Great Swing! Lesson Learned – Mushin Still The Way

I hear “Great looking swing!” quite a lot. I’ve worked hard on it and know all the hours it’s taken and the literal sweat and grime it’s taken to build what I have. I’m proud of that work, it’s sort of a badge of honor. My swing has never been in better positions nor have I had this much control over my ball with so little effort. So, when I was invited to play the Bear’s Club in Jupiter, FL this weekend, I was ready to go out there and throw down a low number.

I’ve always stuggled a lot on courses I play for the first time, especially ones that are visually intimidating. As Jack Nicklaus’ home course, to say this is visually intimidating would be an understatement. Worse yet, it actually IS very hard. The greens are nuts really and rock hard. Want to know how hard? On a par 3 I hit a 7 iron cut into the wind that landed 3 inches from the pin – and ended up 30 feet away. The slope, speed and firmness of these things is something I’ve not seen in a while playing Sugarloaf Mountain this winter.

So, without seeing and know my landing areas, I was immediately intimidated and noticed myself start to tense up. The fairways looked like bowling alleys and all of a sudden, I literally felt like I didn’t know how to swing the club anymore. Sound familiar to anyone yet? It was like I was starting to play golf all over again, I had no idea what to do. Luckily, I recognized this pressure and tried to regain my focus, which worked only about 1/3 the time because what my eyes saw over ruled what my brain was thinking.

Frustrated at the end of the day, I thought about the round on the long, shamed drive back to Orlando. When I got back, I decided to go and hit balls on the range and see what had gone wrong with my swing. My first shot missed the flag by a foot, the second by 4 feet. Grabbed a 6 iron, missed by 2 yards. Grabbed the driver, striped down the middle. Every shot was perfect. My wife came with me to see what the heck was going on, her reply was simple and to the point, “It’s all in your head.” She’s been down this road with me WAY too many times.

So, we started working on some mental exercises and that helped for a while, and then I got so focused on the exercises that I lost focus on my swing and then started spraying the ball. Then, she gave me an imaginary fairway to hit my driver down that was between two flags about 12 yards apart. I looked at her and said to myself, “That’s impossible, it’s stupid, no fairway on the planet is that small, it’s too hard.” Hmmm, that’s interesting. All this internal dialgoue was something new for me, now we’re getting somewhere.

Before we started the exercises, I was striping my driver exactly where I was aiming, but, put this imaginary “gate” in front of me to hit through and I’m totally tensed up and have this “brain chatter” going on. I know I can hit the ball through there, but it was the idea of focusing on hitting it through there that made it impossible.┬áThen I put two and two together and all my mental game work started coming back to me. Focusing so long on my swing mechanics had taken me out of remembering how to take it out the course. I’d become a solid range player, but they don’t count your strokes out there. It was focusing on the result rather than the process that was detrimental.

Many mental coaches advocate focusing on the target rather than the movement. I’ve done both and have sort of sat on the fence with this one. After today, I feel that it’s time to make the decision and go one way or the other. While I believe that both methodologies have validity and their place depending on the golfer, the golf shot is simply the result of me making the correct movements. The results completely take care of themselves when I move the way I want and I have no control over where the ball ends up. Instead, I want to be concerned with the PROCESS as that is in the moment, the result is in the future.

Focusing on the process of the swing is the only thing I truly have control over and it is the only thing that is happening at that very moment that I can exert influence over. It also pulls the mind “back inside” rather than focusing on the external and peripheral, which are all secondary; the movement is primary. So, after I’ve aimed myself to my target, the target is no longer going to be of consequence to me, I’m going to focus on the process and be “in the moment” and no longer will other people’s shots or the golf course dictate how I feel or think on each shot. If I’m not concerned with the result of the shot, what difference does it make if there is a bunker, or water or OB on that hole? It’s hard to be intimidated by an external influence when you are focused on the interal process. The results should take care of themselves. And that’s what Mushin Golf is all about.