April 6, 2009

Scientists Say That Not Concentrating Makes You Golf Better

An interesting story popped up in the London Telegraph that claims that "a lack of concentration is the secret to playing good golf."

Personally, I say bullocks and bravo. More on that later.

Research carried out by John Toner, a post-graduate doctoral student located at the University College in Dublin, concluded that "When people feel under pressure they start to focus more on their technique, but this study shows that is exactly what they should not do."

"They should certainly not try to adjust their technique at all and should stick to what they know."

True enough about sticking to what you know, because on a golf course you are supposed to play the course, not your swing and try to limit any adjustments you might be tempted to try. Practice is for the driving range, the course is for putting the ball in the jar in as few swats as possible. Fiddling with your swing on the 7th tee and again on the 10th fairway is quite often the final ingredient in a a recipe for disastrous round.

HOWEVER, if you are like me and are trying to groove in a new element or even two to your swing, it takes a certain amount of concentration to groove it. Much of that comes from the practice range, of course, but also it comes when real numbers are being written on a scorecard and every shot has some effect on the final outcome.

For example, I personally have allowed my swing plane to creep too high over the years. With it came a dozen bananas per round and a handicap that got me a special license plate and prime parking spot down at the club. In fact, at one point, our official handicap calculating computer listed me as an "ED" -- as in handicapped -- and they had to invent a special flight in any championship we had. That was the "you should quit but we still like you" flight and half the time, I couldn't even win that.

You might ask "why would you do that and why didn't your teacher fix you up?" Fair questions, and the answers are that when the new titanium drivers came out I could blast them 300 yards consistently. For some reason that came with an all-arm high plane swing. Problem was that one day it would be Banana Splits, the next day Captain Hooks and then on a magical day, I would find the fairway all day. I thought at the time on those days I was getting things right, but in retrospect, it was just random distribution giving me a desired outcome and me fooling myself into thinking that was how it was supposed to be done. That's all just so much talk-talk-talk for this: "my swing simply sucked."

Various teachers gave me lessons, but for some reason they never noticed this basic flaw -- that I couldn't possibly release the club or even clear my right shoulder adequately. So I was never taught better. That is, until I met my current teacher, Robert Foxworth, a man who has gotten me well on the way to consistency, and whom I have given high blood pressure or at least an assured income. He noticed these flaws right away, gave me the right drills and most importantly, taught me how to feel the right way...and it is that feeling I take with me out onto the links.

Out there, in the heat of a Nassau or just beating my buddies' scores, bad habits try to return...and the way to keep them in their place (hopefully the depths of golf hell) is to have some concentration and focus on technique. In other words, if I want a good drive, I certainly need to "feel" the right way in my pre-hot routine and to replicate that feeling during the real shot.

So in that way, Toner is wrong. Completely, totally, dead wrong. At least for me. I have to think a little bit about my technique or the Bogey Monster will come out to play and he's not a fun fellow to ride around the golf course with.

Now here's where your mileage may vary:

We've all played with Mr. Serious, the club member or the guy who is hooked up with your threesome that is so serious about his golf he might as well call it his second job. He always has the latest and great best-stuff equipment, because this new driver is going to be his golfing Jesus and those new irons are so good that they make your two year old set not even worth scrap metal. Of course, his handicap hasn't dropped a tenth of a digit in ten years. Usually, in fact, it is increasing, but don't mention that to Mr. Serious, because it is an invitation for a dissertation of his vast knowledge of the golf swing. Somehow, you probably don't want advice from a 22.1 Indexer, but I will admit I am just guessing.

Anyway, Mr. Serious talks about his game as though he were a NASA scientist at a meeting planning Martian landing logistics. Mr. Serious is super-slow as he rehearses the 11 swing thoughts he has written down and reads before every shot. Then he duffs the ball, and comes back to the cart doing his own color commentary. "Sorry fellows, I must have pronated my left wrist only 23.5 degrees when everyone knows that 36.5 degrees is the optimum.

You, on the other hand are looking at your buddies and trying not to laugh. As long as Mr. Serious keeps up, though, he's a good enough guy, but someone ought to tell him that he is never, ever, EVER going to make a living golfing, much less break 85, so perhaps he ought to treat it, well, just a little bit more casually. You know, like a hobby or something.

Mr. Serious is the guy who never stops to smell the roses along the way, as Walter Hagen recommended, and makes a round of golf an ordeal for himself with no hope for a satisfactory outcome.

I think there, that Dr. Toner over in Ireland couldn't have hammered the nail any harder.

So there is a middle ground, and that's where you need to be. Awareness of what you are doing, but not going so overboard you out-think or b.s. yourself. Or make golf something that isn't fun. It's a game and it's a sport, have fun playing it. That's the whole point, right?

After all, in any sport, when you are playing your best, you usually go "out of your mind" and just play...because it seems easy. Golf's no different there.

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