While I am working on my own putting stroke I often stop to notice how others are spending their practice time at the putting green. More times than not, I watch as players drop a few balls and mindlessly start hitting putts towards one of the holes. I can only assume they aren’t paying much attention as I observe that they are hitting the putts very quickly, and they show no interest in the results. The most interesting part of my observation is that while they seem to have no interest in the outcome, they are making an awful lot of putts! I’ve always wanted to walk over to one of them and offer $100 if they could slow down, pick one ball and one ten foot putt, and then sink that putt. If they miss they would owe me $10. Sounds like a crazy offer to someone who I just witnessed make a bunch of similar putts. Lack of discretionary funds and my somewhat reserved personality keeps me from engaging in this task, but I can hypothesize what may happen. With the challenge of the $100 to $10 proposition pressure will form, anxiety will rise, muscles will tighten, and a balky stroke follows.
I’ve been able to take this small experiment and put it to the test in a brief , loosely designed study. In my office sits a SAM PuttLab, a machine that records 27 different components of a putting stroke and displays them on a computer in easy to read graphs. I’ve used this piece of technology to carry out a brief study. I simply ask clients to hit 7 putts just to warm up, all the while recording each stroke. Next, I tell them that I’m running a contest, and that the goal is to make all 7 putts. Those that make the most of the 7 will be entered into a raffle where a prize will be rewarded. This creates a competitive environment, different from the mindless warm-up environment. Again I measure each stroke. Upon completion, I compare the results from the two environments, the practice/warm-up and the competition. The results are interesting.
One of the main components of the stroke that the SAM measures is consistency. Almost all of my small clients taking part in the study show much greater consistency during the warm-up phase than during the competition phase. What does this tell us? When the heat is on, something changes. Lack of consistency leads to missed putts and poor results. So what do we do?
A quick and simple suggestion is that next time you are out on the putting green, do your best to be more mindful of your practice. Use one ball, go through your pre-shot routine, hit putts of varying lengths and breaks, grab a partner and set up competitions, anything you can do to recreate a competitive environment. This type of practice will make you more comfortable in competition situations . Also, take time to focus and stay completely immersed in the current moment. Pay attention to negativity that may creep in, and let it go with out reacting. This is a brief introduction to mindfulness and golf, and the more meaningful, mindful, work you can put in on the practice green, the more prepared you will be when it matters the most.