There is a much simpler way to play solid golf

Golf can be much simpler than most players make it.

Most of the time, golfers are trying hard to put some kind of mechanical fix to work, or think positive thoughts, or even apply a sports psyche technique.

Most of the time, despite—and because of—these kinds of efforts, most golfers play as poorly as they usually do.  And under any kind of pressure, especially a tournament, a round can really go to hell.

There is a much simpler way to play solid golf:

By focusing on your breathing.

Avid golfers hear so often about breathing and being in the ‘present moment’ that they often discount it. Instead, they believe that a player won a championship by applying the right technique.

But focusing on breathing is a core tenet of performance, as exemplified by professional golfers and elite amateurs, such as Charles Fitzsimmons.

In today’s blog, you’ll learn how Fitzsimmons focused on his breathing to help him win the 2021 Canadian Mid-Amateur Championship last month.

Among his other titles are the 2019 Canadian University Golf Individual Championship, 2019 Ontario Mid-Amateur, and the 2021 Ontario Match Play Championship.

Charles is a fascinating fellow with a Ph.D. in sports psychology and a performance coach, and I feel fortunate to have become friends with him through university golf and the Swing Thoughts podcast that I co-host with Howard Glassman.

During podcast #177, Charles told us that through 10 holes of the third round of the Canadian Mid-am, he was three-under for the day with a four-shot lead when he had an “oh-my-God moment.”

(For brevity and clarity, I’ve edited the interview.)

“I made a bogey on 11, and then made a bad swing and a quick triple on 12. On 14 and 15, I had a couple of three-putts (for bogeys), and all of a sudden the other guy made a couple of birdies, and I’m thinking, ‘What the hell just happened?’

“It happened so quickly. I was trying to do the right things. On 16, I was totally in fight-or- flight mode. I had blown another drive right into a tree and I had to take an unplayable.

“On the 16th green. I had a second to just breathe. I did an exercise called 10 Mindful Breathes. It brings you back into the moment. It’s something I usually do in tournaments, but in the panic of the back nine I got away from it.

“By doing the breaths, I became fully engaged with the moment. I ended up making a double on 16, but re-connecting with my breath gave me this feeling that ‘I’m back and re-engaged,’ and I finished with a par on 17 and I birdied 18.

“Going into last round, I was five shots out of first. I thought that if I can have a good round and put a little pressure on the leaders, you never know what can happen.

“I wanted to be totally engaged with each shot, and be engaged with my breathing because I knew if I got off to a good start, some of those thoughts could pop back up—‘Ok, cool. I’m making a move, I wonder what the leaders are doing?’

“I knew that adrenaline and that nervousness would get flowing, so I made a commitment to myself to be totally engaged with my breath all day, and it was the most engaged with my breath I’ve been all year.

“It helped me stay in the moment when I started to make some birdies and get things rolling. I got to four-under through nine.

“On the 11th hole, we had a lightning delay and found I was in the lead. (When play was set to resume) I took a good walk back to the course, had a meditative walk, felt my steps, felt the air, and played one-under the rest of the way from there (and won the tournament.)”

(Charles also told us that he worked with a program called Neuropeak Pro just this past spring and it’s been influential. We’re going to interview the folks from Neuropeak on an upcoming episode of Swing Thoughts.)

During your next round or practice session, why not give this a shot? Instead of thinking about technique or the situation, focus on your breathing as you prepare and execute your shots.

I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at how much simpler golf can be, and how much better you’ll play.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf and mental performance coach, an award-winning writer, and Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team. He is the recipient of the 2020 Lorne Rubenstein Media Award, given by Golf Ontario. He is author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story, and co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman. And he plays bass in CID—a punk band!

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