The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

August 3, 2013

Goodwin: Mental game vital in golf

The late Bill Cox, former golf coach at Missouri Southern, was a believer in the mental processes that go into playing good golf.

Not that Cox would downgrade the value of the mechanics of the swing, but rather he would emphasize that physical and mental aspects are both vital if a player wants to score better consistently.

“It has been said by many great players that the game is played ‘between the ears,’ ‘’ Cox said during an interview back in the 1980s. “When you find a player with a mechanically sound swing and a positive approach, you have a champion.’’.

I agree. If you can’t think your way around the golf course, avoiding pitfalls and outright disasters that lurk on just about every hole, you’re less likely to succeed.

Great players are good thinkers. Jack Nicklaus may have been the best ever. He knew where to hit the ball and he knew when to take chances and when to play safe. Ben Hogan was a great manager of his game.

I really can’t think of any great champion who relied wholly on skill and blasted away off every tee with just the “hope’’ that his shots will stay out of the trees, out of the bunkers and away from the O.B. stakes.

Cox wanted his players to develop a strategy for playing the golf course. Pick out the holes, for instance, where the fairways are tight and lined with trees and play away from the trouble.

There are par-5s that encourage carries over water on the second shot. The reward is the potential for an eagle and the virtual assurance of a birdie. But every golfer should recognize his own abilities and determine whether the risk is worth the reward.

Your personal strategy, Cox advocated, should be decided upon before you tee off. You should have a plan in mind on what holes should be attacked and what holes should be handled gingerly. You can always make changes if conditions warrant, such as if the guy in front of you makes an eagle on that water-fronted par-5 mentioned above.

Management “means keeping one’s self under control, which is vital to good golf,’’ Cox said. A good player with a calm, confident mental approach will have a plan for getting around the course in the fewest number of strokes and will be less likely to make big mistakes. Most of us, I suspect, just swing away, regardless of the hazards ahead.

Cox also stressed two other factors that are required for playing good golf: concentration and confidence.

Concentration means the ability to block out distractions. Hogan may have been the best at it. Snead said that Hogan said only two words to him on every hole: “You’re out.’’ Someone once asked Ben about a particularly beautiful blonde who spoke to him from the sidelines as he walked down the fairway. “What blonde?’’ he replied. Now that’s concentration.

Confidence, Cox emphasized, is the development of a controlled, aggressive game. It is the cultivation of an attitude of “relaxed readiness’’ based upon a mental preparation that promotes “smoothness and rhythm’’ in the swing.

Proper practice is essential to proper play, although the two are separate entities and should never be lumped together.

“Hitting 500 golf balls is of no benefit other than muscle exercise,’’ he said. “However, hitting 100 golf balls, concentrating on the mechanics of grip, stance, head, takeaway and target, is productive.’’

He advocated hitting 20 balls with the focus on each of those areas of the mechanics, then 20 more setting up naturally with no thought but to “allow the natural swing to work.’’ The purpose would be not only to emphasize the mechanics, but to loosen up muscles and getting the feel of proper ball contract.

Bill had seven  rules that he asked players to remember and keep. They are pretty simple.

!. Accept each lie as your find it — good, bad or indifferent. “Any lie you draw is only part of the game. Take the game exactly as it comes.’’

2. After a bad shot, “chuck it back into your mental discards and turn to the next stroke.  Any  number  of  scores has been shattered ... merely because the golfer continued to brood and fret..’’

3. Don’t over try. “Be content to hold something in reserve, especially at the start.’’

4. Start each round by keeping your mind on the ball. “Concentrate on hitting the ball, letting it flutter to earth where it will.’’

5. Take the bad luck with the good. It will run about 50-50 over the long haul.

6. In putting, make a practice of giving the ball a chance. Extremely few putts that stop short will ever drop in.

7. If you start playing badly, begin to swing easier, slower and let the club do more work. The normal tendency is to give the arms and body more to do than ever, with disaster an inevitable result.

Cox was a student of the game as well as something of a golf philosopher. He was an advocate of the Julius Boros’ “Swing Easy, Hit Hard’’ school of golf and something of a devotee of the Walter Hagen approach to the game and life: “Stop to Smell the Flowers Along the Way.’’

 Fund-raiser

Indigo Sky Casino will present the “Swinging for the Pink’’ dinner and golf tournament on Sept. 6 and Sept. 7, respectively, to benefit the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks.

The dinner event also will include a silent action and a live auction as well as a live band.

The cost for four-person teams in the tournament will be $300 or $75 for an individual. Play will begin at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Twin Hills Golf and Country Club. Prizes will be awarded to the top three places in Championship, A Flight and B flights.

Checks should be made payable to the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks and sent, with an entry form, to Indigo Sky Casino, c/o Regina Hammons, 70220 U.S. 60, Wyandotte, Okla.

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