Silent Mind Golf - Introduction
Silent Mind Golf brings a refreshingly simple yet original approach to mental aspects of golf. It is written by a business professional and lifelong golfer, Robin Sieger, who directly relates to "the average golfer's love-hate relationship with the game". The book guides golfers of all skill levels to "get out of their own way" and learn to play intuitively and instinctively. This is also the first golf book to be accompanied by a mental conditioning audio CD that teaches the learner the 'how to'.
"Improving mental excellence takes practice, just like improving your swing to be more consistent," says Sieger. "It came to me several years ago that I could apply the theories of best performance, those I'd traditionally used in a business context, to my golf. Almost immediately I reduced my handicap from 16 to 8."
We cannot guarantee that this exclusive series of extracts from the book will halve your handicap, but we are certain it will help to give you valuable direction in what is the most over-looked aspect of the game.
Part 1 - Silent Mind Golf
Part 2 - The Art of Focus
Part 3 - Presence - Being in the Moment
Part 4 - The Faith Factor
Part 5 - Ovecoming the Fear Factor
Part 6 - What makes a Winner?
Part 7 - The Fear Factor
Part 8 - The Four Foot Putt
Whenever I ask a professional golfer
how much of the game (in their experience)
is mental the answer I get is
usually somewhere between 65 and
80% – and those figures generally
hold true when I pose the same question
to weekend club golfers, too. So,
as our starting point, I think it’s fair
to say that the majority of all golfers accept that a significant
part of the game is played between the ears.
As a follow-up question I then ask the pro how much
time he or she spends working on the technical aspects
of the game on the practice ground or short-game area.
And, with varying degrees of pride, they happily tell me
all about their dedicated and methodical regime, of the
hours spent in all weather conditions out on the range
each and every day. Which explains why the vast majority
of professional golfers out there hit the ball very,
very well indeed.
When I then enquire as to the percentage of their
time dedicated to practising the mental side of the
game, I am usually met with a blank stare, a shrug of
the shoulders and a string of comments along the lines
of ‘I know it’s important but you can’t really practice
the mental game, can you?’. A handful of those golfers
might tell me they have read a book on positive thinking,
but that’s about as far as it goes. So while most of
the players I talk to acknowledge that golf is significantly
influenced by the mental game, very few seem to
believe that it is possible to improve those skills
through dedicated practice.
Why is that? We know that if we go on a diet (and
stick to it!) we will lose weight. Equally, we know that if
we go to the gym and follow a regular fitness programme
there is every chance we will become fitter and stronger. All of us who play golf understand the importance
of working on our short-game skills, and that if
we do this conscientiously with a teacher we will help
improve in that critical department and shoot lower
scores. Yet – as confirmed in my research – there remains
huge antipathy towards the notion that our physical
performance can be improved through dedicated
regular practice on the conditioning of our mental
skills. Sure, the majority of golfers understand the benefits
of having a positive mental attitude, banishing
negative thoughts and staying calm on the course. But
very few (if any) dedicate significant time to improving
perhaps the single greatest influence on their playing
ability: the inner game.
As in life generally, in golf you reap what you sow
It really is not stretching a point to say that every golfer
in the world is looking for a ‘quick fix’ to their (many!)
problems. However life teaches us that the effort we
put into something is generally proportional to what we
get out of it. The guy who spends the most time in the
gym conscientiously working out is usually the guy
with the best physique; in the same way, the golfer who
puts in the hours on the short game area is usually the
one who gets it up and down from anywhere. When it
comes to the inner game, the notion that mental
strength and the ability to perform well under pressure
boils down to good fortune – or a consequence of genetic
predisposition – is simply erroneous.
There is no mystical hocus-pocus attached to mental
mastery. In fact, research has shown that even 10 minutes
per day engaging in basic meditation techniques will
benefit your health (specifically in reducing blood pressure,
relieving stress and improving the immune system).
When the meditation involves active visualisation,
research has also shown that we improve our ability to
perform well mentally. So the big question is ‘why don’t
we do it’? And the answer, I believe, is that most people
would rather go out and hit balls for 20 minutes than sit
in a chair and learn to ‘still’ their minds and visualise images
to help them improve their performance on the golf
course. Because the latter appears, well, boring.
I have spent the last 25 years of my life looking
specifically at the attributes and qualities of successful
individuals and organisations. My studies into the top
performing individuals – be it in sport, business or life
itself – has conclusively proved to my satisfaction that
success is not found in the way that we work, it is
found in the way that we think.
My father was a very good golfer who played to a low
single figure handicap for most of his life. He was a GP
in Glasgow, and he frequently told me that for many of
his patients, their illnesses were psychosomatic – i.e.
there was really nothing wrong with them. He was one
of the first doctors in Scotland to study and then practise
hypnosis upon his patients, and he used that to
help people with eczema, sleeping disorders and a
number of other conditions which he believed were ‘all
in the head’.
As far as I can conclude, the majority of golfers out
there cannot take the swing they are able to make and
repeat on the practice ground out onto the golf course.
And the reason for this is that, for all its wonderful simplicity,
golf is a game that is played from the head. Only
when a golfer understands that basic truth can he focus
on doing something about it. The more we are in control
of our mental state the more likely it is that we will remain
in control of our swing, especially under pressure.
I often wonder if our natural resistance to conscientiously
trying to improve our mental strength stems largely from the fact that to do so would force us to
admit that we are mentally weak to begin with. Now, no
one would wish to describe themselves as a good golfer
who is mentally weak – who in their right mind would
want to make that declaration? We like to think the best
of ourselves and that we can stand up to any pressure
thrown at us. I have often heard golfers say that pressure
brings the best out of them. The American former
Ryder Cup captain Ray Floyd once said ‘Anyone who
says they play better under pressure has never really
been under pressure’, and I think that is closer to the
truth. No human being is immune from pressure.
There are players in the history of the game who are
noted for their ice-cool approach in any situation. In
tennis we have only to think of Bjorn Borg, his features
of the state of the
match or the pressure
Ben Hogan was
known as the ‘Wee
Ice Mon’ because
he, too, seemed
wrapped up was
he in his own cocoon
that he barely
playing partner, his caddie or the fans who supported
him. Yet history shows that both Borg and Hogan, in
the prime of their careers, faltered under pressure.
If golf is simply about the swing, then the 50 best
golfers in the world would be acknowledged as having
the 50 best swings and we know that’s not true. There
are golfers on tour who are self taught, who do not
travel with a coach, and there are others to come
through detailed instruction from a very early age.
In other words, there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it
comes to the practical task of creating a solid swing.
There are fundamentals which we acknowledge have to
be present in all swings for them to work (the basics of
grip, posture, alignment and so on).
The same is true of the mental game: there are certain
fundamentals or basics we have to understand and
apply to enable us to achieve our true potential and
play our best golf. And the more effort you put in to rehearsing
and practising these mental skills, the more
you will be rewarded in terms of your performance.
There is nothing spooky or mystical about the exercises
– they are simply based on repetition and developing
the inner calm and focus we need to play the best golf
we possibly can.
Over the course of the eight issues of Gi to be published
this year, I am going to share lessons, exercises
and insights into how you can make real improvements
with the mental game of golf – and indeed apply those
lessons to your personal and professional lives at large.
Lets play catch
Have you ever caught something that was falling off a table, such as a
knife, a fork or even a glass? You reacted instinctively, and in the process
averted what could have been an embarrassing or dangerous outcome. In
these situations something happens so suddenly that we have to react before
we think. Our subconscious mind takes over and coordinates all the
movements and actions – in a very precise sequence – that need to occur
if we're to catch the falling object. Quite simply, we do not have the time to
think, and so we just don't.
In golf we have all the time in the world to think before a shot, and ironically,
rather than a benefit, I believe for the majority of golfers this is a
handicap.When faced with a difficult shot, how often do we start to think
negatively? How often do we imagine missing the putt, or hooking the tee
shot out of bounds or slicing it into the lake? How often have we walked up
to a delicate chip over a bunker and had a full 90
seconds to worry about it before we arrive at the
ball? We then take far more practice swings
than we normally would – all the time, the mind
is worrying about the consequences of a bad
shot, and this somehow manages to overwhelm
any positive thoughts we are trying to embed in
While standing in the practice area by the
chipping green we throw soft lob after soft lob
from a variety of lies unerringly onto the practice
green. Yet, when out on the course in the competition
or during a match, and faced with a shot
we may have practised 20 times only an hour
earlier, we stop trusting our swing and try to control
it very deliberately.We are thinking too
much. The left side of the brain is trying to control
the swing; the right side of the brain is trying
to control our emotions. Something has to give,
and usually that will be the swing.
Let's go back to the moment you caught the falling glass. You simply reacted
to a situation that was unfolding in front of you. You were not thinking,
you were purely doing. I would like to give you an exercise to
demonstrate this principle.
This exercise is not about catching a ball, even though it may appear to
be the case. This exercise is about trusting your motor skills and subconscious
Get a tennis ball or a small beanbag that you can throw and catch easily
with one hand. Then get a partner to stand eight to twelve feet away
from you. I want you to throw the ball to each other very gently and catch it
with one hand. Do this for about one minute or 10 throws each.
After you have finished the first part of this exercise I want you to throw
the ball again to each other. The difference this time is that you must maintain
full eye contact with your partner. I do not want you to watch the ball at
all. I want you to focus entirely on the eyes of the person who is throwing
the ball. Do not under any circumstances follow the ball in the air. The ball
will be in your peripheral vision throughout the exercise and you will trust
your brain to make the calculations that are required to catch it.
Once you have done this for a minute or so I want you to alternate the
hand with which you catch and throw the ball all the time maintaining eye
contact with your partner. Continue this exercise for another two to three
minutes until you become very comfortable with the idea of not following
the ball. Rather, keep eye contact with the other person without any worry
whatsoever about dropping the ball. It is probable that while doing this you
will drop the ball a number of times; but remember this exercise is not
about catching, this exercise is about trusting your instinctive actions.
LEARN FROM THE CHILD
Have you ever seen a child on a putting green for the
first time? Normally a parent gives him, or her, a cut down
club and a few balls. After a few attempts to hit
the ball he quickly gets the hang of what is expected;
knocking the ball in the hole – what could be simpler?
The child hasn’t had lessons – he doesn’t understand
the importance of grip, balance and tempo. He looks at
the ball, then looks at the hole, and then, more often
than not, starts to swing away and soon sinks a few
putts. He has no notion of complexity nor worry or anxiety
about the outcome. I have no doubt the child wants
to sink the putt, but equally he doesn’t seem to be unduly
upset if he misses, as he is just happy with the experience
of being out there hitting the ball. It is this
ability to be relaxed, with no preconceived notions of
how he should be swinging the club, that enables the
child – often trying for the first time – to start sinking
putts. Without realising it, his focus is on the target (the
hole), and he has no memory of past ‘bad’ shots or worries
about a missed putt. So again, without realising it,
he is in the present moment – doing unwittingly the
one thing we have forgotten: to be entirely in the moment.
We have forgotten to not worry about the outcome
and just swing the club.
The first aspect of Silent Mind which we need to understand
and engage is focus (and I will explore this more
fully in the next issue). Focus is when we look at a physical
situation – eg. the hole we are playing – and then
determine in our mind’s eye our target – i.e. where we
want the ball to finish. That’s it. We simply focus on
where we want the ball to end up. We do not think
about or imagine all the places we do not want the ball
to go. So when we step up to the shot we look at the position
– the exact point – on the fairway we want to play
the next shot from. Obviously, we will be aware of all
the surroundings: the water hazards, the bunkers, and
any other areas we do not want to visit. However, we
will not pay any attention to them – we will not think
about the ball going there.
Even though this sounds very obvious and indeed
simple, I am amazed how often people ‘see’ the negative.
They invest their attention in the stronger emotional
outcome, which is pain not pleasure. This means
that people tell themselves, ‘Don’t go in the rough.
Don’t hit it out of bounds’ – then do exactly that! This is
very frustrating and results in us feeling inadequate as
golfers and seeing ourselves as less capable than we
What you have to understand is that the brain
processes information. It doesn’t assign value to it, it just
assigns an outcome. If we put in the wrong information,
such as the possibility of hooking into a bunker, the
brain will process that, with no interpretation of whether
the imagined outcome is good or bad.
When we focus our attention on not hooking into the
bunker, our brain simply locks onto that as the intended
target. Which is why people who have been lifelong
slicers of the ball can suddenly, to their amazement, produce a hook out of nowhere. So we
need to avoid putting the possibility of a mistake into
our brain in the first place.
This ability to focus is evident among many of the
game’s greats. Ben Hogan, one of the greatest players
who ever lived, was famed for his powers of concentration
on the course. He had an icy stare, made very little
conversation with his playing partner or indeed his caddie
and often just puffed away on a cigarette deep in
concentration. It was noted that before hitting the ball
he would stare into the distance, then turn and select
his club, before hitting what was usually a perfect shot.
He never discussed the mental side of his game, and as
a player he was something of an enigma – no one really
knew his secret. He once told a journalist that the secret
was found in the dirt. By this he meant time spent
on the practice ground. Up until the time he died, he
continued to practice in search of the perfect swing.
One thing is sure: he practised harder than any of his
fellow professionals. He practised until his hands
ached, and then he practised some more. However, a
few years after his death a booklet was found in
Hogan’s study. It had been printed in the 1930s and
was concerned with mental strength and mental conditioning.
Many sections had been underlined in pencil,
indicating that he had understood the need to develop
a strong mind and strong muscle memory as the foundation
for his greatness.
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine