What Price Success? Too Deer It Seems!

I have always had a passion for sport and as part of this I have been very interested in being as fit and healthy as I can possibly be. As a young person I already knew that in order to perform at you best you must eat healthily and exercise daily.

With the controversy surrounding Vijay Singh and his recent penalty for taking once-banned Deer Antler Spray sparked a desire in me to share my opinion on this and what extents some athletes will go to in order to achieve success, at all costs. I was interviewed yesterday by the acclaimed Danielle Tucker on The Golf Club radio show discussing my knowledge and opinion. You can listen to the recording below.

The Seoul Olympics of 1988 and Ben Johnson being caught for using the banned anabolic steroid stanazolol excited a passion in me for understanding all that there is to know about performance enhancing substances what to use and what not to use, staying true to myself and my sport.

Having also a mother-in-law, Annie Robinson, who has a diploma in homeopathy, gives me great insight into alternative, chemical free medicines.

Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is a protein that in humans is encoded by the IGF1 gene – IGF-1 is a hormone similar in molecular structure to insulin. It plays an important role in childhood growth and continues to have anabolic effects in adults.

Recognized as one of the “big three” in the ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system, deer antler velvet is a type of cartilage tissue found in early-growth antlers. The term Deer Antler Velvet does not refer to the velvet that covers young antlers, but the tissue found inside the antlers prior to calcification – that is when antlers become very hard. Ginseng, and Reishi Mushroom are the other two leaders on the TCM system.

traditional-chinese-medicine

There is evidence of Deer Antler use in Chinese Herbal Medicine dating back 2000 years. And has been used to promote growth in stunted children, strengthening adrenal, reproductive and brain functions in adults and has also been used to increase blood quality and improve circulation and the health-enhancing qualities of this medicine are believed to be due to its concentration of hormones.

Most commercial based production of Deer Antler extract comes from the base of the Antler which contains the least amount of Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)

Deer antler spray

The best quality Deer Antler extract comes from the very tip, the soft last inch yet unfortunately most mass produced Deer Antler extract, in the form of sprays or a tablet, are of poor quality and are a limited source of IGF-1. Higher more concentrated levels of Deer Antler extract are available, yet very expensive and is best administered through an injection.

deer-antler-spray-football

IGF-1 is on the PGA Tours list of banned substances yet as the World Anti-Doping Agency indicates that using deer antler spray is no longer considered prohibited the PGA Tour believed that it would be unfair for them to consider Singh in violation of the drug policy.

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Deer Antler Spray naturally increases your body’s production of IGF-1 (insulin growth-like factor 1), which is directly associated with HGH levels. As you increase your IGF-1 levels, your HGH levels will increase also.

As you take a deer antler spray supplement, your IGF-1 level will naturally increase. IGF-1 increases the rate at which your muscle cells divide, known as muscle fiber hyperplasia. In other words, IGF-1 helps to increase the overall number of muscle fibers you have. Likewise, IGF-1 helps each individual muscle cell get larger, so your muscles will grow in size. Combined, these two mechanisms help increase your muscle mass and strength.

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The benefits of increased HGH are –

  • Greater cardiac output
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Superior immune function
  • Enhanced human sexual performance
  • Improved cholesterol profile
  • Reduced body fat /  weight loss
  • Higher energy levels
  • Supplement stronger bones
  • Younger, tighter, thicker skin
  • Wrinkle removal
  • Increased muscle mass
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Re-generation of major organs that shrink with age

 

Unfortunately the response from the world’s leading golf Tour in regard to this matter was lackluster and littered with inaccuracies. It is easily accessible through the World Anti-Doping Agency – http://www.wada-ama.org  to ascertain that a test for HGH has been available since 2004. If the PGA Tour is serious about portraying themselves as having the cleanest sport in the world, which I believe it wishes to be, it would collect a blood sample from all current PGA members and have those samples stored so that at undisclosed and incremental times in the future members of the PGA will be tested and those result will be compared against the stored sample, if anomalies exists in HGH levels then the relevant golfer has some serious questions to answer.

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The PGA Tour has to weigh up the cost for establishing a credible testing process or losing future sponsorship as the sport becomes tarnished by drug cheats. The issue is not testing for Antler Spray yet for HGH which is a direct byproduct if Insulin Like Growth Factor.

The HGH test is most effective when implemented in a no-advance-notice out-of-competition strategy, as via the WADA website yet as golfers compete almost year round incremental testing at any juncture will ensure we all remain honest.

The World Anti-Doping Agencies motto is “Play True” and as golfers we must continue to live by that motto!

I see any substance that increases HGH levels and then multiplies muscle fibers and promotes an increase in muscle mass and strength as illegal. The PGA Tour are compelled to make a stand, to promote the fact that we have the cleanest sport in the world that we are not going to allow any substance that provides an unrealistic advantage to an individual especially any substance that replicates what the human body does on its own naturally through hard work.

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IGF-1 and the increased output of HGH is far more concerning for the future of all sports athletes as opposed to the normal anabolic steroid use we have seen in the past. Symptoms are basically non-existent, it can only be detected via a blood test and your appearance would be that of a pure athlete. It is common these days for Hormone Replacement Therapy to consist of both a mixture of HGH and steroids such as Testosterone Cypionate.

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As I suffer from a skeletomuscular injury and having not played competitively now for over 14 months I could quite easily turn to Deer Antler Spray, or perhaps another source of IGF-1, to get me back on tour yet I know within myself that it is cheating. Not cheating as far as the PGA Tour is concerned at this point in time due to evidence, or lack thereof,  yet for me personally I would be doing myself, my family, my supporters and more importantly the game of golf a disservice by using a product I know is an unfair advantage.

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Listen Here!

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“Who Is This Boy… Where Is He From?”

As a young athlete at the age of twelve I was interested in any sport that involved a ball either being hit, thrown or kicked hence when I was introduced to the game of golf by my best friend’s father, Terry Kensell, I took to golf like a duck would to water.

Mr. Kensell would often take his son and I to the local Fremantle Public Golf Course and he would pay for a set of hire clubs for me and for my round. Being from a single parent home Terry was very much a father figure to me.

Spending many a morning waking at the early hours in Perth Western Australia to catch a glimpse of my favorite golfer Greg Norman win another PGA Tour event it was pretty easy to watch, and learn from, the greatest Australian golfer of my era.

Jack Nicklaus "Golf My Way"
Jack Nicklaus “Golf My Way”

For my 13th birthday Mr. Kensell gave my the greatest gift of all, Jack Nicklaus’s book “Golf My Way” – it was and still is the Holy Grail of golf instructional books and I spent many a sleepless night perfecting the directions so wonderfully conveyed to me by the most accomplished professional golfer of all time.

My family, consisting of a single mother, three brothers and a sister, did not have any money to spare, nor could they afford to be buying golf clubs, and so I knew if I wanted something bad enough I would have to knuckle down and do something about it. I had made several trips to the local supermarket and found a golf club that would, at the very least, get me started. I made a plan to raise the money myself by going from door to door in my neighborhood collecting used glass drink bottles. In Western Australia, at the time, an empty glass bottle was worth twenty cents; so I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to own my very first golf club.

With my backpack on, and a considerable number of miles on my bicycle to and from homes and back to the local corner store to collect the reimbursements, saw me raise the twenty five dollars I knew I needed to purchase my very own golf club. Money in hand, I bicycled down to the major shopping complex in our area, as that is how kids got around in 1987, locked my bike up at the bike rack and waltz off into the shops.

Five minutes later I was back out to my bike with my very first club, an Emrik six iron. I chose the Emrik as it closely resembled the irons I saw the pros using on television; a muscle back blade with sleek lines and a beautiful appearance at address. If I was going to be as good as the guys on television I had better use clubs similar to theirs, were my thoughts.

South Fremantle Football Club
South Fremantle Football Club

Every single day after school, rain, hail or shine, I would ride my bicycle up to the high school sports field with half a dozen golf balls and an attitude.

Golf back in those days was considered an “old man’s sport” and reserved only for the affluent. A young man, with an abusive mother on a single parent pension who was suffering from several illnesses both mental and physical, in the eyes of society in Australia at the time, had no chance… well that is what they thought! Not really caring for the opinions of others, who had different ideas of what I should be doing with my time, I continued to dedicate my time to golf.

It is important to note that at this very same juncture in my life I had already won a ‘Best and Fairest’ in Australian Rules Football; was ‘Captain’ and ‘Best Player Afield’ for the South Fremantle District Football Championship, which our school won; ‘Cricketer of the Year’ for the Cockburn Cricket Club; ‘Player of the Finals’ for the Cockburn Cricket Club, of which we won the final; and an “A” Grade student who had also been named ‘Dux of the School’ at Southwell Primary in Grade 7.

Cockburn Junior AFL - Nicky Litherland (2nd Row, 1st on the left)
Cockburn Junior Australian Rules Football League (South Fremantle District) – Nicky Litherland (2nd Row, 1st on the left)

So with my determination and motivated attitude firmly in place I would stay up at the high school every afternoon until the sun set into the Indian Ocean just 4 miles away, playing off some of the most unimaginable lies. I challenged myself at all time always playing it as it lies; whether behind trees, out of the long jump pit, and from one end of the field to the other. The sports field was designed for Australian Rules Football and measured 152 paces; as a young bloke I thought that was a pretty good distance to be whacking a balata golf ball with a piece of steel.

As time went by, and as I was the youngest in the family, my brothers and sister soon found employment. My brother Patrick shared a keen interest in my development and was kind enough to purchase my first full set of clubs for me, the Daiwa Tri-Ace.

This full set gave me the independence my golf game desired. Now I was able to practice my putting, although I was already pretty handy and would hole the ball using my six iron as a putter on the back lawn of our home. I would even mow the lawn pretty much every single day so that I could practice.

When I was not practicing at home I would ride the ten miles from my home to the Lakes Golf Links where I would hunt for lost golf balls at this heavily wooded Australian native forested course. It was fortunate when Professional at the Lakes Golf Links, Hilary Lawler, agreed to trade the balls I collected in return for allowing me to practice on the course in the afternoon. Long narrow fairways with postage stamp sized greens meant I had to hone my skills with accuracy the key.

Three years went by this way with my practicing every day and my father figure, Mr. Kensell, still picking me up every Sunday morning in his old car that had a hole in the top of the petrol tank. Quite a ride when the course we played was generally 60 miles away. Terry was a mechanic by trade and would use bath soap to block the hole so the fumes wouldn’t affect us as much. I would wait patiently in the dark of a minus five degree morning listening for the whistle of Terry’s drivers side mirror as his car came down the road building up speed.

Terry was also an avid Karate competitor and he, along with approximately 30 other people, created the Southern River Social Club, a group of guys who every Sunday would go out and compete against each other in a handicap format. It was not long after that I tasted success at this level and started to take home all the prizes; first place, longest drive, nearest the pin so on and so forth.

It was at this time that Terry suggested I join a private golf club and with my brother Patrick kindly offering to pay my membership fees, in 1989 fees at the Royal Fremantle Golf Club were $120.00, I was set to go. I took this opportunity to make every moment count, and so my sister would kindly drive me to the club so that I arrived on Saturday mornings at 4 A.M. to practice on a floodlit greens.

Having read Nicklaus’s book I knew that at such a place etiquette will get you everywhere. My manners impeccable, my presentation unmatched and my demeanor no different I was warmly received at one of the most prestigious clubs in Australia.

Royal Fremantle Golf Club
Royal Fremantle Golf Club

It was at Royal Fremantle Golf Club that I met Australian PGA Professional Dale Wharton, a truly wonderful lady who would stand behind me when I was practicing and marvel at my swing; a swing that was authentically mine. Her only comment to me was that she was concerned I may not be able to keep up the level of energy I exerted on each shot for a full eighteen holes. Having never had a lesson in my life, and without any coaching, I had embraced a principled determination to commit myself to every single shot with the same passion that I did the last.

Everything I did I did flat-out.

Australian PGA Professional Dale Wharton
Australian PGA Professional Dale Wharton

It was at the age of 15, when at Hamilton Senior High School, that I was approached by my Physical Education teacher Mr. Brian Gray. He informed me that there was a State School Boys Golf Championship scheduled to be held at the Collier Park Golf Course in Perth Western Australia. The entry fee was $15.00 which he informed me that he had already paid on my behalf. So, with that, I was off to my first real competition. I had never played there before yet I was not worried. I was known to be quiet as a mouse in the classroom yet stick me on a sports field and I had white line fever.

Nothing gets in my way and I hate losing.

The first hole at Collier Park was 410 yards right to left. A good tee shot saw me with 175 yards to go. A pushed second shot, an average chip and a two putt saw me walk off with a bogey. A bogey on my first hole in a tournament.

How was I going to deal with this? It was a shock.

Six holes later, and the first hole still eating at me, I stood on the 7th tee, I looked down at my scorecard and realized I was six over after six holes. All sorts of thoughts raced through my mind; How was I going to get over this? What had I gotten myself into? What about Mr. Gray? He would be so disappointed in me! I took a deep breath, addressed the 240 yard par 3 and hit my 3 wood just about as hard as I could into the stiff wind that was blowing that day. My ball was heading straight toward the hole… It landed on the front of the biggest green I had ever seen. The pin was at the back and I had an 80 foot putt for a birdie.

I had never had a putt that long before.

A feeling of serenity suddenly swept over me as I came to the realization that all I can do is rely on what I had practiced. All the time and effort and I had put into my past practices and rounds was all I needed to muster the motivation that would get me through this barrier; a barrier I had erected in myself. I was calm, no longer concerned about my score, just focusing on that one, very long, putt. I hit that putt harder than I have ever hit a putt before, or after, to this day. It ran up a steep incline and hit the back of the hole so hard that it jumped six inches out of the hole straight up. It was like all of the hours of pouring myself into practice were there for me. The ball went back down into the hole. It was in and by the time I had finished the nine I had another two birdies under my belt. Six over after six turned into an incredible finish for the tournament with a three over score of 75 and outright third place.

Mr. Gray and also the Head of Physical Education Mr. Russell Martin were so proud of me when they heard the result. This along with my other sporting achievements saw me receive the “Sportsman of the Year” award over 120 fellow male students including the future Commonwealth Games Bronze Medalist James Miller.

JAMES MILLER (AUSTRALIA) - POLE VAULT - 1995 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
JAMES MILLER (AUSTRALIA) – POLE VAULT – 1995 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

I saw this as a sign that I must continue to compete in a sport that I love, a sport that I had now devoted the majority of my time to.

Soon I was entering club level events where I obtained my very first handicap of 7. Back in 1989 there were only two sets of tees at Royal Fremantle; Blue for the men and Red for the Ladies. I was playing off the blue markers every single day at a course well known for a wind called the ‘Fremantle Doctor’. Every single afternoon without fail a 25 mile an hour wind rolls in with continual gusts up to 40 miles an hour. It was at Royal Fremantle where I honed my skills, my deft touch around the greens, penetrating shots into the wind, and learned how to use the wind to an advantage; never fighting it.

Playing with and competing against players such as Greg Chalmers, Glen Slater and David Lawler saw me challenged each and every day I played.

Greg Chalmers PGA Tour Professional
Greg Chalmers PGA Tour Professional

At the age of 16, and now working for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, I was able to combine work and golf. Unfortunately without the support of either of my parents I lacked the encouragement and direction I should have been provided as a child… a direction that would of seen me pursue my dreams much sooner in life. Without that guidance, and not knowing any different, I failed to realize and develop the relationship I should have formed with Dale Wharton as a Junior Amateur in regards to taking my golf further… and perhaps my life on the PGA Tour would be more established today.

Opportunities continued to present themselves as I won event after event. Including the Royal Fremantle Junior Open. One particular event saw me take the win over individuals such as Brian Peake, 21 years my senior, an Australian Rules Football legend and avid golfer, with an almost flawless round of even par 72 on a 110 degree Fahrenheit day in Fremantle.

Brian Peake
Brian Peake

There was much debate within the club over this win. I overheard one of the senior Committee Members state “who is this boy, where is he from?” as they discussed whether or not I was allowed to be awarded the first place prize due to me being a “Junior’”. Apparently juniors were not allowed to beat the older players at their own game.

After a period of twenty minutes the Committee came into agreement and I was finally allowed to approach the dais and presented my winners speech.

It was not long after this win that I was whisked into the club’s Pennant team; an inter-club match-play competition where the finest clubs in Western Australia compete against each other for the prized honor of hoisting the Western Australian Golf Association Pennant on their club’s flag-pole.

Three years of pennant match-play and I had never lost a match. My finest win was against Australian Professional Golfer Scott Strange. I played against Scott in the 36 hole Pennant Final at the Nedlands Golf Club in Perth Western Australia; of which the 36 holes is played in a single day. Fortunately I sealed the match on the 34th hole with a 3 and 2 win.

Scott Strange PGA Tour Professional
Scott Strange PGA Tour Professional

One of the skills I admire most about myself in golf is the uncanny ability to be able to extricate myself from some of the most unbelievable positions on a course. My determination to practice all kinds of shots, even the bad ones, helped me succeed and win. For any golfer who thinks they are going to find the middle of every single fairway must be playing the first at St. Andrews every time… and it was my attitude to this that won the Pennant for Royal Fremantle.

Perfect practice makes perfect, still rings in my ears every single time I am practicing for it was Dale that first coined that phrase to me and how right she was. As a result of my efforts I was awarded the coveted Carbon Cup for the “Fairest and Best Pennant Player” for the year.

What’s even more remarkable about this achievement is that I was playing Australian Rules Football on the Saturday for the Western Australian Football League Colts team known as East Perth. So on that same weekend I got physically hammered in a Saturday morning AFL game and still came out on a Sunday to win a golf match. Physical and mental fitness and strength is what makes the difference between winning and losing. Being physically and mentally fit will always hold you in good stead as your competitors start to fatigue over the closing holes.

Having a ‘never die’ attitude is paramount to success though respecting those around you who deserve it and honoring those that have got you where you are is always so extremely important.

I was not fortunate enough to have great parents who went to every event. In fact prior to my mothers death in 2011 she had never seen me hit a golf ball and I have only played golf with my father once. I was also not fortunate to have had parents with funds available to help me pursue my life’s dreams at an early age when the skies are the limit. I am, however, very grateful to the few strangers, teachers and friends who helped find a way to make so many opportunities become a reality for me.

It is a valuable lesson for everyone to learn that it is not about those that choose not to support, encourage, or help you succeed, it is about those that can and will go out of their way to help you make it happen. It is the Dale Wharton’s, the Terry Kensell’s, the Brian Gray’s of the world that deserve our respect for every ounce of contribution they make in one’s life.

If you are true to yourself in regard to your practice and your fitness, physical and mental, the successful results will come. If you do not have the luxury of great people in your life, do not concern yourself with the sense of lack you might feel when comparing to others, for the truly wonderful people will appear when you least expect it.

Set your dreams high and remain determined to achieve them on your own terms. Chances are what you are dreaming someone else is dreaming one better… so what have you got to lose?

Go all out and leave nothing in the bag.

Technological Warfare

As the USGA meets next week to determine how golf will move forward, for the USPGA Tour at least, I would envisage that golf club developments, technological advancements in golf equipment, will be one topic for discussion.

With these advancements we see “average” golfers becoming better and better, and unfortunately golf courses that were as much a part of time as time itself having to be redeveloped to cater for longer tee shots.

There has to be a point where we say enough is enough.

Golf club manufacturers, their sales and the companies that benefit from the profits have had their day in the sun, it has to stop now.

I liken it to the oil giants who have lobbied and corrupted, the world for our continual reliance, perceived, on fossil fuels to run our motor vehicles when alternate “clean” technology has been around for nearly 200 years; which would have been introduced if not for the greed of the past and present.

What does this have to do with golf clubs?

Golf club sales are a multi-billion dollar business; these sales are made to the average golfer, who sees their favourite Professional on television, or in the flesh, using new equipment and is sold the belief that you too can hit it just like the best, you just need to buy this brand new driver for $500.00.

Think about that. Think about how many times you have purchased a new driver, un-wrapped it, played with it for the first time and realised that 10 extra yards, just as promised. Then think about how six months later that very driver you purchased for $500.00 is now in the bargain bin at your favourite golf shop for $199.00 as the golf club manufacturer has released their newest creation, now in white with a shiny red weight on the bottom, which is guaranteed to give you the extra distance you crave.

Do you believe that someone in the R&D department of a club manufacturer suddenly dreamt up a new club overnight and said “this will work better than the last one”! Of course not, these clubs are designed and planned for release in advance, just to ensure the dollars keep on rolling in.

Don’t tell me you get sucked in by this? Yet so many do.

Do you think the USGA are going to tell club manufacturers that they can no longer produce a driver, that when hit by one of USGA’s own testing robots, exceeds a distance of 300 yards?

What would club manufacturers say about this? Let alone the average golfer who now, thanks to technology, can hit the ball 270 yards consistently. Sales would plummet for there would be no need to buy that new driver for it would not offer anything more than what you already have.

The USGA live by the adage, the purpose of the Rules is to protect golf’s best traditions, and I don’t see a lot of that going on. Isn’t one of golf’s greatest traditions the courses that the game is played on? The R & A, obviously separate to the USGA, even built a new tee on the 18th at St.Andrews, the most haloed course in the world, to accommodate the changes in equipment. A sacrilege to those who first created this course and many others that have been manipulated; at Augusta there were six tee lengthening changes in 2006 alone.

Until a regulatory body stands up and sets the ground rules for golf moving forward we will continue to move backward as far as golfing tradition is concerned.

Look at your own golf course where you play most of your golf. Imagine moving every tee back 30 meters. Alright, you have done that, now consider the impact on the environment, the change in the layout of the course, the distance you now have to hit your drive to carry that water hazard, can you do it? Or are you happy playing off the front markers on a 335 yard hole downhill and tell everyone in the bar after how you drove it onto the green with your new $500.00 driver. Are you being honest with yourself? How much better are you, really?

Greg Norman was the best driver of the ball the modern world had seen, his dominance of the game was his length and accuracy off the tee. The introduction of metal headed drivers saw this dominance decline as less accomplished “athletes”, I use that word lightly, were now able to hit the ball just as long.

I was perplexed by John Daly’s comments in an interview after the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open for 2011 where he stated “I hit driver off every tee today as it was much easier hitting a short iron out of the rough than a longer one”! That makes sense.

Whatever happened to precision long iron shots off the tee followed by a 4 iron struck sweetly and nestling in six foot from the pin? No, instead we get a bash and crash approach to golf, in attire that would make all traditionalists turn over in their graves.

This type of golf has been allowed to flourish on tour as it sells; it puts bums on seats and is directed at a particular market, a market that twenty years ago would not have even been interested in golf.

In turn every budding golfer strives to hit the ball further than ever before. Changes in equipment have allowed this to happen, enabling average golfers to occasionally emulate their heroes.

An exponential expanse in golf has seen a paralleled increase in club manufacturers, and ball manufacturers – yet that is another story. Accompanying this, instead of a new model being released yearly, as is the case with our friend the motor car, we see new clubs being pumped out every three months, some with the most minute changes yet still they, the club manufacturers, deem it to “improve” your game in some way.

One can argue that the club manufacturers support the game in a big way, they do, I won’t deny them that yet how much is enough. I don’t see a Professional on the tour paying for their new set of clubs. On the contrary, given the latest driver to use and asked for the feedback at the end. How many would say, when they failed to hit six out of fourteen fairways, “this driver is terrible”, how long do you think their contract would last with that manufacturer?

This is not the fault of the tour pro, yet just how business is done.

It was interesting that TaylorMade coincided the release of the new R11 with the first event of the 2011 PGA season. Did this have anything to do with the fact that Kapalua has the widest fairways on tour and the severe changes in elevation will distort two statistics –

  1. Driving Accuracy.
  2. Driving Distance.

Let’s examine these statistics for this event, and the subsequent events played so far this year and compare certain competitors using the new R11 or Superfast and their distances the previous season using an alternate driver.


As can be seen there is a distinct decline in both driving accuracy and distance in one of the three examples. In the others there is a decline in accuracy yet a marginal increase in distance. Conclusively there is a decline in accuracy across the board.

Justin Rose’s accuracy at Kapalua was a reflection in the width of the fairways; same can be said for Robert Garrigus who has obviously struggled with accuracy since the start of the season.

Paul Goydos’ statistics reveals his consistency to a certain extent, slow and steady wins the race.

This is just a quick exercise that clearly outlines the fact that new equipment does not mean it is any better, nor is it the answer to any golfer’s prayers for longer and straighter tee shots.The alternative to a change in equipment, or an effective control limiting its continual expanse, is setting courses up to play more difficult.

We all see the impact on a tournament, namely the US Open, when the course is set up as a massive challenge, not from the perspective of overall length but a narrowing of the fairways, longer rough and more difficult pin placements. Last year a score of even par won the US Open, yet is that we want to see as viewers and as competitors?

Do we want to see 525 yard par 4’s? What about those players who are fantastic golfers yet are not long off the tee? One such player is Matteo MANASSERO; do we want him to stay in Europe and never play in events where the course is too long, being deprived of watching his talent first hand? I wouldn’t. I would prefer to watch Matteo hit it close all day than watch someone hit a drive 350 yards.

Things have to change, not only in the technology department but also in an individuals approach to the game, especially commentators.

We have to alter our egos to get away from the massive tee shot, which some commentators on the game don’t even care if it misses the fairway as long as it is 350 yards from whence it came. Let us concentrate on the second shots, the more finite aspects of the game, the player who on a 420 yard par 4 takes out a 2 iron for placement; yes a 2 iron – clubs even came in a 1 iron at one stage, not everything is a hybrid, then hitting an accurate 7 iron to four feet and then hole the putt for birdie. That is golf.

Sounds a lot nicer than someone stepping up to the tee, knocking it 60 yards short of the green, getting the cheers from the crowd and the Neolithic commentators who re-live their prior glory, and then watch as he flubs his second into the bunker at the front, blasts out to fifteen feet and two putts for a bogey. But he drove it 360 yards! Who cares?

I get a lot of enjoyment out of crushing a drive, I have hit drives over 400 yards myself yet I would swap my length off the tee for a more precise approach shot any day. I am lucky with the fact that I can hit everything long, I am not boasting, just stating the facts; I use a traditional blade iron, Wilson Staff FG62, and can hit my 2 iron 290 yards, on a hole with no elevation and with no breeze assisting at sea level. How is this possible you may ask?

Well it is due to the fact that I am very fit, strong and athletic. Most Professional Golfers on the major tours these days have an extensive work-out program and with this the average drive on tour has not blown out as one might expect, distance at the professional level has remained relatively stagnant over the past ten years.

Why is this? I would ascertain that there is only so far you can hit something, obviously. Once physics comes into play a driver can only go so far, yet attached to this is the fact that these clubs are larger, more forgiving and lighter enabling the average golfer to get closer to his/her professional idol.

In addition there are just some people who are able to get everything in the slot at the right time, this contributes to their length off the tee, yet these players are not using a steel shafted persimmon wood. They have the luxury of all the trimmings.

So, how far do we wind back the clock? Do we stop technology in its tracks now and say enough is enough. Do we limit driver sizes to only 400cc, do we limit shaft flexes and weights to only a handful, do we limit the maximum moment of inertia calculation for a driver head, I thought I would throw that one in for all the technical buffs, do we ban the use of external adjustable weights in the driver head, we could go on and on.

These are not decisions that I can make, we have people in place who are “responsible” for maintaining the tradition that is ‘Golf’.

The decision to make changes will be a brave one as there will no doubt be varying motives between the club manufacturers, the consumer and the traditionalists at heart. Reaching a common ground will be difficult yet we cannot let money, and the greed of corporate business dictate to a sport that has deeper roots than the money tree they have planted in their backyard.

You must remember that the club manufacturers do contribute financially to the game, well actually they don’t, you do. It is your money that sponsors an event, it is your money as a consumer that enables Dustin Johnson to hit his new R11, when you walk into a golf shop and purchase your new driver your investing in the company who manufactured the club and then in turn how every cent is distributed once that purchase is finalised. It is you that must dictate how the future of golf will play out. Let the game begin!

Dustin Johnson Playing the Taylormade R11

Winning Is Everything

We are often confronted with individuals throughout our lives who say “winning is not everything”, this is generally followed by “you are out there to have fun”.

Nothing is more frustration, or should I say, annoyingly ignorant, than having to endure such comments.

Winning is everything! It is what you put your heart, your mind and your soul into every time you  practice, rain, hail or shine, every time you tee it up and compete and every time you hit a shot. Every shot is not just one that takes you closer to the hole, yes the aim in golf is to limit the amount of shots you have, yet it is one shot you are closer to winning.

Golf is a unique sport for you are competing against yourself; forget the rest of the field, the course, the weather and that plane flying overhead. It is you versus you, or is it? If you are at one with your game, your swing, you have a positive mental approach to the game then you see no obstacles. The course is a great place to be on, you enjoy the breeze; your fellow playing partner’s company and the plane flying overhead reminds you of the great holiday you have just been on.

Remember all your great rounds, and think about your mental approach, or how making that birdie on the first hole set the tone for the day. This positive action reinforced your belief in you, and in-turn reflected in your score.

Winning is not just about holding that trophy aloft at the end of a tournament, it is the victory over the internal demons that some have within, it is the triumph over that bad lie in the bunker and managing to get it up and down to save par, it is as finite as each shot you play, a jigsaw puzzle of mini wins as you play every shot with the same focus and the same desire.

Can you win and have fun at the same time? I don’t know anything that breeds happiness more than success. Be it success at golf, success in fathering a healthy baby, success in landing the career of your dreams. The most important question you have to ask yourself is – “Do you enjoy what you are doing”?

It is not about materialistic dreams, the money from winning a tournament, although it helps, yet it is succeeding at what you have planned, put effort into and realised the fruits of your labor.

What do you expect? Expectations at times can be a little high for some, or so we are lead to believe. There is nothing wrong with setting your standards high, setting a goal of winning. If you don’t see yourself winning the Monthly Mug at your golf club then there is a fairly high chance you won’t. On the other hand if you set your mind, tell yourself you are going to win it, see yourself holing that last putt on the final green and come presentations you are the one getting the pats on the back.

How else do you think you can win? Are you just going to hope? Are you just going to play one shot at a time? Are you going to think that all your time and effort has to pay off at some time? What does all that mean?

One shot at a time is great, yet you have to have a goal. If you set your goal to go through your pre-shot routine with every shot, apply yourself 100% to every shot, then the result will be positive. Yet your mindset prior to even getting to the first tee must be of winning. Play each shot on its merits and never lose your focus on winning. You are a winner, have the air of a winner, and smile. You will be surprised how much a smile changes your outlook. Remember winners are grinners!

Is this placing too much pressure on you? That all comes down to you.

I like to win, every time I play, no matter what, I want to win, I dislike being beaten and I set myself a goal to win every single time. Other people are just happy to be out there playing and enjoying, well that is what they tell you, beware. You have to decide what you want from your golf.

The best thing about golf is handicaps; you can play off 27 and have a great day out and win, obviously you would have enjoyed yourself. Alternatively you may have played 10 shots worse than your handicap and walked off still having enjoyed the day. Or did you? Can you actually be honest with yourself and say “Yes, I enjoyed that round of 109 which included 43 putts”! I didn’t think so. I know why and so do you.

Golf makes people competitive. Competitive against the card, their handicap, the other player in your group off a 10 handicap who you want to beat. It happens to everyone, once you start hitting good shots, your score improves you start to raise the bar. I have seen it time and time again. This is great and where you want to be mentally, striving for the next step forward.

I always followed Greg Norman as I was growing up, he was my idol, and every time he teed it up he wanted to win. When one tournament ended he focused immediately on the next, were his expectations too high? No of course not, he trusted in his ability and he knew, and the record books show, how good he was.

He didn’t have the cockiness that some of today’s players have. He had, and still has, an aura, charisma, an unmistakeable magnetism that drew you closer to him, him as a golfer, a fantastic sportsman and human being. You felt for him when things went bad, whether or not you were a Norman fan, and you witnessed how humble he was in victory and in defeat, and he experienced defeat in more tragic circumstances than any other golfer ever will.

Did he throw in the towel? No, he went on to bigger and better things, he continued to win, and sometimes didn’t win, yet he was always there. Now he is a successful businessman, a world figure as recognisable as the President. There we go; success breeds success, winning and that yearning for victory, being the best, has its rewards.

Greg never set himself a score for the day, for doing so would be an example of a limiting expectation. A limiting expectation?

If you say “I am going to shoot a 90 today”, then the chance you will is low. You will shoot a 95 more like it. Do you know why?

If 90 is your limit, you have stopped yourself shooting an 85. Why would you do that? Always think of succeeding, playing every shot, one shot at a time and at the end of the day add them up and you would have smashed your 90 and next week your handicap would have dropped by 5.

So, how are you going to apply this to your game, or for your life?

Win! Win at everything you do, strive to be the best and if you don’t succeed keep applying and never give up for you will get there, trust me I know.

Have an expectation of being a winner, not setting limiting goals. One shot at a time, applying your game to the best of your ability on every occasion will see yourself reach your full potential and be a winner.

Remember that by having an expectation of winning, and not succeeding on a particular occasion does not make you a failure, firstly you succeeded at setting a goal, so you didn’t reach it this time yet you will dissect it and learn from it. By having no expectations of winning you have failed, you have failed to plan, failed to work out a route to your destination; destination ‘victory’.

Winning is Everything.

Going Mental (Pt4) ‘The Golf Brain’

THE GOLF BRAIN

So we have identified the issue at hand and explored methods of overcoming it. You have learned how to apply a trigger that will initiate your pre-shot routine. You have learned about positive self-talk and how it impacts on the end result. Now let’s put it all together… producing one united form.

If we take a very brief look at the overview of the biochemistry that occurs when thinking positively we find that relevant endorphin’s are released during those times when one is positive. When the individual is relaxed and stress-free the body also produces these endorphins. Alternatively a chemical known as cortisol is produced when under stress or thinking negatively.


Let’s test the theory;

Now think this as if it is really happening to you; fast works best. –

Oh no, I have a shot over water, my five iron won’t get there!

Why is it so windy?

What am I going to use?

I better hurry up, my boss is watching me, the last time I played this hole I shanked it into the drink”!


Now how do you feel?

Terrible I bet, all those negative chemicals racing through your body, your heart sinks and so does your game.

I have played holes where there is a 220 metre water carry onto the fairway to the left and out of bounds to the right, what should I do? Focus on these two obstacles? They are not obstacles, neither are they in play. I am aiming at that beautiful looking maple tree 270 metres down the fairway.

Those other things never even enter my mind as I never factor them into the equation.

Of course they will if I let them yet I look at the water and think how nice it looks. I do love water. Then there are the houses to the right; they are nice big homes. I don’t even see the out of bounds fence.

That is where you want your mind to be. This is your ‘golf brain‘.

There is nothing to fear but fear itself, heard it all before?

Of course.

However, why do you keep letting your fear get in the way of your success?

Be it breaking your handicap by 5 shots or winning a major, the same rules apply.

If we look at Dustin Johnson and Robert Garrigus, both went through crushing meltdowns. In addition Dustin had further heartbreak late in 2010 at the PGA Championship yet he and Robert both bounced back with great victories, why? It is solely attributed to the fact that they went through the pain, learnt from it and became better golfers mentally because of it.

Some people fall off a horse and never get back on, IBF for example, yet those that learn from their mistakes; embrace the lessons from such, become better people, not just better golfers.

Pablo Martin won the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December; part of the 2011 season, thus he also learnt how to win again.

This is not to say that any of these golfers will not re-live the pain they had experienced in the past yet I am safe in saying that they will stick to their routines, they will have perfect practice and they will remain true to themselves, confident in the fact that they have been there done that hence the damage will be limited.

So what do you need to do to get your mental game to the next level?

Practice.

Yes, practice.

Create yourself a check list if necessary and on it write the following–

  1. Trigger – what you want to use to turn your ‘golf brain‘ on,
  2. Calculate – figure out what distance you have and what shot you are going to play,
  3. Visualise – see the shot you are going to play in your mind, execute the shot in your ‘golf brain‘, and see the ball doing everything you want it to do,
  4. Execute – complete the sequence of events that you just programmed in your ‘golf brain‘ by playing a great shot,
  5. Trigger – what you use to turn your ‘golf brain‘ off; i.e. take your glove off or put your club back in the bag,
  6. Relax –  stroll to your ball with confidence,
  7. Repeat the above process for EVERY shot.

In a few weeks you will be able to discard your check list for it will become second nature. You will ONLY deal in positives as your game improves; for you are now playing more shots.

What?

You are playing the round in your ‘golf brain‘ as well as in reality; turning your ‘golf brain‘ on and off as required so as to enjoy the day and the surroundings.

Your scores WILL decrease. I know they will; so just relax and benefit from the journey as you zone in on your target.

When the time comes you can draw on the foundations you have laid; a solid trigger, that mechanism you can ALWAYS rely on, especially if things get a little heated.

You have something to fall back on now; not just shooting the breeze hoping everything will work out. You will be relaxed as you approach the ball. Most importantly; you will be true to yourself as all the practice you have put in will come to fruition.





I look forward to hearing YOUR stories about how this series has helped improve YOUR game.

Have a Happy New Year and I wish you well out there on the fairways and greens around the world.

Going Mental (Pt3) ‘The Illusive Negative’

THE ILLUSIVE NEGATIVE

It is very important that you “do not” think about poor shot execution. Let me rephrase that as I prefer to speak in the positive. It is important that you ONLY… SOLELY…EVER… think about ‘positive shot execution‘.

I had a caddie recently who when I hit a poor shot would say “you didn’t commit to that shot”!

Do you think I actually needed to hear that?

The last thing I need is someone to tell me that what I am doing is wrong; especially during a round; for my body sends instant feedback to my brain to tell me I was out of position with that shot. As a result for the rest of the round I focus on ‘committing to my shots‘ as opposed to what should be my primary focus; my routine and the end result. Of course you are going to have some bad shots in a round of golf, some turn out good and some turn out bad yet focusing on the don’ts and the didn’ts causes poor shot habits; whilst focusing on your trigger initiates your routine which leads to great shots and positive reinforcement.

You execute what you think about.

Let me illustrate;

Now… don’t think of a pink elephant.

What did you just see in your mind?

A big fat pink elephant; perhaps in a tutu?

Have you ever stood on a tee with a 140 metre water carry and said to yourself “now don’t hit it in the water”. Just to reinforce this point you reach for a dirty old ball in your bag because you don’t want to go swimming for your brand new one that cost you $9.00.

I guarantee you that once you have made that thought, followed by that action, your ball goes straight into the drink. Not to worry you can buy it back in a month once the divers come and collect it, clean it and sell it to the pro-shop.

As you learned in part two about the importance of having a trigger that initiates your pre-shot routine and great shot execution your new approach is positive.

With a 140 metre water carry you now say; because you have your trigger, you have your visualisation; “It is a 155 metres to the pin, slightly into the wind, that is my five iron, I am going to stiff this”.

Look at the water; sure. Look at it for what it is, very calming, nice and blue. Your target however is the green, hitting the green; the water is non-existent, it hasn’t even entered your mind that you will hit it in there. Even if you miss-hit your five iron you know you will not be fifteen metres short anyway.

The secret is not to enter the water into the equation.

Club + ball + water carry + green distance + dirty old ball = failure.

It is a case of keeping things finite;

Club + trigger + routine + execution = great shot.

I never really liked maths, hence I have never cared for how far it was to the front of the green. I want to know how far it is to the pin for that is where I intend my shot to land.

Why do I need to know about the front of the green or how far it is to carry that water hazard?

My mind doesn’t need to compute three different, separate anomalies.

It just needs one;

the distance I want to hit the ball, the distance I want to reach.

I laugh when I see guys with their yardage books and they go to the painted dot on the fairway that says you are ninety seven (97) metres from the front of the green, then they reach for the other bit of paper that has the pin placements for the day and that says the pin is on twenty seven (27) metres on a seven (7) from the left and the green is forty two (42) metres long, therefore if my maths is right you have 97 + 27 = 124 metres. That is all I need to know… that it is 124 metres to the pin.

Ok, now why did you need to know where the front of the green was?

Why did you need to know that the green was 42 metres long?

Does it really matter?

I understand that if it were the case that you had 124 metres to the pin yet only three (3) metres of green behind the flag that you would only want to hit the shot 120 metres, so as to not run over the back into trouble.

Ah, there it is… you could not resist… the introduction of the illusive negative thought… What trouble?

I do not care about the trouble; I just want to know how far I have to hit the ball.

The moment you start introducing negatives into your game is the moment you introduce failure.

The key is to ALWAYS think of what you ACTUALLY want to have happen; you execute what you think about.

  • Look at the green as a whole.
  • Get your distance to the pin and select your club that will get you there with the shot you have visualised.
  • There is nothing wrong with playing two, or three different shots in your mind prior to making a shot or club choice. For instance if you are seventy (75) metres out and into the wind you may consider a little knock down 9 iron, or a wedge held up against the breeze, ok the wind is gusting, the knock down is the shot.
  • Select that club, visualise the shot; how it leaves the club face nice and low, lands on the green skips twice and stops dead next to the pin, great shot.
  • Now hit it.
  • That is it, nothing else.
"Visualise your dreams and make them happen."

When you get up to the green you notice that it drops off severely at the back, down into a little lake… isn’t it pretty!

Of course that was never part of YOUR equation now was it..?

If you focus on the trouble you will find it.

If your sole focus is on the green then you will find it.

Tunnel vision is great for golf, put your blinkers on and focus solely on the end result.

Going Mental (Pt2) ‘Trigger It’

TRIGGER IT

The first step you must take in becoming a better golfer mentally is the creation of a routine. When Mr.
Sanders was standing over that putt his only thought should have been sinking it. For his pre-shot routine would have removed that blade of grass, his mental focus and the methodical steps he would have applied to this putt, just as he does all his shots, would have removed any obstacle prior to even approaching the ball.

His mind created the obstacle, the blade of grass was always there yet it was the stress associated with the act of putting the ball into the hole that caused his mind to divert it’s attention for a brief moment, to stop a complete Chernobyl, the mind shifted its focus; focus that cannot be regained until the foundation for such is rebuilt.

In each example given the individual involved had a breakdown in their routine;

  • Greg Norman by the time he reached the 16th at Augusta was taking nearly three times longer to execute each shot than what he had done in the first three rounds.
  • Robert Garrigus made an incorrect club selection to start with then exacerbated this further by poorly executing the shot, in the preceding  play-off when he teed off again down the 18th his tee shot was 90 metres further right than his initial tee shot on the 72nd hole, an obvious sign that he had lost faith in his ability to perform at that moment.
  • Dustin Johnson failed to maintain the rhythm that saw him take the lead into the final day of the US Open, instead he became quick in his movements, the time he spent executing shots decreased, outside the relaxed comfort zone we normally attribute to him.
  • Doug Sanders took longer over that last putt on the 72nd hole than any other putt he had hit in the previous seventy one, due to his lack of a routine, it continues on and on.

So how do we create this routine; a foundation to build our game upon?

The answer is simple.

Think about how you approach your practice to start with.

  • Do you hit balls on the range with reckless abandon or do you go through your set routine every single time?
  • Do you just keep reaching for balls when you hit a bad one to quickly remove that image from your mind, or to show the guy hitting balls next to you that you can actually play this game?

“Knowing is not enough, you must apply”; thank-you Bruce Lee.

However, it is true.

You must first create a positive image in your mind with every shot you take, practice especially; for perfect practice makes perfect; not just practice. Perfect practice is to first start with an aim to your practice.

What do you hope to achieve?

Today I am going to work on my pre-shot routine, making sure that I assess the shot I have correctly, distance, wind direction, lay of the land, then I am going to take this information and in my mind’s eye create the image of a perfect shot, me executing a smooth swing on the ball, the ball exploding off the club face, reaching its apex as the wind starts to take control, bringing it back toward the flag and great, the ball is nice and close to the flag.

That is it; you have played the shot in your mind, now its time to execute it. You have the vision in your mind; you have played this shot before, now your mind sends the message to your muscles how to execute this shot. It really is that simple. The only thing that can get in the way is “YOU”.

You are relaxed as you approach the ball, you address the ball with nothing else in your mind other than the task at hand, remembering the positive stroke you played in your mind, you are thinking of nothing else; not about grip, ball position, stance, the ant crawling six inches ahead of the ball, nothing but the positive stroke. You are in the “zone” ready to hit a great shot; confident in the belief that you can do it.

What are you going to use to trigger all of this?

A trigger is one simple thing that you do every single time to initiate an event, just like firing a bullet out of a gun, the bullet does not leave the chamber, or the barrel until the trigger is pulled. Same goes for your golf shot.

I see many golfers hit a shot; then before they have even taken a step toward wherever their ball has landed they reach for a club; the club they intend on using to initiate the next poorly executed shot. These players fail to have an appropriate trigger to initiate a positive thought process which in turn leads to a positive stroke.

To add to this they have not given their mind a rest from the mental pressures associated with golf; thus anxiety and fatigue ensue.

Jack Nicklaus would always use the pulling of a club out of his bag as his trigger; not thinking about the shot until he reached into the bag and pulled out that club after, and only after, he and his caddie were standing over the ball, contemplating what shot to play.

Every other moment Mr. Nicklaus would spend looking at the trees, the birds, the waterfall in the distance, giving him a break from the rigours of mental application by soaking in the beauty that surrounded him.

When he put the club back in the bag his mind switched off from golf.

For me; my trigger is my glove. When I put my glove on it is business. When I have executed the shot I remove my glove; in-turn removing any thought associated with hitting the ball, my swing, focusing on nothing other than enjoying my surroundings and giving myself a break.

  • How many of you can actually say you have stopped and “smelt the roses” when playing a round?
  • Is it a case of play the shot, chase the ball, shot, chase the ball, shot, get angry, make a putt… ok, I am happy now?

Important – Never feel rushed when playing a shot. Private courses especially concentrate their efforts on getting everyone around the course in a designated time. No one likes a slow round, yet it is the old guy who runs after his ball on every shot and shoots 112 that really takes up the time; not you being focused, going through your routine and shooting 80.

Less shots  = Less time.

This doesn’t mean you drag your feet. On the contrary.

  • You have already reached your ball as your other competitors play their shots.
  • You have calculated your distance and made your club selection.
  • You are focused, you have your trigger, your routine.

When it is your turn you execute your shot and “bang” you are near the pin. While everyone else flounders to the green you have already marked your ball and are reading your line.

So how can you apply this trigger to your practice?

Do you want to be pulling your glove on and off with every shot? No, of course not otherwise you will be there all day. When practising I simply check my glove to ensure that it is on firmly; then I start my pre-shot routine and move into completing the shot.

By me grabbing at my glove I have triggered my mind into focusing on the job at hand, for my
mind now knows – glove = golf.

Same goes for if you want to use Mr. Nicklaus’ method. When practising; upon completing your shot, place the next ball in position and lean the club up against your leg. Tell your mind you have just reached for the club and begin the sequence of events that lead to success – club = golf.