Charles Howell approached the 18th tee, on the 72nd hole of the 2005 Buick Invitational needing an eagle 3 to get into a playoff with Tiger Woods. From about 100 yards away, Charles struck his 3rd shot perfectly, the ball soared through the sky and landed in the cup… only to bounce backwards and spin into the nearby water.
Golf is a funny game, it has been said that golf is 30% mental, 60% skill and 10% luck. Many PGA players are very superstitious, whether it’s a common story as Tiger wearing a red shirt on Sunday, or lesser known stories like Doug Sanders refusing to use white golf tees – nearly every player has their hitch.
Superstitions in golf are mainly based on the notion that if you repeat a certain behaviour, you will have good luck. As irrational as some superstitions seem, they give golfers a sense of feeling lucky, but is there more to superstitions other than just feeling lucky? For example, some golfers and coaches would say that superstitions give confidence and belief. Yet you could argue that most superstitions are just wacky habits that have no scientific research to back up the claim they actually work.
Let’s first examine the difference between superstitions and a pre-shot or pre-performance routine. Pre-shot routines are not the same as superstitions. Pre-shot routines help golfers to prepare, in a meaningful way, for the execution of a motor skill such as a golf swing.
The preparatory behaviours in routines are excellent methods to help you focus on one shot at a time and are extremely useful tools to refocus attention when distracted. The pre-performance routine is a merging of mental and physical steps that blend into one long behaviour. The pre-shot routine combines physical actions (such as a practice swing) and specific thoughts or images (visualizing the shot, focusing on the target, and mental cues to trigger the start of your performance such as the image of the target in your mind). All high-level golfers use very systematic pre-shot routines to help them prepare for the task ahead.
On the other hand, golfers also employ superstitions. A superstition is a single behaviour that is based more on luck and generalisations than on reason. Even the most successful golfers swear by the use of superstitions. Superstitions, such as when Tiger Woods wears a red shirt for Sundays round are no doubt tied to luck and past success on Sundays when wearing red. Golfers use superstitions because they think it gives them confidence. It is hard to argue with Tiger Wood’s success on Sundays.
Superstitions, unlike routines, are not based on fact or reason. If an athlete attributes his success to some consistent superstitious ritual, such as wearing a red shirt on Sunday or eating a certain food prior to each game, the athlete will think it ‘works’ and keep repeating the behaviour, until he thinks otherwise and discards it. The person believes the ritual brings success and that has an effect on his confidence level. Arnold Palmer’s wife used to kiss each one of his golf balls before he uses them in a game. Paul Azinger always marks his golf ball with a US penny, which features the head of Abraham Lincoln. He also makes certain to turn the penny so Lincoln is looking at the hole. These are all superstitions and not routines.
Superstitions are not necessarily bad. In fact, they can build confidence and help boost morale. There is a saying in sports, ‘if it works, use it.’ If you use a superstition before competition, have faith in it, and it works, great ‘use it.’ Anything that increases your faith or belief in performance is a bonus. A German study featured in Golf Digest did a little test of “luck”. A group of players were given proclaimed “lucky” golf balls, while another group was given “the same golf ball that everyone used”. The group with the lucky golf balls drained 30% more putts than the group that did not. I would give you one caution here: Do not use superstitions as the only reason for your success and think that they will help you be successful no matter how well you prepare before game time.
My recommendation would be to develop solid technical skills for golf and combine that with sound mental preparation skills to apply before competition such as a warm up routine, mental imagery, and setting game plans or strategies to perform to your best. Combine this with wearing that lucky shirt or some other superstition and that belief in yourself tied with sound preparation can only be good for your golf game.
Please note that over Christmas my lesson availability is limited however I am excited to see what kind of swing Santa has given you for Christmas!!
Over the festive period I am available for lessons on the following days:
Wed 19th Dec - 10am - 10pm
Thu 20th Dec - 10am - 10pm
Fri 21st Dec - 10am - 9pm
Sat 22nd Dec - 9am - 6pm
Fri 28th Dec - 10am - 5pm
Mon 7th Jan - Business as usual!!
All the best to everybody and hopefully I will see you somewhere during those times.
Please note that my coaching days have changed with immediate effect. I now coach at Trafford Golf Centre on the following days/times:
Mon: 5pm - 10pm
Wed - 10am - 10pm
Thu - 10am - 10pm
Fri - 10am - 9pm
Sat - 9am - 6pm
Concentration is a key to better performance, and learning how to take control over your concentration will speed your development as a golfer.
A useful metaphor is that your mind is a camera, which registers images the lens focuses upon. You must train yourself to adjust the lens to bring into awareness what is really worth focusing upon.
The camera (mind) has a wide-angle lens and a narrow-angle lens. At times, the lens needs to be adjusted so we capture information from a broad area, like when studying a dogleg fairway from the tee.
At other times, we need to focus narrowly or zoom in on a discrete target, like when reading a putt.
Concentration exercises have been around for generations. Here are three simple exercises:
Attending to visual tasks causes neuronal firings in the visual cortex region of the brain, which may help you tune out distractions and focus. Daniel T. Moore, Ph.D., recommends improving your concentration and focus with a visual exercise using two different coloured pencils. Set a timer that goes off at multiple random time intervals for five minutes. For example, the alarm may sound after five seconds, then again after another 15, 10 and five. Hold one pencil in each hand, 16 inches from your face and shoulder-width apart. Exclusively focus on one pencil, then switch to the other each time the alarm sounds.
Chewing gum can improve your concentration by exercising attentional regions of your brain. This exercise involves chewing gum during learning or work-oriented tasks such as attending a lecture or doing homework. Chewing gum may improve your ability to learn, retain and retrieve information. Students that chewed gum during math activities for 14 weeks achieved higher test scores and higher final grades than non-chewers, according to 2009 data from the Baylor College of Medicine. Gum chewers scored 24 and 36 percent higher than non-chewers on immediate word recall tests and delayed word recall tests, respectively, during a University of Northumbria study in 2002.
Inefficient breathing patterns may suppress your concentration by limiting oxygen in your brain. Belly breathing exercises may improve your concentration and focus by correcting your breathing, which may improve learning and even boost your IQ. Place one hand on your stomach. Inhale slowly through your nose, and into your abdomen to make your stomach expand for about three seconds. Exhale for another three seconds by slowly pushing your breath out with your abdominal muscles.
Try them out and let me know how you get on.
From a golfers point of view the off (I should say) pre-season period is the most important time of the year.
The Old Mistake
A lot of golfers make the mistake of putting their clubs away for the winter thinking that they will not play as the nights are dark and the weather is poor. Then in March or April the clubs come out again and those golfers tend to play poorly for the first 4-5 months of the season. They moan about it and even try to cram some lessons in to get their game in shape as quickly as possible. The problem here is that these golfers are wasting playing time, they are not enjoying most of the summer golf season. The lessons are working but slowly as the golfer plays each weekend and reverts back to the old swing motion instead of sticking with the new improved one. In all it ends up being another year of frustration.
Do Something Different This Year
If a golfer wants to play well in the summer that golfer needs to do some preseason work in the autumn/winter. The months of November, December, January, February and March are the optimum time to improve how you play the game of golf. Imagine a football preseason. The team is at the stage of improving how they play: fitness, tactics, technique and practice games where the result is immaterial. The team is trying to be at peak performance for the start of the season. There is no difference with golf. When the weather is poor and performance on the course matters less because of team competitions or the fact that handicaps cannot be altered the pressure of scoring is off and therefore changes are made to technique much more easily.
An example of a really simple plan for the winter would be to:
1. Identify what you are wanting to achieve during the following season.
2. Go through your whole game and rate yourself out of 10 for each part of it. This identifies your strengths and weaknesses.
3. Look at the months of the year and plot how you are going to improve. A good example is this:
November- Mid January - Swing technique. Improve the golf swing to hit the ball straighter, longer, more consistently.
Mid January - Mid February - Swing technique but with all clubs. Begin to work on the worst areas of the short game.
Mid February - Mid March - Maintenance of swing, less technique. Routine. Heavy Short game work. Playing lesson.
Mid March - End September - Maintenance of swing and short game and 'emergency' sessions if needed. Mid season playing lesson.
October - Plan for following year. Enjoy your golf.
4. Practice and execute!!
If you have trouble or are not sure how to plan your improvement get yourself a lesson or two and I can help you understand how it can work. If you commit to it you will play better next year its as simple as that!