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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  • David Breslow Article Archive
    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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    Vegas helicopters in to Carnoustie, without clubs

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 9:33 am

    Jhonattan Vegas did some range work, putted a little and strolled to the first tee for his 5:31 a.m. ET start in the 147th Open Championship.

    Everything before that, however, was far from routine.

    Vegas' visa to travel to Scotland expired and the process to renew it got delayed - and it looked like his overseas' flight might suffer the same fate. Vegas, upon getting his visa updated, traveled from Houston, Texas to Toronto, Canada to Glasgow, Scotland, and then took a helicopter to Carnoustie.

    He arrived in time on Thursday morning, but his clubs did not. Mizuno put together some irons for him and TaylorMade got him his preferred metal woods. He hit the clubs for the first time on the range, less than 90 minutes before his start.

    "I'm going to go out there and play with freedom," Vegas told Golf Channel's Todd Lewis.

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    How to watch The Open on TV and online

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:40 am

    You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

    Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

    In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on  

    Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

    (All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; or check the GLE app)

    Monday, July 16

    GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (

    GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (

    GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (

    Tuesday, July 17

    GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

    Wednesday, July 18

    GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

    Thursday, July 19

    GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (

    GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

    GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

    Friday, July 20

    GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

    GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

    Saturday, July 21

    GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

    NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (

    GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (

    Sunday, July 22

    GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

    NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM ( Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (

    GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (

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    The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:30 am

    Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

    What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

    What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

    How old is it?

    It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

    Where is it played?

    There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

    Where will it be played this year?

    At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

    Who has won The Open on that course?

    Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

    Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

    Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

    Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

    This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

    Who has won this event the most?

    Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

    What about the Morrises?

    Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

    Have players from any particular country dominated?

    In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

    Who is this year's defending champion?

    That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

    What is the trophy called?

    The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

    Which Opens have been the most memorable?

    Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

    When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

    Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.