Chi-Power Golf Part 16 - Breathe and take control of your swing
Jayne Storey’s chi-power GOLF is based on simple, timeless principles which are proven to enhance your mental game and help you perform your best on the golf course. Here she explains how a simple shift in your attention can help you stop playing “search for a swing” and start playing a game you can both enjoy and win.
To deliver a fluid and powerful swing, especially when under pressure during a round, two vital things need to be accomplished which are rarely addressed in mental game coaching. But before we go on to look at what they are, let’s first define what pressure actually means.
“When I learned how to breathe, I learned how to win.” Thus spake Tom Watson, who in the late 1970s and early 1980s won more big tournaments than any other golfer.Fred Shoemaker, author of the book Extraordinary Golf, cites the fact that no matter how well a golfer is playing, a couple of bad shots in a row can often change their entire outlook and experience on the course. This is because most golfers bring a whole bundle of emotions with them to the 1st tee including “doubt, excitement, fear, key swing thoughts, desires and a lot of hope.”
So pressure, also known as stress, anxiety – a general feeling of ‘up-tightness’ – can be anything from not wanting to feel embarrassed when you tee off in front of your mates to playing in the company of someone who is so much better than you. A reaction to pressure will often manifest itself as the familiar “search for a swing” game that many golfers play, bogged down and confused mentally yet still wanting to try out new tips and tricks (‘paralysis by analysis’ as the old saying goes). Jack Nicklaus has said that a big mistake many players make is that they try to swing like somebody else, to do what another golfer can do, rather than finding out what they can do well and sticking with it.
I firmly believe that if you could just play with the swing you have now, the next time you go out on the course you will enjoy your game a whole lot more. So, for starters, it’s well worth heading the advice of the game’s all-time greatest, and stick with what you’re good at, rather than trying to copy another golfer’s swing. Here’s how to stop playing “search for a swing” and to start making the most of the swing you’ve got now. Firstly, you’ll need to reduce your internal dialogue and secondly, you’ll need to master your bio-chemistry. Both of these things can be accomplished quickly and easily using the simple technique of focusing on your breathing – also known as meditation.
Let’s briefly look at each of these issues and then turn our attention to some key pointers to help you with your very next game.
Reducing the internal dialogue
Most mental game coaches will typically fill your head with various psychological techniques to help you ‘re-frame’ your thoughts so that you say things to yourself that you want to hear. A typical re-frame would be instead of telling yourself something negative, like “I’ve hooked it the last couple of times I was on this tee, I bet I hook it again this morning”, you tell yourself something positive – “OK, here we go, nice tidy shot straight down the middle.”
Sounds reasonable enough, so why isn’t this approach satisfactory? Well, these mental game tricks only last for a short amount of time, as the mind quickly gets used to the new dialogue and once again the swing faults creep back in.
I’ve lost count of the number of times golfers have got in touch with me saying they are unable to hit a barn door with a shovel having gone through months of leaping through these mental hoops!
Filling your head with more things to remember (i.e. in addition to the numerous swing thoughts they already have!) is the last thing you want out on the course. Rather than ‘thinking about playing golf’, you want to be immersed in what you’re doing – a state that allows you to get ‘in the zone’.
Any golfer worth listening to will tell you that they play their best golf when the have the least mental interference. Tiger Woods has often mentioned “silence” as the thing he hears before making a great swing (although perhaps not so much lately!). Better still, Bobby Jones once said that when he played great golf he thought very little...and when he played exceptional golf he didn't think at all!
Mastering your bio-chemistry
Any time you’ve rushed a shot as a result of feeling hurried – perhaps by those around you, or a group following behind – you’ve been the victim of bio-chemistry. Any time you’ve used psychological pep-talk before a game, then felt your mouth dry and your palms get sweaty walking to the 1st tee, you’ve been the victim of biochemistry. Any time you’ve been anxious, excited, fearful, or concerned about what you look like, how you’re going to perform – you’ve been the unhappy victim of bio-chemistry. What causes this? It’s the result of adrenaline, wreaking havoc on your nervous-system, making you all the more anxious, up-tight, irritated and basically lacking in the confidence to play your own game.
The solution is simple!
But there’s a simple way of controlling both the inner voice and the negative effects of bio-chemistry. And the great Tom Watson summed it up best with this simple observation: “When I learned how to breathe, I learned how to win.”
Learning how to breathe – i.e. deeply and slowly – quietens the internal dialogue and produces a ‘relaxation response’ in the nervous-system which negates the disastrous effects of adrenaline and produces a feeling of calm.
If you can take this one principle onto the course for your next game I guarantee you can play with the swing you’ve got now, make more birdies and have a happier time doing it.
Bringing it into your game
Many of my clients have found their own ways to take this awareness into their game. Here’s a great suggestion to help you get started. Arrive at the club 10 minutes early for your next tee time, then just sit in the car and quietly pay attention to your breathing. Either switch the radio off or if you like, listen to some classical/instrumental music in the background. This will induce your ‘relaxation response’, keep your inner voice to a minimum and ensure you arrive at the first tee unruffled. As you walk and play the course the one thing you’re doing constantly is breathing, so as often as you can, just ‘check-in’ with yourself and simply remember this fact and you’ll feel so much calmer even if you play a couple of poor shots in a row.
Incorporate this technique into your pre-shot routine, also. Sizing up a shot, establishing your set-up position and so on, just try to be aware of your breathing. Doing so will calm your nervous-system, keep you neutral under pressure, stop your internal voice and allow you to take your own swing around the course for a relaxing and enjoyable game.