The secret to making a swing change revealed—ignore your whiny ego

The secret to making a swing change revealed—ignore your whiny ego

Mike Martz and me

Hey, we’re not grizzled veterans, just veteran … coaches. Mike Martz (left) has helped me get my game back on track–and to stay with the process when I struggled.

“That shot had character,” Mike Martz said, watching one of my iron shots flying on a penetrating trajectory to the yellow flag on the range.

“Character?” I inquired.

The coach explained: “That’s what Moe (Norman) would say after a shot like that. That it had character.”

That’s what I’m looking for—more shots like that—and less that go dead-left.

Eradicating the occasional left-of-left shot that had infected my game was one of key reasons that I started taking lessons again for the first time in about five or six years.

And for the first five or six weeks of the season, it was a heck of a struggle.

But the problem was not my swing.

After a disappointing 2019 golf season, I asked Mike, one of Canada’s most respected and certified coaches, to work with me. Mike coaches the University of Waterloo men’s golf team, and I coach University of Guelph men’s and women’s team.

Mike was also one of Moe Norman’s best friends, and he helped me enormously with his insights as I wrote the second edition of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story, published in 2017.

Over winter, we made great progress using the Trackman launch monitor at Whistle Bear Golf Club until the pandemic lockdown. We resumed working together in late May at the Ontario Golf Academy at Whistle Bear.

Mike noted that my body was not turning vigorously during the downswing, and thus my arms raced ahead and went left, shutting the clubface, sending the ball left. On the range, focusing on my turning torso, I hit ball after solid ball, with only a few left.

Voila! The mystery solved. Joy, bliss. Mike had dropped the keys to Nirvana in my lap. I had my simple turn-my-torso program.

I worked my program at least three times at week at the local range, and daily in my garage.

That’s what you do, right? Work your program, get your reps in, see your coach for some maintenance tweaks, and eventually you’ll get it.

Simple. Follow the program. Nirvana awaits.

Except, it’s not that simple.

While you may hold the keys to Nirvana, you don’t automatically go forward. In fact, you usually lurch backwards. Everyone who has taken golf lessons knows the drill. You get worse before you get better.

I know this! I’m a performance coach for God’s sake

But experiencing it myself for the first time in years was brutal.

On the range, I was ready for the tour. On the course, I was ready for the loony bin. The ball went everywhere, including left of left.

Round after disappointing round, I was petulant and pouting, emotionally volatile, angry, disappointed. Afterwards, I drove home with a frown on my face while my mind went into a spiral.

‘This is ridiculous. You’re a coach for God’s sake. You do a podcast on the mental game for crying out loud. You’re a basket case. You suck. You will always suck.’

That voice? That was my bratty ego—whining, snivelling and jumping up and down like a five year old having a temper tantrum.

And, sigh, I gave in to it.  

During my next few practice sessions, I abandoned the program, and went back to my Rolodex of drills and feels from years past. I careered from the keep-my-left-foot-down-feeling-thing … to the feel-the-clubhead-feeling thing … and everything in between.

During rounds, I’d swerve from applying physics to attempting Zen nothingness—all within a few holes.

And, of course, that didn’t work either.

After about five weeks of this, I was worn out and felt defeated by golf, which I’ve felt many times before.

I stopped thinking about it for a few days. And then it hit me—I had let my ego have its way.

Its screams and temper tantrums overpowered my knowledge and experience that change is hard. It takes patience. It takes diligence. Commitment.

I have coached people that if you go down the road of working on mechanics, you have to go slow, stay with it, forget results, and work your program.

I spoke to Mike about my struggles, and he agreed with me that every golfer plays his or her best subconsciously—without thought—and focuses on external targets.

But there is a balance. And from time to time, you must correct poor body motion and fundamentals, and focus on internal movement. There are times you must build the “scaffolding” of your swing by changing your movement patterns.

“As you start to see improvements, you will experience interference (such as your ego and the golf course), and you sometimes stop paying attention to the things that cemented that scaffolding, and it doesn’t go so well.”

With Mike’s help, I went back to the program. I stuffed a rag in the mouth of my ego, bound it up with rope and threw it in the trunk.

Interestingly, I found that I didn’t really need to focus on my torso rotation much anymore. We both noticed that it was rotating quite nicely, and we turned our attention to fundamentals such as alignment, ball position and clubface angle—the nitty-gritty fundamentals that often require the keen eye of an experienced coach.

And so, I’ve turned the corner. I’m not scoring like I want to just yet, but it will come.

I keep working my program in practice. On the course, I’m focusing on hitting shots to targets, plotting my way around, and largely swinging without thinking about it. Sometimes, I fall into the old habit playing golf swing, rather than playing golf, and I can pull myself back.

It took a difficult experience to remind me that making changes in golf—and in all parts of life—is indeed difficult, but the obstacle is not my swing, my ability to learn or be athletic, or any other stories that I’ve told myself through the years.

The obstacle is usually my ego.

To win the battle—and ultimately the war in anything we do—is a test of character; our ability to put off immediate gratification, acknowledge but resist our cravings, ignore the siren song of quick fixes, and execute on our commitments to our higher self.

There’s a lot more involved in establishing new habits and overcoming old ones, but understanding how our egos can sabotage us is a good start.

My recent experience with my golf game has reminded me that when I embark on making changes, my ego is going to fight me the whole way.

But if I remain committed to the program, I’ll make that change—even just incrementally—and hit more golf shots with character.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!


  1. Absolutely love this Tim.
    This is the journey of so many golfers and the road that has left many golf games in tatters.
    Keep up the great work.

  2. Nick Pittarelli says

    I like you decided to take a series of golf lessons over the last few months after not having done so for over 5 years. I am a 6 hncp.

    My only goal was to increase swing speed with the driver, so I had to abandon any thought of that amazing accuracy I enjoyed during the summer of 2020. This was the biggest hurdle……but once I was able to forget about where the ball went, I was able to focus on the lesson and ultimately increased the swing speed nearly 10%…….then accuracy and clubface impact became the focus and finally the 2 came together…….

    I do agree that parking the ego and wanting that instant gratification was the first step to get to the end goal….
    Beauty of golf is that its a constant journey that is a a helluva lot of fun !!!

    Thanks for your blogs, enjoy them

    • Nick
      Many thx for your great note. Indeed, I love how you focused on the improvement you wanted to make, and let go of an attachement to results (where the darn ball went). By staying with the program, you found that accuracy and distance finally did come together. It takes patience and commitment. We all want instant results, but I’m sorry … it just doesn’t happen in life. Good for you for staying the course. Interestingly, that is great investment advice too, but … I digress … and I know little of that world!