Follow writer Mike Wolf’s quest to lower his 18 handicap through MetaGolf’s Player Development Program in this online exclusive:
Thinking the Game with Dr. Bill
The process of getting better at anything – be it piano, French cooking or golf – can be humbling. First there’s the realization that everything you thought you knew about your particular passion was misguided. Then, as Tiger Woods has learned a few times throughout his career, there’s the possibility that things are going to get worse before they get better. The old “break you down to build you back up” narrative that can destroy confidence and make you second-guess every single move. It’s a battle waged within the mind.
But when you’re on the fifth hole of Raccoon Creek Golf Course in Littleton lining up a birdie putt an hour before sunset with the entire course bathed in Francis Ford Coppola lighting, you feel pretty damn good, even if you miss. When you split the unpredictably narrow 7th fairway with a 3-iron that sounds like an axe cutting through maple, you feel like you’re finally turning the corner. It. Feels. Goooood.
In addition to shortening my pre-shot routine, Dr. Bill Campbell and Nicki Poulos at MetaGolf Learning Center have also helped me turn the corner by compacting my swing through video analysis, the topic of my last post. As a result, I’m making more consistent contact with the ball, which has not only helped me off the tee but also around the greens and out of bunkers.
As Poulos puts it, “It has to do with consistently hitting the sweet spot on the center of the club face. With a longer swing, you are more likely to hit the ball off-center, and off-center hits result in a loss of distance. The bottom line is that the shorter swing will be more efficient and more consistent.”
Now that I’m hitting the ball where I actually want to more often, the game has become much more enjoyable. What a concept! The strokes I’ve begun to shave off my game feel like just the beginning. Now I’ve got a new mountain to climb – an odyssey of the mind, if you will. Hitting the ball better makes you worry less about three-putting, chili-dipping the occasional wedge and other pesky golf-farts that add strokes to your game like Ben and Jerry’s adds inches to your waistline.
Which brings me to my most recent lesson at MetaGolf – perhaps the best and most unique tutelage I’ve received thus far. Instead of hitting relaxed and consequence-free shots on the range, we’ve decided to play several holes at the par three course located onsite at Broken Tee Golf Course. This affords mental specialist Dr. Campbell an opportunity to analyze my game management. Poulos joins us a few holes in to gauge my progress on mechanics. My conversation with Dr. Bill, who possesses a Zenmaster’s calm way with words, shifts to the increasing difficulty today’s golfers face in quieting the “noise.”
“The culture we have, it’s all multi-tasking,” says Dr. Bill. “As a result, people can’t get their brains quiet enough to execute a shot. No one in society is telling people to get slower, or get simpler or be more meditative. And golf is really like meditation.”
As I line up a long par putt on the second green, bending my creaky knees as far as they’ll go, the good Doctor shakes his head.
“I want you to close your eyes and walk it,” he says. “Get a feel for where it’s going to go.” I breathe like a monk on a mountaintop as I walk the break, feeling the downhill right to left turn in my toes. This kooky stuff works, I think to myself. I stand over the putt and knock it down. Dr. Bill smiles, the twinkle in his eyes akin to Mr. Miyagi watching Daniel nail his crane kick for the first time. However, as we head back to the cart, he has some sobering (and true) observations.
“Most golfers believe that if they play well or if they hit a good shot, then that makes them feel good,” says Dr. Bill. “So the reason to hit good shots is to make them feel good.” I nod like a neanderthal. “It’s backwards. First you have to create the opportunity where you feel good. Then you are able to really play well.
“You came here excited to play and ready to hit the ball, but if you aren’t prepared to hit the ball, then you’ll hit shots like the first two you just made on that hole. You made a great putt for your par, but that’s really just getting by on talent. Your mental handicap is double what your physical handicap is.”
The golf whisperer is correct in his assessment. And that’s what I like about the folks at MetaGolf. They keep pushing through the slightest improvement. Since I began hitting the ball consistently I’ve been too overjoyed to focus on putting and preparation. If this were piano or French cooking, it would be time to learn the whole tune by memory, or time to make the veal stock from scratch. Now, it’s time to turn bogeys into birdies.