I love the scene in Tin Cup when a panic-stricken Roy McAvoy shanks shot after shot on the range at the U.S. Open. His caddie Romeo comes to the rescue. “Turn your hat backwards,” Romeo says. “Put all your change in your back pocket. Now, take this tee and … stick it behind your left ear.” Roy obeys, and the hosel takeover ends. He starts striping the ball. Why? Romeo explains: “Because you’re not thinking about shanking…You’re not thinking at all. Your brain was getting in the way!”
Not long ago, I played golf with a peak-performance coach named Frank Prince. Like Romeo, Prince, a very bright guy, knows that the mind means well but betrays you on the course. It gets louder when it needs to pipe down. Prince’s audio program Thought Free Golf is designed to silence the swing-killing chatter by rewiring the mind, helping you bring your range swing to the first tee.
“So many golfers swing great on the range because they’re just hitting, not thinking,” says Prince, co-author of the book Blueprint for Success. “Then they reach the first tee, and everything changes. They go through a checklist of do’s and don’ts, which is not the way to have a freewheeling swing. My approach is to banish distracting thoughts and let your best swing come out.”
Which leads us to Prince’s three R’s, designed to quiet the mind. Me, I never met a swing thought I didn’t like. So when I stand over the ball my mind sounds like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This 3-step plan helped me a lot. Address the ball, and ask yourself…
“Ask if you’re ready to swing, and if you’re not, step away,” Prince says. “If you’re over the ball and you’re thinking it’s teed too low, or you have the wrong club, then you’ve set yourself up for a bad shot. Not ready? Step away, make the needed adjustment, and start your routine again.”
“Take a deep breath and feel your shoulders drop and arms loosen. Breathing deeply sends a bio-mechanical signal to your whole body that it’s OK to relax. Tense, tight shoulders and arms are no way to swing the club.”
“Not the club–release thought. This cue shuts the brain down, almost like you’re blacking out. Say ‘release,’ and the brain shuts off, and you can make your best, thought-free swing. Does this guarantee a perfect swing? No. But you have a better chance of making your best swing because you’re free of all the other crap” — the lake to the right, your buddy’s opinion of you, multiple swing thoughts — “that get in the way.”
About Connell Barrett
As editor-at-large for GOLF Magazine, Connell Barrett has written profiles on Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, Arnold Palmer and Steve Williams. In 2006, he conducted the last interview with Byron Nelson. He’s an 8 handicap, but he just knows he can be scratch. He lives in New York City.