The Voices in My Head (When I Putt)
Putting is very easy.
Making a putting stroke is very simple –
Move the putter head a few inches one way, then a few inches more in the other direction.
Pretty simple stuff.
Would you believe me if I suggested that all we need to do in order to putt well is make a stroke that feels natural and unencumbered, while our imagination is under our control?
For this week’s post I’d like to introduce a favorite putting exercise of mine – a classic putting drill that I feel offers a solution to the psychological challenges of putting. As usual, the solution is a combination of hard work and focused attention – so sorry, but no quick fixes here if that’s what you’re looking for. This drill comes from the phenomenal work of Fred Shoemaker in his lesser known book “Extraordinary Putting”, and over the years we’ve added a bunch of wrinkles to it which I will expand on in future posts.
The Expanding Confidence drill runs as follows:
- 1) Set up a ball a few inches from the hole and go through your routine. Roll the putt and try to “make it”. Make note of how you felt over the putt.(you likely felt very confident at the two inch mark)
- 2a) If you make the previous putt, move away from the hole by one putterhead length and go again
- 2b) If you miss the previous putt, move towards the hole by one putterhead length and go again
- 3) Repeat this process over a ten minute span, and make note of how far you get from the hole by the end of the drill.
The goal of the exercise is to acknowledge the existence of our uncontrolled imagination. At some point, maybe after you reach about 2 or 3 feet, the voice in your head will change from “this is really easy” to “I might miss this”. This is a magical moment and one which needs to be acknowledged. In a simple sense, this is the very moment where your confidence begins to weaken. But in a deeper sense, this is when we can catch a glimpse of an imaginative power within us that can destroy even the greatest of putting strokes. A stroke made without belief is doomed, and the greatest challenge in putting is to truly believe that you can “make it”. The goal of the drill is to expand this point in time, this moment where the voice jumps in to debilitate you, to move it as far away from the hole as you can.
Interestingly, as one uses this drill over days and weeks, one begins to take control of the imagination. Ultimately, psychological troubles in putting boil down to an inability to control our minds while we putt. By practicing in ways which acknowledge the imagination and challenge us to overcome uncontrolled thoughts, we are getting closer and closer to the dream of putting with total freedom in every stroke we make. What at first is consternation at our “stupid mind” eventually becomes a feeling of freedom as we take control of the remote…
Hint: One of the surest ways to eliminate the doubting voices (uncontrolled imagination) is to focus on process instead of result. If all you try to do is make a stroke that feels good to you then it’s hard to doubt that you will. But if you’re trying to control things that you can’t control (i.e. result) then you’re destined to welcome uncontrollable thoughts to go with them.
In this “Expanding Confidence” drill we also confront the natural tendency of our conscious mind to interfere with the workings of our subconscious mind. When left to one’s natural instincts, when we let our subconscious mind control our stroke, my experience has shown me that players have beautiful strokes and graceful rhythms. When not weighed down by the thoughts of past misses and future fears, we are all blessed with a great putting stroke that is repeatable and efficient. In each of us lies the extraordinary potential to make every putt… But we need to find a way to control our mind and allow our body to move gracefully toward the target…
So how do we get rid of these debilitating voices? How do we experience the feeling of putting without fear?
We practice with purpose.
We practice in ways which enable us to glimpse the psychological space of the golf experience and then develop tools to control this space.
We practice in ways which make us more aware.
Task for Learning
So what I’d love to do this week is as follows…
I’d like it if each of you can find a way to do this exercise a few times this week, and then send me a note let me know what your experience is like.
You can do this in your basement or your bathroom or at an indoor facility – whichever gives you the least barriers – the least excuses for not confronting this skill head on.
Let me know your thoughts…
Link to Fred Shoemaker’s “Extraordinary Putting”
Link to our new Website