Charles Howell III and Jim Fannin
HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED what those golf mental gurus really do? What do they whisper in the ears of tour pros? And what the heck is “The Zone”? Is it just for Tiger Woods and a few other pros? How about amateurs like you and me?
Jim Fannin is a long-time sports coach who has taken eight pro golfers to their first victory. (He has also coached elite pro athletes, coaches and Olympians in several other sports.) Recently, Jim has been working with PGA Tour players Joe Durant, Mat Goggin and Tom Pernice, Jr.
He answered my questions in between coaching sessions at the Northern Trust Open.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: There’s a lot of talk about “The Zone” in sports. What is it, and how do you help players get into it?
JIM FANNIN: The Zone is a mental and physical phenomenon that is programmed into every human being. It is NOT just for the superstar athlete. It is designed to help you get out of danger or prepare you to fight. If you were to cut yourself severely you would immediately go into a Zone state. When this “flight or fight” phenomenon occurs, blood from the stomach is diverted to your brain for clarity and to your large muscles for inordinate quickness, speed, agility and strength. Your eyes literally double or triple their shutter speed to create the illusion that everything is in slow motion. Your senses, like touch, are at their highest level. Your intuition is prepared to deliver real-time information to help you survive. The good news is you don’t have to have trauma to get into the Zone. It’s available for everyone.
We help our clients reach the Zone with a secret formula known as S.C.O.R.E. System. S.C.O.R.E. is an acronym for Self-Discipline, Concentration, Optimism, Relaxation and Enjoyment. When all these intangibles are in balance and at a high level, you will attract the Zone.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: If I were a PGA Tour player who hired you for the first time, briefly explain what you would tell me in our first session?
JIM FANNIN: I would discuss your commitment to getting to the championship level. I’m not for everyone. Commitment to our program is essential. Commitment to being the best you can be is paramount.
It starts with your vision. Where do you see yourself this year, five years and ten years? We start with Point B and create an illuminated pathway back to Point A. Most people go from Point A to Point B. Once we know what you expect, we begin to coach you to get there. We always give a few tools initially so you can begin applying the S.C.O.R.E. System. Typically, the initial tools are designed to leverage what you do well.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: How would your coaching proceed over the course of several sessions or an entire golf season?
JIM FANNIN: Over the course of the first few sessions, we work from your strengths. We add pre-performance tools, performance tools and post-performance tools to your daily routines. Next, we identify your major areas of growth. Then we create tailored strategies, tactics and timelines. Over the entire golf season, we believe in providing repetition. If someone is challenged by something in February, then it is usually a problem in June. All of us have tendencies so we need to stay with basic themes and really hammer them home. We keep the ideas fresh by coming up with creative ways to fix problems. We are problem solvers and we educate you on being the same.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: How do you tailor your coaching for each individual player? Can you give examples?
JIM FANNIN: First, we have a simple golf assessment that they take online to ascertain their most basic needs. After analyzing their assessment, the S.C.O.R.E. System is tailored to them. Some of our clients are anal in their preparation and overall management of their game. This perfectionist attitude will cause their relaxation and enjoyment to plummet. This out-of-balance performer will suffer many highs and lows. However, we have some clients that are too laid-back and their lack of discipline on the course will cause stretches of lost concentration and ultimately confidence. Each player knows the basics of our program after only 10 days. Then they are armed with tailored tools for improving their specific levels of self-discipline, concentration, optimism, relaxation or enjoyment.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Can you share any tangible results you’ve had with players?
JIM FANNIN: We have taken eight professional golfers to their first win. My first success was Gary Hallberg becoming “Rookie of the Year” in 1980. Martha Nause won an LPGA Major. Luke Donald went from a No. 185 ranking to top 15 in the world while helping the Europeans win the Ryder Cup. Mat Goggin has gone from a Nationwide Tour Player to one of the most consistent players on tour with a tour ranking of No. 34. Ty Tryon became the youngest player to ever advance through Qualifying School to the PGA Tour.
We have had great results on the golf course with our clients. However, the best results may have occurred off the course. We want our players to be good parents, spouses, siblings, sons or daughters and friends. This is a true champion that is very rare today in professional sports. It’s all about finding balance.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Whether it’s a pro or an amateur, what are the common obstacles to achieving peak performance?
JIM FANNIN: One of our most common obstacles is not having an effective plan. This usually leads to low self-discipline that spawns impatience and ultimately frustration. You must begin programming your subconscious mind with exactly what you want your life to be. Not just golf but all arenas of your life. If you and your significant other are in a fight or conflict, it is very difficult to play golf well. If you don’t have a good group of friends around you to provide a support system, then life becomes that much more challenging. Planning your golf game in balance with your other life arenas is one of our first hurdles.
Thinking too much is definitely another common obstacle. We want thoughts on the course to decrease 30-40%. Next, is allowing internal or external stimuli to adversely affect your performance. Another common obstacle is the lack of optimism or confidence. It is a challenge for any player to advance from a sense of believing to expecting and, finally, to knowing. I know I’ll drain that 10-foot putt is much different than just believing you can. This obstacle commonly occurs from a golfer carrying around excess baggage from the past.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Is creating a superior mental mindset mostly about stripping away negative and excessive thoughts? Is it teaching the mind to simply get out of the way of the physical so you can just “let it happen”?
JIM FANNIN: Developing consistent mental, physical and technical routines that you can carry with you from course to course under varying conditions and circumstances creates this mindset. In addition, most golfers need to go on a mental diet so that you can just “let it happen.” Attracting the Zone mindset is an art form. It takes practice just like the technical aspects of your game.
Our players have a plan for every shot. They are totally locked into the moment. They expect to hit a good shot. They are relaxed. They have passion for problem solving and the game of golf. When you get to this place, you are in the Zone.
Jim Fannin has coached athletes, coaches and corporations for more than 35 years. To learn more, visit http://www.jimfannin.com.