ASK THE PSYCHOLOGIST YOUR MENTAL SIDE OF GOLF QUESTIONS!OK, so it's come to this! You've tried everything and are ready to throw in your golf towel and take up bowling. Maybe it's not your swing, but your mental approach? Heck, you've tried everything else right?
Here you can ask your mental side of golf questions to Dr. Laura DeMarzo, licensed Psychologist, and she'll do her best to get you back on the right track.There is no charge for submitting your question, Dr. "D" will do her best to get back to you within a few days. Questions and answers will be posted in this forum, not directly to your e-mail. So check back in a day or so to see your response.
Take a peek at others questions below to see if your question may already have been answered. Remember, please give us your FIRST name, city and state or Country, and your question. (questions must relate to golf) You can even take a peak at The Subliminal Golf Skills Trainer from Subliminal Mp3's.
Dr. Laura DeMarzo, Ed.D.,Psychologist.
Dr. DeMarzo has been in private practice for 20 years and owns a group practice in Hillsborough N. J. She is also on medical staff at Somerset Medical Center. (Dr. DeMarzo has helped hundreds of individuals with reaching their peak performance through cognitive restructuring, meditation, breathing and relaxation, and visualization techniques.)
Buddy With Poor Etiquette On Course
Controlling your temper and staying positive on the course.
Hey Doc, Thanks for taking my question. Whenever I'm playing in a tournament I don't seem to relax and shoot well until I've screwed up so bad that I'm mathematically out of it. It seems that once I know it doesn't matter what I shoot the rest of the way I settle down and shoot my game. However by then it's too late.- R. C. South Carolina
Dear R. C.,
It sounds to me like you are suffering from "anticipatory anxiety." Anticipatory anxiety is like psyching yourself out instead of focusing on your goal and your game. It can be very hard to break the cycle during competition unless you have some tools in place already. Golf is very much a mental game, and you will hear that echoed in many future answers.
I recommend you work on positive self-talk statements about your golf game before the tournament and during. Focus on what you do well. Be a problem solver rather than letting the "outside" control you. Wear a reminder rubber band on your wrist and snap it hard whenever you get down on yourself or start thinking negative thoughts. You can do this after any shot you aren't happy with. Remind yourself that the shot is gone, "let's get focused on the next one."
This may seem obvious but be sure to go to the practice range as often as you can. Practicing your strokes are essential for the mental game and building confidence. Success breeds confidence. One or two real successes using these tips and you'll be on your way. Good luck and keep me posted! Dr. D.
I have trouble hitting after someone in front of me who is a big hitter rips one down the middle. I never seem to be able to follow that up. I don't route against anyone, as we usually don't play for anything, but I can't shake the feeling that no matter what I do I won't be able to match the shot I just saw and it messes me up.
Tim from Florida
It is a well known fact that we can only think one thought at a time. In your case that one thought becomes a negative thought as soon as the guy in front of you hits a big shot. Instead of standing over the ball thinking " I'll never beat that", step away and go through your pre-shot routine. Every golfer should have a "normal" pre-shot routine to avoid just the problem you're having.
Stand behind the ball and picture where you want the ball to land. (NOT relative to Kong's T-shot before you!). Take your grip while you look down the fairway. Picture whether you want to hit a draw or or fade, and what the swing is going to feel like. Seeing the ball in your mind go exactly where you want it to will free your mind of the negative thoughts that will ruin your shot.
Now get up to the ball, think only about how the shot will look and where it's going to land, take a waggle or two to loosen any tension from the arms, then go! Don't get paralyzed over the ball at this point. You don't want any negative thoughts creeping back in there while you go over 10 swing thoughts.
You may also want to try wearing a rubber band or one of those Lance Armstrong type bracelets and give it a tug when you start thinking negatively. Every time you look at it remember to think positive. It may seem like a parlor trick but for many it's all it takes to get your focus back.
Good Luck to you!
I.S.A.G bonus comment: Tim my man. I love what Dr. D is recommending, but wanted to throw in my 2 Cents. You said in your question that you don't route against anyone because you rarely play for anything. Why is that? If you guys have handicaps why not play for 5 a side? It's "easy" for the big hitter in the group to go out there and intimidate everyone else when you're not playing for anything. Put a little added pressure that he's got to hit the fairway this time and you'll see some doubt creep into that elongated back swing. Also, routing against someone in the group you're playing against can add fun to the game.
Your problem is that even if you hit a good one off the tee you're still hitting "first" all day. Big hitter or not, the guy collecting the money at the end of the round is the one who has the bragging rights. I think by never playing for anything you're doomed to feel bad all the time, as you're always going to be out driven by this guy.
As my dad used to say, " Playing for fun is no fun". ($5 a side, dollar birdies, barkies, sandies and pussy's*.)
Best of luck to you.
*(when your drive doesn't make it past the ladies tee but you still make par.)
I have trouble with my putting and feel that I'm too easily distracted and not really focusing when reading the putt. Any tips?
Paul, Houston Texas
One really great technique to try is to bend down and form a tunnel with your hands over your eyes so you can focus just on reading the line. You'll see a lot of great putters do this, and it's not just to shade their eyes from the suns glare. It blocks out a lot of distractions. Heck, if Tiger does it it's worth a shot don't you think? Try it, it will sharpen your focus. Let me know how this works for you . Good luck.
How can I keep my swing thoughts from overwhelming me on the tee? I'm thinking of so many things I need to do that I sometimes have to step away because I can't pull the trigger.
Bob in Florida
One very strong yet simple technique is to take your address thinking of only one swing thought and focusing on that only. It is important to not overanalyze. Wearing one of my motivating wrist bands which says "focus" can help with not over analyzing and keeping it simple. (you can even use an elastic band, anything that reminds you to stick to one thought.) The reason we practice is of course to play better, but the best result is muscle memory. If you do something enough it becomes "automatic". Which is another reason why it's important to practice the correct swing, a decent grip, stance etc. You don't want your muscle memory to be remembering a bad swing! Once your "grooved" your swing you can stop "thinking" about it and start thinking about other things, like your target, the wind, your aim, etc. That's when the scores start to drop big time!
Try this and let me know the results. Good luck.
Is their anything I can work on in particular (specifically) that can improve my game? I practice a lot and don't seem to get much better!
Many times I have been asked about what steps can be taken to lower a persons handicap. One very simple way is to take notes on the course. Many golfers are so frustrated after a bad day on the course that they either can't or don't want to remember where they lost shots. Just like jotting down the number of putts per hole, you can jot down when you hit a particularly good or bad shot and what you were thinking before the shot.
Bringing a notepad with you during the game is helpful in elucidating areas to work on later. You can come up with a code of sorts so you don't have to write a novel after every shot! NF (not focused) H (hook) S (slice) etc.
Keep in mind it's also a good idea to write down how you felt before your great shots too! C (confident) N (nervous) etc.
The next time you go to the range bring your pad with you from your last round or study it before you go and focus on the areas where you had the most trouble. (short irons, slices). Also remember to try and hit at the range as if you were on the course. Pick a target, go through your pre shot routine, etc. Remember, your practice isn't going to help you as much on the course if it's at a totally different pace then you play for real.
Good luck and let me know if this helps.
Dr. Laura DeMarzo
Hi Dr. Laura,
My problem is my real swing. My warrmup swing is smooth and feels great, then when I set up to the ball, I tense up and hit poorly, usually a big divot behind the ball. At the range I'll sometimes get in a groove and can't hit one poorly, but on the course I almost feel like I'd be better off with my eyes closed. Advice? Thanks, Don
Your problem is one that many golfers have. Let's assume for the sake of argument that your golf swing is fine, and not the problem. We need to figure out why you hit so well on the range and so poorly on the course. The first thing that comes to mind is pressure. Are you putting undue pressure on yourself? Is the thought of hitting a bad shot and embarrassing yourself or ruining your round causing you to tense up? Tense muscles and negative thoughts are the two biggest killers of a good golf swing.
Try these tips;
Next trip to the range make a special effort to hit in a very visible area. We want you to feel a little pressure on your practice shots for now on. (so it's more like what you feel on the course and vice versa.)
Pick a specific target when you practice with each club. Shots that may wind up in the trap or water on the course may look nice flying through the air at the range and be excused as "ok". Make a game of it. Start off by hitting your PW and don't move on to a higher club until you hit 5 good shots in a row. The pressure will build as you force yourself to execute those last shots in order to move on. If you can't hit 5 good shots in a row the extra practice with that club is probably needed anyway! Approach every shot at the range as you would on the course. Same pre shot routine, same focus, everything.
You didn't mention if your driving range has natural grass or mats. If it has mats you may be getting used to the ball sitting up nice and high on the mat and it may feel "too tight" when you see it nestled down ever so slightly on the fairway. Try and find a range that has a grass area and spend some of your practice time there as well. Try to make your practice as much like the conditions you face on the course as possible. You may feel a little more pressure at the range, but in time you'll feel more comfortable on the course.
If you try the above steps and still don't see improvement on the course , see a good PGA or LPGA pro. Even if your swing is sound it'll help your confidence to have it analyzed and get feedback from a golf professional.
The last tip is the easiest of them all! Wear a rubber band on your wrist and before any pressured shot, discretely snap the rubber band to remind yourself to relax. Relax your arms, your wrists, your shoulders, and make sure you take a nice "light" grip on the club. When you address the ball limit yourself to ONE swing thought, take a couple of waggles and go. Think only about where you want the ball to land and how it will look getting there.
Good luck to you, and let me know how you make out.
Good afternoon Dr. Laura,
I hate to bother you but I am so frustrated with my swing I needed to ask for some advice. I have shortened by swing the last year or so and when I keep it that way, I can play at about a 7 handicap level. When my swing gets long, I'm in the teens. (My handicap is about a 10.)
I can go to the range and hit a million balls with the short swing. And all of my practice swings are nice and short. But the second I get over the ball on the course to swing, there is a mental block that keeps me from keeping my swing short. Especially on my driver. My irons I can usually keep the short swing for the most part now. It’s basically my driver and fairway woods. It’s obviously mental. And it’s not like I’m thinking I want to hit it further because my short swing hits the ball longer. And a lot more accurately.
Is there anything I can do to get over the mental hurdle? Any help is really appreciated!!!
You have a very common problem when one is trying to change a swing that they have been using for a long time. The "old longer swing" has become habit, and is engrained in your mind and "muscle memory". Under pressure (on the golf course when the shot "counts" as opposed to on the range.) you automatically revert back to the swing you are more comfortable with and "know". You are going to have this problem until you have practiced your new swing long enough that it replaces your old swing as your "natural swing". The only way to do this is to continue practicing it on the course and at the range.
For small changes in your swing it may take 500 or 1000 swings to learn the new move. A lot depends on how big a change your are attempting and how long you have been swinging the old way. It may take 10,000 swings before you are completely comfortable with a major swing change. The golf swing is one of the few sports-moves that isn't "natural" to most. This is where the saying "you play sports but you work at golf" may have come from.
Stick to working at the range. Work on it in the mirror, in the yard for 10-20 swings a night. You'll get it. Good Luck.
Dr. Laura DeMarzo.
ISAG Bonus answer:
We thought this question might also be right up the alley of renowned golf mentalist and ISAG contributor Carey Mumford.
Carey came through of course, his response is to us rather than to the reader as we sent it over.
"The question you sent is an interesting one - common, though. Hear that kind of thing regularly. He's got a handle on the swing issue, just doesn’t understand how to fix it, which is in the mental basket, in this case, associated with how people learn. He needs the 32 ball drill to build in the "shortened swing," which is not coming to play on the course because his habit is the "long" one and that's what will inevitably show up under pressure. He needs to build a new habit (short swing) that is stronger than the old one. Then the old one will be pushed aside and eventually it will atrophy.
So the mental management comes from recognizing that and then using the remedial process that comes through the 32 ball drill in learning (practice)."
The 32 ball drill is Carey's invention that is basically designed to fast-track the learning process and engraving the new swing and pushing aside the old swing faster.
THE 32 BALL™ EXERCISE
(by Carey Mumford)
In order to build a habit, one must give conscious attention to what is being done. That is a MANUAL activity designed to build a skill. For a habit to MATURE, one must consciously replicate the (skill) action long enough for a habit to be formed. At that point, our systems transfer that learning to a "subconscious" or unconscious reservoir and our habit is ready for service. Habits function only on an AUTOMATIC PATH. It takes MANUAL activity to create skills from which to build habits and an AUTOMATIC process to release the habits, once matured. Using a *Clear Key™ will open the automatic path.
(*Clear Key: we humans can only think one thought at a time, thus when we are anxious or nervous we can insert a "clear key" which will stop the defensive blocking signal long enough to make a freely moving swing or putt! The next time you approach a shot that gives you cause for a second look, just insert a simple phrase(*) like "Easy peezey, lemon squeezy," or one like Moe Norman used, "I am puuurrrre energy." while you make your shot. You will be surprised at the positive gain when you mind is occupied on a thought other than the action at hand or the fear of it.)
The definition of AUTOMATIC PRINCIPLE is: "When habits start, conscious thinking about action stops." However, it is vital to notice that all conscious thought does not stop. It just is not connected to the habit you are discharging. If you are thinking about what you are doing while you are doing it, or giving yourself any kind of action command, you will not be able to use your habits, no matter how many you have or how good they are. Like it or not, you will be left to skills alone, which require conscious thought for their action. So you must think about something other than the action you are using when you want a habit to function. It may be easy for brushing your teeth, but it takes a little planning, order and focus for golf.
To BUILD a HABIT from a skill, AND an AUTOMATIC PATH to put in on, it is necessary to BALANCE MANUAL & AUTOMATIC activity. That is accomplished through a series of 32 Ball™ exercises. It could also be "32 Swings," since no ball is required for the movements to be learned. Your natural system doesn't know and doesn't care whether a ball is there or not.
FIRST - Execute four shots (or swings) while thinking about what you are trying to do - on MANUAL.
SECOND - Execute four shots using a Clear Key™. MANUAL input is made pre-shot. The actual shot is made on AUTOMATIC in this sequence.
THIRD - Repeat steps one and two, three more times. (4+4)x4=32.
FOURTH - Duplicate this process for each skill, regularly, until you can take the habit to the course. When you can use your clear key and get shots off that match what you ask for in pre-shot, those habits are formed. That takes as long as it takes. Expect at least a week just to become acclimated to anything new, like using a Clear Key™.
FIFTH - When playing after a building session, play on AUTOMATIC, using a Clear Key™ in order to evaluate your progress.
Remember that growth is an UNEVEN process. It rarely follows a straight, upward line. Do not be alarmed by occasional regressions. Use the range to BUILD. Use the course to practice the AUTOMATIC PATH and evaluate the progress of your HABIT development.
ADJUSTMENTS require as much BALANCE of MANUAL and AUTOMATIC as BUILDING. However, there is a difference in WHEN they are implemented. Since adjustments are only appropriate with habits that are already in place, manual thinking at the moment of shot-making is rarely necessary. All manual thought pertaining to an adjustment is best done as part of pre-shot activity. BEFORE stepping over the ball, one gives direct attention to the desired alteration. From that point, the normal procedure for going on automatic is initiated.
Minor adjustments can be made during play, to the extent they are considered only within pre-shot time-frames. Major adjustments are best left to the practice area. Players must decide individually what is major or minor for them.
The 32 Ball™ exercise remains valid for adjustments. It can be carried out (4+4)x4, or it can completed by making all 32 shots using a Clear Key, so long as the proper manual input for the adjustment is clearly inserted during the pre-shot period.
Developing habits is at its best when it is well designed and organized. There is little value in scattered building. To insure the most effective personal program, enlist the help of a Professional who is willing to stay with you from start to finish.
You can read a quick explanation of what a "Clear Key" is and how to use it on Carey's article on "The Yips" here on our site.
For a much more extensive look at Carey's theories and teachings visit http://clearkeygolf.com.
I found a very good video on the mental aspect of playing on a rainy day. Thought it might prove helpful!
Hello Dr. D,
Hoping to receive your opinion and remedy for the following.....One 'friend' in our golf group suffers from poor etiquette!!
His worst offence, in my opinion, is that often during a round he hits extra balls into the woods,,,ala...driving range...in between his ball in play shots. This happens on the tee...hitting several balls towards wooded areas...not in play. He also does the same while waiting to hit his fairway approach shots...again...towards wooded areas. He loves the game and is trying hard to become a better golfer. Bottom line is...he is loud, drinks to excess and becomes offended when you correct him. Help !?
I think the direct approach is needed in this case, with a friendly "talking to" on how the game is played and the "etiquette" of the game. Choose one of you to talk to him before or after playing, not during. Let him know that it isn't proper etiquette to hit practice balls in between "real" shots and that it bothers the other members of the group. Encourage him on his desire to be a better golfer and explain that this behavior may get in the way of his ability to focus, and definitely adversely affects the other golfer's concentration. A part of the game of Golf is that you don't have the ability to practice between shots. If it was allowed the game would get a heck of a lot easier. It is part of the game to learn to make adjustments on the course, and without hitting balls to test things out. That's just the way it is! As a last resort, you can cut back on inviting him to play at all. That will let him know you mean business. Hope this helps. Would love to hear how it turns out.
Best of luck!
Hi Dr. Laura D.
My daughter is a competitive golfer. She is 13 with a 10 handicap. She has a great swing, usually shooting in the low 80's and sometimes a bad round in the 90's. Her problem is with the mental game. She can hit well but say on the 4th hole she double bogeys she begins to get upset with herself (very mad). She takes that to the next hole and usually plays bad for 3 or 4 more holes. She loses her care and just forgets everything and walks up and sometimes just wacks at the ball. She has even spent holes crying. We try to tell her its just a game and not to worry about it. It has gotten worse this year. She has been flirting with breaking 80 so now every time out she seems to expect perfection, when a hole goes bad she starts again. I am writing you because a tourny this weekend she actually cried for several holes and even through her club once in frustration. Most days she leaves the course and is just fine and cant wait to get back out next time.
How do we help her?
Alex from Windsor, Canada
Thanks for writing in. In terms of your daughter,it seems to me she has to work on her frustration level and be better focused on improving her game by not over reacting to every shot. I suggest she increase her off course practicing so she feels more confident with her fundamentals. Most importantly, she also needs to develop a better emotional approach to the game. I suggest she learn and practice mindful meditation techniques. I recommend purchasing a book by a psychologist, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn called Wherever You Go, There You Are (ROUGH CUT)". It will help her focus on staying in the moment, being positive and not over-anticipating her game. It may be helpful if the whole family practiced the techniques with her.
Additionally. I'd like her to list situations she faces during a round that are particularly stressful for her and how she currently deals with them. She then needs to list alternative coping responses that she could use to deal with these frustrating situations more positively. She can review these lists daily to help remind herself to maintain a positive mindset even when things go wrong. (which in golf is going to happen a lot!) With continued practice of positve cognitive scripts( eg. telling herself she is a good golfer and just needs to work on patience and accepting that bad shots ARE going to happen.),it will replace the negative self-talk and behaviors that in the past interfered with her success.
I wish her the very best. I would love to hear about her progress and please let me know if you need any additional clafification. Good luck!