You often hear the phrase when relating to sports; an athlete that fails to deliver in the clutch, analysts (Johnny Miller comes to mind) usually say they “choked”. Defined further, to “choke” is when someone poorly responds to external pressure. They do something completely contrary to what they would have done without the weight of the moment. Preparation usually combats the choking reflex; usually.
There is no situation that puts you to in a better position to choke or excel, than golf. Standing alone over a little white ball brings all sorts of peculiar emotions to the surface. The subconscious begins to play tricks on the here and now. You try desperately to recall positive shots of the recent past, yet negative sensations linger. The golfer desperately combats fear, uncertainty and doubt with confidence, calmness and routine. Many times however, one bad shot or two seems to trump all of the great swings of the recent past. Back to back bad shots seemingly erase past success. You become a victim of the present situation instead of moving beyond the past.
Yesterday, I watched Dustin Johnson choke away the 2010 U.S. Open. After a Saturday round that saw Johnson dominate a brutally difficult golf course, he subsequently melted under the white-hot spotlight that shines brightly on the leaders during the final round. One bad shot seemingly changed his demeanor, and unfortunately lead to more horrendous shots. Johnson let negative emotions overwhelm him, and dominate his mind.
I just returned from a four day member/guest golf tournament in Michigan that saw me collapse under the pressure of the final day. Coming into the tournament I was somewhat confident in my swing. It has been a grueling twelve months of lessons and practice to try find a tempo and swing plane that works. Lately, I had hit good shots under tournament pressure, so I felt optimistic in what would transpire. As the days rolled forward my swing started to dissolve. Drives that would stay in the fairway on day one, drifted to the rough on day two. By day three and four, those 245 yard drives went out-of-bounds or ended up in treacherous lies. Truthfully, and somewhat ironically, I actually felt composed over shots….not nervous or ill prepared. Unfortunately my results (an 89 on day three and a 90 on day four) were emblematic of my poor execution. Worse yet, I managed to make three doubles and a par on the way into the clubhouse; moving us from first to fourth place (out of the money).
In my opinion, the only way to overcome the choking reflex is to get back into the heat of the moment and risk failing again. This is not a comfortable position as thoughts of past failures will most certainly seep into the frontal lobe. Unfortunately, this is the only way to truly appreciate the sensation of success.
The relentless quest of a manageable, confident golf swing has me perplexed and frustrated right now (as well as pissed off). The one thing all passionate golfers have in common is the desire to constantly get better. Practice, unfortunately is not the key to unbridled success…..unless of course what you’re practicing contradicts the thing that forced you to practice in the first place. It seems that once you “fix” one part of your game, something else breaks. Last spring, without anything I consciously did, I became one with my game. Honestly I was hitting the ball 10% farther, while lowering my handicap to a six; it was heaven! My brush with golf greatness lasted until late June as my game turned ugly, resulting in my handicap soaring to a 9 (mathematically almost impossible to do in 4 months). A deep golf depression set in as I have yet to work it out.
Here is the current, maddening issue that I am desperately trying to repair.
- After completing a semi-hideous backswing, my right elbow detaches from my body, and points towards left field (classic chicken-wing), never to make contact with my right rib again.
- As I awkwardly return to the ball, my best fly fishing technique takes over and fractures every angle earned during the prior motion.
- The end result is a forced hand flip at the ball that miraculously gets the Pro V1 airborne.
- Distance and accuracy are obviously compromised, but it is the consistency that has me vexed.
I have searched for answers over the last 6 months. Here is what I have found:
- Most of the lessons/tips provided are difficult to understand. When you do understand the guidance, generally the “move” opposes something from an article from a prior magazine.
- Magazines shill for their advertisers – the equipment manufacturers. When they tell me that after a custom fitting, an 18 handicap can now hit his tee ball 30 yards further, I feel like vomiting.
- I own every golf training aid produced over the last 15 years (if you do not believe me check my basement).
- Some have merit…..most just become a short-term paycheck for a washed up tour player/swing guru.
- I do not remember one training aid having a profound impact on my game….not one?
Your PGA Professional
- How does the same swing issue result in differing root causes from 10 different instructors? I demonstrate the same unappealing swing to all of these guys, and each one tells me something different is wrong.
- Recently, I succumbed to a GolfTEC advertisement, and went in for a consultation ($99). The instructor was pleasant, candid and insightful –then the lesson ended and the sales pitch began. He told me that it would take “between 10 and 20 ½ hour lessons in order to fix my swing.” Of course those happened to be the premier instruction packages GolfTEC sells. After multiple calls, I purchased the 10 pack – I will let you know the results over the next two months.
- Yes, I will spend thousands on a game in disrepair. That said, I now realize that anything new from TaylorMade, Callaway, Titleist, Ping etc. only pacifies me until ball contact. At that point I realize that my reverse Jim Furyk is still solidly intact.
My dreams about playing in a state amateur event are fading by the day. I can only hope my persistency pays off so I do not embarrass myself in the two member/guests I play in every year.
More to come as the season pushes forward.