The 8 Traits of Champion Golfers

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9780684856315: The 8 Traits of Champion Golfers
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Describes the mental basics required to develop a successful golf game

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About the Author:

Dr. Deborah Graham is a Licensed Counseling Psychologist specializing in golf. She and her husband, Jon Stabler, are the founders of GolfPsych® and have worked with more than 300 pros from the PGA, Senior PGA, LPGA, and Nike Tours. They live in Tapatio Springs Golf Resort near Boerne, Texas.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: Focus

"To play any golf shot correctly requires an unwavering concentration. The most perfect swing in the world needs direction, and plenty of it, and when its possessor begins to do a little mental daisy picking, something always goes wrong."

Bobby Jones, Bobby Jones on Golf

You might be surprised to discover that the most common mental problem we encounter when profiling professional and amateur golfers is "focus" -- or rather, an inability to focus. Yet being able to focus is the foundation of your mental game.

All golfers appreciate the enormous mental discipline required to play the game well, yet so many obstacles and challenges interfere. The irony is that, while these challenges render the game frustrating and difficult, they also provide the stimulation and allure that attract so many people to the game in the first place -- not to mention keeping those already playing in constant search of excellence and improvement. Conquering golf is to the golfer what the unclimbed mountain is to the mountaineer.

GOLF'S INHERENT CHALLENGES

Golf is particularly hard on the mind for several reasons.

1. Golf Is Inert

The ball just sits there, waiting for you to make the first move. In momentum sports, such as tennis, you react quickly to the action of a competitor or a ball, and often both. In tennis, your reactive response is to move to the ball and hit it to where your opponent is not. It's much easier to focus when you have to react than when you have time to deliberate.

Golf provides no such momentum to help you narrow your focus. You are left entirely to your own devices to cope with internal and external distractions. If you start thinking about swing mechanics, your score, how other players are playing, how they're scoring, who might be watching you and what they think of your game, you won't give yourself a chance of focusing.

Unfortunately, you are left to your own devices to develop the mental skills necessary to "react" to a stationary ball.

2. Golf Has Too Much "Down Time"

Even when played fast, in four hours or less, golf allows much time between shots for contemplating the game. For many, this is more than enough time to mentally sabotage themselves. Consider the tennis player again, who has little time to do more than react to the next rapidly approaching ball. When you think about it, the only time a tennis player gets to contemplate the stroke is when he or she is about to make the serve.

The golfer, however, has minutes between every shot, and during a round those add up to hours of worrying about the next shot or the holes ahead. A golfer can unwittingly muddy his focus by giving himself swing lessons between shots. He may berate himself for mistakes or concern himself with what others are doing. He might ruminate on the problems in his life off the golf course or worry about hitting his next shot out of bounds. He can easily lose his focus thanks to a variety of random, distracting thoughts.

3. There Seems to Be No Limit on What You Must Do to Hit a Perfect Shot

The more the golfer knows about the game, the worse off he can be. There's that old saying that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Well, that saying especially applies to golf.

During a round, the golfer constantly faces different lies, grasses, grains, inclines, obstacles, winds, and other weather conditions. There are seemingly endless physical variables, including grip, stance, posture, ball position, swing planes, and so on, that must all be in perfect synch for the shot to be executed properly. The golfer must sort through these many details and quickly clear his mind of all but the simplest "swing thought" for the shot at hand. Lack of commitment, and the poor focus that results, can be caused by either underthinking or overthinking these variables. The golfer, in essence, walks a fine line.

4. The Time It Takes to Play a Round of Golf Can Be Mentally and Physically Draining

A round of golf requires four hours or more. So it is vital that the player learns to manage and conserve his mental and physical energies before and, especially, during the round. It is a common problem for a player at any level of the game -- from professionals who play many consecutive three- and four-day events to weekend amateurs who spend most of their time working or taking care of the kids -- to lose focus because of mental and physical fatigue.

These four factors common to all golfers, along with our own individual mental frailties, make golf one of our most mentally challenging sports.

WHAT IS A CHAMPION GOLFER?

Our study found that players who test above average in terms of being cool and detached, as opposed to warm and outgoing, are best at narrowing their focus over the ball. Curious how you might rate?

What Are Your Tendencies?

Compare your tendencies to those listed in the simple chart on page 39. Keep in mind that 1 represents someone who is extremely cool; 10 represents someone who is extremely warm; and 5 to 6 represents someone who is a combination of the two traits or who is "average" in both. Estimate at which point of the scale you might score on this trait based on your personal and golfing tendencies, then circle that number.

The champions either are or have learned to be more on the cool, or focused, side as they prepare to hit their shots and putts.

Players Who Have Cool Personalities

Bruce Crampton, Phil Blackmar, Tom Byrum, and Dave Stockton are all examples of players who tend to be more cool in their personalities. Cool personalities tend to naturally have a more narrow focus and thus a greater power of concentration. Their distractions are typically more internal.

Players Who Have Warm Personalities

Michelle McGann, Paul Azinger, Brad Bryant, and Taylor Smith are examples of players that are especially warm in their personalities. Without extra steps to help narrow their focus over the ball, they can be more easily distracted by activities going on around them. When they are conscious of narrowing their focus over the ball, they can remain fully aware of who is watching, what others are doing, and even carry on conversations, then detach from it all as they "time out" to hit their shots or putts. Paul Azinger is exceptionally good at this when he is playing his best.

INDIVIDUAL CHALLENGES TO "GOOD FOCUS"

Being able to concentrate well is no guarantee you will be able to use such a talent under pressure, particularly if you have one or more of the other personality traits that can interfere with concentration skills -- low confidence, high emotions, high tension, indecisiveness, and a tendency to overthink. But whether you have these other inhibiting traits or not, you will improve your ability to focus by learning a strong mental routine. Let's discuss some of these individual challenges to good focus before I share with you the same three-step routine I taught Dave Stockton.

Are you too intelligent to focus? Consider the player examples listed: Tom Byrum, Bruce Crampton, Phil Blackmar, and Dave Stockton all have above average abstract-thinking skills. Each found that the steps recommended in this chapter for strengthening their mental skills came quite naturally to them, yet each found it difficult to use them at times because of high abstract abilities that led to a very "busy" mind. Within seconds of hitting a shot, their minds would be racing away to their position in a tournament or to all the possible mechanical variables that went into a shot that may have been hit off-line. They each showed strong abilities to concentrate, but if they did not manage their tendency to overthink on the golf course, they could not maximize their powers of concentration.

Are you too friendly to focus? The extroverted players mentioned, Michelle McGann, Taylor Smith, Brad Bryant, and Paul Azinger, are apt to notice much more of what is going on around them and therefore have to work more at eliminating external distractions to narrow their focus over the ball and concentrate on the task at hand.

Are you too tense to focus? Some players, no matter how narrow or wide their focus may be, are more tense than average. Their minds race, and they're far too busy to concentrate properly. Their focus jumps randomly and quickly to numerous things that do not involve just hitting their shots. Many pros we profiled, such as Woody Austin, Mark McCumber, and John Schroeder, are, for various reasons inherent and learned, more tense.

Are you too relaxed to focus? This is more common in social golf than in competitive golf, but it also leads to reduced concentration. Golfers who are too relaxed find their minds wandering, doing some of the "mental daisy picking" to which Bobby Jones refers.

The ability to effectively regulate your focus is the foundation of a strong mental game. Because it is an important and necessary starting point for players of all levels, we always teach very simple and reliable skills for managing concentration and focus. From this foundation, other mental skills can be more easily assessed, taught, and reliably monitored so you can play at your peak more often.

GOLFPSYCH LESSON:

Your Mental Routine


The first step we take, both in private sessions and in workshops, is to assess each player's ability to use a strong mental routine. We then determine how best to enhance it -- and we do so by using the single most important performance enhancement technique you will learn.

Using three simple steps, we teach you to willingly regulate your focus.

First, however, we must determine if you already have a mental routine. It's always one of the first questions we ask our new clients. Most respond as Dave Stockton did, saying something like, "Yes, I always set up two inches from the ball and take three good waggles before I look down the fairway, set my feet, and hit my shot."

But that isn't a mental routine. That's a physical routine. We then ask about the "mental steps" taken while preparing to execute a shot. Soon the player recognizes that he probably doesn't even have a mental routine. His reasoning? "After it becomes a habit," he'll say, "I can be thinking of just about anything as I prepare to hit my shots." But the golfer shouldn't be thinking just about anything; he should be thinking only about hitting the shot.

Our first goal is to initiate a pattern of reliable thoughts that will help you treat every shot the same. The thoughts will clear your mind, relax your body, and help you react to the ball.

The following questionnaire will help you assess the quality of your own mental routine, acquaint you with the basics of a good mental routine, and determine your ability to focus. Using your last round of golf as a measure, answer all of the questions as honestly as possible, applying the following point values. When you've finished, total your scores, and do the math to find out your "mental rating."

1: Always 2: Often 3: Sometimes 4: Seldom 5: Never

___ A. I stepped up to the ball feeling a little unsure about the club and/or the target and/or the type of shot I wanted to hit.

___ B. I stepped up to my putts before feeling completely committed to my line or to my speed.

___ C. I forgot, or it was difficult for me, to stand behind my ball to get a clear picture of the shot or putt I wanted to hit.

___ D. I forgot, or it was difficult for me, to feel the tempo of my swing or stroke as I executed my shots and putts.

___ E. My mind would wander or I was thinking a lot about my swing or the round when I was hitting my shots and putts.

________ Total x 2 ÷ 5 = ___________ Mental Rating

If your mental rating is 8 or higher, your routine and ability to focus during your last round were great. Use this chapter as a resource for understanding your current habits and learning techniques for strengthening them, especially under pressure. If your mental rating is less than 8, then you are just like the majority of our competitive golfing clients were when starting out. Like them, your first mental goal is to develop a strong, three-step mental preshot routine.

GOLFPSYCH TECHNIQUE:

The Three-Step Mental Preshot Routine


Like many players, you may recognize that you already use the following three steps to some degree. But your focus will improve dramatically when you effectively use all three steps as part of your whole preshot routine for every shot and putt.

Before reading through the steps, reflect on a shot that you find to be particularly intimidating or that you frequently miss. Ideally, this shot will be on a hole with which you are very familiar, one that you can easily visualize. Use this shot to mentally practice each step of the routine as you read through it. You may even find it helpful to write down the name of the course, the hole number, the shot, and the particulars of the shot, assuming the conditions and pin placement are where you last saw them.

After each step, take a few moments to relax and practice the imagery that is requested. You'll be amazed at how much more effectively you execute your difficult shot the next time you play the hole.

Step 1: Calculations and Commitment

Completing all of your analysis of the shot is the first step. This involves gathering all the information -- wind, slope, lie, grain, yardage, target, and so on -- necessary to make definite decisions about how to hit the shot.

Your focus will begin to narrow as you make a firm commitment to your club, your target, and the type of shot you prefer.

Which club? Pick the club to which you feel you can make a full commitment -- one which you have at least a 50 percent probability of successfully hitting, based on the conditions, the type of shot you have chosen, your current physical skills, your level of tension, and the confidence in your physical game at that moment.

What is the target? Choose as definite a target as possible, starting with an area in which you want your ball to come to rest. Then match it with something in the distance -- such as a tree or building -- that will help you take aim. Intermediate spots or features that are in line with your distant target can be helpful for some players. You must also adjust your target for crossing winds and the shape of the shot you choose.

Which type of shot to hit? Select the type of shot that is appropriate to the situation and within your abilities to successfully execute 50 percent of the time. There may be many options, especially if you are skilled enough to work the ball confidently. You could choose a draw, a fade, a high shot, a low shot, a knockdown, and so on.

For putts, the first step of the mental routine is to calculate and commit to two choices.

What is the line?It's the one you choose after you have considered the length of the putt, the grain of the grass, the slope of the green, the speed of the green, the wind, and so on.

What is the speed of the putt? Choose the speed you will roll the ball so that it follows the line you have chosen. You must consider all the things you assessed when picking the line. Resist thinking about whether this is a birdie putt or bogey putt because, except in certain situations, such as match play or a scramble format, it does not matter.

Refuse to make decisions -- on any shot -- based on what others are doing or on how the course is "meant" to be played. Instead, choose only clubs, t...

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