Regular Joe the golfer
What do you think about when you are practising or playing, and ready to hit your shot? Not much, a swing key maybe. Do you try to recall a certain ‘feel’, or are you not sure, do you just swing away?
Sometimes we don’t line up as we should, sometimes we are very casual about what we want to do with the shot. Our action can even resemble the movements of a tipsy octopus, but as long as we get the club on the back of the ball somehow, the outcome can be half decent.
Actually, golf course design caters for our dodgy play. Fairways are pretty generous, and greens are large enough. Golf shots hit poorly for accuracy, but fairly solidly, can still see a player play to single figures.
Many times during interviews after a low scoring round I have heard a tour pro say, ‘I hit the ball where I was looking today’ ………..I think to myself ‘that surprised you’ and then, ‘so you are this good without knowing where its going then’?
If this is a tour golfers response, what chance do the rest of us have in ‘hitting it where we are looking’?
Dont we have a job, and a family and friends and have to make the time to find the 4+ hours needed to get in 18 holes. If we are lucky, we find another 30 minutes to hit a few putts and to bash 30 balls on the range beforehand. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy et all will hardly be quaking in their boots, worrying that regular Joe the golfer, will wander off with a wheelbarrow load of cash that should be theirs……………there’s no chance of that happening is there!
.....but there is some hope for us wannabees, and there are several ways we can make the game easier. I proved this to myself so many times during practise, when I made small intentional changes to my approach, which made significant improvements in my game.....but only after I got past a certain 'barrier' first (more on this topic here....).
What side of me was speaking?.... the side that feared failure....but then I tried it and it was quite successful!
Lack of confidence
While practising I would hit the ball really nicely at times. One of the things that helped me to quickly improve, was to specify which side of a flag I wanted the ball to land on…..Up until the time I tried it, I seemed to 'believe' that this complexity was a bit too much for me, that it was too hard, too specific. I wouldn't be able to do it.
I remember a good few times, when this idea had crossed my mind during practise, I talked myself out of it, reasoning that 'out there at the 150yds marker, finishing equally close to the marker on either side of it was still a good shot'.
What side of me was speaking? The side of me that feared failure......but then I tried it, and it was quite successful.
As my confidence increased, I began to track my progress. Not only did I specify which side of the flag I wanted the ball to land, but I couldn’t regard the shot as a success, unless it landed within a few paces either side. Surprisingly I noticed that as I was coming through the ball, (and with these intentions in mind), my swing path and club face compensations were pretty automatic.
I wanted to find out why....the thing I had rationally (and emotionally) assumed for some time as too difficult. Actually was no more difficult than just hitting for the flag, with a less specific result in mind.
Lack of confidence and a faulty belief had held me back.
I began to do a bit of research and I came across an old time Canadian Neuropsychologist called Donald Olding Hebb. Who, waaaay back in 1949 coined a phrase that has stood the test of time….. it is ‘neurons that fire together wire together’…. I had never heard of this term before.
Neurons wonderful neurons
It was mind blowing when I began to learn about the incredibly complex connections that our cells have to make to enable us to do any motor task.
One neuron firing another, which fires another and another...... in an instant endless flowing stream, to make our muscles and skeleton do what are mind is intending it to.
Millions of times quicker than the blink of an eye, trillions of neurons fire consecutively for any movement to be made. As I type this article, I am aware of all the little directions and corrections I have to make, without thinking about them, without verbally suggesting them.
When I hit a wrong key, automatically my fingers go to the right ones to fix the mistake. At the cellular level it seems that little is difficult. In that layer of bodily intelligence there is no emotion, no thoughts of 'can or cant do'.
There is an intention, which can be merely a look or a picture in our mind to carry out a task.
The trigger for me to type is sitting at my desk, and trying to get the words out in an orderly sequence, so that any person that reads them can quickly relate.
For any new or modified function or movement, the neurons fire and fire until the point our emotions and beliefs conclude that something cant be done. That 'I' was at my limit...........
I ‘thought’ that trying to specify which side of the flag I wanted the ball to land on was emotionally/intellectually a step too far for me!..... until I tried it.
'One neuron firing another, which fires another and another...... in an instant endless flowing stream, to make our muscles and skeleton do what are mind is intending it to'
Most uncommon... commonsense
How can a golfers emotional reaction contain the knowledge about what our body 'can or cannot' do? .... and, why do these reactions more or less define us, unless challenged?
If the golfer can get past their ‘limitations’ long enough to validate or repudiate what seems too difficult, then a striking breakthrough should be just round the corner.
Trying to do something alien, past what we think and feel we can do is 'uncommon', and recognising these limitations in ourselves, is even less so.... but if you can (do what you think you cant), a different perspective may reveal itself, as it did for me.
Genuine commonsense, should tell us that what we think and feel can be covering up something more important, but it doesn’t. We are conditioned by our experiences & environment to accept our 'beliefs' as true.
If we buy into the simple explanation described here, about how our neurons work in generating movements and reactions, we can get a peak at the endless scope we have to improve our game.
In the same way that I managed to try something I thought would be beyond me, if a golfer stretches their intention towards only 2 conditions of impact (wire together fire together) they will improve the predictability of their shots.
One example of tying two intentions together, would be to open face and..... and swing left at impact? Can you see how the predictability of the shot will begin to improve?
There is strong evidence to support this example with Jack Nicklaus quoting many times that he was ‘trying to take the left side of the golf course out of play’….and recently, how Dustin Johnson elevated his game to become world no.1 in 2017, in part by dedicating himself to this practise.
Hidden in plain sight
The uncommon, commonsense practise of adjusting to feedback in the most appropriate way passed me by for months.
In a previous article, (Sub Par in 8 months.... from better Golf IQ), I wrote about how I had a terrible time hitting my hybrids in practise, miss- hitting, topping..... it was driving me bonkers and crept into my striking with the 3 wood off the grass/mat as well.
Worse, when I was on the course, and I had to hit one I really didn't know what was coming. I was uncertain about the contact, and this uncertainty cost me at least 2 shots per round and big nasty mental scar to go with it.
It took me 1000's of balls and several months to realise I was missing a 'condition' of impact.
The reason I miss-hit this club so badly, so often, was hiding in plain sight.
I was getting the feedback ok (again and again), watching the ball topped along the range floor far too often, but until I looked at the problem from the right point of view I couldn't improve.... I couldn't improve the predictability of my shots until I learn what the feedback meant.
Look in your mirrors
Why is commonsense 'uncommon'?
..... because there are 2 'layers' of cognition to interpret. The first is what the shot feedback is telling you, and second is understanding exactly what it means.
When a player is trying to improve their game, nothing is more important than clear and clean feedback with as few variations to sort through as possible..... but all feedback is worthless if you make a wrong diagnosis....... and you can only be correct with that diagnosis if you start at the point of contact.... the way club meets ball..
Our motor function and its related capabilities are immensely competent, and immediate in recording patterns, but when there are conflicting returns the motor function struggles. It also struggles if we direct it in the wrong way.
Our motor function needs nudges from our intellect to direct it, in the same way that when your driving instructor would instruct you to look in your mirrors more often. Tiny, simple instructions is all that the motor function needs to create a working pattern.....such as 'swing left'.....or 'hold the face open'
In golfing terms, 'neurons that wire together, fire together' can be interpreted to mean that any combination of actions or intentions makes a connection (a neural connection). This connection will be new, or more likely be strengthening or modifying an existing one.