Golf....how to get into the Zone
I shudder when I read an article with this type of heading.
It sounds very mystical, a secret knowledge, a happening, a flow, a state of mind where shot accuracy and striking are effortlessly automatic.
Golfers know this state exists, and there are many 'how to' articles on the internet which describe a series of steps to follow, which will get you there. Some mentors speak about breathing in a certain way, or emphasise a pre-shot routine as a way to enter this ‘zone’.
This type of suggestion never made any sense to me, I just cant relate to it.
Thinking that a golfer can flip from one state of mind that isn’t helpful, into another state of mind that’s ideal, is just so far fetched. My experience of living with nervous disturbances, I cant validate that claim.
Hopefully I haven't lost you due to of the previous paragraph, because this condition I have has helped me to relate to things is a different way. The way I have experienced that emotions work, and how those emotions affect a person physically, and psychologically.
I hope we can agree that the ‘zone’ is a state of mind, it’s a term that’s common to all of us………..So, what affects our state of mind?
Its easier to identify emotional change if we use extreme examples. Even people who are not particularly in tune with how their 'state' is, can relate to being afraid when watching a horror movie, or when driving, and just narrowly missing a collision with another car. In both cases the body will react with a fear response.
The horror movie example, intellectually makes no sense, Michael Myers isn't going to chase you down your hallway with a knife, but the near miss does make sense, because you have been involved in something, where you could have been injured or worse.
Both examples, elicit very similar physiological responses. Also when these events happen, the emotional charge that takes place, doesn't dissolve for some time.
Emotional reactions to normal daily events are a lot less recognisable, but they are there. In fact every situation you face, alters the chemical balance in your brain.
'.....every situation you face, alters the chemical balance in your brain.'
So if you subscribe to the concept, that the ‘zone’ is an emotional state, made up of a complex mix of brain chemicals....? Can you enter that ideal state at will.... or not? To me it doesn’t seem likely.
The excerpt below, is from an article by Jordan Spieth on Golf Digest (full article). It is the closest I have read that describes the 'zone'. He eleborates on what the 'zone' means, what senses are involved, and what the experience feels like to him.. He calls it 'blackout'
Jordan Spieth 'blackout'
'Drop three putts in a row over 20 feet, and what can anyone say? Other than maybe you had a strong feeling each was going in, probably not much.
But I recently hit upon a term that, at least, begins to describe what I feel when I'm putting great: blackout.
When I'm in "blackout," I have zero thoughts about my setup or stroke. I'm not even thinking about speed.
There's no challenge in my stance, no body parts pushing for position. I just step in and I'm immediately comfortable. All I see is the arc of a putt with enhanced clarity. Say, the gentle swoop of a 12-footer that breaks a foot.
The blur of the ball's path and that path alone burns in my mind—nothing else.
My stroke is simply a reaction to make that path come alive, to come to be, with the roll of the ball.
Jordan Spieth .....'When I'm in "blackout," I have zero thoughts about my setup or stroke. I'm not even thinking about speed'.
2 voices, 2 explanations
The italics at the top of the article written by Spieth describe his sensations, so they are written from the emotional plane. While the bottom part of the article which describes the process, is written from the intellectual/reasoning plane.
So Jordan Spieths explanation has been recorded by him, in 2 very different ways within the same article. He described what he felt (state of mind/emotional plane ) during ‘blackout’, then described it with the reasoning (intellectual plane) side of his mind, to try and turn it into a process.
The 'process' section (The Read, The Routine, The Roll), is the selling point for the writers of this type of ‘how to’ article. They know that golfers want information about how to get into this zone/state, and readers are excited to gobble up any knowledge that thay think might help them enter it.
For so many years, I have been at the mercy of lots of strong and unpleasant emotions. I am used to feeling them rise, and then ease. .... and being a golfer who's feelings intensely mirrored how I was doing during any practise session or round, allows me to describe the zone from an emotional perspective.
My emotions fluctuated depending on how I played the first hole on my home course, if you have read my other posts you will know the course is Skegness Golf Club, a long 9 hole course in Addlethorpe near Skegness, Lincolnshire.
I had a goal of shooting one round of par or better.
I knew if I could make it through the first 3 holes in only one over par, I had a chance to have a level par round. This is due to the 3 x par 5 holes coming up before the end of the 9. Every round I played, was to try and reach this goal.
The emotional investment on each round was quite high.
'Jordan Spieths explanation has been recorded by him, in 2 very different ways within the same article. He described what he felt (state of mind/emotional plane ) during ‘blackout’, then described it with the reasoning (intellectual plane) side of his mind, to try and turn it into a process'.
Here are 2 scenarios, each have very different emotional consequences.
I only ever played from the white tees, and the first hole was a very long par 4 of about 460yds, which most often played into the wind.
When it was blowing downwind, the hole would play as a drive and 9 iron. Most of the times I played it, the wind was in my face.
Depending on the severity of the gale that normally hit this piece of Lincolnshire, even if I got my drive away ok I would still have a long iron, hybrid, or on many occasions a 3 wood to reach it in regulation.
So for this imaginary round, lets say I snap hook out of bounds left on the first (which I did too many times). I am now hitting 3 off the tee, and will have almost no chance of being one over par for the first 3 holes.........What do you think my mix of emotions will be?
I can tell you I know I made an error, I am too fast from the top...so I am annoyed, frustrated, demoralised, and my interest level wanes.
This is not an ideal emotional state to play decent golf in, but I find myself in it.
My 2nd tee ball hits the fairway, hybrid 4th shot to the green, and left it short, then 3 putts for a 7. Now what?
3 over par, and in a poor emotional state.
Now I will replay the hole this way.
Remembering to finish my turn and set before the forward swing, I hit a nice drive.
My feelings receive a burst of optimism, I remember often when my 2nd shot would hit the green, on the walk up to it, my imagination would begin to include thoughts of shooting a round in par.
My thoughts (verbal) were expressing what I wanted and aligned with my mood which would be upbeat and optimistic. They are co-joined, each feeding the other (emotions dictating the dialogue).
This uplift of emotion was generated from the result of just 2 good shots.
Whichever type of start I had, every shot created an emotion, pleased, frustrated, annoyed, buoyed, afraid, optimistic, dejected etc etc (along with the unpleasant ones I lived with).
When I first read the Jordan Spieth 'blackout' article, I made a connection between it and my own emotional experiences on the course.
This new connection spawned a theory.
Does being in the zone, mean that the golfer is experiencing no emotional disturbance?
Also could it mean that the state arises, because the previous sequence of shots or putts he hit, were very near his best efforts and had just the result he wanted?
Could it also be, that disturbances he would normally have felt regarding the round, had been replaced with a feeling of ‘expectancy’.
Is the zone, a high state of expectancy?
The psychologist George Humphrey referred to this parable in his 1923 book... The story of man's mind: "No man skilled at a trade needs to put his constant attention on the routine work," he wrote. "If he does, the job is apt to be spoiled............read more!