The Power of Reference Points

By David BreslowJuly 27, 2005, 4:00 pm
The mental game, the mental game, the mental game. There is so much written about it yet there is so much confusion about it as well.
There are as many opinions as there are strategies and tips. As I present workshops or work with clients from any field whether it be sports or business, I notice an ongoing uncertainty when it comes to this thing we call a mental game. If youve read any of my earlier articles you may recall that I view the mental game as something that is not separate from performance. In fact, I view it as being 100% influential on all performances all the time.
One of the main frustrations people say to me is, I read books and listen to lectures and I always hear pretty much the same thing. I hear how important it is to be positive, stay focused, handle pressure better, etc. I always hear what Im supposed to do but they rarely tell me how to actually DO it!
My clients and presentation participants echo this sentiment quite often.
First of all, in 20 years as a Performance Coach I have NOT once told a client to be more positive. While this may sound surprising I dont say it for two reasons:
  1. Everyone I know already knows being positive is better than being negative

  2. If they could be more positive; theyd already be doing it!
This is another example of what I call; a surface tip that does not get to the root cause solution. Its a band-aid answer. If I suggested to be more positive tomorrow when you play you might think okIll do that! Now, what happens when you go out there; try to be more positive but wind up with old negative patterns kicking in? (which they will!!) What happens is; you wind up having an inner battle with yourself trying really hard to stay positive. When it doesnt work do you feel better or worse? The answer usually is the client feels worse. Why would I ever want to set up a client to go through that?
Vague Performance Traits
When you really look at them, the main performance traits you read about in every book on peak performance are very vague. Confidence, relaxation, present time focus, enjoyment, etc. So many people become frustrated with this mental game stuff because what we most commonly see are these traits written about over and over again. The real problem, as I see it, is that these traits are so vague, the mind doesnt really know what to do with them. We know that being confident is better than NOT being confident. We know that being relaxed is better than NOT being relaxed but those words have little impact on the mind in terms of doing something constructive with them.
Reference Points
Rather than remain confused and frustrated Ive found it to be very effective to give the mind what I call Reference Points. When the mind has a reference point it can more easily use that information and translate it to the body. How many times have you tried to say to yourself, Cmon, be more focused or I need to be more confident over this shot.? Of course, reminding ourselves is better than doing nothing but what kind of effect does this usually have?
Ive had countless clients report to me that they remind themselves of these things because they dont know what else to do. Its not usually all that effective but its better than doing nothing. What is being more confident like? What does it mean? What does relax more mean? Because the mind has no real reference point this command to relax, be positive, be confident, etc. doesnt get processed very well and the result is more confusion and frustration.
Confusion and frustration in relation to the mental game are the two most common things I hear. Think about it; why wouldnt it be confusing when we keep hearing vague words and descriptions? Its not that these traits are wrong, of course theyre not. When you focus better, are more relaxed, enjoy yourself more and are more confident you will perform better! The problem is these words create a real vague message to the mind. This is what causes the frustration. As an athlete, you know these are right. The confusion comes when you try to make them happen. Because they are vague; the message to the mind is vague and because the mind/body/performance connection is so real and interrelated; the communication between them is also vague. This leads to the confusion.
You can end the confusion by learning to adopt Reference Points.
Here is a simple way to get started. This example relates to swing rhythm.
  • At the driving range identify your best and most normal swing rhythm. Hit several balls until you feel like youve got it.This is the rhythm that works best for younot too fast, not too slow.

  • Once you identify that swing designate it with the number 5

  • Now swing a little faster and designate that with the number 7

  • Now swing a little slower and designate that with the number 3
You now have three distinctly different swing rhythms designated 3, 5 and 7.
  • Hit 5 balls with your #5 swing rhythm

  • Hit 5 balls with your #7 swing rhythm

  • Hit 5 balls with your #3 swing rhythm
Notice the difference between them and how they may throw you off balance, mess up your timing, etc.
Now, the real benefit is this. Youve now provided your mind with a reference point for 3 different swing rhythms. When your swing speeds up or slows down on the golf course you can get back to your best rhythm by saying to yourself swing #5. Your mind has a reference to #5 and knows what that is. So does your body! You will naturally return to it.
Practice hitting balls with the 3, 5, 7 swing rhythm to reinforce the mind / body / performance connection. The more you do it, the stronger the reference point.
The FlowZone program utilizes this concept to provide reference points for any of the key performance traits. This removes confusion and frustration!
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    Copyright 2005 David Breslow. David is the author of Wired To Win and offers the highly acclaimed FlowZone programs for athletes of all levels and business professionals. His unique approach is designed to affect real change from a root cause perspective helping people break ineffective patterns. David has appeared on The Golf Channel, ESPN radio, etc. For more programs/services/products or sign up for a free newsletter (write newsletter in subject box). Contact: David Breslow 847.681.1698 Email: or visit the web: For book orders call toll free: 1.888.280.7715.
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.