Golf Digest (South Africa) - - The Golf Life -

Tour win­ner Peter Mal­nati was in col­lege, he had a team­mate who re­fused to at­tribute the bad shots he hit to any­thing within his con­trol. “It was al­ways the grooves on his wedges, or some­thing like that,” Mal­nati says.“I wish I could turn my brain off in the same way. But that’s not how I’m wired.”

Mal­nati need not worry, ac­cord­ing to Piroz­zolo, who ar­gues those bad shots are vi­tal to im­prove­ment. Af­ter decades work­ing with tour play­ers like Bern­hard Langer and teams like the New York Yan­kees, Piroz­zolo is a pro­po­nent of a process he de­scribes as “not this, but that,” in which the bet­ter way to groove the feel of a proper ath­letic move­ment is to in­tro­duce the var­i­ous feels of bad ones. It’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween con­fi­dence, which he con­sid­ers a shal­low trait, and com­pe­tence, a mas­tery that can best be achieved through a process of elim­i­na­tion. A sim­ple ex­am­ple: In prac­tis­ing a five-foot putt, you hit the ball three feet past the hole.What some might see as the in­grain­ing of a bad habit, Piroz­zolo sees as train­ing the brain to un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence. “You failed the first time,” he says, “but it helped all fu­ture at­tempts.”

Work­ing through a spe­cific prob­lem is far more ef­fec­tive than a prac­tice ses­sion in which a golfer seems to be strik­ing the ball per­fectly, Piroz­zolo says. It might ex­plain why we in­ex­pli­ca­bly strug­gle af­ter warmup ses­sions in which ev­ery­thing seemed to be click­ing.The 2006 US Open cham­pion, Ge­off Ogilvy, recog­nises the same dy­namic.

“Cer­tainly too much con­fi­dence, or over­con­fi­dence, leads to lazy shots. You just as­sume you’re go­ing to play well all the time,” Ogilvy says. “There are tons of sto­ries of guys lead­ing up to the Mas­ters, and they can’t miss a shot, and their fam­i­lies come in, and all of a sud­den they shoot five over on the front nine. It cre­ates a lazy head space be­cause you’re just sure good things are go­ing to hap­pen.”

The in­verse sce­nario of the over­con­fi­dent player stum­bling in com­pe­ti­tion is the strug­gling player who ends up thriv­ing, and even win­ning. Ever play de­cently af­ter hit­ting the ball ter­ri­bly at the range? There might be a con­nec­tion. In the 2009 WGC-Ac­cen­ture Match Play Championship, Ogilvy won his early-round matches but knew he was lucky to do so, of­ten block­ing shots to the right by get­ting his hands stuck be­hind his hips at im­pact. Far from con­fi­dent, Ogilvy was forced to iden­tify a flaw he might have oth­er­wise ne­glected.Af­ter work­ing through a se­ries of drills on the range, he cor­rected the prob­lem and ended up beat­ing Paul Casey in the fi­nal for his sec­ond World Golf Championship.

“On Wed­nes­day, Thurs­day and Fri­day, I couldn’t play at all, and then Satur­day and Sun­day was the best I ever played,” Ogilvy says. “It all came out of com­plete des­per­a­tion and not much sleep.”

The dis­parate ways we ap­proach our mis­takes in golf is per­haps best en­cap­su­lated by the Stan­ford psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor Carol Dweck, who fa­mously di­vided our mind­sets into two cat­e­gories:

▶ A “fixed” mind-set de­scribes peo­ple who seek val­i­da­tion of their abil­i­ties.

▶ A “growth” mind-set de­scribes those who be­lieve their skills can be cul­ti­vated through ef­fort.

Dweck’s most cel­e­brated ex­per­i­ment was is­su­ing a fairly easy exam to a group of fifth-graders.When the kids fared well on the exam, half were praised for their in­tel­li­gence, the other half for work­ing hard on their an­swers. In a sub­se­quent test, the two groups be­gan to re­flect fixed- and growth­mind-set ten­den­cies.The “smart” kids grew frus­trated when they no longer seemed as smart.The “ef­fort” kids em­braced the chal­lenge of the test.

In com­pet­i­tive golf, the test al­ways gets more dif­fi­cult.A growth mind-set em­braces the idea that the game is one of per­pet­ual im­prove­ment, with fail­ure a vi­tal in­gre­di­ent. It ex­plains how Horschel was able to ap­proach each of his two tour­na­ment gaffes con­struc­tively rather than see them as some larger com­men­tary on his worth as a golfer. Or why Jor­dan Spi­eth says it took his loss in the 2014 Mas­ters to fuel his green-jacket win the next year – and why there’s rea­son to be­lieve he has grown from his col­lapse there in 2016.

Mean­while, fixed mind-set ten­den­cies are ev­i­denced by the “lazy head space” of over­con­fi­dent play­ers who just feel like they’re sup­posed to play well. Con­sider one of Piroz­zolo’s clients, Cameron Smith, a promis­ing Aus­tralian who teamed with Jonas Blixt to win at New Orleans in April. Smith has al­ready been tabbed as a fu­ture su­per­star. Among the psy­chol­o­gist’s mes­sages? Don’t be­lieve the hype.

“I tell (Smith),‘You’re go­ing to be hear­ing how great you are, and you need to know that’s not a good way to pro­ceed,’ ” Piroz­zolo says. “The rea­son he’s got to where he is is be­cause he’s worked. A lot of what we preach among younger play­ers is that their fu­ture de­pends on how firmly they can grasp the con­cept of this growth or learn­ing mind-set.”

Even more than with other sports, a growth-mind-set ap­proach to golf is vi­tal be­cause it al­lows for the stum­bles that are such an in­her­ent part of the game. Just do the maths. No one wins ev­ery time, and even those who dis­play the high-level “com­pe­tence” that Piroz­zolo stresses do so within the larger con­text of missed fair­ways and putts.

“I think it’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand that no­body is con­sis­tent at this game – no­body,” says in­struc­tor Martin Hall, ranked eighth on Golf Di­gest’s list of Amer­ica’s Best Teach­ers.“You just have a range.You have your best and your worst, and if you’ve im­proved your game, you’ve just moved your bell curve.”

Hall, too, be­lieves the only av­enue to such im­prove­ment is by dis­sect­ing what isn’t work­ing. He ad­vises his stu­dents to write down in blue and red ink their swing thoughts over a given round – blue for those that helped, red for the ones that were prob­lem­atic. For in­stance, Hall says the idea of swing­ing his arms down from the top has never worked for him, so he knows to steer clear. Like Billy Horschel miss­ing a two-foot putt, the fact that he dis­cov­ered it the hard way is still prefer­able to not know­ing at all. “I don’t think neg­a­tive is nec­es­sar­ily bad,” Hall says.“Neg­a­tive is what can help elim­i­nate a lot of prob­lems for you.”

In ad­di­tion to ath­letes, Piroz­zolo has con­sulted with mil­i­tary train­ing, and he says,“The very last thing you would want to be sad­dled with is a sol­dier who is happy, over­con­fi­dent and care­free.” His point ap­plies to golf just as well.The most ef­fec­tive play­ers aren’t bless­edly ab­sent of doubt. They’re the ones who know where the prob­lems lie, and how to avoid them.

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