Graeme McDowell wins at Pebble Beach in the toughest of all conditions and becomes the first European since Tony Jacklin in 1970 to lift the US Open trophy. A month later, Louis Oosthuizen starts the first round of the Open Championship as a 250-1 rank outsider and then proceeds to blow away the field and win by an incredible seven shots – the ultimate prize at St Andrews, the ‘Home of Golf'.
What is the connection between these two events and how could the manner in which these major winning victories were achieved help YOUR game?
I have been fortunate to work with both of these exceptional major champions as their Mind Coach. I worked with Graeme McDowell for over 6 years prior to the US Open at Pebble Beach and Louis Oosthuizen's manager, Chubby Chandler, called me up just six weeks before the Open at St Andrews to seek help with some issues around concentration. The rest, as they say, is history.
Through the course of this article (and I'm delighted to tell you that it's the first in a new series that I am contributing to Golf International) I am going to share with you some of the tools and the techniques I have worked on with these two players (and others) which I know can have an impact on your own game, your own scoring and – above all – your enjoyment of the game. Before we get into that, though, I want to ask you a question – one which on the surface may seem rather obvious to answer but a question that is, without doubt, one of the most important concepts you can ever grasp if you really wish to improve at this game. And the question is this:
‘What is the VALUE of ONE shot?'
Think about it.
What is the value of ONE SHOT at golf?
Well, the obvious answer is the value of one shot in a round of golf is one shot! But, it isn't and this is the problem most golfers never understand. Just imagine that you start to find ways of saving one shot here and one shot there in a round of golf. You walk off a hole you probably should have bogeyed but you didn't, you made a par. Now, what impact does that potentially have on the remaining holes in the round ahead?
One shot you should have dropped but didn't can be absolutely massive because it can give you MOMENTUM. Every round you ever play for the rest of your days will contain momentum points where you either move forwards or backwards and it can all hinge on one shot. I remember hearing Gary Player many years ago during a clinic say: ‘They [amateurs] just don't understand the value of ONE shot'. I have heard Jack Nicklaus talk about the 1%'s which make the difference between winning and losing. As I share with you some ideas on how to lower your scores keep asking yourself ‘if I do this, could it save me ONE shot?'
As golfers, we don't tend to look for the one percent solution, we tend to look for a 25% improvement in just one area. The swing. Not for one minute am I saying that the swing doesn't matter, a great mind and a bad swing will still hit lots of bad shots!What I want you to consider is that there are a number of areas you may never have looked at in your game that could save you one shot.
THE MYTH OF CONCENTRATION
‘I just lost my concentration on that one!' No you didn't. You did not ‘lose' your concentration. No-body ever ‘loses' their concentration. In the time you have been reading this article did you ever notice the sounds going on around you? You didn't before but my guess is you do now! You didn't lose your concentration on the article you just placed it in another place. Nobody loses concentration they just put it in the wrong place.
So, when I first sat down with Louis Oosthuizen and he told me that he had hit a number of poor shots at the US Open, he felt that after the shot he just ‘wasn't there'! My job, then, is to get his mind where it needs to be – i.e. on the task at hand. Golf is tough in terms of concentration because we just do not have the same triggers as other sports. In football when you hear the referee's whistle you automatically focus on the ball, in tennis the umpire calls ‘time' and it is back to the game. But in golf, apart from being announced onto the first tee, there is no overt signal from the environment that tells your brain it is time to concentrate. So a golfer needs to create his or her own triggers to alert the brain as to when it is time to focus on the shot at hand. If you do not create these triggers, I promise you your mind will wander and you will put your concentration in the wrong place, be that on the score, a poor shot you hit three holes ago or any manner of things totally unrelated to this task in front of you which is to move this ball to that target.
The absolute ideal in a round of golf is that you switch ‘ON' for your shots and then switch ‘OFF' in between shots. But, more of that a little later.
When Peter Alliss remarked on the BBC how Louis appeared to stare at a little RED DOT on his glove and go into a trance-like state, well, that is exactly what he did. We had set up in his mind that when he looked at the RED DOT, the only thing in the world which concerned him was the shot in front of him. When all of the chaos that comes in a round of golf was coming at him, that RED DOT told his mind to attend to the task at hand. You all noticed how he took that moment to look down and then go through the rest of his routine. Was the secret in the fact that it was a RED DOT? No! The secret was in the fact he had created an anchor point for his mind to ground himself and his concentration in the here and now.
When I hear commentators say he just needs to play one shot at a time or he needs to stay in the moment, I can barely contain my laughter. Playing one shot at a time is one of the hardest things to do in the game of golf if you don't know how to play one shot at a time. You can't just tell yourself to be in the moment, you have to have a system of being in the moment. What does this mean to you?
Well, it is not about a RED DOT, it is about you creating a specific signal to let your brain know it is now time to FOCUS on this shot. You may have been talking and enjoying yourself as you walk up to the shot, which is fine, but when your signal goes off, then it is time to absorb yourself and ‘lose' yourself in the shot at hand. If you did that on every shot in a round of golf, do you think that may save you ONE shot over the course of 18 holes? It has to!
One of the very simple questions I always sit down and ask a player when we very first meet is this: What are the only TWO things in golf you are trying to control?
Have a think for yourself. What are they?
It is amazing how many times I sit with a player and he only gets one of the two answers.
Most people realise we are trying to control the ball which is pretty obvious, but if you consider that nobody in the history of the game has ever worked out how to not hit bad shots, then we must all learn how to control OURSELVES.
The only two things you are trying to control are THE BALL and YOURSELF.
Yet, how many people really have worked at getting better at controlling themselves on a golf course?
Most people wait for the golf ball to make them feel good which unfortunately can be anything from 5 minutes to three months!
One of the specific things we worked on over the years with Graeme McDowell was the concept of acceptance. If you can honestly say you have executed your routine as completely as necessary then, once the ball leaves the club, you ACCEPT the result. This is not about resignation, it is about the fact that once that white ball leaves the clubface, there is an awful lot you CANNOT control – you can't control sudden gusts of wind, a bad bounce, a spike mark, you cannot even totally control your swing. If you can honestly say you have done ALL you can prior to the ball leaving the club, then once it is on its way you, need to accept what happens.
One of the specific ways you can work on this is to become very aware of what you do with your body in between shots. Your body and brain are in a constant TWO WAY conversation. What the body does affects the mind and what the mind does affects the body. Yet, the quickest way to change how you feel is through the body. This has particular implications in matchplay golf – about to be at the top of the agenda as we look forward to the Ryder Cup. How difficult is it to play against someone who never seems to get down. When someone has good body language the message it sends to others is stark. Yet, the most important message is to yourself!
The question you need to ask yourself on the golf course is when the inevitable bad shot comes along is ‘How do I REACT?' I can almost guarantee you will react habitually by looking down, hunching your shoulders and going inside your head to beat yourself up. If this is you the very next time you play, I want you to consider the time in between shots as being THE most important during your round. Instead of withdrawing inside your head when you hit poor shots,make a strong commitment to control your reactions and take charge of your body language. Graeme McDowell has got better and better at this over the last few years but the man I admire as one of the most mentally tough players on tour is Padraig Harrington.
It is VERY difficult to know how he is playing, good or bad from his demeanour. I love what he said a few years ago when he talked about his work with Bob Rotella and he said he realised he needed to ‘lighten up' in between shots. He said as a result of this that he still hits the inevitable bad ones but when he gets to the next shot he sees ‘so many more options'. Also, the better you get at controlling yourself in between shots, the better you ‘switch off', the better you will be at being able to ‘switch on' for the shot at hand.
All of the above may not ever win you a major but I absolutely guarantee if you commit to the tools above you WILL see a difference in your scoring.