Golf Flow: Introduction


In 2010, golfers I work with won 8 PGA Tour events, completing a run of 10 wins in 12 months. The wins were distributed across 8 different golfers all with different personalities, talents, tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. This pattern mirrored the 2008 season, in which golfers I’d worked with won 5 of the last 15 events on the PGA Tour.

The results from my work are often dramatic. Justin Rose hadn’t won on the PGA Tour in the nine years he’d been competing. Twenty-eight days after our first session, he won The Memorial with a final round 66. Twenty-eight days after that, he won the AT&T National. Similarly, when Arjun Atwal and I first began working together in April 2010, he was ranked 750th in the Official World Golf Rankings and had never won on the PGA Tour. Four months later, he won the Wyndham Championship. Sean O’Hair hadn’t won in over two years and when we had our first meeting in July 2011, he had missed 8 of his 10 previous cuts. Fifteen days after our first session, he won the Canadian Open. What’s most compelling about these results is that between my first meeting with these golfers and their subsequent wins, not a single one of them changed their golf swing, their equipment, their diet, or their fitness. They simply changed their minds.

If there is any secret to the work that I do, it is that I try to guide my athletes toward what modern psychologists refer to as “flow states”, a term that describes a synergy in which all aspects of a person’s being – mind, body, will, and intentions – converge to work in perfect harmony. According to the leading researcher on flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “The metaphor of flow is one that many people have used to describe the sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives” (Csikszentmihalyi 1997). When this happens, people sense their full potential, achieve excellence, and perhaps even glimpse perfection.

Golfers in flow states enter another realm, as their descriptions attest. They report being able to better see the breaks in greens, more accurately calculate the yardage of a shot, and more fully feel their bodies in space as they intuitively make the necessary adjustments to hit the exact shot they desire. Their walks are more confident, their emotions are softer and more positive, and their perspectives are well suited to the unique round of golf they are playing. The end result for golfers in flow is that they are able to better control the shots they hit, to hit shots that are usually beyond their capabilities, and to shoot scores lower than their handicap would suggest.

Ever since I experienced flow on the golf course first hand more than 20 years ago, I have continued my research into flow as a college professor and a mental game consultant for athletes spanning the spectrum from recreational to professional golfer. I’ve attended psychology conferences from Vancouver to Boston, and everywhere in between. I have been able to help my clients apply much of what I have learned, and the results have been very rewarding. As a professor and researcher, it has been thrilling to witness the theory come alive in the reality of performance.

One insight that has emerged relates to the way aspiring golfers approach the process of improvement. As young golfers, many in the sport play the game with an unthinking simplicity. Generally, they play well; at the very least, they play mentally free and clear. As they progress and accumulate a deeper understanding of golf, they intuitively seek more instruction and information. Their logic goes something like, “if a little instruction has made me a little better, then a lot of instruction will make me a lot better.”

How does this barrage of information influence a brain that is designed, at any given moment, to effectively process seven bits of information (this fact, discovered by scientists in the early part of the twentieth century, is the reason phone numbers have seven digits)? When you stand over a golf ball, what should you be thinking? What does the brain actually do with all the information it has accumulated? The answer depends on the individual, but for a large portion of the population, all that information essentially becomes cognitive gridlock, clogging your brain the way that cholesterol clogs an artery, or too many sheets of paper jam a paper shredder. Too much thinking makes your brain more inefficient, makes you less decisive, and generally distracts you from the simple task of hitting a ball at a target.

Consider this: I have never had a golfer come to me looking for help because he or she was thinking too little, and no one has ever contacted me with the complaint of “there are not enough thoughts running through my mind”. Nearly all the golfers who have ever sought my advice have done so because, in one aspect of the game or another, they were having too many thoughts. In an atmosphere of contradicting swing theories and magazines, books, and television shows offering hundreds of conflicting tips, golfers are bombarded with sensory and intellectual information. All of this affects interpretations, stress levels, and mood, and the emotional toll is enough to overwhelm even the sharpest of minds and to destabilize the purest of talents.

Playing golf in flow is all about doing the simple things required for a golfer to stay out of his own mind, stay out of his own way, and simply hit shots to targets. Consequently, in this book I share with you what cutting-edge research tells us about the flow state and its impact on golfers of all levels, from the high handicapper to the PGA Tour golfer. Fortunately, research suggests that flow is universal (with very few exceptions, everyone can experience flow). My ultimate goal is for you to simplify and refine your thinking so that you can channel your skills and knowledge into simple, effective, repeatable processes that lead to winning golf.

My quest to understand flow, and to apply that understanding, has spanned an entire stage of my life, accompanying me though marriage and the birth of a son, and it has introduced me to a group of athletes with whom I have shared many personal and professional milestones. Learning about flow has not only made me a better golfer, it has provided me with a framework and a perspective that has markedly improved the quality of my life. I hope that this book will bring you the same sense of enthusiasm and excitement that I feel when listening to people describe their flow states and helping my clients get into flow. I also hope that by helping you understand flow, the book not only gives you a clearer view of the game and opens up new ways to improve your play, but also provides some insights that will help you to live a more meaningful and more fulfilling life.

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2014-15 PGA Tour Dates


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