Friday, November 14, 2014

How to beat your playing partners EVERY TIME

In this article, I will tell you exactly how to beat your buddies in your fourball easily, every time. Money back guarantee.

I am a golf professional; I love teaching and writing about golf and it is certainly my main passion. I still enjoy playing golf, but it is very time consuming for me. Rather than go out and play a 5 hour round, I would prefer to sit and write an article, like this. I just have different goals and ambitions these days - playing at the elite level is not one of them.

 
As much as I appreciate what these guys do, I just have different 
life goals these days


I'm not a bad player either. I can get it around the course and shoot par regularly despite practicing maybe once a month - and that is in spite of a very poor short game due to this lack of practice. I have a Trackman Combine average score (a test to measure your hitting ability against anyone in the world) of 86, and a high score of 88.4 (compare to Poulter - 88.6  and Justin Rose - 88.8, Dufner - 88.7). I also currently hold number 2 in the world for 160 yards mark,with an average of 7.4 feet.

I say this mainly to convey that, yes, I can golf my ball. Also, as I practice what I preach regarding differential practice and working mainly on improving club and ball contact (ball flight laws), it adds weight to the fact that it works. I hit the ball better now than I have ever done, even though I practice maybe 1/40th of the amount I used to.

But I have a secret - one which I am not afraid to hide from others, as I learned one of the greatest lessons from it.

I failed my Playing ability test

For those who don't know what it is, in order to become a member of the PGA, you not only have to pass all the written theoretical exams, but you have to do a playing test. This consists of 2 rounds of golf in one day (which is tiring enough under that pressure), where you have to shoot no more than 15 over the standard scratch (a round of 7 over and 8 over would do it). For a player of my level, it sounds ridiculously easy, and it should be, except


We get in the way of ourselves.

Test day

I played the first round,and despite a freak July hailstorm (welcome to Britain), my electric trolley subsequently conking out from the rain, and dropping all my Jaffa cakes on the wet, fertilized 2nd tee box, thus having nothing to eat for the entire 36 holes, I finished that round just 8 over par.

The second round, the sun came up, the wind died down and conditions were ideal. Now I had absolutely no excuses.



After a birdie on the second hole of the second round, I now was 7 over with 16 holes to play. And I distinctly remember the thought running through my head

"I have 8 shots to play with 16 holes left. That's one bogey per hole and I will finally be a professional golfer"


Ensue an onslaught of bled shots left right and center, seemingly from nowhere (slight club misjudgments, a few missed shot putts etc) until I was standing on the 17th tee 16 over par for the two rounds, wondering where on earth all the shots had gone.


But now was a different mindset. Now I was about to lose the chance of my professional status. I needed a birdie or it was gone.

I birdied the 17th, hitting my shot to 12 feet and draining the putt.

Now it was ON


Ecstatic, I was now back in the game. Just one hole left to play and it was a par 5. All I needed was a par on an easy hole and I would gain my professional status. I was so nervous at the prospect of what I could Gain, that I went ahead and bogeyed the last hole, after the worst approach shot into the green of the day, missing a subsequent 5 foot putt after a chip.

I choked



Research

According to recent research from Chib et al (2014) - Click HERE to see - Our personalities combined with how we frame situations can have a massive determinant on whether we choke or not. This research shows that 

  • Loss averse people (people who hate losing) are more likely to choke if they are thinking about what they stand to gain from a performance. 
  • And people who value winning more, are more likely to choke when they frame things in terms of what they stand to lose

I am VERY loss averse. If I am playing a round of golf with 2 other buddies, my main goal is to not be the guy who finishes last. This is simply how my mind works, and I don't think it is a negative. In fact, I once folded 3 aces in a big hand of poker, as I didn't want to lose to the potential flush that was out on the board. This turned out to be a good decision. 

Fold


Think about how this relates to my playing ability test. Initially, I framed the situation on the third tee as what I had to gain -my professional status. I then proceeded to have a long, drawn out choking session until the 17th, where I instantly reframed the situation to what I had to lose. Amazingly, exactly as the science would predict, I performed brilliantly on that hole and walked off with a birdie.

Only to fall foul of the science again, by framing the last hole as what I would stand to gain by performing well on that hole. Again, a choke on the final hole confirms what science now knows.

Trackman Combine

This was even apparent during  my first Trackman combine test. The first time I tried it, my only goal was to not lose to my colleague who had just completed it. As a result of framing it as what I stood to lose, my performance was quite good - to the point that now I was on for a pretty good score. As I was well ahead of my goal, my focus now shifted to the good score that I could produce. I was thinking about what I had to gain. As a result, I hit a few bad drives to finish -choking due to my reframing of the situation.



Even in my score of 88.4, I was on for a score higher than 90 with 2 drives left to hit. With the penultimate drive, framing it as what I had to what I had to Gain (a score of 90), I choked and hit a drive of a score of 24, dropping me way out of the 90 range. Now, with my mind framing it as "I am about to lose my score of 90", I proceeded to hit a drive of 93. Unfortunately this didn't get me to my goal, but it was evidence again of what the science confirms.

Internal thermostat

This also relates to what I talked about in this article (CLICK HERE). We all have a different set-point for where our thermostat should be. This may be shooting around 100 for some players, or shooting around par for others. Whenever we get on a roll and enter new territory (our best ever games), our minds tend to bring up incorrect thoughts for our personality. Loss averse people playing their best will start to think about what they can gain - thus choking and bringing them back to their set-point. Win seekers mind's tend to veer towards what they can potentially lose.

Being aware of this and having appropriate strategies set up can really aid us in trumping our limits and breaking into a new set-point. After all, once someone has shot in the 90's for the first time, they tend not to shoot in the 100's again because of the new set-point and ability to frame a round of 100 in a way which spurs them to beat it. 

We all have an internal thermostat in all areas of our lives.
Where is your's set? Are you holding yourself back simply from your beliefs?


E.g Loss averse people saying "I will not shoot in the 100's today", and win seekers saying "I will get another round in the 90's today".

This thermostat is an evolutionary mechanism designed to keep us gently pushing boundaries whilst maintaining what has allowed us to survive. If we had no mental boundaries at all, we would likely have not survived. Our mind, thusly, tends to bring us back to our set-point by shifting focus onto areas which make our personality type choke.

Choking is a survival mechanism

Wrap your head around that. 

Our internal thermostat is there to help us with survival.


How to use this info 

Try to work out if you are a person who is more loss averse (tries not to lose), or are more dominant towards trying to win. In a fourball, are you only happy if you win? Or can you settle for not being last?

If you are Loss averse, as I am, try to focus on what you stand to lose if you don't perform well. For someone like us, this can be massively motivating, as we get inspired to maintain what we have and will switch up a gear in order to maintain it. As a result of this personality type, we rarely shoot very high scores. If we are not going to shoot out best score, we frame it as "well, I am definitely not going to shoot over this score". This can stop us having blow out rounds.

Now that's a blowout round


The negatives to be aware of if you are loss averse are when you are playing well. This scenario is one where our minds tend to veer towards what we have to gain. As a result, our personality types can choke if we focus on the wrong thing ("I could win this tournament"). Try to maintain a focus of what you have built up, and what you don't want to lose ("I don't want to lose this five dollars"). Ironically, I have even used the phrase "I don't want to be the guy who is leading and then chokes" as a way to better performance.and it really works.   

If you are a win seeker, Focus more on what you have to gain from good performance. This is usually more motivating. Focus on that five dollars you are going to win. Focus on being the one in the group who played the best, everyone talking about your great round in the bar. 



This is not to say you can't stay in the here and now during the execution of the shot itself. But how you are framing the situation as whole will have a marked effect on your performance.  

Tiger

Tiger has always been a win seeker. His entire world has been around winning and getting towards the record of Jack Nicklaus' majors. So he quite rapidly got very close, as he had the mindset of what he has to gain.

Yet, recent years, and his naughty antics, has brought a media onslaught against him. Commentators relentlessly claim he has 'lost it' (even when winning 5 tournaments in a year with multiple injuries - go figure). how do you think his mindset will have changed as a result of that?

Is he thinking now about what he stands to lose (his dominance over the field and his breaking of Jack's record)? He certainly has produced a few more 'choke-like' moments in recent years than when he was gunning for Jack's record in his earlier, more dominant and positive-focused years, where the media were talking about what he stood to GAIN as a rising star.


Look at how the papers have changed



Lots of assumptions in there, but just something to think about.

Beating your buddies?

I promised to give you advice on how to beat your buddies every time. well, using the above advice is a good way, but there is a better one. 

  • If your playing partner is very loss averse, why not allow him to focus on what he stands to gain. "Hey Jim, you are playing really well today. Looks like you could be winning the 5 dollars. You are going for your 7th par in a row"
  • If your playing partners are win seekers - make them focus on what they stand to lose. "Wow Jim, you are on a hell of a streak, don't mess it up or you could lose this run of 6 pars you have been having".
Watch them crash and burn, and savour the flames.

Just kidding -do not do this. It is poor etiquette and poor sportsmanship. ;)


I would just like to add that I have since passed my playing ability test with ease (a month later) and am a PGA professional.


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Currently working for the World famous Turnberry Resort at the Golf Performance Academy. I am a golf coach who specialises in not only what to learn, but 'how' to learn. I am always looking to further education of myself and others, and improve knowledge and understanding so that we can be better golfers and coaches