Zen Golf


The Secret to Reading Greens

Putting is a guessing game. You don’t know exactly how the slope (gravity) or the grass surface (speed and grain) will affect the ball. You make your best guess of the combination of line and pace, put your best stroke on it, and see what happens.

When reading a putt, the order to follow in judging line and pace isn’t set in stone. You may first get a sense of how fast the ball needs to roll to reach the hole, then an idea of how far to the right or left it needs to travel for it to ride the slope toward the hole. That view may change your sense of pace: for example, you may need to start the putt going faster to get far enough up the slope for it to then turn and roll down again toward the ho...
Your Favorite Tee Shot
Every now and again you will come across a tee shot that just doesn’t suit your eye. There may even be one on your home course. You find it hard to get comfortable no matter where you tee the ball between the markers. In that situation, it’s not easy to commit to a target for aiming. The lack of commitment makes it hard to swing freely, and your results will be inconsistent. That only increases your discomfort on the tee the next time.

To get more comfortable, imagine that you’re standing on your favorite tee box, one on which you almost always feel confident about hitting a good drive. Standing behind the ball, pick a place in the fairway you’d like the ball to land, and aim in a way that accounts for the shap...
Keeping Sharp During the Off-Season

As the PGA and LPGA Tours wind down their season, many around the cooler parts of the country start playing less. Here are some putting exercises you can do in your living room to keep you sharp and ready for that golf vacation or for the start of the next season.

You may find that your carpet has some grain to it, but unless your house is tilted, or you live on a boat, there won’t be many sidehill, uphill or downhill putts. These exercises are mainly to keep your stroke smooth and refine your touch and feel for pace. It’s good to practice with competition, so some games included for the pace exercises work well as games you can play solo or with friends.

Gate Exercise for Stroke:
A few inches behind the ball you&rsq...
For this Ryder Cup issue, I’d like to talk about mental game fitness in the context of preparation. Bobby Knight, a tremendously successful college basketball coach, liked to say, “The will to win is important, but not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.”
Preparation for a big match involves avoiding the pitfalls that lead to failure and adopting the attitudes and habits that lead to success.

First, be prepared to deal with whatever conditions you might encounter. When things aren’t the way we’d like them to be, there’s a tendency to complain. This is certainly true for golfers. "It’s windy." "It’s cold." "The greens are too bumpy." "...
Center of Gravity
One of the most important factors in swinging a golf club is balance. Bobby Jones used to practice hitting shots with his feet together, touching each other. He was able to make a full swing with a driver without losing his balance.

An important aspect of balance is our connection with the earth, feeling the ground beneath our feet. Most people don’t realize how much our thinking affects our balance. To be grounded, we need to be fully centered in our body, not so much up in our head, preoccupied with distracting thoughts. Believe it or not, our state of mind affects the location in our body of our center of gravity. When we’re very uptight, thinking a lot, full of chatter in our mind as we enter into a shot, our center o...
Getting Into the Swing of Things
As the season unfolds, golfers like you may feel that you’d like to hit the ball a little straighter, or a little farther. You decide to get together with your teaching pro to make some adjustments to your swing technique.
Lessons on swing technique often include a prescription for the repetition of new movements until they are grooved, or incorporated into the flow of the swing as a whole. Not many weekend golfers have the time or inclination to work on changing their swings on the range for weeks and weeks before they go out to play on the golf course. As a result, they find themselves between swings – not comfortable with the new version, yet not wanting to abandon it and go back to where they were.

Making any change fr...
The Best Golf You Can Imagine
As springtime approaches, getting the season off to a good start is on the mind of many golfers. They may decide to start a physical fitness program, or to take a series of lessons to improve their swing technique, or to buy a better game by purchasing the latest in equipment.

Giving your mental game a tune-up will take you a long way toward playing your best. In this article I present two exercises using imagination that have benefited many pro and amateur golfers I’ve coached. I think you’ll find they’ll help you start the season, and each round, with sharper focus and more confidence.

The first exercise is one you can do in the comfort of your living room, while waiting for the skies to clear and the warm weather...
The Vividness of the Moment
During the winter, many golfers turn to other forms of recreation, and simply wait for the spring when they'll break out the clubs and try to shake the rust off their games. However, the mental game is something you can practice year round. In this article I present some of the exercises I teach my players, pro and amateur alike. Try them yourself, I think you'll find they'll help to keep your mental muscles in shape.
Often golfers complain that they’ve lost some of their touch or feel during a long layoff. Feel for playing a shot is directly connected with how in tune in we are with our sense perceptions. We use our senses in executing all our golf shots, and in everything else we do. Our sense perceptions collect and process inform...
Be Decisive
"Approaching a putt with doubt in your mind is nearly always fatal." Bobby Locke

We've all had the experience - caught between two choices. We need to decide whether to play a short side hill putt firmly and straight at the hole, or gently with a break. If we aren't decisive about our choice, if we leave doubt in our minds, the chances of a making it are almost nil.

Why does this occur? Two aspects of mind are involved: one is the conscious, thinking mind that plans, the other is the subconscious, intuitive mind that coordinates body movements. The "planning mind" sends a message to the "coordinating mind," giving it an image of what the body is supposed to accomplish. But when we haven't made a decisive...
Beware of Trying for a Few Extra Yards
"Trying for a few extra yards at the last moment is the cause of most of the mistakes that happen on the tee." Bobby Jones

We all know the truth of Bobby Jones' statement. All too often we try to get something extra out of our drive, and the results are usually the opposite of what we desired. Even if we're lucky enough to find our ball, it has traveled less than our usual distance. Why?

The golf swing is a series of muscle movements, all in sequence. Any interference with that sequence, such as extra muscle tension, interrupts the flow of the swing, causing errors in body action, swing path, and contact point. The average golfer's idea of "trying to hit it farther" actually causes an excess tightening of muscles, ...
Confidence in Mind and Body
There is a very clear correspondence between our states of mind and how our bodies manifest. When our minds have anxiety or fear, our bodies feel tight and agitated. When we are discouraged or depressed, our bodies feel heavy and sluggish, low in energy. When we are confident and at ease, our bodies feel energetic and responsive.

Our mental state also affects our posture, how our body looks as we stand or walk. As we watch golfers walking up the eighteenth fairway, it's not hard to tell which ones are playing well and which ones are playing poorly that day. The golfers who are playing poorly seem to be dragging along, shoulders hunched, head down, looking at the ground, maybe even muttering to themselves. The golfers who are playing well...
Patience Pays
Why is it that so many tour players seem to peak well into their careers, as exemplified by Mark Omeara's first major championships last year at the age of forty-one? The answer most often given is maturity, and the hallmark of that is patience. Following is an example of one golfer's discovery that a little patience can go a long way toward lower scores.

Steve had been playing golf for just three years, but had been taking lessons regularly. Still, he had never broken 100. His pro suggested a lesson with me and told me Steve had a pretty good swing. He told me that his short game wasn't great, but he two putted most of the time. So what caused him to take so many strokes?

Impatience! Being a relative beginner, he would mis-hit quit...
Approaching a Putt with Doubt
"Approaching a putt with doubt in your mind is nearly always fatal." Bobby Locke

We've all had the experience - caught between two choices. We need to decide whether to play a short side hill putt firmly and straight at the hole, or gently with a break. If we aren't decisive about our choice, if we leave doubt in our minds, the chances of a making it are almost nil.

Why does this occur? Two aspects of mind are involved: one is the conscious, thinking mind that plans, the other is the subconscious, intuitive mind that coordinates body movements. The "planning mind" sends a message to the "coordinating mind," giving it an image of what the body is supposed to accomplish. But when we haven't made a decisive...
Putt with Imagination
"I never missed a putt in my mind." Jack Nicklaus

What Jack means is that he always has a picture of the putt rolling all the way into the hole before he sets up to make his stroke. The best preparation for putting is to have an image that is as complete and precise as possible. Imagine the ball rolling the full distance to the hole. See in your mind’s eye the way it will change speed and direction, all the way to the exact point on the edge of the hole where the ball will fall in.

Read for Speed

Reading a putt on a sloping green, you might ask your caddie or your playing partner, "How much do you think it will break?" It may surprise you, but however many inches or feet they answer, they will be wron...
Accentuate the Positive
The mental skills necessary to play your best golf need to be learned and grooved just as good swing techniques do. Proper mental habits need to be ingrained to replace unhelpful ones. One of the most common unhelpful habits is the tendency to focus on the negative, which needs to be replaced by emphasizing the positive. A conversation I had with a touring pro provides a good illustration of this point.

After the first round of a tournament, I asked how the day went. He said, "I played o.k., more or less. I had one hole where I chose the wrong club and made double-bogey." It sounded to me like he'd come in at one or two over par. Later that day I was looking at the scoreboard and was completely surprised when I saw his hole-by...
Zen Golf Lessons
Welcome to Zen Golf Lessons, a regular feature in Golf Fitness Magazine. In each issue, I’ll offer mental game insights and techniques that have helped golfers get the most out of their abilities, from top-tier Tour Pros to weekend warriors. Everyone acknowledges how much of the game of golf is mental. Zen Golf Lessons will help you achieve the mental fitness to complement your physical fitness, so that you can play your best. I’m a golf coach, but not the kind that instructs golfers on their swings. By giving them a different way to look at playing the game, they learn how to plan with their heads so they can play from their hearts. I teach golfers how to play “Zen Golf.”        Zen means “action with awarenes...
Zen Putting Lessons
In the previous issue of Golf Fitness, I described the PAR Approach™ ; that is the framework for practicing Zen Golf on any shot: Preparation, Action, and Response to Results. This same approach applies to putting, the game within the game of golf. Not only is the mental game critical to great putting, but it's also true that the mental obstacles we encounter in putting are likely to cause interference that can affect the rest of our game. Overcoming such obstacles is the key to breaking through to lower scores. The lessons I present in my new book, Zen Putting: Mastering the Mental Game on the Greens, are about freeing ourselves from fear and doubt, and activating the most important element in putting: confidence.

In putting,...
Synchronizing Body and Mind
Your body is in the present and only in the present. Your body and mind are synchronized if your mind is in the present as well. Unfortunately, most of us spend the majority of our time with our mind in the past or the future, thinking about what happened before and wondering (or worrying) what’s going to happen next.
Worrying about how a shot will turn out prevents synchronizing body and mind. Your body hasn’t hit the shot yet, but your mind is already in the future, so they are clearly not in synch. If your mind is anywhere but “in your body,” then body and mind are out of synch. That goes for any swing you make on the golf course and any action you undertake in your life.

When you’re putting, if you focu...
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