“Not Another Ball in the Lake!”

By Joe Blanc, FL Golf Schools Teaching Professional

I would like to talk about our students and what I call; “Dumping the Brain.” I ask all of my students at or near the beginning of a teaching session; “What do you think about when you are over the ball?” I am amazed at what I hear.

Some students’ minds are working faster than an unmediated ADHD support group. I hear; “Grip it this way, Back slow, Feet parallel, Head down, Keep towel under arm and the best one I have ever heard is what do I need at the grocery store?” The thoughts go on and on. The grocery store comment surprised me but I swear that is what one student told me.

That is why we have trouble hitting the ball. It is why harvesting golf balls out of lakes and ponds is a billion dollar a year business. We are thinking too much!! The golf swing takes about 1.5 seconds. Considering golfers spend an additional 5-10 seconds during set up and another 10-20 seconds deciding yardage and club selection, there are way too many thoughts flooding through the brain. The reality of life is that the body is going to do what the brain is telling us to do. Our students have too many thoughts flooding their brains consciously and subconsciously in just a few seconds. Plunk! Another ball is in the pond!!

It does not matter if we are aware or unaware what is happening up in the grey matter we call the brain. The totality of all of the mental processes being flooded is just going to create something very, very UGLY!! So, what do we do or what do our students need to do to keep their ball in play and out of the lake? Actually it is simple and I will sum it up in three words; “Dump the Brain!!”

As instructors we need to work with our students on breaking the process down into distinct smaller processes similar to an airline pilot’s check list. A pilot goes through their plane in a pattern checking critical components. Once an item is deemed “good to go” that item is checked off the list and forgot about. He/she then forgets about it and moves on to the next item knowing they are “good to go.” Our students need to check off the box and move on. We need to; “Dump the Brain!” We need a solid and repetitive pre shot routine.

Prior to every professional golfer today having multiple coaches including a mental coach, one of the first sports psychologists back in the ’70’s said the only professional golfer who could focus on golf for 4 hours was Ben Hogan. Many other professionals have tried and failed. The goal was to learn to teach golfers to focus for just 30 seconds on each shot. For a score of 72 that is thinking for just 36 minutes. For a score of 85 that would be thinking for just 42 minutes. It sure saves on brain power! Going from shot to shot our students need to be enjoying nature, talking about their job, kids…anything BUT golf. “Smell the roses” is what I tell my students. Most instructors use a pre shot routine yet we forget to teach the pre shot routine. I know we teach the golf swing and getting the ball from point A to B yet reflecting on our lessons we should be spending as much time on what is between their ears and their grey matter called the brain.

I am going to keep it simple; “Dump the brain” and see it, feel it and execute it! All of these are simple thoughts:

  1. See it:  I tell my students; “Get your distance” (wind and incline included.) Take a moment looking at the target behind the ball and do a couple of movements correcting your minor flaw which causes an issue. For myself, I like to feel my right elbow against my body to keep it from floating. Next, I get my interim target about 12 to 18  inches out in front of the ball for my alignment. Jack Nicklaus tried to find a spot from a few inches to 6 inches in front of the ball and Gary Player tried to find a spot 2 to 3 feet in front of the ball.
  2. Feel it: I take my stance to my interim target, check my grip, look at the target ( all items checked off the list and ready to fire.) My final thought is “get through the ball.”
  3. Execute it: I fire within 2 seconds of looking at my target for the last time. If I do not fire I back away from the ball. The critical piece is that I trust my check list, I trust my swing and I execute the swing with authority no matter if it is a driver, a full 5 iron or a soft half swing sand wedge. The swing is completed with authority and confidence.

The final thing I want to mention is talk aloud to yourself! Yes, that is right, talk aloud to yourself! You are not crazy! They found that speaking (softly) to yourself provides better connections to your brain at all levels. The last thing I say to myself aloud is “get through the ball.”

Your pre shot routine may be different than mine and that is not wrong. What works for you or your student is what is important. Teaching your students to “Dump the Brain” and create a solid consistent pre shot routine will provide a better experience for your students and keep a few less balls out of the lakes and ponds.