Why tension is a killerNovember, 2011
Do you realise that your tension levels have increased before it’s too late?
I REMEMBER once hearing Padraig Harrington say that he felt you couldn’t make birdies, you had to allow them to happen. The more you tried to force them, the more they went away from you.
The great South African golfer Bobby Locke talked in much the same way when he spoke about making pars and then letting the rest take care of itself. The concept of trying is so indelibly written into our DNA – never give in, keep trying hard. Work at it. The more I practise the luckier I become.
All of these clichés that we have grown up with over the years. We are constantly told in school to keep trying.
In a lot of human endeavour trying can be very effective. But the problem with golf is that trying, as we currently know it, doesn’t really work. In many ways I think that that we don’t ‘try’ in the right way. So what to do? Am I saying that you should just go out and not try? Just pitch up and let it all hang loose? Well no, not exactly, even though for most golfers that would produce infinitely better results.
We need to look a lot closer at the concept of trying, and the underlying assumptions surrounding it, and how we can perhaps run our brain in a better way that will allow us to get out of our own way. Some of what we are discussing may be a bit different, it may strike you as being a bit controversial, but I am absolutely convinced that when we get this right it is another major mind trap that we will have managed to avoid.
What does the concept of trying mean to you? How does it make you feel? What would a picture of trying look like? What does a body that is trying do?
For most people the concept of trying is about gritting their teeth, knuckling down and setting their mind to go through something that is unpleasant. Think of other things in your life that you try to do. You might try to fill in your tax return or you might try to diet.
For me the concept of trying usually comes with a subliminal message that this is going to be unpleasant and we don’t really want to do it! Is that a mindset that you want to bring to your golf game?
Probably the most damaging thing the concept of trying brings to your game is physical tension. When we try, we tighten and tightness kills your golf swing. The great problem with tension is that you cannot see it but it will affect your swing.
It is always interesting to see on TV when the expert summariser analyses what has just happened when a great player has knocked the ball off line. The expert knows that the ball has gone left or right and then he has the swing replayed in slow motion before telling a story as to why the ball went left. You all know how difficult it is to change a swing even when you are trying but the experts would have us believe that it changes from hole to hole.
I really question this approach and I think for thousands of golfers it really does send them down a path of constant swing tinkering and adjustment.
I don’t believe that swings can change that much from shot to shot but I am absolutely sure that tension levels do. A slight change can affect your rhythm and sequencing in the swing which can make you feel that the swing has changed.
To be aware of, and monitor, your tension levels, is to put you back in control of yourself and your game. But how do you control your tension levels? The first thing is to become aware of them and then work out what is the optimum state for you to play your best golf.
Try this. Create a scale of tension in your mind from 0–10. Hit some shots when you are feeling maximum tightness so 10 on the scale. Really tighten up. What does that feel like?
Hit some shots at 0 on that scale so you are barely holding the club. Feel really loose and limp. How does that feel?
Now your brain has a scale to work with. Experiment as to what is the best level of tension between those two points. Once you have a number you can then work effectively with that on the course. Your brain can work with five on that scale much better than telling yourself to relax. The brain likes to work with more precise details than just relax. If you feel that you are at 8 or 9 on that scale you can work it back to a level that helps you swing more freely.
Simply by being aware of your tension levels, and exploring ways to reduce them, then you will see a benefit to your game, not to mention your health!