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GolfPsych says use your right brain more, quit worrying about your lousy swing

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Imagine a golf school where your swing will never be critiqued or analyzed. Where you can swing freely and never worry about where the ball goes. Where you can just forget all the mechanics you've ever been taught and just "be" the ball.

Of course, on the flip side, you will have to wear a "mind meter" all night, all weekend.

GolfPsych claims to be the only golf school devoted exclusively to the mental aspects of the game, and one of its main tenets is that the majority of golfers use their left brains way too much.

The left brain, if current scientific theory is correct, manages the more practical side of things, like mathematics and logic. Bankers, accountants, and government bureaucrats have left brain overload, for example, whereas artists and musicians use their imaginative, more intuitive right brain more.

GolfPsych says use your left brain to get your mechanics down - and the more quantifiable factors like distance and club selection - then forget about it and switch to the right.

Left brain is too clumsy

"Most golfers today are too left brain - and the left brain is a klutz," said Jon Stabler, GolfPsych CEO.

GolfPsych teachers try to get students to let go of that left brain, which also does all the worrying and over-analyzing.

"When you're using your left brain in golf, you are actually limiting your abilities as an athlete," Stabler said.

The great athletes are intuitive, and thus use their right brains more. In golf, that means visualizing your golf shot, rather than obsessing with mechanics. "Feel" the shot rather than worrying about your swing plane or hip movement. Of course, this can come about only after you are relatively confident with your swing in the first place - use that left brain on the practice tee, then leave it there.

No time to obsess

Golf is one of the few sports that isn't "reactive," like baseball, tennis or even gymnastics. The left brain, being a plodder, doesn't have time to assess all those swing thoughts swimming around in your skull like a swarm of piranhas.

"Studies have shown that the time it takes to swing and hit a golf ball varies between .93 and 1.23 seconds," said GolfPsych instructor Henry Brunton. "It takes .25 seconds for the brain to send out a single thought and receive feedback. If you're swinging mechanically - obsessing over where your feet, knees, elbows and shoulders are, whether you're open or closed, whether you're going to lay it off or get back to parallel or whatever - you literally cannot physically accomplish all that in 1.23 seconds. What's more, it's not athletic."

Of course, there is a huge industry built around highly-paid teachers telling people how to swing a golf club.

"Unfortunately that's the way most golfers are taught to swing the golf club," Stabler said. "They've been trained. The paradigm today is you go to get a lesson, you read a golf magazine, you listen to the commentators on golf telecasts, and they're all telling you how to swing the club - how to hold it, how to position your body, swing keys - and they're making it harder for people to play the game."

Be an introvert on the course

The left-right brain puzzle isn't the only mental aspect of golf the school dwells on.

Co-founder Dr. Deborah Graham conducted studies back in the 1980s of PGA and LPGA players in which she identified eight personality traits of "champions," those who had won at least one tournament in each year of his or her career.

It may interest you to know that two of the most dominant personality traits were that these champions tended to be more introspective than your average tour player, but that they also tended to be more dominant and aggressive.

"They're better suited to the game," Stabler said. "They have an easier time narrowing their focus and blocking out distractions. Extroverts are very aware of what's going on around them."

That's probably why you don't see more salesmen becoming winners at Augusta.

Strap on the "mind meter"

The school has students fill out questionnaires before they ever take a class, trying to assess personality traits. It doesn't require personality transplants, but does try to get students to see how certain traits have helped champion players.

"We call it emulating," Stabler said. "We're not asking them to change their personalities all the time, we're asking them to operate the way champions do in terms of personality when they compete."

And of course, relaxation is a key, getting in "the zone." That's where the "mind meter" comes in. It's a portable system that monitors and provides real-time biofeedback on how relaxed and clear-minded the subject is. It produces readings on a 0-99 scale, 99 being the most stressed.

McCord, Stockton, Jantzen psyched up

Stabler said the academy has worked with more than 300 different pros since 1981, including those who have won all four majors. Since Graham is a counseling psychologist, the school said it cannot reveal all the names of its clients, but can name Gary McCord, Dave Stockton, Lee Jantzen and Ian Baker Finch as some pros who have benefitted from the school.

Stabler said the pros were well-aware of the academy, but that amateurs aren't. The school offers two levels: Level I is designed for players who haven't participated in a GolfPsych school or seminar before. They are limited to eight students per session and cost $599.

The more advanced Level II schools are for graduates of Level I and are limited to 3-4 players and cost $1,299 which includes two nights of accommodations.

The school has 19 weekend sessions, which last for two and a half days, scheduled for January through July at two locations in Texas: San Antonio and Fort Worth. Spring and summer schools are planned for Chicago and Toronto.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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