Leading golf performance coach Karl Morris gives his perspective on how time can define your golf game. Karl is well regarded having worked successfully with six Major winners and over 100 Tour Professionals.
One of the unique aspects of being human is our relationship and perception of ‘time’. We are by and large defined by the construct of time. Our everyday language is littered with references to the clock - ‘I just don’t have enough time’ - ‘time is running out’ - ‘you have to make the most of your time’ - the list is endless of how the idea of hours, minutes and seconds shape our existence. How does time affect you personally, especially when you are under pressure, and in particular, what effect does time have on your golf game?
If you cast your mind back to the US Masters in 1996 Greg Norman began the final round holding a seemingly impregnable lead of six shots. For three rounds he had played some of the most impressive golf ever to be seen on the legendary Augusta course. However the fairytale turned into a living nightmare for Norman as but a few hours later we had witnessed one of the most dramatic collapses in the history of the game. Nick Faldo eased his broad shoulders into the famous green jacket after shooting a flawless last round 67 to beat Norman by five shots after the Australian had returned a heart breaking final round of 78.
I remember reading back then that Greg Normans’ pre shot routine had been timed during the first three rounds and on each and every shot the process took virtually the same time. Yet in the final round the routine varied enormously with many shots taking up to 45 seconds more to execute. Now 45 seconds may not sound a lot but to a finely tuned athletic machine that amount of variability is huge. Norman had inadvertently fallen into the trap we golfers have all suffered from when under pressure of beginning to think too much. What is automatic becomes conscious and we get hopelessly out of kilter as our brain begins to second and third guess decisions we had made seamlessly the day before.
Sian Beilock from the University of Chicago outlined in her wonderful book ‘Choke’ how even the best of athletes can become hopelessly derailed if they fall into the trap of taking too much time during an important performance. In many ways this highlights the destructive element of slow play to our golf game not only from a performance perspective but from the level of engagement and fun.
As a completely contrarian contrast to that, I know of more than one golf professional who has offered his services to charity, and by way of a challenge, to try to play as many holes of golf in one day. Obviously to do this you basically have to hit the ball on the run and get to the next shot, play it as quickly as possible and then move on. You would assume this form of ‘golf’ would be littered with mistakes and you would score higher the more holes and the faster you played. Anecdotally this doesn’t seem to be the case as the pros involved in this speed golf are often amazed at just how well they score in the most unlikely of scenarios.
Clearly this is the other end of an extreme and I am not suggesting that Majors can be won without effort and application or that we all get out a pair of shorts and running shoes and work on our golf game by sprinting around the course. What I am saying is a balance should be the goal where you aim to play the game at an appropriate pace – a pace which for many would be significantly sharper.
The problem with any of these intentions to quicken the pace of play is that you are working against the brain in the sense we tend to follow patterns of familiarity. We drink the same drink, we order the same takeaways, we watch our favourite TV programs and in the main we will play at the same pace we usually play unless we prime our brain to alter our behavior.
Do you remember the now famous ‘red dot’ on Louis Oosthuizen’s glove the last time the British Open was held at St Andrews in 2010? Going into the tournament the South African had never made a cut in a major championship and as he compiled a first round lead, all of the existing wisdom suggested he would do as many first round leaders do and fall gracefully away. Oosthuizen had other ideas as he cocooned himself in a bubble of concentration. Every time he looked at the red dot on his glove his brain had been primed to then execute a perfect pre shot routine. The dot was a ‘prime’ for his brain to execute a certain set of behaviors in more or less the same time. The actions and rhythm became automatic as soon as the dot tripped his consciousness. A glorious seven shot win seemed to bear testimony to a well-structured game plan.
In much the same way I love the idea of the bezel on Etiqus watches designed to be a 'trigger' to be aware of the pace of your play and to ‘prime’ the brain to play within an appropriate pace - a pace the research would suggest would not only help you as an individual play a better game but of course be a positive boost for the game as a whole. Many times we hear the declining numbers of participants in the game are as a result of the game taking too long. This may or may not be a defining reason for so many people deciding golf is not a game for them anymore, but for sure taking a torturous 4 hours plus on the course cannot make the game more appealing for anyone. To have a watch that makes the pace of play a statement of intent gets my unanimous vote and can only be good for the future of the game. If more golfers make the decision that they will do their bit to improve the pace of play, we can begin to move to a tipping point of intention where a better pace of play becomes more appropriate for the fun of the game … and for the golfer a pace that releases their capabilities to play better golf.
You can see a range of Products and Services that are available from Karl on his website. If you get the chance to attend one of his workshops then grab it with both hands. They're well delivered, entertaining and will give you some key take aways to help improve your game.