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Inside a World Class Athlete’s Mind: Part 2 Behavior & Attitude

We can learn a lot from athletes that take their game to a world-class level. I often see amateurs distancing themselves from the way the pros learn their skills. I can understand why, since the daily regimen of a professional athlete seems difficult and extreme but when you take it apart and scale it back to what works for your own game, it is simple to follow and most importantly — effective.

Their are a lot of golfers who have hit a wall with their game and have fallen into a downward spiral. It is common where some amateur golfers want to take the opposite path of the professional golfer where they just want to have fun and avoid being too technical. This is actually a great attitude for golfers who do not want to put in the time and who have no expectations or have a competitive nature. But for most golfers this lighthearted attitude is rare and wanting to improve (and going about it the wrong way) leads to frustration and ironically end up being too technical.

The incorrect techniques will get you to crave more techniques, the correct techniques will set you free.

Some amateur golfers take Jack Nicklaus’ quote, "Golf is 90% mental and 10% physical" to heart. Keep in mind, he is a professional who have honed his skills so this percentage applies to him and other players who have a solid fundamental foundation. I have seen this all too often when someone mis-hits a shot, a friend or some random person on the course or range may say something like, "Oh your practice swing is so much better and smoother, it’s when you are over the ball where your swing tenses up and looks completely different." They say things like "Try creating your smooth practice swing over the ball and relax by holding the club lightly like your holding a bird." The golfer takes this advice thinking they have mental issues and tries hard to relax and duplicate that smooth effortless practice swing over the ball. They swing and the ball shoots sideways and again they beat themselves up thinking they need psychiatric help. This thought will continue to pop up once in awhile during a round and become a negative reinforcement because it is not a true fundamental solution which means, it will continue to produce negative results and the player will continue to think they have something wrong with their mind.

The reality of a practice swing is that the perception is smoother since the club is swinging through air which has no impact, reaction or effect. The practice swing has no particular impact zone and the club face can be open or shut without an outcome. For someone who has a trained eye, it is easy to the see the same faults in both the practice swing and the actual swing over the ball. The body reacts to an object because it is trying to hit it so if the swing is not fundamentally sound, it will compensate. It is the compensation that makes the actual swing seem less appealing. So when the student thinks they are struggling mentally because people tell them that their practice swing is smoother, they are just being mis-diagnosed.

Let’s say gripping a golf club lightly like holding a bird did work for a day and then the next time on the range or on the course, the swing thought loses it’s magic and back to hitting bad shots again. Someone gives another tip like "Keep your right elbow tucked in during your back-swing." They may even give a towel to tuck under the arm to create that feeling. This may work for a moment but one change can lead to other parts of the swing breaking down. As you can see, the cycle continues and no wonder most golfers cannot get to the next level. They stay at the same level sometimes for years or the rest of their golf life. I call this, golf swing ADD. Bouncing from one swing thought to another. This is not a fun way to play golf.

Stop the cycle

Growing up, I witnessed my brother, Eun-Chul prepare for the Olympics and it’s not that much different then watching Tiger Woods or other top athletes practice. My brother and I discussed the quote, "Golf is 90% mental and 10% physical." He said, this percentage is reversed for beginners. They have to be technical to build their skills. As their physical skills improve, the mental percentage will go up but until you are in that elite level of play, physical is very important. He said, he practiced technique so that it was as natural as walking so that the confidents came from within to compete in the Olympics and World Championships. He built his technical skills and fine tuned it and by doing that, gave him that mental edge much like, "sharpening a knife" he said.

Keep in mind that you can adjust this routine according to priorities in your life. The most important thing is to keep these elements in your game. A professional athlete may practice 5-6 days a week. If your schedule only allows once a week, that works too. Just remember that you are compounding fundamentals on top of fundamentals and not random swings on top of random swings. Follow this process and you will make some breakthroughs in your game.

  1. Goal: Have a long term goal. It may be that you want to shoot in the 70’s or 80’s or it could be just to be able to keep the ball in play and that is your ultimate goal.

  2. Coach: Share your goal with your coach. A good coach is much like having a good doctor that knows how to diagnose issues properly and have the best solutions to keep you healthy, strong and motivated. From my experience as an instructor, once my students taste the sweetness of reaching a goal, they usually decide to set another goal and continue our regular sessions to continue to the next level. Some get to a certain level and is happy and they only come for a lesson to tune up to maintain their game. Either way, my goal is for everyone to find their happy place.

  3. Focus: Stay focused on what you learned from your coach and use that as short-term practice goals. Focus is not always staring down the pin and looking at the ball so deeply that you feel like you are going to pass out. Focus is going to the driving range and only practicing what you learned and not getting distracted by trying other things.

  4. Progress: Understand that part of improving is replacing bad swing habits with good swing habits so bad shots will happen. This is when self-talk is so important. Be respectful to yourself and the more you stay positive, the quicker you will improve.

  5. Momentum: Continue to repeat these steps. A coach will either readdress your practice goal if it’s not yet ready for the next stage of your swing. It is building good fundamentals on top of good fundamentals to eventually get to a point where you are free of swing thoughts.

  6. Natural Swing: Once you have your authentic swing, you can keep it sharp and it’s just doing these rituals nothing more. It will transition more towards building the mental game by learning to visualize and be more creative with your shots.

The key is to practice the right technique which builds skill and confidents to elevate your game both mentally and physically. This is when golf can be truly fun when the swing feels natural and effortless.

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