Performance coach Paul Dewland has a way for putting this somewhat ethereal mental game stuff into concrete language.
“Remember when you were young and you went into a bar hoping to meet a girl. You didn’t walk through and go, ‘Whoa, stay away from that one, or that one.’ You went after the one that attracted you.
“We succeed in golf when we go after those things we want. If you’re focused on fixing a slice or getting rid of the shanks, then you’ll become much better at trying to avoid hitting slices or shanks.
“To hit better golf shots, you have to focus on what you really want. If your focus is on hitting it well, you will make the improvement that you’re looking for. You can make change when there’s a shift in intent.”
He’s right, again. When I started with Paul back in June, I wanted to learn more about the mental game, but I became fixated on exorcizing the infernal shanks from my game. At times this summer, I felt like quitting golf.
For the last five or six weeks I shifted gears and focused on building a better swing with coach Annie Mallory.* And Paul was totally cool with that. “If your mechanics are bad, you will play bad golf, no matter how well you might manage your mind.”
I’ve met with Annie three times and I’ve been dutifully doing drills in my basement. On the range, I’m taking at least three reps—rehearsal swings—before hitting a ball. I’m hitting far fewer practice balls, but the actual shots are higher quality and I’m less frazzled when the shot is crappy.
Although I haven’t played much golf in the past three weeks due to a family vacation, I am hitting the ball much better on the course. I’m cranking my driver as far as I’ve ever hit it (thank you technology), and I’m hitting my irons solidly, taking shallow divots where I never used to.
(Heck, I won men’s long drive in the Guelph Chamber of Commerce tournament! Ok, so Dustin or Bubba weren’t entered, so what?)
When I recounted my recent good fortune to Paul, he had it all figured out. (Talking with Paul is sometimes like talking to Mr. Know-It-All, although Paul doesn’t sound like Bullwinkle.) Paul explained that I was seeing a difference because I had shifted away from trying to cure my shanks to learning how to hit the ball better.
“When your intention is focused on flushing the ball, you develop the energy and momentum in the direction that will lead you to flushing the ball.”
In this Mind Game series, I’ve been talking about the process of change, which fascinates me. Change is what golfers are looking for when they read a golf tip online or buy an instruction book, or when someone decides she wants to become more assertive, lose weight, or change some part of her behaviour.
Deciding to make a change, however, doesn’t not mean you have changed. The decision starts the process. The hard part, as I’ve noted previously, is staying with the change over the long term, especially when you’re stressed or tired. Sticking with it is really tough when the kids are screaming, your wife has pissed you off, or you’ve skanked one OB again.
After I gleefully reported how I’ve been hitting it better lately, Paul noted: “You’re seeing the shift happen slowly, which is the way it works. No one makes instant change from a eureka moment. When you have the intent to go after what you want, you then have to use discipline and work your butt off.
“Over time, you’ll notice that change has been happening gradually. It comes on softly. You’ll have moments where you go ‘Oh yeah, it’s happening.’”
When Paul talks about something coming on “softly,” that’s about as close as he comes to sounding like a mystical guru. Actually, it reminds of a line from comic genius Lily Tomlin, which I think goes like this, “Instead of trying harder, why don’t we try softer?”
*Annie has entered the Instructor Search contest on The Golf Channel. Click here, scroll down to select and check out Annie’s video. (She’s a great teacher and funny, which is a rare in golf.) And sure, vote for her. Four finalists will host their own half hour instruction special and viewers will vote on who they believe should become the next TGC instructor.