’t hit it in the water”…your brain doesn’t hear DON’T…All it hears is WATER…and sure enough you hit in the water
Golf is a very mental game…you pretty much get what you ask for…

So going back to the original thought of “Confidence breeds Confidence”…it certainly makes it easier to play consistently well when you have an understanding of your swing and you have your swing under control…so when a bad shot creeps in…you know exactly why it occurred and you don’t lose focus on worrying about how to fix it and have 18 swing thoughts trying to resolve this one bad shot.
Everyone hits bad shots…but you can’t let them be the ruin of you…you hit it…you learn from it…you refocus on the next shot and resolve it immediately and move on.

That’s why the ABS program is outstanding…because it gives all the students a total understanding and feel of their swing…so we don’t search for a cure swing after swing…and don’t shift our focus from playing golf to worrying about a swing breaking down and killing our scores time and time again.
Confidence in your ability and your technique helps mentally because you can focus on the next shot and not all the other stupid thoughts that consume us when we are out there playing.

Twomasters (and Lag),

On this topic, we often hear the term “In the Zone”, have you ever had an experience like this? For me, I have never experienced this in golf. As a pro I am wondering if you ever have, and if you can share what it was like.

Just to chip in (how apt for me :wink: ) with a few comments. I am halfway through a diploma in NLP and Hypnotherapy. So not learning how to make people dance like chicken :smiley:

I will be hopeful to create a number of techniques for fellow ABS’s to use, but what Bradley says is no surprise. Whether treating a phobia of spiders or 3 footers, it’s all the same wiring in the brain. It’s about having a rational, desired response to the situation and eliminating fear. One of the biggest things for people to do is to recognise the differences between fear and excitement. Fear is a weakening emotion, excitement strengthens…

Tournament golf is similar to walking along a wooden plank on the floor. You could walk along the plank on the floor all day long, but suspend it 500ft above the ground :open_mouth: and it’s a different animal for most people, yet it can be learned to walk along it happily (people who do tightropes and work up high learn to do this). Hunter Mahan chips well all day long, but on 17 in a Ryder Cup…

The irony is it is the same process for the unconscious mind (more on that later) but the conscious mind will associate past and future events and possibilities (like falling) and make you nervous.

I hope to do a series of articles for everyone over the coming years to help us all with the game of golf, but to hear tm on actual experiences is knowledge gold. I learnt a lot hearing this as I have not played at the highest level (yet :sunglasses: )

I will soon have an article ready about how to do some preliminary work to access the zone. It will have two ways of doing it depending on your view or misconceptions. One is via a traditional NLP approach (modelling the behaviour) and the other via listening to a hypnosis mp3 that I will happily give to anyone who wants.

The zone is a magical state of mind that is not as elusive as it seems. Any behaviour can be broken down and modelled. Just as ABS models true fundamentals of hitters, it is possible to do mental exercises (possible modules of mind thinking out loud here) to train the brain to be where you want it to be when you hit a shot.

For me the zone is where we are completely focused on the shot we have selected, in a confident, ultra alert state intermixed with feeling of fun, focus, presence in the moment and happiness and detachment from the rest of the world that is not involved on the shot in hand. It does not involve any thoughts of the future other than the notion of where the ball will travel to and the surrounding, relevant conditions and the 100% commitment to the process of executing the shot, combined with a detachment from the outcome. This is a strange concept for people to grasp. Not many can give every fibre of energy to the process of holing a putt, yet not caring about the outcome. You hear Stewart Cink say he is really happy with the process more than the result of a putt sometimes.

In a sentence this would be

“see, verbalise or feel the shot, execute it whilst excluding anything else from your world that doesn’t involve the process of the shot”

It is very similar to the feeling whilst in hypnosis.

The zone is however something that can be switched on or off. An example of either end of the scale would be Nick Faldo and 4-8 hours of complete focus excluding all else on course, to Trevino switching from shots, to joking with the fans in an instant. Neither is right or wrong, it’s what is best for the individual.

More to come on this…

Hope my ramblings are of some use :sunglasses:

Wonderful stuff… keep it coming and I look forward to your articles.

As touring pros we kind of live for “in the zone”. It’s basically the feeling you get when you start stringing shots together with a reasonable degree of proficiency… that often leads to multiple birdies in a row, and that sort of thing. It can also be limited to just one area of your game… such as… I hit it like garbage but with the putter I made everything.

I feel I can miss a shot and still be “in the zone” due to the complex nature of the game. Bradley and I played in the final group one week on the Canadian Tour and we shot 16 and 17 under par over the four days, which is pretty “in the zone” kind of stuff, certainly in the persimmon age when we were playing par 72’s not the par 68’s the pros are playing today.

Bradley’s 24 under in the Australian Masters is an example of being able to stay even deeper in the zone over the week. And the story of him placing a wager on himself to win the event showed just how connected to the zone he felt and the confidence to stay in the zone.

I agree with what Bradley says about confidence breeds confidence. Birdies have a feeling to them. A feeling of accomplishment. For me, it takes pressure of the next few swings, or even putts. Almost like, I have given myself room for less than perfect golf, because I have stock piled a few birdies. This usually leads to better golf swings, and more birdies.

By the very nature of the game, we have no choice but to play one shot at a time, but I enjoy the feeling of “getting hot”
and try to stay “open” to that, even if I am not playing particularly well. I try not to be too mechanical about a round… rather I like to feel my way through the rounds ups and downs… and plan my shots accordingly. I think there is really an art to this.

When I am hot, I play more aggressively, when I am not, I tend to pull back a bit, play more conservatively and avoid big numbers, and careless errors.
I wait for that “change in the tide” then work into the good feelings and the good shots. I enjoy a bit of an emotional ride through the round. it’s fun. More fun than feeling like a robot out there. I’m not saying throwing clubs one hole and fist pumping the next… but allowing for some natural flow to occur of feeling and emotion.

I know I mentioned it somewhere recently on a thread, but I last week I played a few rounds up in Portland with Littlealm and Slide4ever, and was shut out with no birdies the first round. The first six holes the next day, two bogeys, no birdies.
Then I hit an iron shot to about 3 feet. Birdie. Hit an 8 iron to 2 feet on the next. Suddenly back to back birdies out of nowhere. Then I roll in a few putts and birdie 5 holes on the back nine at Pumpkin Ridge making 7 birdies in the last 12 holes. That’s good golf no matter who you are.

But I really think a lot of this comes back to having good technique. Good technique increases your probability of hitting good golf shots. I am far from a perfect golfer, and miss hit my share of golf shots no doubt. But because I have good technique, I hit less bad ones than most people. Good technique allows you to slip into the zone more often than someone who doesn’t. It’s like playing with loaded dice. That’s why it’s so important to keep striving for better technique. Good technique makes hitting straight shots easy… and I think it really helps to keep you in the zone because you simply will have more successful shots to look at which then can breed more confidence for the next one.

Sam Snead- “Dance with the one you brought”

Jack Nicklaus- “I would always go practice after a round a shot that I didn’t feel comfortable with during the round…fix it on the range…and then move onwards feeling confident again”

Very true concept… If my game was off a little…I would get through the day…playing to the strengths I had…whether it be hitting a 3 wood from the tee instead of a driver…or laying up to 80 yards instead of 30 yards
When you bring in the temptation to risk shots that are difficult to you or are out of your comfort level that day you bring in all kinds of opportunities to hurt yourself mentally, physically and on the scorecard.

In 1993 Australian masters I wasn’t comfortable with my 3 wood…so I benched it ALL week. I didn’t feel comfortable with my lob wedge either for some reason…so I benched it too
I used a driver and 1 iron thru SW and a putter… I could be the only player in the past goodness knows how many years to win a big event with only 13 clubs in their bag…but by doing so… I avoided the temptation to play shots I wasn’t comfortable with by dropping those clubs entirely from my vision and eliminating them from the bag and managed to stick to a game plan of position from the tee and then attack from the perfect yardages and went on to win.

In 1998 Australian masters I had all 14 clubs but I hit my driver only 1 time each round…on the long par 5 14th at Huntingdale. It was 3 woods more often than not, for position…I even felt good pitching the ball that week, so on holes 6 & 7 which are very tight par 5 holes that spelled disaster for many for missing the fairway…I hit 2 iron…3 iron…pitch and played those two holes well under par for the week anyhow

Have a game plan…stick to it the best you can…get it around by playing to your strengths that week or day and reap the rewards of a good score on more occasions.

Now that is mental game platinum. There are not many amateurs that could do that tm, not many at all…

My course has 4 out of 5 reachable par 5’s

My best round was 3 wood or 3 iron off each tee and leave a wedge/sand wedge shot in.

Shot 69…

Yet I haven’t done it again…

Game plan for the day and swing shape/style for the day, stick to it… Simple but tough to do

Thanks a bunch lagpressure and twomasters for sharing your thoughts here,

It’s a privilege to tap your brains. :ugeek:

I have one more question for both of you.

It seems to me that there are thousands of golfers who can strike the ball well enough and long enough to compete with anyone. For my own part it seems like golf becomes more of a mental game the better I strike the ball. I recall Jack Nicklaus saying something like this: “I knew I had the tools to compete at the highest level. The question was if I was able to use them.”

Are there mental skills that separates the multiple major winners from those who struggle to get on the tour? And if so - what are they? We have the distinction between school smart and street smart. But what does it mean to be golf smart?

The thing that separates the greats from the good, and the good from the average is putting.
The game within the game.

Putting sets the tone for your success. So much pressure is taken off the ball striking. Even chipping. A good putter is going to feel they are going to make most everything inside 10 feet… maybe even 15.

I feel pretty good inside 5 feet. That gives me a 10 foot circle basically for a one putt when chipping.

But a great putter has a 20 foot circle for up and down. Pretty easy to chip inside a 20 foot circle. The error of being short, long, left or right of the pin is pretty manageable from that point around the greens. This makes missing greens not that big a deal. As long as you can miss on the correct side, leaving an uphill chip or bunker shot… it’s not that hard to convert most missed greens. I’ve seen plenty of pros or good collegiate players have very poor ball striking rounds hitting only 6 or even 4 greens and shooting even par.

For some reason this one hole stands out in my mind as the perfect example. I was playing in the Alberta Open at Wolf Creek and playing with Kirk Triplett. The 4rth hole was the toughest hole on the course needing both a very precision drive, and mid iron shot. I hit a perfect drive dead center. Kirk hooks it way way left into the forest. After nearly 5 minutes of searching a marshal finds his ball deep into the trees in rough and pine straw. Somehow he hacks it back out into the fairway picking up only about 40 yards. I hit a 6 iron dead at the flag that stops just above the hole about 15 feet.
Kirk fats a wedge onto the green but it hits firm and rolls up about 20 feet short right of the hole. He then holes the putt for a par. I hit a great looking putt that hits the right lip and slides about 4 feet by from a fast downhill slope. I lip out the comeback and make bogey. I felt like I did everything right… even my first putt was a really nice roll. He did nothing right other than roll in a 20 foot putt.

I remembered thinking on the next tee as Kirk had the honor… how did that happen? He pulled off 3 or 4 more Houdini escapes that day and shot 70. I hit 15 greens and shot 73. If you were only watching the ball striking, you might think he was a fluke Monday qualifier who somehow snuck into the event. But the fact was, he nearly won the tournament on Sunday. I cashed my check that just barely got me out of town with gas in the car after paying my caddie.

My point is if you are putting well, so much can happen, and it’s very easy to stay positive. Without doing anything spectacular, a player might have two five pars in a 5 hole stretch. He gets greenside for two birides on the bookends.
The three in between holes he hits one shot in close, and the other two just has a pair of 20 foot putts. He makes one of them and has just birided 4 out of 5 holes. What was looking like an exit early Friday afternoon 75, suddenly turned into a 70 that gets him a mid morning tee time on Saturday after squeaking by the cut line.

Good putting does wonders for the mental game.


I have had that feeling of hitting it all over the place and yet holing everything and walking off under par for a 9 hole stretch…but it happens rarely. It really does emphasise what a hot putter can do for your score though regardless of well you are hitting it.

Obviously I am commenting from a much lower level of ability/competence than Lag and Two but I also have a theory about making birdies, which is that you need to WANT to make them…you need to physically set your store out to make them, almost say to yourself…now look here, I am not out here to sniff some sea breeze and play mediocre golf, I am out here or a reason, to play some good golf and make some birdies.

The other thing that changes is your focus, kind of more intense, really focussed with a clear objective, your putting stroke becomes bolder, almost aggressive, right on the margin, the putts go in the hole more firmly. I really think the power of positive thinking is so important, a couple of weekends ago, a friend said to me as I set up for a chip shot from 15 yards…come on…chip it in…and I did, simply because I let go of the consequences of failure…almost like it has to go in and nothing else matters.

I think that is very well put, and matches my experience, especially the “want to”, the intention, the determination, the boldness, an almost undeserved confidence ( if that is correct…can it be undeserved if you can do it?).

All that…and then be open to the magical/ mystical things that will occasionally happen…the string of birdies, hole in one, hole out from the bunker, personal best round with your son, etc…wonderful occasions, few though they may be.

And other things…like Lag describing encountering Johnny Allen on the 18th at Mare, flushing a drive, hitting an iron for a kick in birdie.

Can’t life be grand? Is that door always there? How do we enter?