Spring temperatures are here in Orlando and the anticipation of this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, just days away, always creates a fun buzz in the air. It’s time to prepare for your best summer of golf and it need not include any “March Madness”. My intention by sharing this next lesson from my book, Mentored by the King, Arnold Palmer’s Success Lessons for Golf, Business and Life is to inspire you to just keep it simple.
Should you ever cross paths with any of my students from the past twenty years, they will undoubtedly remember my recitation of a favorite Arnold Palmer quote:
Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated. A child can play it well and a grown man can never master it. Any single round of it is full of unexpected triumphs and perfect shots that end in disaster. It is almost a science, yet it is a puzzle without an answer. It is gratifying and tantalizing, precise and unpredictable; it requires complete concentration and total relaxation. It satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening–and it is without doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.
That brilliantly sums up everything that the great and beautiful game of golf is and can be. I’ve thought about these words for years, and I’ve arrived at a simple conclusion: I’m drawn to Mr. Palmer’s perspective for no other reason than this—he is right!
Given how foundational Palmer’s philosophy of simplifying complexity has been to me, I’ve naturally been curious about how and where it originated. During a visit to his Latrobe office, I decided to ask.
“What has helped you keep your thoughts so deceptively simple about such complex things?” I asked. Arnold leaned back in his chair, rubbed his chin, and gazed out the window, his eyes brightening, his gaze settling on the distant course. “It was the way my father and mother raised me,” he began. “My dad taught me how to play, and he would keep it to the basic fundamentals, like a good grip, steady head, and the need to just hit it hard! That was fun for me, and it gave me great satisfaction to strike the ball this way when I was a young man. As I progressed during my career, if I ever felt like I was out of sorts, I would just go back to these simple thoughts, and I would find that ‘solid ball-striking’ that leads to winning golf tournaments again. “But I have seen many fellow competitors get twisted into knots,” he continued, “trying new things and searching for that magical swing, though to no avail. In fact, some unfortunate fellows just over-thought themselves right off the Tour and out of competitive golf. I tried to keep all of my energy focused on my goal of winning every tournament that I entered. My thought was to create and execute good shots, one at a time. Not perfect swings, but keeping it simple with basic fundamentals that produced the good golf shots that proved to serve me well.”
Breaking Bad Habits
As a pro whose responsibility it is to “fix” the broken swings of my students, I find Palmer’s “swing thoughts” refreshingly (though deceptively) simple. Mere mortals like us might easily discount them. After all, unlike Arnold Palmer or Tiger Woods or Annika Sorenstam, many of us didn’t begin playing golf as a young boy or girl, or benefit from a parent or coach instilling good golfing habits back then. There’s a tremendous advantage in learning these simple lessons at a young age, before faulty habits set in and negative thoughts become the norm. Fortunately, just because you didn’t begin playing at age six doesn’t mean that you can’t reprogram your habits toward achieving what you want to accomplish.
If you’ve only picked up the game as an adult, take heart. The vast majority of players out there have done the very same thing. Elevating your game begins with awareness that certain fundamentals are necessary to develop a repeatable shot pattern. This newly practiced paradigm will require conscious thought for a while, with several repetitions, before it becomes your newly formed habit. What I’m suggesting is nothing new, of course, but a return to the basic fundamentals of the game can be one of the most important things a golfer can do.
The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one. ~Mark Twain
How long does it take to develop good golfing habits? Of course, every individual is unique, but scientists have studied the length of time the average person needs to reach a level of what they call “automaticity” for a particular skill, referring to the ability to do something without having to force it or struggle to break an old habit. (You might hear someone say they “don’t even have to think” about what they’re doing, but that’s rarely the case in sports. Show me a golfer who doesn’t think about his shots, and I’ll show you a golfer who spends most of his time looking for errant balls.) Researchers have discovered that when it comes to forming a new habit, the length of time needed ranges from 18 to 254 days, but the average person takes approximately 66 days. That might seem like a long time, but it’s less than a summer, and, given that we’re emphasizing simplicity, I’ve discovered that my average student can usually break faulty habits and form new ones in only a couple of weeks. Personally, I would strongly suggest finding a good certified LPGA or PGA teaching professional who can help you define your basics, simplify your thoughts, and have more fun.
At the root of Arnold Palmer’s advocacy for simplicity is the fact that he’s also well grounded in the moment. Despite his credentials in the Hall of Fame, he still remembers what it’s like to be starting out in the game, and he understands that if you’re going to do anything complicated well for a long period of time, you have to keep it simple, a paradox he is more philosophical about than most golfers. “One of the most fascinating things about golf,” he has said, “is how it reflects the cycle of life. No matter what you shoot, the next day you have to go back to the first tee and begin all over again and make yourself into something.” It’s this internal drive that keeps him playing into his eighties, always challenging the complex but never quite satisfied with his ability to keep things simple.
And so Mr. Palmer’s lessons are simple, even though he knows that execution and accomplishment very often are not. Even the King himself is well aware of the limitations posed by golf’s complexity. “If you are caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning,” Palmer once cracked, “hold up a one-iron. Not even God can hit a one-iron.”
This week I was working with an LPGA client and her sports psychologist. These “meetings of the minds” in the past, often became about me receiving a lecture about loading too many “swing thoughts” causing “analytical left brain” overload of the golfer. This session was refreshingly different as I was complimented by the good doctor for simplifying the mechanics. Our objective in this session was for the player and her coaches to be very specific about what her core fundamental feelings were and what drills would support this current development. In a short while, it became very apparent this man truly understood how to grow and prepare a high performance athlete for their best performance. He stated, “We are going to define your warm up routine as it doesn’t make sense for you to come out of the gate trying to create shots until you have warmed up with your core fundamentals.” Once you have gone through your core fundamental exercises, then and only then are you ready to begin shifting into your creative mind of executing specific shots as required for the course.” This philosophy and strategy will spare this player much frustration! Simplifying the Complex, the simpler the better!
Enjoy “Spring Training” with us in Orlando and get a huge jump start on a great summer of golf. Call direct, 407.996.3306, email, firstname.lastname@example.org or by cell after hours, 407.595.3645.
Until next time, happy golfing,
A Top 100 Teacher by Golf Magazine and PGA class-A Professional, Brad successfully competed on the Austral-Asian PGA Tour and Hogan/Nike Tours, developed the training curriculum for high-performance juniors at Saddlebrooke Preparatory and applies these experiences to his teaching and coaching at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando. Brad was awarded the North Florida PGA Teacher of the Year and Junior Golf Leader of the Year, Edwin Watts Golf Top Instructor Award, along with the honor of Top 50 Instructor in Florida by Golf Digest.