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Visualisation, a closer look

At the time of writing, the UK is in virtual lockdown as we hope to limit the spread of this dreadful virus that has gripped the world.

Golf courses and driving ranges are closed and I personally believe that is absolutely the right thing to do, social distancing is not to be taken lightly. However, this means that all of us who love to be out on the golf course currently can’t play the game we love or even hit balls on the range.

Ordinarily at this time of year, we would be looking forward to watching The Masters on TV, drawing inspiration from the world’s best players to spur us on for the coming season.

That obviously won’t be the case this year but that doesn’t mean you can’t work on your game at this distressing and uncertain time.

Ask anyone who has ever played this great game and they will tell you that golf is largely a game played very much in the mind.

If we all know that, why do we spend a disproportionate amount of time working on the physical side rather than developing the mental skills required to play your best.

Splitting the fairway with your best drive, knocking the flag out with iron shots and holing putts are clearly hugely rewarding and satisfying but at the moment, they are sadly out of reach for us all until we can all get back out on the course.

In the meantime, I’d like to talk a bit about the power of visualisation and how it can benefit not only your golf game but your life in general.

When you read, hear or talk about visualisation in golf, the reference is more often than not, linked directly and solely to swings or shots. While I am a great believer in creating a very clear image of the shot you are about to play or create, if you dig a little deeper on this subject, there is so much more we can learn about visualisation.

In a book I recently read called “Coaching For Performance” by Sir John Whitmore, I came across a fascinating exercise relating to visualisation. Sir John doesn’t reference golf specifically in this exercise, so I have adapted it slightly to put it into a golfing context.

Sit in your favourite armchair and close your eyes. Feel your feet on the ground beneath them. Focus on your breathing, become aware of the rise and fall of your breath.

In your imagination, transport yourself to your favourite golf hole or course.

  • Imagine you are a bystander watching yourself play golf.
  • What does that version of you look like?
  • Do you look like you have just stepped out of a display case in the Pro shop or do you look like you got dressed in the dark?
  • Are you happy or distressed, smiling or frowning?
  • Do you look confident and relaxed or does your facial expression suggest you have just locked eyes with the grim reaper?
  • How do you carry yourself as you walk down the fairway? Head up or head down?
  • How do you react when you realise that your third shot on the par four 1st hole requires a delicate pitch shot over a bunker?
  • Do you view this shot as an opportunity or an obstacle?
  • Can you see the ball plugging in the face of the bunker or can you see it landing exactly where you intended it to as it rolls to within a few inches of the hole for an easy par?
  • As you walk to the next tee, are you staring at your shoes shaking your head, mumbling to yourself about how you dodged a bullet there, or are you looking up, taking in your surroundings while sharing a joke with your playing companions?
  • Would you like to meet / spend time with / play golf with this person?

Ask yourself these questions and see what images form in your mind’s eye.

While this exercise may sound a little odd and very different to what you read in most “coaching manuals”, please do not underestimate the power of how you view yourself. “Your Story” is vitally important and will be massively influential on your behaviour and attitude. So much so, Karl Morris and I dedicated an entire chapter to “Your Story” in our best selling book “The Lost Art Of Putting”.

If your perception of you as a golfer and / or as a person for whom everything is hard work and a struggle, chances are that you will live your life accordingly. Golf and life will be tough.

Conversely, if the character playing the lead role in “Your Story” is a person who has everything under control and can’t wait for the next challenge, chances are you will play out the role you have imagined or visualised. Golf and life might still be difficult at times, but the confident, capable you will be ready to deal with whatever comes your way.

As my late father used to say, “You can go through life two down with three holes to play or two up with three to play, the choice is yours.”

Over the coming weeks, we will probably all have more time on our hands than normal, so please spend that time wisely. Visualise yourself playing golf. Visualise not only the shots you want to play but look closely at how you behave and how you react to these shots you have played in your mind.

Perhaps more importantly, visualise how you are going to act during this testing time and how you plan to live your life when the world regains a level of equilibrium.

Until next time, take care of yourself and those around you, stay safe and fingers crossed, we will all get through this difficult period together.

Further education

In these testing and worrying times, golf may not be at the top of many people’s priority list and understandably so.

I have absolutely no medical background and therefore will not be offering any advice on what precautions to take regarding the corona virus. I think that is best left to the medical experts.

At the time of writing, most golf clubs and courses are still open, although I can’t imagine you will struggle to find a space in the car park over the coming weeks.

With The Masters and various other tournaments on tour around the world being cancelled, it would be easy to think that the golf world has come to a grinding halt. That need not be the case.

You might be of the belief that you can only improve your golf by hitting balls on the range and playing as often as you can. However, experience tells me that the main reason most golfers struggle to make the improvements they crave or desire by making mental rather than physical errors on the course.

Bad shots come from bad thoughts. Not because your backswing was too much in the inside, you didn’t create enough lag in your downswing or that you lifted your head. No, most bad or errant shots happen before you even start your takeaway.

If your intention is to make a a full turn, keep your left arm straight, transfer your eight etc…. you will become almost entirely disconnected from the task at hand, to create a golf shot.

Ask anyone who has played this great game and they will tell you that it is largely a game played in the mind. As Bobby Jones famously said “ Competitive golf is played mainly on a five and a half inch course, the space between your ears.” Wise words indeed.

That being the case, how often do your train your mental skills? Would you even know where to start?

If you are in a position where you have to “self isolate”, which is fast becoming an integral part of our language and lifestyles, why not spend some of that time learning about the mental or human skills required to make golf a more fulfilling and enjoyable experience?

While there are lots of mind numbing YouTube videos on how to swing the club, which are all different, all contradictory and ultimately on the whole, confusing. More importantly, they are very much about what you need to do physically, not mentally.

If watching these videos has helped you become the player you want to be, then carry on watching them. However, if they aren’t having the desired impact, consider broadening your deeper understanding of the game by reading a book or two.

As someone who has probably read more golf books than most, I would like to recommend a few that I believe you will find enjoyable, entertaining and educational.

To help gain an understanding and appreciation of golf course design and architecture, I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of – “The Spirit Of St. Andrews by Alister MacKenzie, which is an absolute gem.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of swing technique books but let’s leave them for the time being.

If you want to get your head in the right place, take a look at – “Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect” by Dr. Bob Rotella. While the book itself is full of nuggets, simply by understanding that golf is not a game of perfect as the the title suggests, you might start to look at the way you approach the game slightly differently.

If your current approach isn’t paying dividends, check out – “Attention!! The Secret To You Playing Great Golf by Karl Morris. This is a great read and one which will definitely make you rethink some of the concepts associated with golf in particular and life in general.

It would be remiss of me not to mention two of my favourite books which I am more than a little biased about – “The Lost Art Of Putting” and “The Lost Art Of Playing Golf”.

I had the pleasure of co-writing these with my good friend and colleague, the aforementioned Karl Morris. The feedback we receive from readers around the globe on an almost daily basis would suggest that our countless hours of staring at blank screens waiting for words to appear were worth it in the end. If nothing else, it reinforced to Karl and I that if you stick to and enjoy the process, accumulating good days along the way, the end result can be very worthwhile.

If you haven’t already picked up your copies of the first two Lost Art books, visit – thelostartofgolf.com – where you can also purchase digital download videos of both The Lost Art Of Putting and The Lost Art Of Playing Golf.

Until next time, keep playing if you can, stay safe, take care and enjoy furthering your golf education.

Why are people walking away from golf

Why are people walking away from golf?

Why are people walking away from golf

As an industry, golf really needs not only to ask this question but spend some time trying to find the real answers.

We have all heard that it takes too long, we have family and work commitments, it costs too much, people aren’t getting any better and no longer enjoying the game. The reasons are many and varied.

While there is no denying that a round of golf can take a ridiculously long time, I don’t really see that as justification for not playing ever again and there is a solution, get a move on!

Golf equipment is expensive but it has never been cheap. Yes people have family and work commitments but hasn’t that always been the case?

If we are to believe manufacturers of golf clubs and balls, the game has never been easier to play. Add in all the social media posts from players and “coaches” alike showing how much improvement player A or student B has made – “look at this position”, you would think we should all be world beaters by now.

Sadly that isn’t the case. Despite better equipment, facilities and technology, golfers on the whole are not getting any better. Worse than that, it would appear people are waking away from the game at an alarming rate.

Results from a recently conducted study in Sweden discovered that the real reason people were putting their clubs away for good (or on eBay) is that they weren’t good enough. I can’t say for sure but I would hazard a guess that Swedes are not unique in that respect.

(Incidentally, the Swedish PGA and Golf Federation have since restructured their coaching philosophy to pay more attention to shots than and human skills swings and participation over perfection.) Well done Sweden!

Who is telling these people they aren’t good enough? Are they reaching that conclusion on their own? Unlikely. So who is to blame?

Perhaps the people or system or culture who are responsible for “teaching / coaching / instructing” them?

As far as I am aware, no one has pointed the finger in that direction thus far. I am not saying for a second that all golf coaching and coaches are bad, far from it. There are some exceptional golf coaches out there.

Unfortunately, there are some pretty poor ones out there as well. When I was growing up and learning to play this great game, you could name all the real, full time coaches in the country on two hands at most. Nowadays, everyone who has access to an iPhone, launch monitor and a range mat is a coach and has their own Academy (which in reality is more often than not, a bay at a driving range).

I recently saw that someone who has just finished their PGA training course is now an “Elite Performance Coach”, claiming to be able to help players of all abilities from beginners to Tour Pros. As impressive as that sounds, they cannot possibly have the knowledge and or experience required to be able to fulfil these fanciful claims.

In addition to the aforementioned iPhone, range mat, launch monitor and “Academy” it would appear one other necessity that no coach worth their salt can do without is a multitude of social media channels to show off how great they are. They use these to post swings and positions of “their players” alongside swing speed numbers and congratulatory messages on great results.

Are they really posting these to congratulate a student on their success or are they using their social media posts to pat themselves on the back? Never has the phrase “Self praise is no praise” been so relevant.

Google golf instruction, coaching, swings or whatever you are looking for, there are literally thousands of golf instructors claiming to have the silver bullet for your every woe.

The number of video tutorials is truly mind boggling. All claiming to have the fix for your fault, the remedy for your pain. They are generally conflicting, complicated, confusing and dare I say by and large crap.

Only last week I heard of an “elite performance coach” (a self appointed title obviously) telling a student to do all sorts of things with his ankles, knees, pelvis etc… which would help get the player’s eyes and various other body parts level through impact – figure that one out.

There was something missing there – at no point did this “elite” coach ask – the player what his intention was for the shot. Surely that has to be established in any coaching / learning session?

Over and above that, there was no mention of the golf club or the golf ball. Call me old fashioned but I would have thought that every single shot ever played on a golf course has involved a club and a ball?!

That being the case, when searching for the “secret” or “magic move” to protect you from bad golf, start by asking better questions.

My good friend and co-author of The Lost Art Of Putting and The Lost Art Of Playing Golf, Karl Morris and I are firm believers in the power of questions. In fact Graeme McDowell, recent winner on the European Tour and a long time client of Karl’s suggested that “Questions are indeed the answer.” Wise man is Graeme.

Stop asking yourself or anyone who is prepared to listen “what is wrong with my swing?” and start asking “what is wrong with my shots?”

Ask about your swing and you will be bombarded with opinions. Ask about your shots and you will be presented with facts.

Be careful about the questions you ask and even more careful about selecting the right person or people you ask these questions.

If you ask any coach what you are doing wrong and they don’t ask about your intention, your thoughts or attention or mention the club and ball, my advice would be to say thanks and walk away. You might just save yourself a lot of time, money and grief and perhaps more importantly, you might not throw your clubs on eBay or in a lake.

Please keep playing and enjoying the greatest game and if in doubt seek out the best advice possible. Coaching is all about the player, not about the coach. I was told many years ago that to be a great coach, you should always prioritise the player’s best interest over your own personal gain. As always, you have a choice, choose wisely.

Gary Nicol, co-author with Karl Morris of the best selling books – The Lost Art Of Putting and The Lost Art Of Playing Golf.

Gary Nicol’s Winter Putting Training: Part 4

When you think of practice or training for the forthcoming season, chances are your thoughts will turn to honing your technique.

You may well think about working on your swing, getting that club “in the slot” at the top of the backswing or ensuring your putting stroke is silky smooth.

For decades we have been led to believe that if we make good swings and strokes, we will hit good shots and putts. Essentially, the culture of coaching has told us that good technique will protect us from bad golf.

Sadly that just isn’t true. In over thirty years of coaching, I have seen sufficient evidence to back that up. Not for a second am I saying that technique isn’t important, far from it. However, in our pursuit of perfection, we tend to overlook the “human skills” required to play good golf. Skills like attention and visualisation.

If the practice putting green isn’t quite as smooth and fast as it would be in peak season, perhaps it isn’t the best environment to work on your putting stroke. That said, you can still venture out there to work on the aforementioned human skills. In the previous parts of this series, I talked about green reading and paying particular attention to the pace of your putts.

Attention is a wonderful word and concept. I would go as far as to say that golf is a game of attention. When faced with a putt, your attention will, in all likelihood, be in one of three places: what you need to do, what the putter needs to do, or what the ball needs to do. Which category do you fall into? 

Standing over a putt, the vast majority of golfers tend to place a disproportionate amount of attention on themselves and the putter, with little or no regard for what the ball needs to do.

Ultimately we want to get the ball in the hole, not you or your putter, so it would make sense to pay more attention to what the ball needs to do.

When faced with any or indeed every putt, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Is it possible I could hole this putt? Answer – yes.
  • What does the ball need to do to go in the hole? Answer – travel on the right line at the appropriate pace for that line.
  • What does a good putt look like? Answer – one that goes in the hole.

The last question and answer may sound ridiculously obvious but the reality is that golfers often miss them out because they are paying too much attention to how they are going to move their body and/or their putter.

We create what we see, so unless you have a very clear intention or picture of what you want the ball to do, you may well struggle to complete the task successfully.

The introduction of the “putt predictor” graphic, we occasionally see during TV broadcasts, is a fantastic visual aid as it essentially creates a road map for our golf ball. Just imagine how helpful it would be if you could project that image onto the green before every putt you hit!

While technology isn’t quite at the stage where we can do this at your local club on a Sunday morning, you can use your imagination to create a similar image.

Visualisation is a human skill we can all learn, develop and apply in our golf games and one that players at the very highest level use to great effect. It is so important that we dedicated an entire chapter to it in our best-selling book “The Lost Art of Putting”.

To find out more, visit thelostartofgolf.com to order a copy of the book, or download the accompanying video. 

The Trap Draw Podcast with No Laying Up

Gary and Karl sat down with Randy on The Trap Draw podcast by No Laying Up to discuss a number of ideas and concepts, none of them technical, which are both at the heart of the game.

Click here to listen.

The Lost Art of Playing Golf Podcast: Episode 6

Episode 6

The Lost Art of Playing Golf

The Lost Art of Playing Golf, by Karl Morris and Gary Nicol and featuring a foreword from Tiger Woods’ first coach, is available in hardback and for Kindle from Amazon.

Winter Putting Training: Part 3

What is your vision for 2020? Pun intended.

Do you have targets and goals? Are they realistic and achievable?

All too often, I hear golfers of all levels setting targets and goals for the coming season. They generally relate to a reduction in handicap, winning the club championship, representing their county or country, or winning professional tournaments.

While I am a great believer in setting targets and achieving goals, there is always the danger that they can turn into expectations. Yes, we feel great when we reach these long term goals but be careful not to confuse goals with expectations.

Motivation and expectation are very different animals. Motivation gives you a reason to work towards something, a sense of purpose. Expectation can lead to a sense of entitlement. 

In golf, don’t think that because you put some hard work in, you are entitled to some kind of reward. Working hard will help to a degree but working smart is where you can really make a difference.

Rather than hoping or dreaming about reducing your handicap by however many shots, or winning a Major Championship, why not make your goal to simply become a better golfer today than you were last year, last month or even last week?

As my good friend and co-author of our best-selling books – ‘The Lost Art of Putting’ and ‘The Lost Art of Playing Golf’ – frequently says, the road to improvement consists of an accumulation of good days.

If you can keep putting in good days, at some point, the accumulation of these good days will start to bear fruit, sometimes when you least expect it.

Before you can even start to embark on your journey of improvement and hopefully enjoyment as a by-product, you need to have a very clear picture of where you are right now.

Take time to reflect on 2019 before you dive straight in to 2020. Which aspects of your game have room for improvement? I can almost hear some answers from here – “I need to hit my driver further” will probably be pretty high up the list. “I just want to be more consistent” is more than likely to be number one. Oh dear, the “C” word – golf’s holy grail apparently. Let me save you a lot of grief. Don’t go searching for consistency. It does not exist in the long term.

Even the very best players in the world do not and cannot achieve long term consistency, so do yourself a favour and stop chasing it.

Your goal should be to improve your play and your enjoyment and the fastest route to both is to hole more putts.

Think about the last few rounds you played in 2019 and look at your putting statistics. If you don’t know how many putts you are taking in any given round of golf, how can you measure improvement?

You need a baseline, a starting point. Only when you know where you are can you realistically set out a plan of where you would like to be and how you are going to get there.

Would taking one or two less putts every time you play make a difference to your scores and your enjoyment? Is it possible you could realistically achieve that? Absolutely! Over and above that, it will be a whole lot easier to achieve than adding the 15 – 20 yards onto your drives on a regular basis.

How you go about reducing the number of putts you take is entirely up to you. You might want to invest in visiting a putting coach to set out a plan going forwards or you may feel that a new putter is required.

I may be somewhat biased here but based on the feedback we receive from students and golfers around the world who have read ‘The Lost Art Of Putting’, learning, understanding and applying the Putting Performance Principles within the book and the digital video download would be a great place to start.

All the best for the coming season and I look forward to hearing about YOUR success stories. Expect nothing, deal with everything and who knows, you might just reach your targets and achieve your goals.

Gary Nicol

The Lost Art of Playing Golf Podcast: Episode 5

Episode 5

The Lost Art of Playing Golf

The Lost Art of Playing Golf, by Karl Morris and Gary Nicol and featuring a foreword from Tiger Woods’ first coach, is available in hardback and for Kindle from Amazon.

The Lost Art of Playing Golf Podcast: Episode 4

Episode 4

The Lost Art of Playing Golf

The Lost Art of Playing Golf, by Karl Morris and Gary Nicol and featuring a foreword from Tiger Woods’ first coach, is available in hardback and for Kindle from Amazon.

Gary Nicol’s Winter Putting Training: Part 2

As the season, year and indeed the decade draws to a close, now is the perfect time to sit down and reflect on your golf game.

Grab a notepad and pen and write down a few questions.

The first and perhaps most important question could or perhaps should be: “Why do I play golf?”

Take a few minutes to contemplate that and avoid the impulse to write down the first thing that springs to mind. You may have one or two reasons, you may have five or six. Whatever they are, write them down and stay true to them in the future.

Other questions might include some of the following:

“Do I enjoy playing golf?”

“Does golf satisfy me?”

“Can I hit the shots I want or need to on the golf course?”

“Do I understand the questions the golf course architect or designer is asking me on any given hole?”

“Is it possible I could hole more putts?”

That last question is one of my favourites and one I strongly recommend everyone who plays golf should ask themselves.

Is it possible? Unless you average 18 putts a round every time you play, the answer absolutely has to be a resounding yes!

That being the case, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to buy a new putter because your existing one “doesn’t work”? That may or may not be the answer but regardless how much you spend on a new putter, there are no guarantees. It will not get the ball in the hole on its own.

Ultimately you need to learn how to use it. You need to learn how to get the ball in the hole from a variety of distances and a variety of positions, not only on the practice putting green but also on the golf course.

Like many golfers I know, you may have a garage or cupboard full of training aids and gadgets, which may or may not be helpful but you have to ask yourself if they work. Think about all the times you may have used them on the putting green. You might have holed five or six nasty little four foot putts on the putting green using your training aid but did that translate to similar results in competitions or even in bounce games? Only you will know the answer to that particular question.

With more than thirty years of experience coaching golfers of all standards from beginners to Tour Pros, I would suggest that the majority of these training aids spend most of their time gathering dust in the garage or cupboard for a reason. I’ll let you figure that one out on your own.

If you really want to experience more success and enjoyment on the greens every time you practice or play, I suggest you do all or at least some of the following:

Speak to a golf coach you can believe in and trust. Someone you know has helped others. Someone you can embark on a journey of discovery and improvement with.

Spend some time on the putting green with exactly what you are allowed to take on the course – a putter and a ball. Not two, three or four balls, just one. There are no second serves when it comes to putting.

Learn the art of getting the ball into the hole when it matters. The only way you can do this is by playing golf on the course. Nothing will ever come close to replicating this skill on the practice putting green. Context is everything.

Standing over each and every putt, ask yourself two questions:

1) Is it possible I could hole this putt? 

2) What does the ball need to do to go in the hole? 

I’m not going to spoil it for you but what I will say is that these two questions could transform your future putting experiences.

As one year runs out of days, another exciting one awaits.

Is it possible that 2020 could provide you with opportunities to hole more putts, shoot lower scores and have more fun on the course? Absolutely!

To kick-start your journey of discovery, improvement and enjoyment, treat yourself to a copy of The Lost Art Of Putting. Judging by the feedback we continue to receive from golfers of all standards all around the world, it might just be the smartest investment you could make.

Happy New Year and best wishes for the future.

Did you miss part 1 of Gary’s Winter Putting Training? Click here to read.