I keep hearing stories about players in their 40s, 50s and 60s claiming they’re hitting the ball as far, if not further now than they ever did.
I keep hearing stories about players in their 40s, 50s and 60s claiming they’re hitting the ball as far, if not further now than they ever did.
Only when you have clear intention can you begin to create the shot you want to hit
We create what we see. Is it possible that you could hit a good shot? Is it possible that the next shot you hit will be the best one you have ever hit in your life? What does the ball need to do to reach your intended target? What does a good shot look like?
Before you hit any shot, whether that be on the range or the golf course, whether it is with a driver, a 6-iron or even a three-foot putt, it is essential that you have a very clear picture of what the very best version of that shot looks like. Once you have a very clear intention, you then have somewhere specific to place your attention.
We are not going to suggest that everyone visualises every shot exactly the same way.
Some golfers see the ball flying towards their intended target with a high fade, others with a low draw. Some even see the ball flying arrow-straight towards its intended destination.
A lot depends on what shot is required, what shot you are capable of playing and what shot you are most comfortable with at that unique moment in time. A lot depends on your intention.
In Jack Nicklaus’s best-selling book, Golf My Way, he says:
“I never hit a shot, even in practice, without having a sharp in-focus picture of it in my head. It’s like a colour movie. First I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white sitting up on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes and I see the ball going there: its path, trajectory and shape, even its behaviour on landing.
“Then there’s a sort of fade-out and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality and only at the end of this short, private Hollywood spectacular, do I select a club and set up to the ball.”
Talk about clarity! What is really fascinating here is that Jack has watched the whole movie before he has even selected a club. What we see at all levels, from weekend golfers to Tour Pros, is the player taking a club out of their bag because the shot they face is x yards, make a couple of practice swings and only then look at their target and try to create a mental image of the shot they are about to create. The sequence of events is somewhat different. Perhaps Mr Nicklaus was onto something all those years ago.
Isn’t it strange that when we have to shape a shot around a tree or create one with a lot of curve or height, we somehow manage to see that shot with amazing clarity?
In the book, Natural Golf, Seve Ballesteros said: “When in trouble, I always stand directly behind the ball, stare intently at my target and wait patiently for the movies to begin. Sometimes I see so many shots come to life that I think I’m looking into a kaleidoscope. When that happens, I stay in the same spots and I rerun all the options until I see one working better than the others. Then, and only then, do I visualise the specific swing needed to execute the shot and finally select the proper club for the task.”
Seve had an incredible imagination and was very aware of his target. He waited until he saw ‘the’ shot. He then visualised and probably felt the specific swing required and then, finally, he selected the appropriate tool or club for that shot.
Most amateur golfers spend way too much time trying not to hit bad shots rather than focussing their attention on creating good shots. You always have a choice. Choose wisely.
Are you focussing on form at the expense of function?
We are led to believe that if we make a good swing, we’ll hit a good shot. Sound familiar? The golf coaching industry and the culture it has created has led us all down that path for decades, largely without foundation or success.
Our belief is this concept is fundamentally flawed.
Over the years we have seen far too many extremely talented players lose their way and ultimately their game as a direct result of their pursuit of the perfect swing, whatever that looks like.
Rather than asking ‘what is wrong with my golf swing?’ would it not make more sense to ask ‘what is wrong with my shots?’
Trying to figure out what is wrong with your swing will have you questioning 101 different ‘moves’ and there will be no shortage of opinions on what you are doing wrong, most of which will be clichés at best and simply incorrect at worst.
By contrast, if you reflect on what happened with your shot, you will come up with facts, not opinions. If your tee shot finished in the left rough, or your approach shot finished short and right of the green, these are facts and not opinions.
The journeys from the left rough back to the fairway or the front right bunker to the green are a whole lot shorter and easier to correct and improve upon than the eternal, fruitless search for technical perfection. The golf course demands you create shots, not make pretty golf swings.
Our desire is to help you find your way of playing better golf and having more fun, rather than the way. Think about some of the most exciting and entertaining players over the years. Seve, of course, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and the King, Arnold Palmer, to name but a few. All great to watch. All artists who had us on the edge of our seats at one time or another. All golfers who found their way of playing this great game.
Palmer famously said: “Swing your swing. Not some idea of a swing. Not a swing you saw on TV. Not that swing you wish you had. No, swing your swing. Capable of greatness. Prized only by you. Perfect in its imperfection. Swing your swing. I know I did.”
When you think about it logically, it seems unrealistic and almost nonsensical to expect the same swing to produce two very different shots. Yet when you go for a golf lesson or go to the range you will almost always do so in order to work on your swing. Would it not make more sense to work on creating shots rather than trying to create or recreate a consistent swing?
If you visit the driving range at any professional tour event around the world, pay attention to the ball flight of the shots they hit. You will see the players hitting fairly similar shots, whether they be soft fades, gentle draws, or straight bullets.
Now take a look at the swings that create these shots. The shots may be similar but the swings or styles that create them are very, very different. The players’ focused attention is very much on what the ball has to do to reach its intended target.
Think about all other ball sports. Tennis, football, soccer, rugby, squash, cricket – the list goes on. Where would your attention be playing any of these sports? Correct, the ball. So why would golf be any different?
Neglect the ball and its importance at your peril.
As the daylight hours shorten, just like our backswings as we get older, many golfers will be turning their attention to a winter game improvement programme.
With the aim of sorting out your swing to finally achieve more consistency at the forefront of your mind, traditionally this is when most golfers start to head for the range after work to hit hundreds of balls from the same place to the same target with the same club.
“Repetition, repetition, repetition”. “Must get the reps in”. “Practice makes perfect”. All the old clichés start to rear their ugly and nonsensical heads.
Think about that for a moment. If it sounds all too familiar, think about it for a bit longer. If you have gone down this path before, only to find it is a dead end, think about it for a few minutes. If you have been doing this for the last five years with limited or no apparent signs of success, what are the chances of year six being any different? Correct, pretty slim.
If hitting hundreds of balls from the same flat stance with the same club to the same target pays dividends, please continue as you were. However, if this kind of regime doesn’t work, perhaps it could be time for a rethink. Time to look at how you aim to improve from a different perspective. If your previous winters have been spent grinding away at honing your swing, only for that very same swing to let you down in the season that followed, do you really want to put yourself through that again?
The idea that practice makes perfect is one we have been fed by the golf industry for decades. At best, practice makes permanent but it will never guarantee perfection, whatever perfection looks like?! We know it doesn’t ring true but so many golfers cling to this fantasy in the hope that if they put the hours in and hit enough balls, their dreams will come true come the following spring.
All the scientific research backed up with countless tales from golfers around the world reinforce the fallacy of trying to repeat the same ‘magic move’. Quite simply, it doesn’t provide the results we hope for. As human beings, not robots, we just aren’t wired that way. Our brains and bodies cannot reliably repeat the same move time after time. This is good news because when we go out onto the golf course, thankfully we are not required to repeat the same move to hit the same shot to the same target from the same spot. Just as well. Can you imagine how boring golf would be if that were the case?
Rather than working on repetition, spend your practice or training time on improvisation. After all that is what you will undoubtedly have to rely on at some point during any given round of golf you play. There will be times you have to bend a shot around a tree, or land your approach shot short of the green and run it up towards the hole. You will be asked to pitch over a bunker or chip from off the green from a less than perfect lie. You will be asked to navigate your way around the golf course. In short, you will be asked by the course and its designer to play golf.
Don’t get me wrong, driving ranges have their place and serve a purpose but if you really want to improve, make sure you pay sufficient attention to creating some or indeed all of the shots you will face on the course. Rather than machine-gunning dozens of balls at the same flag, explore what is possible with a golf ball from tee to green and everything in between. Break free from the shackles of how ‘conventional wisdom’ suggests you should swing the club and let your creative juices flow. Set yourself some challenges. Rather than trying to perfect what cannot be perfected or repeat the unrepeatable, discover what it is possible to achieve with your golf clubs. High shots, low shots, fades and draws. Chip and run shots, high floating pitch shots. Short putts, long putts, left to right putts, right to left putts. Uphill and downhill. You are limited only by your imagination.
Improvisation is not only essential when you play golf, it is extremely enjoyable and rewarding. Give it a go, you never know what you might achieve over and above an enormous sense of satisfaction when your experimentation and improvisation starts to pay dividends on the course.
Gary Nicol joined Fred Greene for the second time on the Golf Smarter podcast to discuss the release of the latest Lost Art book, The Lost Art of Playing Golf.
‘Why do I play golf?’ Such a simple question, such a short question, but unless you are brutally honest with yourself about the answer we believe your progress will always be somewhat limited.
If you have a big enough why then you will always find the how. So why do you play golf?
Be careful as your brain creates an answer for you because it is likely the answer is a conditioned response to what you think you should say – even to yourself. Our premise is that since you began to play the game in the first place, the reasons you kept striving to get better may well have been hijacked, for reasons we will explain.
The culture of the game and the messages from certain sections of media may well have skewed your thinking.
What we want to stress more than anything is that we believe for you to get the most from your remaining time with the game of golf you need to be playing for your own reasons.
Not anyone else’s construction of the purpose of the game.
The authentic reasons for you as an individual. When you are in touch with your truth then you can begin to play a game really worth all of the time and effort.
Many players we have worked with over the years have been liberated when they actually give themselves permission to play ‘their’ game as opposed to ‘the’ game.
One way you can begin to unlock the answer to the question is to go back to the beginning. Just take some time to think back to the very earliest memories you have of the game.
How did it all start for you? What was it about this strange ball and stick game that drew you in the first place? How did the relationship begin? Who got you started?
Cast your mind back to what may for some be a very distant past and allow the vault of your mind to open up to the memories of where it all began. The reason for this is your first attempts to play the game were more than likely taken for the purest of reasons.
Something in the game itself captured your imagination and got you interested, the game drew you in. At the very earliest stages, it probably wasn’t about what golf could bring you in the future it was about what golf provided you in the present.
For many, the sheer joy of swinging a club through space and finally making good contact with the ball and seeing it fly up into the sky started a love affair that lasted a lifetime.
To strive to be the very best you can possibly be, we think, is a great reason to play the game. But the line shouldn’t blur so golf becomes something you are as opposed to something you do.
To embark on a journey of personal mastery would be a wonderful answer to the fundamental question of why you play.
As the legendary golf coach Fred Shoemaker said: “To fall in love with the idea of mastering a game you will never master.”
This is a perspective about what you can do to improve yourself as opposed to falling into the ego trap of comparison with others.
When you are clear with your why you then stand a very good chance of finding the how.
In their latest podcast appearance Gary Nicol & Karl Morris sat down with Adam Fonseca at Golf Unfiltered to discuss the release of The Lost Art of Playing Golf.
Karl Morris on how you can fundamentally change your perception of the game of golf forever
It was a wonderful spring afternoon. The ground was beginning to dry out after a harsh and wet winter and the trees looked like they were ready to start flourishing for another year. It was easy to feel the sense of optimism spring brings with it each year.
As I walked the back nine I noticed a wooden bench next to a tee. There was a brass plaque with an inscription on the bench.
It was a commemorative plaque that said: ‘To The Tuesday Boys’.
Underneath the title were the names of four golfers and their years of birth and death. It seemed each of these four players had all passed away within a relatively close period of time. It was poignant to think of these four former golfers, no longer with us.
They had clearly played for many years together on a Tuesday – The Tuesday Boys.
I began to think of how many times they would have set out on a round of golf. How many times it would have been just another Tuesday. This ritual obviously went on week after week, year after year.
They would probably have got together on the 1st tee and said something about the state of their game, how they had been struggling with their tee shots, the week they had just had from the previous Tuesday and their hopes for the round ahead.
They must have gone through this routine time and time again. Played golf together on a Tuesday. They would have shared the highs and lows of the game. The emotions, both good and bad. The opportunity to sit in the clubhouse afterwards reflecting on the round and sharing in great conversation and friendship.
Then suddenly they had run out of Tuesdays. One by one, the Tuesday Boys must have got smaller in numbers as a group until they didn’t have any Tuesdays left. The last putt had been holed and the opportunity to enjoy another round had gone forever.
This experience really reinforced to me the utter preciousness of each and every chance we have to play this wonderful game. The incredible way we all take for granted the fact that for us all there are unfortunately only a certain number of Tuesdays left.
None of us know how many Tuesdays it will be but don’t we all labour under a certain illusion these opportunities will go on and on? There will always be another game to play. Another chance. Another Tuesday.
Well, at some point there won’t be another opportunity. Every single one of us will at some point play our final round. We will sink a putt on the 18th green and it will be the last putt we ever hit.
Without being alarmist or a doom merchant, it is so important to embrace a vital key in the quest to unlock and reshape your golfing story and get the most out of this human experience. That is the skill of gratitude.
There is strong evidence to suggest that in the quest to feel good about ourselves and release our true capabilities the skill of gratitude is a huge asset.
Be grateful for this opportunity to play. The opportunity to walk around a golf course, in nature with the company of others. The opportunity to move your body, to test yourself and see what you can achieve.
The outcome will be what it will be but you are providing the conditions to allow a good performance to emerge.
New book release: The Lost Art of Playing Golf by Gary Nicol and Karl Morris – with a foreword from Rudy Duran, Tiger Woods’ first coach
This new release from the authors of the Amazon bestseller The Lost Art of Putting explores your relationship with the game and asks: when was the last time that you felt your score accurately reflected your true ability as a golfer?
Why do you play golf? Do you find the game as fulfilling as it used to be? Do you remember a time when you felt truly comfortable on the golf course? Do you remember a time when you felt truly comfortable on the golf course, treating it as a playground to explore? Can you imagine what it feels like to create unique golf shots in your mind and then execute these intentions?
The Lost Art of Playing Golf suggests answers to these profound questions. It will help you to re-connect with the soul of the game.
Learn how to approach the game you love in a profoundly different way – and liberate yourself to derive more pleasure from your precious time playing golf.
The Lost Art of Playing Golf follows on from the Amazon best-selller The Lost Art of Putting. It becomes the second title in the ‘Lost Art’ series.
It is the belief of leading tour coach Gary Nicol and performance coach Karl Morris, who have 60 years’ combined coaching experience, that despite us having access to more information than ever we are not becoming better or happier golfers. If anything, the opposite is true.
The Lost Art of Playing Golf drills down even deeper into your ability as an individual to discover your way of approaching the game rather than being told how to.
The message they convey is one of golfers reconnecting with their own creativity and the wisdom of their own body.
The ideas and information they share are backed up by the very latest research into how best to utilise the connection between mind and body.
Born in Scotland, Gary Nicol turned professional in 1988. Since then, he has travelled the world coaching golfers of all standards from weekend players to tour pros including Ryder Cup players, Olympians and winners of major championships. Gary is a certified TrackMan Master and Mind Factor coach and is based at the stunning Archerfield Links on Scotland’s Golf Coast.
Karl Morris has been involved in performance coaching for 30 years. In that time, he has worked with multiple major winners in golf – including Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell – Ashes-winning captains in cricket as well as Premier League and international footballers. His passion has always been to make mental game coaching both practical and applicable.
The Lost Art of Playing Golf was edited by experienced golf writer Dan Murphy and published by Sports Publications (sports-publications.com).
With a foreword written by the first coach of Tiger Woods, Rudy Duran, the book is available now at thelostartofgolf.com and costs £19.95.
Note from the editors
We have all heard, read and said that golf is all in the head more times than we could possibly count. Golf is a mental game.
Perhaps Bobby Jones said it best: “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five and a half inch golf course… the space between your ears.”
So why is it that the vast majority of golfers spend a disproportionate amount of time hitting balls rather than thinking about how they are going to get round the course by creating a plan or strategy?
There could be any number of reasons.
My personal belief is that the culture of golf in general and coaching in particular would suggest that “the secret is in the dirt”. I’m not saying you don’t have to work hard and hitting lots of shots on the range is not the way forward. Anyone who has ever achieved success in golf has put in the hours, without exception.
There are countless tales about the best players over the years having hit shots from dawn until dusk or until their hands bled in their quest for improvement. We always hear about the manual labour but one thing we never really hear about is the mental labour. What were they thinking about? What were they focusing on? Were they working hard or working smart?
Hitting shots on the range. Not hitting balls. On the surface, they may sound similar but trust me, hitting shots and hitting balls are two entirely different things. The golf course and its designer are constantly asking you to do two things – to think about and to execute a particular shot at a unique moment in time.
Close your eyes for a second and visualise your practice routine, if you have one. How much thought goes into what you are doing on the range? What are you paying attention to? What are you focusing on?
In essence, if you are working on your technique, your attention or focus can and will be in one of three places – what you need to do, what the club needs to do or what the ball needs to do.
In all likelihood you are thinking about what you need to do with your hips, shoulders, lead arm or trail leg – what ever happened to left arm and right leg?
Or you might be thinking about what the club needs to do – not too much on the inside on the way back, parallel to the ground and your target line at the top of your backswing or whatever.
Quick question: When was the last time you hit the ball in your backswing? Correct, never. So why pay so much attention to it?
What we pay too little attention to is what the ball needs to do, to the shot itself.
In today’s world, with so much contrasting, conflicting and as a result, confusing information out there on social media (YouTube, Twitter, Instagram) it’s all too easy to jump from swing tip to swing tip in a bid to find the answer to all your woes. Unfortunately, quite the opposite tends to happen. In a bid to get better, you actually get worse. Why? Because very little is said about the shot. It’s all about technique.
While a good technique may be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, it does not guarantee that you will hit good shots. Hitting good shots guarantees hitting good shots.
Virtually everything designed to serve a purpose, whether that be the device you are reading this on, a formula one race car or the shoes on your feet is designed with a function in mind. The function creates the form. Why should hitting a golf shot be any different?
The three products I mentioned above were all designed with specific purposes or functions in mind and built around that. In golf we learn to swing first then create shots later. Does that make any sense to you? It makes no sense to me either.
Rather than working relentlessly on trying to perfect your swing, would it not be sensible to pay attention to creating better shots. Let the function create the form, let the task create the technique.
To me, that is working smart. That might involve more mental labour in experimenting and learning how you actually create a variety of shots and how you are going to use them on the golf course but it will almost definitely reduce the amount of manual labour required.
The choice is yours, choose wisely.