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Archive for the ‘golf and the mind’ Category

In between majors, golf on TV can be prosaic. Lack of name players. Tournaments that mean little. Competition from other sports. Decreasing interest in golf throughout the country, except for the majors. I, for one, find it both entertaining and instructional watching golf on TV between majors. I often turn off the sound, read a book or Sunday paper, and occasionally look up to study swings, strategies,attitudes, and scores on the PGA, LPGA, and European tours. First, check out Mike Ritz, announcing for the Euro tour these days. ¬†He’s the Vin Scully of golf: dynamic, exciting, play by play, with great background info. This guy makes Frederick Anderson Hed look interesting. How about more Mike Ritz announcing for the PGA Tour? Then there’s Kevin Na. Other than John Daly, Na is golf’s biggest potential train-wreck. He badly screws up one shot and is guaranteed to screw up the next four, or more. You can see his mind twisting, churning, and gears grinding until metal hits metal and his teeth start gnashing. It’s the pace that showcases the mind. He gets real speedy over three-foot par putts, way out of his routine. For those few moments, he’s given up, the death knell for a professional golfer. Na’s a record holder around this behavior. He made a 16 on one venture into the woods last year at the Texas Open (only JD’s beat him with an 18 once). Take a look at what Na does during these meltdowns, and don’t play that way. Take a deep breath after a poor shot. Get back into your routine, your pace, your rhythm. Re-find your game. This year, Na got to +7 at the Texas Open and withdrew. Here are a few other tips I picked up watching golf (more…)

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This year’s Masters lived up to promise, yet with different contenders than predicted. Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen¬†were on no one’s radar, and I mean no one’s. My ears picked up not one Golf Channel pundit uttering either name. Bubba Watson! Are you kidding me? I cringe every time I see him swing. I really do. The swing looks like a cat getting a bath. The guy has more club head rotation than a boomerang. He falls backwards as his front foot slips out to the right. He passes parallel almost as much as John Daly, but without the lovely rhythm and form of JD. The sound of his shots, at least from my limited auditory perspective on TV, is more a clunk or a clank than a click. And Bubba, when in contention, has more nervous ticks than a kipper has bones as he prances, twitching down the fairway. But damn, if Bubba Watson didn’t win the 76th Masters.

The man can curve a golf ball, can’t he. From a driver to a wedge, he can hook or slice, fade or draw, a ball at will. The wedge is the most remarkable. Nobody curves and carves a wedge like Bubba. You really shouldn’t be able to hook a wedge, but Bubba can. You really shouldn’t be able to slice a 6-iron 40 yards around a tree to the green, but Bubba can. You really shouldn’t be able to hit a 9-iron under a tree (more…)

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We’ve all felt it. A tightening of the muscles around the neck. A lump in the throat. A rising of blood to the forehead. A quickening heartbeat. Sweaty palms. In golf, it’s particularly troublesome, we are told. It’s a game that requires precision timing and coordination. It requires being in the moment, dealing only with the matter at hand, namely wielding an unwieldy metal club, attempting to hit a small white dimpled ball to a target over 300 yards away. Any tightening, sweating, beating, or blood rising beyond the norm will truncate that process and dynamite any chance for success. We feel it elsewhere too, like at work when the our supervisor comes by and asks to have a “word with you,” or when a cop pulls us over, or when our spouse “needs to talk.” Pressure greets us almost daily with its bared teeth and a scowl. An overdue phone bill. Noisy neighbors that need quieting. Humans have always known it. We have much experience dealing with it, yet it’s as difficult to handle now as it was in the caves of France thousands of years ago.

In golf, no tournament is as pressure packed as a match play event, like the one being played this week in the Arizona desert. Every hole is as pressure packed as the last, and the last may well be your last before your flight home. How do these guys handle it? How do they maintain their level of concentration? How do they keep their swings from crumbling (more…)

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The U.S. Open is arguably the greatest tournament in golf. It is open to all comers, for one thing. If you qualify, you’re in. True, that is a daunting proposition. Even well ranked touring pros don’t make it, so if you do qualify, it’s a major accomplishment (no pun intended). Open courses are tough, set up to punish any wayward shots. Since it’s played in June, the temperatures are often hot and baked. U.S Open greens are as slick as pool tables but with ridges and breaks and false fronts. Three-putts can send the Open competitor into mental misery faster than a meter maid writing a ticket. And the whole world, seemingly, is watching.

When I was a kid I’d fantasize about playing in the Open. Those were heady days of hope when Palmer and Nicklaus were slugging it out, Kennedy was in the White House, and I was second man on my high school golf, a shy kid who could chip and putt my way to pars. Obviously I didn’t realize my Open dreams, but I’d watch the Open each year and be there vicariously. 1960: Palmer charging from seven (more…)

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For an amateur, good chipping may well be the best way to lower a handicap. And yet, despite how easy it looks, it remains one of the most difficult parts of the game. The reason for that is our persistent and intractable memory. If you’ve ever chili dipped or skulled a chip you know what I mean. It’s the most embarrassing and exasperating mishit in golf, as Hunter Mahan experienced on his last hole against Graeme McDowell at the 2010 Ryder Cup. Mahan flubbed a chip just off the green to lose the match, crying in shame at the press conference afterwards. But even in a friendly foursome, we’ve all been there and wanted to break the club over our knee. After all, our playing partners are standing nearby watching you, ready to say “nice touch” or…nothing. And that silence is the most deafening in golf.

What makes this shot so difficult and how can we do better? Arguably, it is the shot most affected by the mind. To strike the ball at such a slow pace gives the mind
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