Spring! Finally! Even in the South this has been the most miserable winter in Dr. Putt's memory. Between Thanksgiving and the past couple of weeks, we have had only a handful of days in which a trip to the links was anything better than an endurance test. Thus, Dr. Putt has been less than inspired to compose any newsletters. But good weather has arrived and the Masters is just around the corner, and inspiration is blooming.
Dr. Putt will focus on three items in this newletter. First, as we are in the middle of the NCAA men's and women's basketball, he will continue thoughts about the similarities between basketball and golf: dry shooting and dry swinging. Second, given that Dr. Putt has been experiencing some physical problems over the past year, he will share some thoughts about playing through physical adversity. Finally, Dr. Putt will add his one cent on Tiger's return and the importance of mental self-image in maximizing performance.
1) Dry shooting in basketball and dry swinging in golf
As Dr. Putt's readers know, he is a basketball junkie who still plays ball several times each week with coaches, faculty, and an ever changing collection of students on the college campus where he teaches. He also reads all that he can about basketball thoery--this year studying the "flex offense" that the women's team runs at his school. But Dr. Putt digresses--back to the point. Some time ago he ran across a study comparing the results of two groups practicing free throws, one group with a ball and a groups without a ball--dry shooting. He has also noted that a number of the really great foul shooters dry shoot before every foul shot. In particular, Steve Nash. His dry shot is not just with the arms, as do many, but a complete shot using arms and legs just as he would with a ball. A practice swing, if you will.
So practice swings are a good idea. Dr. Putt has written about that before. But here is the point that we might consider this year as we tune up our swings. We practice too much with a ball and too little without a ball. We can improve more if we spend at least equal time practicing dry swings without the ball. This allows us to focus on how the swing feels, be aware of where the clubface is, complete the swing and finish in balance. Watching the ball distracts us from all these things.
So next time you go to the range, take only half as many balls as you usually do. Spend 5 minutes practice swinging before you even hit your first ball. Then take 3-4 complete practice swings between every real shot. Note whether the real swing felt like your practice swing--that should be your goal. Dr. Putt will bet that the results will be better than just beating balls, as we all too often do.
2) Playing through physical adversity
Dr. Putt has had some temporary vision problesm over the past year that may continue for another year or so. Not being able to see the ball very well certainly made practicing or playing much harder, especially as what he saw was unstable from day to day. As Dr. Putt has struggled with this problem, he has become more aware of others with far worse problems than he. That many continue to play and enjoy the game, even if they cannot play at the level they had previously achieved, is testimony to the the best in us.
Continuing is not easy. Dr. Putt has fallen short here. Going out on the course or even hitting balls when you cannot see them past about 100 yards at times has been disheartening at times.
What has Dr. Putt larned from this struggle? He has learned to depend more on friends. That is a good thing. We are not islands. He has learned to swing more by feel than from visual feedback. Alos a good thing. He has learned that he is mortal and subject to the same physical problems that happen eventually to everyone through no fault of their own. He has leaned empathy and humility. He has learned to cherish the moment, knowing that we eventually will all lose out to physical limits that increase with age. He has learned to cherish the struggle, even knowing that he, as everyone else, will eventually lose.
Hats off to those who struggle and play on in the face of adversity!
3) Tiger's Return (again!) and mental self-image
Just last year Fr. Putt spoke of Tiger's return to the tour. He noted that Tiger seemed to be playing with some element of self-doubt that had not been there before. What was the root cause of that self-doubt? Dr. Putt would surmise that with all the revelations of the past several months following the Thanksgiving debacle, they may have been rooted in his mental self-image.
Dr. Putt will not pile on to discuss questions of morality or add cliche's about what anyone owes to the game. What is of interest to Dr. Putt is how a positive mental self-image affects level of performance. Quite simply, we play better when we like ourselves and feel that we deserve to do well.
Of course, this positive self-image is a product of many things. We must have put in enough work to feel that we a swing we can count on and that it is built into our muscle memory--lots of repetition. But we also must not have any doubts about whether we deserve to play well. Any tendency to beat ourselves up or punish ourselves because of doubts about self-worth are magnified in golf with its many opportunities for self-destruction.
Will Tiger play well? Dr. Putt will surmise that this will depend on how he sees himself at least as much as how he swings the club. If Tiger feels that he needs to suffer for his personal misdeeds, he indeed will suffer in his play. The greater the opportunity for glory, the greater the opportunity for self-punishment. That will make the 6-10 footers at critical points in a round the real test. We shall see in the months to come.
The lesson for the rest of us is that we will play probably better if we like ourselves. That is not something we can just turn on and off. It must be earned through everyday living. Golf is often called a game of integrity. It works the other way as well. Those with integrity off the course who respect themselves for that integrity will be usually be rewarded on the course.
Live well and play well!