Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents 12/ 14 - BY DR MICHAEL LAR­DON WITH MATTHEW RUDY

How it worked for Phil – and how it can help you. Think about bench­marks other than your score.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve been help­ing golfers like Phil Mick­el­son find high- value mo­ti­va­tion to con­tinue to im­prove year after year, and show­ing them how to use the strong re­sults ori­en­ta­tion they all have in a pro­duc­tive way. One of the ba­sic tools for this work is what I call the Men­tal Score­card.

Golf is a game of score and mea­sure­ment. You write down your score for each hole, and you plug your fi­nal score into the com­puter. You’re judged by your hand­i­cap, just like PGA Tour play­ers are judged by their fin­ishes and rank on the money list.

We all know in­tu­itively that it’s best to be fo­cused on the process, or the task at hand. But we can’t help but try to peek for­ward at what our re­sults might be: If I can par out, I can break 80 for the first time, or All I have to do is two-putt here. Or we chew over past re­sults: I never hit a good tee shot here, or I al­ways choke un­der pres­sure. When you di­lute your at­ten­tion that way, it’s hard to per­form at your best.

I de­signed the sys­tem to sat­isfy ev­ery golfer’s need for im­me­di­ate feed­back. But in­stead of mea­sur­ing the num­ber of strokes taken on a given hole, the score­card mea­sures per­for­mance against a se­ries of bench­marks. Did you care­fully cal­cu­late wind, el­e­va­tion and other fac­tors to come up with your dis­tance and shot? Did you go through your vi­su­al­i­sa­tion process to see or feel the shot? Did you hit your shot with a clear, neu­tral mind? In sim­ple terms, you track the num­ber of shots you take on a given hole, and the num­ber of shots out of that to­tal that you ex­e­cuted all the men­tal bench­marks suc­cess­fully – re­gard­less of how the shot turned out.

At the end of the round, you’ll have your stan­dard score, plus a per­cent­age of those to­tal shots that you ex­e­cuted after suc­cess­fully in­te­grat­ing your men­tal steps. At the tour level, the dif­fer­ence be­tween win­ning a ma­jor cham­pi­onship and keep­ing your card is about 7 or 8 per­cent­age points – five to six shots per round with less than full con­cen­tra­tion. The best tour play­ers score 98 or 99 per­cent. Top-125 play­ers are usu­ally above 90 per­cent. Good am­a­teur play­ers are in the low 80s, and sin­gle-fig­ure hand­i­caps are in the 60s. Re­gard­less of your level, if you can con­sis­tently in­crease your per­cent­age, the num­bers on your stan­dard score­card will im­prove. I’ll give you two ex­am­ples.

In early 2011, I was watch­ing Phil go through one of his nor­mal off-week prac­tice ses­sions. When he stopped to take a break, I asked him to show me what his process was for a real shot in a tour­na­ment – from get­ting yardage from his cad­die to pulling the club and go­ing through his pre-shot rou­tine.

He went through his process and hit a shot at one of the tar­get flags on the range. After he hit the shot, I gave him a quick de­scrip­tion of the pre-shot men­tal bench­marks and how the score­keep­ing worked. One of the rea­sons Phil has been so suc­cess­ful for so long is his com­plete lack of ego when it comes to in­cor­po­rat­ing new ideas into his game. He’s a nat­u­rally open, cu­ri­ous per­son, and he’s ex­tremely in­tel­li­gent. If he finds some­thing he thinks can help him, he won’t hes­i­tate to use it.

After lis­ten­ing to my de­scrip­tion, he said he’d give it a try. He paused for a few seconds to go through the steps, then hit the next shot. I was watch­ing him, not the ball, and I asked, “How was that?” Be­fore he could an­swer, I heard the ball hit the flag. Phil picked another flag 158 yards away, tucked onto a lit­tle ridge, and hit 20 shots al­ter­nat­ing be­tween high-draw­ing 9-irons and soft-cut­ting 8-irons. At the end, a dozen balls were within four feet of the flag. He told me he liked the sys­tem, es­pe­cially the “men­tal score­card part.” A name was coined, and co­in­ci­dence or not, he went out the next week and won the Hous­ton Open.

The next year, just be­fore the Masters, a small group was watch­ing Phil hit prac­tice putts on the green at his house. He was ex­per­i­ment­ing with a va­ri­ety of put­ters and styles, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween us­ing a belly put­ter and try­ing some dif­fer­ent grips.

Af­ter­wards, he asked me what I thought. I told him I would leave the tech­ni­cal dis­cus­sions to Dave Stock­ton and Butch Har­mon, but from a men­tal per­spec­tive, the par­tic­u­lar style he used wasn’t as im­por­tant as pick­ing the one style that was most com­fort­able.

Com­pe­ti­tion burns en­ergy. That’s just as true at the Masters as it is in your game with friends. You need all of your en­ergy and fo­cus to deal with the stress of com­pet­ing. You don’t want to burn it think­ing about me­chan­ics, even if you’re able to “for­get” the me­chan­i­cal part when you’re over the ball.

In the next few months, Phil and I worked on this con­cept. At one event, he told me that he had too many swing thoughts go­ing through his head. I asked him to think about the sin­gle im­age that came to mind as his hands were com­ing through the ball when he was swing­ing well. After he locked on it, I asked him if that im­age was con­sis­tent with what he was work­ing on with Butch. It was. Then I asked him to go out to the range and hit balls think­ing only about that im­age. He did it, and went out and shot 64 that day.

Phil in­ter­nalised the con­cept of play­ing “nat­u­rally.” Dur­ing prac­tice, we sim­pli­fied the ques­tions to “Does it feel com­fort­able?” and “Does it match what the in­struc­tor wants me to do?” He was able to sim­plify his thought process lead­ing up to each shot, and play with­out get­ting clogged. It made his swing in­struc­tor’s job much eas­ier, too, be­cause it be­came much sim­pler to iden­tify the phys­i­cal things that needed work.

Golf is a de­mand­ing game, and you can’t play your best ev­ery day. The mind and body don’t al­ways co­op­er­ate. But by im­prov­ing your men­tal process, you can get the most of what’s avail­able that day. The typ­i­cal golfer plays bad and comes home and says, “I played bad,” not “My phys­i­cal game was bad, but men­tally I was pretty good.” With the Men­tal Score­card, you have a much more sen­si­tive mea­sur­ing tool for your game. Not only do you have a bet­ter idea of what to work on, but you also ac­quire a tool you can bring with you to the course no mat­ter what shape your phys­i­cal game is in. That’s more valu­able than any ad­justable driver or band-aid.

Dr Michael Lar­don is an as­so­ciate clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego School of Medicine and con­sult­ing psy­chi­a­trist for the United States Olympic teams. BOOK EX­CERPT Adapted from Mas­ter­ing Golf ’s Men­tal Game: Your Ul­ti­mate Guide to Bet­ter On-Course Per­for­mance and Lower Scores, copy­right 2014 by Dr Michael T Lar­don. Pub­lished by Crown Archetype, an im­print of Ran­dom House LLC. R324 on kala­

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