Tuesday, May 20

Q&A: 'Mistake-Free Golf' By Dr. Bob Winters (Conclusion)

MISTAKE-FREE GOLF: First Aid for Your Golfing Brain (St. Martin's Press), a new book by Dr. Bob Winters, is available from major booksellers. Drawing from interviews with golf stars such as 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, Hall of Famers Raymond Floyd and Nick Price, Michelle Wie and others, MISTAKE-FREE GOLF instructs golfers of all abilities how to specifically correct their mental mistakes and overcome their lack of confidence. Read Part 1.

In this concluding installment of a Q&A series, Dr. Winters addresses another common golf anxiety.

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Q. I have trouble getting off the first tee.

Dr. Bob Winters: Getting off of the first tee box with a solid shot is one of the best harbingers of a good day ahead. However, for many golfers the first tee shot is filled with heightened anxiety and fears of what may go wrong. Golfers will step onto the first tee and become so worried about what other people will think of them that they become very anxious and unable to perform to their natural capacity.

This worrisome fretting that we have when others are watching is termed scientifically as Social Evaluation Anxiety. It happens when we place too much emphasis and importance on what others think about us and renders us incapable of performing to a level that would be otherwise expected as a natural occurrence. Because we are so worried about not failing or embarrassing ourselves in front of others we tend to go into a panic mode and interfere with a process that has been overlearned via practice and repetition.

When we refer to first-tee anxiety, it is highly linked to the anxiety one feels whenever he or she is about to give a speech in front of a group of people. Performance anxiety tends to show up dramatically in public speaking. The reason for the fear is that people are afraid of social censure or rebuke. Whenever speakers or performers are unable to cope with the pressure of appearing stupid, inept or risking their reputation with poor results, fear and dread are paramount.

The key in golf to a successful opening tee shot is to build a solid philosophy about what it is that you want to DO versus what you want to AVOID. Discipline and adherence to a solid starting strategy is vital to a successful day on the links.

Dr. Bob Winters
I think the first component to success for the opening tee shot starts long before you head to the first tee. It is important that you create a mental philosophy that TODAY is about YOU and no one else!

You must train and discipline yourself to have a strategy that suggests that you are going to play for you and play the way that you know you can play.

In reality, no one really cares about whether you have a great day or not. They are too busy worrying about themselves to focus any energy on you.

Although this might sound a bit harsh and unfriendly, it will still be the truth. So, your first priority is to get yourself ready mentally and emotionally to play for yourself and to enjoy your day on the links, good or bad. But by giving yourself permission to enjoy your day from the beginning gives you a good chance to see how good you can become. After all, it is your time and your dollar invested. You might as well make the most of it without the burden of trying to impress others.

Secondly, I think a structured warm up and system of hitting balls in an orderly fashion helps to create a foundation of confidence and security before you step onto the course. What is ironic is that many golfers rush to the first tee and have expectations about playing their all-time best and they haven’t even taken the time to loosen up, hit a few balls or, at the very least, sink a few putts! Talk about creating a no-win, failure-induced situation!

Warming up in a structured way and hitting shots on the range by implementing your single-shot, pre-shot routine helps to slow you down and focus on what you want to accomplish. After all, you are not just warming up your body, but you are creating shots in your mind by visualizing the shot and then hitting it.

When you warm up this way, you are helping to program your mind and body in a “real-life” simulation that will transfer to the golf course. This helps to reinforce a mindset that suggests you are ready to play when you step onto the course.

Prior to leaving the range, many players like to hit a few final shots with the club they will hit when they step onto the first tee. This helps to reinforce a positive feeling that will carry over to the opening tee box in a few minutes. This helps to imbed a positive swing feeling and image stepping onto the course.

Thirdly, when you step onto the tee box, remind yourself that this is your time, this is your shot! Forget about what may or may not be going on around the tee—it just doesn't matter! You are on the platform to perform. Don't worry about what others may think about YOU. Instead, put your energy into what YOU need to do with THIS SHOT.

This is what is meant by focusing on the TASK. Your task is to make a good decision about where you want the ball to go and comply to your pre-shot routine of setting yourself up for the swing itself. I think it is a great idea to focus your eyes on the fairway about where you want the ball to go versus looking around to see if there are eyes gazing at you!

Upon placing the ball on the tee, simply step behind the ball, focus your eyes on where you want to hit your ball and take two rehearsal swings. Make sure you swing fully with your rehearsal swings from behind the ball. This will help to insure that you make a full turn when you actually swing. Insuring that you make a full rehearsal swing allows you to warm up your body for a full-body motion during your real swing.

Golfers tend to swing a bit quick and the tendency is to be short and not complete their backswing, which leads to handiness and a flipping action to get the clubhead back to square at impact. Upon your final commitment of looking at where you want the ball to travel, step in and aim and align yourself to your target line. Take a final look and swing away with full intention and trust. If you can get your mind and eyes totally into the process of adhering to your shot plan, the results tend to take care of themselves.

Arnold Palmer, who always commanded huge galleries watching him tee off, once told me that when he was on the first tee, all that he was thinking about were two things: the first was to get his focus on where he wanted to hit his ball and the second was to keep his head still and hit the ball hard!

Simple yet very effective advice for all golfers. If you can do this, you will get off the first tee with confidence and have a great day!

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