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Silent Mind Putting - An Introduction
Robin Sieger, Sarasota, USA - January 2013

Putting is easy. Or at least it should be.

The putting stroke is not about power, or how far we can hit the ball. We don’t need to shape the shot. There are no hazards, no out of bounds and no bad lies. It is the easiest golf shot imaginable, isn’t it?

A great wealth of advice exists to help the average golfer become a better putter, but all the theories, approaches and techniques boil down to two fundamentals, agreed upon by almost all the teachers, analysts and experts:

1. You must have a stroke that brings the club head squarely back to the ball.

2. You need to strike the ball down the correct line of the putt. Do these two things and the odds are that you will be a good putter. What could be simpler?

Take someone who has never played golf before – a complete non- golfer. Ask them to make a shot with a driver or an iron and you will be lucky if they make contact with the ball. The use of these clubs requires considerable skill. Yet almost anyone can pick up a putter and make a decent stroke on the ball. And within a few minutes of experimentation, a non-player can start enjoying the feel of making a putt.

So if the putt is a simple stroke on a technical level, how hard, actually, can putting be? Why do we need to work on our putting technique? Why are there so many books dedicated to exploring the mechanics of the putt, packed with suggestions to help us perfect our stroke and improve our success on the green? Why do we need to work on our mental approach to, seemingly, the simplest aspect of the game?

The reality, for most of us, is that the putting green is the place where most shots are dropped. It is a peculiar fact of golf that there are more demons to be found lurking on this smooth grassy carpet than on any other part of the course. So it should be no surprise that by improving their putting the average golfer can save more strokes per round more quickly than in any other part of their game.

For most of us this is not reflected in our practice routine. Proportionally, we spend a lot more time practising the longer shots than we do the game played on the green. We go to the driving range and work our way through our clubs but stop when we reach the putter. Just before we go out on the course we may spend a few minutes on the practice green. In our mind we are thinking, ‘I better find out what the pace of the greens is today,’ but we could hardly call this serious practice. Perhaps the very simplicity of putting has deceived us?

The demons of the green are not reserved for us amateurs. Many of the game’s greatest players retired when they could no longer sink their putts. From tee to green their game was as good as ever, but the green became a place of nightmares.

Legends of the game have been assailed by uncertainty, self-doubt and mental paralysis on the green. In his final years as a pro, Ben Hogan would freeze over the ball when putting. He was almost unable to draw the club back. Sam Snead tried hundreds of different putters. He finally adopted a side-saddle method that was later banned by the golfing authorities. It seems ironic that the easiest and most instinctive stroke in the game has been the downfall of many of golf’s greats.

Putting has been called a game within a game. Most golf shots are played in the air; all putts are played over the ground. It has more subtle variables and moments of high drama. The final putt in every major is introduced by the commentator in reverential, hushed tones as, ‘This for the championship.’ And of course, if that putt drops it ensures the player’s place in history and guarantees huge financial reward. It makes a whole new challenge of that seemingly simple shot.

Consider the pressure that Ernie Els and Adam Scott were under as they putted on the eighteenth green in the 2012 Open at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s. Els knew he had to sink his putt to put himself into any kind of contention. Scott knew he had to hole his to get into a play-off. How they felt over those putts we humble amateurs can only imagine, but we can understand the degree to which the technical difficulty of the putts as pure golfing shots was outweighed by the pressure of the situation.

We may never experience the same pressure as the pro golfer. But in our own game, at whatever level, we experience our own high- pressure situations, and we can develop our own confidence, instinct and touch to improve our results. How do we do this?

There are players who seem to have the ability to nail putt after putt from just about anywhere on the green. When we watch tournaments on television, we hear experts comment on the different putting abilities of players – who is poor and who is good. So surely all we have to do is watch the good putters, identify what they’re doing right and copy it, and our own putting will improve?

We all know that isn’t enough. Because we also need to understand how they manage their mental game on the green: how they read their putt, how they put the right amount of power into their stroke, and how they manage to get themselves into the right state of mental control so that they do not change their rhythm or tempo when under pressure.

When I speak to professional golfers they tell me that golf is 80 per cent mental and 20 per cent mechanical, but I would argue that on the putting surface the mental aspect of the game increases, so that putting becomes 90 per cent mental. Our earlier experiment with a non-golfer who quickly masters the putting stroke supports this theory. The same level of mechanical competence with a lob wedge and a dozen balls would take considerable time to develop. So why does the mental side of our putting game hold such power over us? I have spoken to many players over the years, and I have learned this: Good putters expect to putt well and make putts. Poor putters hope to putt well but don’t really believe they will make many.

I have played with outstanding golfers who use antique equipment and very unorthodox styles. But game after game they break the hearts of their opponents by sinking putts which appear to defy the law of averages. I know one well-known former Scotland rugby player who still plays with the putter he used when he was a boy. He has to bend almost double to use the club – but it works for him.

When I speak to these players about their putting they are confident enough to describe themselves as good putters. This confidence is so important because golf is not only a game of style and technique, it is also a game of self-mastery. And nowhere is that more important than on the putting green.

How can we free ourselves from the inevitable pressures of putting? How can we create self-belief, and expect to make our putts, rather than just hoping that we will? How can we remove the self-doubt which creeps into our minds as we take our stance on the green and prepare to putt for the match?

Much of my working life has been spent teaching people about peak performance and success. I have spoken to business leaders, companies, sportsmen and -women and many others about how to remove self-doubt and prepare mentally for the challenges we face – in business, in sport and in life. I have lectured to some of the biggest companies in the world, and have written a number of books, including the international bestseller Natural Born Winners, which explores the mental aspects of success in great detail. I have made success my specialty, if you like, and have learnt a great deal from the many people I have met along the way.

However, I realised a number of years ago that I had not translated these theories of peak performance into the reality of success on the golf course. Despite playing golf for twenty-five years, and being a decent player back in college, I was a poor golfer with a handicap I wasn’t proud of. One day on the course a friend gently enquired: if I was this supposed expert on success, peak performance and the mind, why was I such a terrible golfer?

Some years earlier I had realised that the things I did in life without thinking were done easily and automatically, free from self-doubt, anxiety or concern. But out on the course, in my pursuit of golfing excellence, I was thinking too much, worrying about mis-hitting the shot in hand and, like many golfers, being unnecessarily harsh on myself. I realised I needed to turn my thinking about peak performance onto my own game: ‘Physician, heal thyself!’

I spent a long time thinking over my conundrum, and eventually had an insight. I didn’t jump out of the bath shouting, ‘Eureka!’, but I did begin to see where the problem lay: my thoughts were impeding my performance. I resolved to stop thinking over the shot and instead play instinctively, free from concerns about anything other than the stroke in hand. In simple terms, I finally managed to get out of my own way. Three rounds of golf later my handicap had dropped from sixteen to eight.

Having seen such a dramatic improvement, I continued to explore the mental game change I had experienced in greater depth. I developed a mental approach to playing golf which I came to call the silent mind. My book about this approach, Silent Mind Golf, explains how golfers can master their thoughts and their emotions when they are on the course if they incorporate the mental side of the game in their practice, through mental conditioning and relaxation techniques. The book’s success, and the testimonials I receive, leave me in no doubt that the mind remains the most overlooked aspect of the game.

Conversely, when properly and methodically addressed, the mental side of golf provides the single greatest – and most immediate – opportunity for improvement.

Having learnt how to silence the mind and ‘get out of my own way’, I turned my attention, in my next book, Golf ’ s Moment of Truth, to the thorny issue of choking, again examining the psychological hurdles that can disrupt our ability to play the shot we want to play, and suggesting ways in which we can overcome the mental and emotional distractions that arise while we’re out on the course.

Now I have chosen to focus right in on a single aspect of the game and address the key moment on any hole: the shot which completes the process, the point of closure and the stroke where the potential for mental interference is highest – the putt. As we have discussed, the putt should be the simplest of shots, yet its context makes it highly- pressured, and the area where most golfers drop shots. What better place to employ the silent mind techniques than the part of our game that can make the biggest difference to our score?

This book is an exploration of the mental game of putting. It is a combination of reflections, tips, exercises and suggestions. There is no magnificent secret to be revealed, but there are insights and lessons that I believe will help us become the best putters we can be. There are changes we can make to our mental and attitudinal approach to putting which will help us master our minds when under pressure to close out a hole.

Before we move on to examine the world of putting in more detail, let’s look briefly at what the silent mind approach entails.

WHAT IS THE SILENT MIND?

Silent mind golf is not a system, philosophy or quick-fix method. Rather it is a simple process to develop the critical mental skills needed to perform at a level of unconscious excellence unimpeded by thought.

For a game that is more mental than mechanical, mastery over the mind becomes an essential skill. Yet very few players do any real structured mental conditioning work, beyond having a vague grasp of staying positive and relaxed, and breathing deeply when feeling stressed. This is not enough. If we cannot master our emotions off the course, we should not expect to control them on the course. The silent mind approach shows the golfer how to develop the mental skills and strengths required during competition and emphasises the importance of making them a regular part of the practice regime. The process involves three simple steps:

Focus. On every shot, from the opening tee shot to the three-inch tap-in on the final green, we must focus our attention on the place we want the ball to finish. This is the spot that becomes the target, and that target needs to be in our mind’s eye. Just as the archer focuses on the bullseye, and not the arrow, and the race driver focuses on the road ahead, and not the steering wheel, so too as golfers we need always to have a target upon which we focus our mind before we hit the shot. The target is not the ball; it is the final resting place of the shot. How often do golfers focus on where they do not want the ball to go, then announce in a comically astonished manner, ‘I can’t believe I did that!’?

Faith is the second aspect of playing more instinctively. When we have confidence in our ability to do something successfully we relax. We do it naturally and instinctively. When driving a car, we do so in a state of confidence, trusting in our ability, despite the potential dangers. Far too often on the golf course players entertain self-doubt: ‘I hope I hit the fairway . . . Don’t knock it in the water . . .’ If we don’t believe we can make a shot, it is an odds-on certainty we won’t. Faith is simply trusting in ourselves: if we have faith in our ability to play a shot, we will be more inclined to relax and perform intuitively and instinctively. But that faith must be grounded in experience and not wishful thinking.

The final aspect of the silent mind approach is the one I always knew people would understand but find hardest to apply. This aspect is Presence. In its simplest form it means to ‘be in the present moment’, or, as I have heard it expressed very succinctly, to ‘be here now’. Too often our anxieties on the course are about poor shots we have played earlier on, or poor shots we imagine await us later in the round. If we shut out all thoughts about the past or the future, and any feelings associated with those thoughts, then we are in the moment, and free from emotional input. We have a silent mind – which is the perfect state to be in when we are playing a shot. In the coming pages we will discover how the silent mind approach applies especially on the putting green. We will develop new themes along the same lines, and work through a specific set of principles and mental drills that will enable us to putt with confidence.

Just as every good story needs a beginning, middle and end, and a narrative thread that connects them, I also believe learning and mastery require structure. I have divided this book according to three distinct perspectives – Prepare, Perceive and Play – which help to build our understanding and provide a logical approach to improvement. And as the book gives us an insight into our own mental game, it is my desire that it will help us approach the putting green with confidence, not just hoping to sink that putt but expecting to do so, and that, as a result, we will find ourselves putting like champions.

This extract is taken with permission from "Silent Mind Putting: How to putt like you never miss"  by Robin Sieger. Published by Aurum Press'. Available from Amazon.





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