In this first part of episode 12 I am joined by Dr Karl Morris one of Europe’s top golf “mental game” coaches. Karl works with the following players: Darren Clarke, David Howell, Lee Westwood, Paul McGinley, Graeme McDowell, Richard Finch, Phil Archer, Alison Nicholas and Trish Johnson.
Here is the transcription of our 20 minute interview.
Andy: Hi and welcome to episode 12 of Home of Golf TV. Today I’m joined with Dr Karl Morris, one of Europe’s leading golf mind coaches. Welcome Karl to the show.
Karl: Hi there Andy, thanks.
Andy: Now Karl, you’ve worked with Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Graeme McDowell, all the top players in Europe over a fantastic career you’ve had so far, helping them with their coaching. What tips can you give the viewers, takeaways from their games?
Karl: I think the big thing that I’ve found over the years is that the individual is sacred and what works for Darren Clarke certainly wouldn’t work for David Howell or Paul McGinley. So it’s very much about finding your own way of playing the game. And one of the big things I’ve worked in the last couple of years and it’s such a simple understanding about the game, but I think its so relevant for everybody that there’s really only two things in golf that you’re trying to control. You’re trying to control the golf ball and you’re trying to control yourself.
So that obviously, everybody, they need to keep working on the technical side of the game. They need to find a golf swing and a method that they can trust, but also there’s gonna be an element of what do you need to do to control yourself? What are the things that you let yourself down with on the golf course because from Ben Hogan, Tiger Woods, downwards, everybody hits bad shots occasionally, so you’re always willing to work on the second part as well as the golf swing.
Andy: And the dialogue you would have with Darren Clarke obviously would be different to Lee Westwood I suppose.
Karl: It would be completely different. I mean, Darren is probably one of the most gifted players I’ve ever seen, if not the most gifted. He’s very much a feel orientated player; plays his best golf in a very non technical approach to the game. Darren gets bogged down by theory occasionally, whereas Lee’s far more, more of a structured way of approach. He needs to know why he’s gonna do something. If there’s a good reason for doing it, Lee will go and do it, but very, very different in the plays.
Andy: I think you were saying earlier that Paul McGinley he’s now looking at practicing so he can recreate the anxiety you would have on the course.
Karl: Yeah, Paul McGinley, Graeme McDowell in particular this last two years, last year was a particularly good year for Graeme. He played in the Ryder Cup for the first time. But one of the things that we did in the whole of last year was really try and make sure that there was an element of his practice that was trying to simulate golf. And one of the big mistakes I see golfers making is aimlessly hitting golf balls on the range, hitting it well and it doesn’t represent anything that’s gonna happen on the golf course.
Andy: Karl, how long have you been in the industry for, teaching golf psychology?
Karl: My background originally was as a player, but I’ve probably been involved in the psychology side of things for about ten years now and it’s been a really interesting journey. One of the things I’ve tried to develop over the last few years, I’ve done a lot of work with the PGAs around the world. I’ve been fortunate to speak to the Australian PGA, the Swedish PGA, South African PGA as well as the Europeans.
And my real passion has always been to try and pass on some of these things that have worked tour players to the golf coach, because I really believe that the coach of the future will be able to teach not only the technical side of the game, but he’ll also have an understanding of how the mind works, as well, so that we can bring the two things together. I think the problem with golf has been that there’s almost been two camps. There’s been technical coach to work on the range and so well, you’re swinging it a lot better than this mind coach who says “Well just go out there and don’t think about it” and it never really comes together.
And I really passionately believe that good coaching in the future will develop both of those sides probably as well being able to define mechanics, as well. I think a great coach in the future will be much more rounded, perhaps, than we’ve all been in the past.
Andy: Oh yeah, I mean, I can see that happening ‘cause as a kid, that never happened.
Karl: Yeah I think we’ve all had the experience of having a golf lesson. The pro stands there, we’re maybe working on something in the swing. We start getting it perfectly on the range, start flushing it. The pro say’s, “Right go away take that to the golf course.” He thinks that you’re gonna go and play well. You think you’re gonna go and play well and then you have to make a phone call to him and say, “That was dreadful. I hit it all over the place.” And that, to me, is where this necessity to understand the mental game is so important, because if you can repeat an action on the range over and over again, and then on the golf course it’s terrible, that’s not just your golf swing. There is an element of the mind side going on there.
Andy: Like you, I probably get bogged down with so many swing thoughts and so, how many swing thoughts should I have as I sort of prepare myself?
Karl: The interesting thing again, with all this is what really frustrates me is when I hear the phrase “golf’s 90 per cent mental”.
Andy: Yeah, you hear that all the time.
Karl: Well it isn’t. You hear that golf’s 80 percent, 90 percent. Well it isn’t because when it’s doing well, golf is not a mental game. Golf is a physical game. It’s a physical club, a physical ball, a physical body and actually, you play your best golf with a reduction in thinking rather than thinking too much. I think that if there is one sport in the whole of the world that we’re not short of things to think about it, it’s golf. I read somewhere once that we’re drowning in information but thirsting for knowledge.
And in answer to your question, to me it’s paramount that a golfer should never have more than one swing thought and rather than looking at it as a swing thought, I look at as a place where you’re occupying your mind. You’re placing your attention. One of the things that the human mind does and in the East they call it the ‘monkey mind’, it jumps from one thing to another. And that’s the classic the golfer’s mistake, that he stood over the ball and he’s thinking about this, thinking about that and thinking about something else, “Don’t go left, don’t go right don’t go in the water.”
Actually a really effective focus brings your attention to one point and to one place and that should be the goal for everybody, to actually keep your attention in one place throughout the motion of the golf swing. That then gets the best out of your swing thought, but also occupies your mind.
Andy: And when you’re teaching the pros, do you teach them pro routine where they would have a swing thought and then they, like Darren Clarke, for instance, then he can play his natural game?
Karl: Yeah. One of the most effective things that we’ve used over the years is something we’ve called the thinking zone and the playing zone whereby, if you can imagine that you’re playing golf now and if your golf ball is here, just behind the golf ball is a line. Now anything behind the line is what I call the thinking zone. So that’s where you would do your process, you would maybe visualize a shot.
You would program in the movement that you feel is essential for your golf swing. You would in effect be using the left side of the brain, the analytical part of the brain, doing all the thinking. Once you’ve done all of that though, you see this line and you literally step over that line and I call that ‘Nike golf’, then because you step over the line and you literally just do it.
Andy: Just do it, yeah.
Karl: You get into the golf ball and actually, what this does is the reverse of what most people do in a sense, that they spend very little time here, especially if they’re playing on their golf course all the time, “Oh, it’s the six iron ‘cause it’s the 12th”. They step over the line and then they start to think.
Andy: I know it’s weird why they do that.
Karl: And then they freeze. So what this does is actually prepare you here in the thinking zone, but you get over the line and then just relax a little bit more, so the game becomes, actually striking out, much less of a mental process and much more of a physical one.
Andy: We all go to the range. We see everyone hitting the ball, hitting the ball and really they’re not concentrating on their mental game, are they? Is there takeaways that we can use?
Karl: I honestly think on that, I would never ever have had a role in golf the way that I have, if golf was practiced correctly. It’s the number one reason why there’s a huge frustration in between what people see that they can do on the range and then what actually comes out on the golf course. We’ve all gotta understand golf is incredibly unique because there are a very few games where you’re trying to score as low as possible.
Most games, football, cricket, whatever it is, you’re trying to get as many as possible, whereas golf you’re trying to get as little as possible, and yet, with practice, we equate a good session, I even hear it on the TV, as I hit 1,000 balls. Well the only thing that you can guarantee if you hit 1,000 balls, is that you trained yourself to hit a 1,000 shots. And as far as I am aware 1,000 wouldn’t be that good a return on a golf course, you need to split your practice into two segments.
One part of your practice, yes, you should be working on your technical side that you’re working on with your method or your coach or whatever it is, but a part of your practice should simulate a game. And the only way you can simulate a game is to add in consequence. There needs to be a consequence to each shot. I get all the players, they’ll hit a certain number of balls where it’s a particular game that they’re playing and what they’ve got to do is hit the shot and then they’ll note down the scores for that particular game.
Andy: So that reduces the anxiety out on the course.
Karl: The very act of being in practice is actually having to take a notebook out and writing the score down that you do in practice, simulates that sort of competitive element in the real game. And I would say less than one percent of golfers do this. So I think that for the viewers, really ask yourself, “Am I hitting a lot of shots? Or am I getting better at golf?”
Andy: Because one thing that you can commit to is a routine. That’s what Harrington has said in the past.
Karl: Yes. It’s a great point, that, because all golfers hear the phrase, “Well you need a routine” and I sit down with players and it’s “Oh, yeah, I’ve got a routine.” And I film them on the golf course and they haven’t got a routine. They think they’ve got a routine. The routine is as fundamental to the mental game as the grip is to the physical game. To develop a routine, you’re actually giving yourself something that you can genuinely rely on under pressure.
The mind needs a series of steps to follow under pressure. That’s the reason why in an aircraft they give you the drill, the safety procedure before you take off. I’ll never forget Harrington saying that, I heard him once say, “There’s no way I can swing it well every day, but there’s no excuse for not having a good routine every day.” And I think these great players reflect that.
Tiger Woods has been working on the mind side of things from the age of 11 and everybody assumes he’s just this born entity, but he’s not. It’s something his father was in the Special Forces. His father made him practice in a certain way and Earl Woods said to him, “When you get in competition, the training will take over.” And I take that as being that his practice was very geared to simulating the game.
Andy: It’s a really big takeaway, isn’t it?
Karl: I think the first question for the viewers would be to really ask yourself, are you getting better with the practice that you do? And it wasn’t a golfer but I think Einstein said the definition of insanity was to keep doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result.
Andy: That’s brilliant Karl. So the next time I’m the range, I’m going to be spending at least 25 percent on the mental game. Karl, is there any way that I can conquer my first tee nerves? I mean, we all get it to some degree. What’s your take on that?
Karl: The take that we’ve had the last few years that seems to have worked well with all of the plays is the concept of what is nervousness? Well, nervousness is actually a feeling in your body. It’s a sensation running through your system. Now, as kids we were all told, “When you get to the first tee and you’re feeling these things in your body, it’s ‘first tee nerves’. And immediately, the perception is that these feelings are bad.
Well, just imagine as a kid if you were told that when you get to the first tee, these feelings that you get are actually first tee energy? All of a sudden, you’d actually look forward to those feelings. It’s actually resisting the feeling that’s the problem. You know, Tiger Woods, when he’s walking to the first tee in the Masters, I guarantee you he’ll be getting certain feelings through his body. But what he’s learned to do, he’s learned to channel those feelings and not see it as a bad thing.
I remember years ago reading that Jack Nicklaus talked about it. He said that he didn’t win majors. He waited for other people to lose them. But he said, “Just give me that feeling on the back nine of a major. That’s what I hit all the balls for.” He didn’t say, “Give me that feeling of nervousness.”
Andy: Just give a feeling.
Karl: So in his mind he created a label that this feeling was a good thing. So that would be one of the things to reframe the actual term ‘nervousness’ as an energy, but also then learn how to control it a little bit more. And one of the most effective ways is breathing. And centuries old advice has been around far longer than any of us have, a lot of the Eastern traditions talk about this.
It’s pretty much impossible to maintain a state of nervousness and breathe correctly. And nervousness, you actually have to be in the future thinking about what might happen to be nervous. Now, when you bring your attention to your breathing, not only are you physically starting to calm down, but mentally, you’re right back here in the now, in the moment. So, just that simple process of focusing on breathing. And we’ve all heard it, but very few people do it and in practice it’s really profound.
Andy: Right. Karl, a big problem I have is I tend to surround myself with people that in the clubhouse afterwards, talk about their bad shots. “I had a 70, I had an 80, but the triple bogey on #14, that sort of conversation. The conversations doesn’t sort of go on to, “Yes, but I did this part and you know, single putts on these five greens.” It’s a funny sort of conversation us golfers get into. I want to almost get away from it because I think that must be better for my golfing.
Karl: It’s a crazy thing, Andy, really because I think we’ve almost been conditioned that misery loves company. I do call it the ‘but syndrome’, I shot 68 but! And you know the number of times I’ve sat with very good players and they almost love to tell me how bad they’ve putted. You know, “I hit the ball so well, but I three putted four times” or whatever, almost as though that’s a badge of honor that they’re wearing.
And I think it’s something that we should all look at in the way that we talk about the game because there’s no question, one of the things I’ve become fascinated with over the last few years is how memory plays such a big role in our performance. You know, the certain shots that you stand over that you just know that you’re gonna hit a good shot, because a memory has been triggered of a previous result that you’ve had in that situation.
And I always think back to the lovely story about how Harvey Penick that Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite were sat with him many, many years before they went out on tour. I think it was Tom Kite said to Mr. Penick, he said, “If there was one single piece of advice that you would give us out on tour, what would it be?” And Harvey Penick just said, “Make sure that you go to dinner with good putters.” And in effect what he was saying, he was being a great psychologist in that moment. He was saying, “Make sure you hang out with and be with people who hole putts, who talk about holing putts rather than ones who just drag us down into the sort of misery of what should’ve been.”
One practical thing that the viewers might want to think about is something that’s been really successful with players over the last few years is something that I call the three shot diary. And literally, what the three shot diary is that when you finish playing golf, what you do, maybe after you’ve got back, you’ve gone home, you actually sit down and think about the three best shots that you’ve hit that day and actually then, write them out. Write them out in detail what you were thinking, what you were feeling.
There are a couple things are happening with this simple process. One is by writing the shot out, you’re solidifying the memory of that, strengthening the memory, but the other thing is, you’re going to start to find a pattern of what you do when you play good golf. You know, people go for a golf lesson, the first thing they say, “Tell me what I’m doing wrong.” Which we’ve gotta look at our faults, or actually, what do you do when you do it right?
Andy: Yeah, and what you consistently do right.
Karl: What do you consistently do when you do it right? You know, I once said, “Success leaves behind a trail”, but you’ve gotta look for that trail. And I think that good plays do this. Tiger Woods, he said he felt that the secret to the game was to instantly recall past success and to let go of failure. Most people do the opposite.
Andy: Exactly, yeah. That’s human nature, I guess.
Karl: Probably the best example I’ve ever seen about this and mental toughness was Bernhard Langer when he missed that putt at Kiawah Island. A four foot putt to win the Ryder Cup, he missed it. You imagine that impact that could’ve had on him, but Langer went away. He said, “I went through a routine. I did everything I could. I shot the putt the right way. It didn’t go in. It just didn’t go in.”
And then the very next week he went over to Germany and he won the Mercedes Masters the next week. I just think that’s incredible. It just shows you, he had the ability to let go of what happened, get the best out of it and move on.
Andy: Yeah, incredible story and that’s one takeaway for all of us. Langer, back in ’91. Can you imagine that?
Karl: The world’s watching.
Andy: The world’s watching. Everyone doubting that he can hole a putt and then two weeks later he goes and wins the Mercedes Masters. Incredible story there. Something we can all learn from. That’s fantastic Karl. So much advice there. I really appreciate your time. If there’s anyone out there that wants to find out more about what you’re doing with the players or just to help their own game, where can they go to find out the information?
Karl: There’s a couple of websites and one of the websites is GolfTrainingProducts.co.uk and if people go to that site they can get some free videos, some downloads and some things that we’ve talked about here today. The other website is Golf-Brain.com and anybody signs up there they get a free monthly newsletter that keeps them informed of what’s going on with the players and some of the courses that I run, etcetera. The product that’s worked really well this last 12 months, a new product is a CD called 5 Shots Lower Without Changing Your Swing.
Andy: Oh, we all want that, yeah.
Karl: Something that you can play in the car, a series of tools that you can use, similar to what we’ve talked about today. This stuff needs reinforcing. We all fall back into our old patterns and our old habits. And you know, we’re so keen on being warmed up physically, but we need to be warmed up and tuned in mentally.
Andy: This is a CD you can put in the car?
Karl: A CD you can put in the car and you can listen to it at home, you know, the players that I’ve worked with say that they keep listening to it over and over and just to keep their mind, the mental stages in all of it, like I say five shots lower without changing their swing.
Andy: So, hope you thoroughly enjoyed the show with Karl. I have. Thanks very much for coming Karl.
Karl: My pleasure, Andy.
Andy: Hopefully we’ll talk in the near future.
Karl: Look forward to it.
Andy: Okay. Well that’s the end of the show. I hope you thoroughly enjoyed it.
More about Dr Karl Morris
Finally, the Question of the Day:
What’s the biggest mental challenge in your game? Leave your comments below and we’ll have fun reading them!