In last month’s installment of the Expat Golfer we focused on putting, the physical aspects of putting, the grip and putting stroke. This month I would like to explore the mental side of this very delicate activity, addressing ways to quiet the mind. Please bear in mind; however, there are no absolutes in putting technique. My admonition from last month’s column stands: “Whatever works for you on the putting surface, is correct.”
What do I mean by quieting the mind, you ask? After all, isn’t golf more a mental game than it is physical? Of course we need to think our way through each situation on the golf course, but over-analyzing a putt, whether from two feet or 24, is counterproductive. Rather than staying in the moment and performing with confidence, we often become attached to results or an outcome, resulting in stress and even fear. The bi-product of stress and fear is tension and tension is the enemy of putting excellence and most often spells disaster.
Process vs. Outcome
The way I quiet my mind in golf is to think in terms of ‘process’ and not in terms of ‘outcome’. Rather than worry about making a given putt, (which is a future event, taking me out of the moment), I choose to focus on process, which places me in the moment, and is the only thing I can really control anyway. The process, which helps me to quiet the mind, is nothing more than my pre-shot routine. Sure, my mind is engaged leading up to the putting situation at hand, but once I have assessed the situation, determined the line and established feel for pace for distance, the analytical side of my brain is turned off. I then focus on feel and executing the best pre-shot routine of which I am capable. My routine is the same, each and every time, and here is the pre-shot routine I use, step by step:
Step 1: Take up a position well behind the ball. I’m always in a low squatting position for putting. From this vantage point, I want to confirm my line and visualize the ball going into the hole, rolling down the line I have established.
Step 2: Approach the ball, slowly and relaxed. I gently swing the putter (back in fourth) in my right hand ala Jack Nicklaus as I walk toward the ball. This is my gage for feel and distance. This is also my practice stroke; I do not take practice strokes after I have addressed the ball.
Step 3: Align the putter face to my target line.
Step 4: Adjust my posture relative to the putter, which is now in position and in line with the target. I also complete my grip on the club, both hands softly on the handle. At the end of this step, I shuffle my feet for balance and alignment, glancing back at the hole and target line for reference.
Step 5: Pull the trigger, its go time! Standing over the ball and re-thinking or second guessing is folly! If I am unsure, I prefer to back off and start the process all over again.
My pre-shot routine, for both putting and full swing, takes less than 30 seconds. I encourage you to create a pre-shot routine that works for you. Stick to it, quiet your mind and sink those 15 foot birdies!