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Get Out of Your Own Way

Big Break Greenbrier
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FARMINGDALE, NY - JUNE 17: Luke Donald of England looks on during the third day of previews to the 109th U.S. Open on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park on June 17, 2009 in Farmingdale, New York. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)  - 

It’s remarkable what our minds are able to assess without us even thinking about it – a quarterback leading a posting receiver; a baseball player homering a deceptive curve ball; a hockey player one-timing a hard pass top cheddar. With enough repetition our minds (and body) instinctively find a way to become proficient at that practiced task.

Our minds are also very cognitive. That same quarterback can watch film to study the opposing defense so that his instinctive reactions are even better suited for the upcoming game. The baseball player could be given a scouting report on the pitcher so that he knows when that curveball could be thrown. The hockey player could know that the goalie is weak on his blocker side so that he should favor his one timer to the near side. With a perfect mix of instinct and cognitive thinking most athletes can yield impressive results.

In my mind (pardon the pun), the key in the aforementioned sports is to “turn off” your cognitive mind as you perform the task. In essence, you need to react instinctively. If a quarterback is thinking about where the rush could be coming from he’s probably not going to make a very accurate throw.

Golf, however, is much different than so many other sports. Nothing is moving. It’s all stationary. There’s nothing to really “react” to other than a stationary ball and hole. Yes we need the cognitive skills to account for conditions, pin locations, trouble, and many other factors – it’s our course management. It’s very important.

Two episodes ago you may have noticed that the cognitive mind can definitely help you assess what’s at hand on the course. If you recall I made the decision to basically “lay up” on my last shot because I figured there was about a 95% chance that Isaac wouldn’t pick me. To “go for it” I would have had to hit it within 4 feet, which was maybe a 10% chance. It was a no-brainer to lay up.

In this last episode in the second challenge I had to determine whether I or Brian would hit the approach shot. In my mind he had a 70% of missing the green (which would give me the win) versus me hitting the green at 70%. It was literally a coin-flip in my mind. I decided to hit the shot because I wanted to beat him and not give him the opportunity to beat me. Unfortunately I didn’t execute the shot. Perhaps my mind was too full of percentages? That could be the case…maybe 47% likely. Regardless, hitting the ball needs to be like the hockey player making the one-timer. There’s no thinking. There’s only doing.

Because of that missed shot I found myself in the elimination challenge and more nervous than ever. Nerves are a great way to add unneeded cognitive thoughts into your head. “What if you chuck this shot? What if you three putt? What if you make 3 doubles?” So what did I do so that I could just react out there rather than over think?

If you tell yourself something enough times, slowly you’ll start to believe it. I told myself repeatedly that “It doesn’t matter”. So many of those bad things could have happened, but if it doesn’t matter then it really doesn’t matter if you do them. Who cares! For me, this really helped be calm my nerves so that I could be more instinctive with my play.

Secondly, I had one simple swing key that I wished I had used for episodes prior, and that was to break glass. Breaking glass engages you with the target like you wouldn’t believe. The drill I did on the range on day one trying to hit leaves of the tree proved pivotal. Not only did it get my mind in the right spot but it also allowed me to swing better! It was a perfect combo.

In my experiences as a golfer if you have one simple swing key that gives you confidence than that’s all you need to think about. Your instinctual mind will handle everything else. And when you’re executing your shot an instinctual mind will always trump a cognitive mind.

Break glass baby.

Till next time,

James Lepp