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Mind and Body
Nick Faldo

Part 1: (Part 2 Hitchin' a Ride) A 30-minute warm-up routine that will prepare you both physically and mentally to go out and play your best golf...

Like everything in this life, you only get out of your practice what you are prepared to put into it. When it comes to your preparation immediately before a round, the key is not only to get your 'engine' running and some-feel going in the hands and arms, but also to create a set of positive pictures that will help you to play 'target-oriented' golf out on the course. That's what matters most: finding your target.

You learn things as you get older. I know now, for example, that I used to spend way too much of my time thinking about the construction of my backswing - i.e. what was going on behind the ball - and not enough on what was about to happen through the ball and towards the target.

When I reflect on my career, I realise that I always played my best golf when my thoughts were going that way - i.e. towards the target. In full flow, all I worried about was my follow-through, changing the shape of the through-swing to influence the flight of the ball.

'Engaging the target' is now my over-riding priority in the 30 minutes or so that I spend warming up before a tournament round. Through the course of the following lessons I hope that I can similarly persuade you to follow the same warm-up strategy. Working on the mechanics of your swing is fine in between games. But when it comes to preparing yourself for a round, to play for real, the only thing you should be thinking about is harnessing your momentum and channelling it towards a specific target.

All about painting positive pictures

Assuming you do have 30 minutes or so to get ready-and if you really do want to go about this properly - sit yourself down in the locker room and spend 5 minutes quietly by yourself rehearsing some basic breathing exercises.

Shut your eyes and focus on your breathing pattern. Relax. Breathe and release slowly. Chances are you will have been tearing all over the place before arriving at the club, so take this time to concentrate on the depth and rhythm of your breathing and get yourself on an even keel.

As you do this, think about your objectives for the round ahead. What do you hope to achieve? That will create a set of pictures in your mind. You may see (and indeed fear!) a few bad shots out there, particularly on certain 'bogey' holes, which is fine. They happen. But wouldn't it be nice to see yourself walking off the 18th green having had the best round you've ever had?

Ask yourself how you might achieve that. Think it through. Most golfers get stuck in a rut because they never change their pictures, their habits, the way they perceive their own game. If there's a hole that always seems to cause you trouble, change your game plan and see yourself hitting the shots that will help you negotiate it.

Jack Nicklaus used to call this 'going to the movies', and he never hit a shot until he had a perfectly clear picture of it in his mind as he set up to the ball. That's the ultimate in positive thinking, and it's a technique you must try to work into your own routine. If you can run through this type of exercise in your mind as you head to the practice ground you will do so with a completely new and exciting set of pictures to focus on.

Your first priority basic stretches that get you fit and ready to play

Start with the shoulders - the big muscles. (below)

First things first: I like to begin my warm-up with a few stretches, and I always start with the big muscles in the shoulders - the rotator cuffs that do so much work in governing the swing.

Turn shoulders against a solid right knee. (below)

The secret to this and other pivot exercises is that you hold your right knee in a nice solid position - use that knee as a brace and turn against it. Feel your right shoulder blade open up as you make a big turn as if to get fully behind the ball.

You hear a lot about the phenomenal new fitness trends in professional golf, and it's true that younger players these days really are pushing the envelope in that department. But you don't have to go overboard. The important thing is that before you go out to hit a few balls you do at least spend a couple of minutes stretching your muscles and generally warming-up your 'engine' with a few golf- specific exercises that help you to make a better swing. I always focus on warming up the body first - what I regard as the 'engine' of my swing.

My reasoning for this is quite simple: the rotary motion that a good body action provides basically determines the swing that I use for every club in the bag. Starting with the shoulders, I do some stretch and resistance work, holding this 'loaded' position for a couple of seconds and then repeating it (on both sides). Then I focus on the 'pivot' motion itself.

This wakes up the muscles in the trunk - the all-important abdominals that are key in generating 'core' rotary motion. After a couple of minutes doing this I turn my attention to the wrists and forearms with these fly-wheel turns. And my advice here is that you keep your elbow tucked in comfortably to the side of your body as you simply rotate the club. That energises your hands, wrists and forearms. Five minutes is all it takes to run through this type of routine and it wouldn't do you any harm to perhaps find time through the week to rehearse these exercises at home, too. They keep you in touch with your game without even hitting a ball.

The basic pivot (above)

A good body pivot is the key to making a sound and consistent swing. Feel your weight shift across and on to the right side as you remind yourself of the importance of coiling your body fully behind the ball.

Swinging a club with just my right-hand is another favourite exercise (above) that I use as part of my warm-up. This immediately makes me aware of creating width in the backswing and at the same time helps me to find a good rhythm. For me, the most important thing is that I sense that the shoulders are doing all of the work. Thanks to a good coiling motion of the upper body, the big muscles provide the structure of a solid swing.

From the moment you set-up to the ball. Balance = Power

The examples are many and varied: tennis players talk about having their weight forward, 'moving into the shot'. Boxers throw punches with their weight on the balls of their feet, not lurching back on their heels. It's proven in martial arts that the weight has to be forward to maximise the potential for genetrating speed and power.

I even learned the other day that opera singers have to stand forward on the balls of their feet to maximise their breathing technique. It's all about projection - we are gearing ourselves up to project our momentum - our energy - in the direction of the target.

There is just no escaping the importance of a good, athletic posture. Before you begin hitting balls, try this simple test. Take your stance, then lift your heels and feel the weight on the balls of your feet (far left). This immediately braces your legs and creates just the right amount of tension that you need in the thighs to stabilise the swing - exactly the reminder you need before you head out to play. Don't fall into the trap of falling back on to the heels - that destroys good motion.

At the same time, use this opportunity to check all aspects of your alignment, too. Place a club across your knees and check that against the club on the ground.

Once you have this foundation in place, the next important question is can you make a back-swing keeping those knees nice and solid? Can you turn your shoulders through 90 degrees or so, hold your balance, and then unwind all the way through to the target. That's as technical as it gets in a warm-up session. You are now ready to hit a few balls and establish your rhythm.

Think of your knees as shock absorbers that both stabilise & govern the rhythm of your swing.

Think of a baseball pitcher and you should get a pretty good idea of the way in which you have to really 'load up' your backswing in order to unwind and get through towards your target. If I asked you to take a ball and throw it hard at a target, I reckon there's a good chance that you would emulate this action: your weight flowing naturally into the right side, arm flailing, before unwinding (from the ground up) and then releasing the ball at the target.

Not only do the knees stabilise the motion but they help you to conduct the energy in your body, multiplying the forces at work and accelerating the arm through the release. So, hey, if you can throw a ball, try to apply the same principles to your golf swing next time you get out to play.

Engage your target as you build up your speed

have limbered up and checked the various details of my set-up and posture, one of my favourite swing exercises is to simply start slow and build up momentum with a series of easy swings using a mid-to short iron.

Here I'm using a 7-ron, and when I say I start off short, I mean short. The first swing barely reaches hip-high (top), but the key to the exercise is that whatever length of backswing, I make sure that I unwind all the way to a full and balanced finish.

Cranking it a little further, I might then swing my hands back to shoulder-high (centre), before again committing myself to a full finish. Finally, I extend my swing to a three-quarter length (remember this is a middle iron), matching it with that full and balanced finish.

What does this achieve? It forces me to focused on turning my body all the way through to face my target, and that's key to hitting the ball on line, working towards that complete finish also helps you to find your balance-again a vital element of a good warm-up. If I can leave you with one thought to take with you to the course next time you play, remember that the ball usually flies in the direction your body faces at the end
of your swing. Think about it...

Finish facing your target. Make that your no.1 goal

Have you ever noticed that the ball has an uncanny knack of flying in the general direction in which your body is facing at the end of your swing? That's why professionals all like to rotate through impact to finish with their body facing the target. If you fall back off the shot and finish with your stomach pointing out to the right, that's where the ball is most likely headed.

If you are one of those players who steers it a bit, and finish in a rather flat position, chest pointing left, you probably spend a lot of time in the left-hand rough. You can correct both of these problems if you focus on turning through so that you wind up straight on the target. As if by magic that will go a long way to getting you on track.

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