By Dr. Gio Valiante
Pages: Approx. 224
Available: April 2013
In revealing book, prominent PGA Tour guru says golfers need to keep falling in love with the game if they want to succeed
While many golfers wallow in self-pity and engage in self-abuse after disappointing performances, great players like Matt Kuchar quickly move on and focus on taking steps toward improvement. According to Dr. Gio Valiante, one of the world’s most prominent sport psychologists specializing in golf, Kuchar’s deep love of competition in general and the game of golf in particular have allowed him to become one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour in the past several years, to the point where he is now ranked ninth in the world (as of March 24, 2013).
In Valiante’s newest book, Golf Flow, he uses Kuchar as an example of a golfer who “gets it” and who achieves a state of flow—an optimal performance zone in which time, control, effort, and awareness seem at once both suspended and intense. “One of the most defining and enduring characteristics of flow states is that they almost always occur when people are doing their favorite tasks,” Valiante explains. “The reality is that succeeding at Matt’s level of play requires so much time, commitment, sacrifice, and dedication that external rewards, in the absence of love for the game itself, would never produce the type of golf that Matt produces week in and week out.”
Valiante, who in 2011 was named by Golf magazine as one of the 40 most influential figures in golf under the age of 40, says that the more acquainted you become with the game, the more you realize how frustrating it can be. This is true even though golf often begins as a love affair between the person and the game. Valiante acknowledges that this love affair eventually turns bittersweet as players enter into periods of high effort without resulting improvement. He explains, “The game turns on us all sometimes. We find ourselves in the dreaded slump, which often devolves quickly into hating the thought of ever playing golf again.” How golfers respond to this phase of development powerfully shapes their future development; a philosophical approach to the game, like Kuchar’s, can be helpful.
Valiante has worked to improve the games of many top players, including Kuchar, Justin Rose, Stuart Appleby, Jack Nicklaus, Davis Love III, David Duval, Fred Funk, and Alexis Thompson. And while he understands that frustration is part of the game, some players stick it out, embrace the highs and lows, and enjoy great success. It’s in this regard that Kuchar’s mind-set buffers him from developing a negative attitude. “The crucial point here,” says Valiante, “is that Matt doesn’t only love golf when he’s playing well. He loves everything about the game—the highs and the lows, the challenges and the successes. Matt doesn’t love golf because he makes money at it. Matt makes money at golf because he loves it.”
Ultimately the lesson to learn from Kuchar is to keep falling in love with golf. “You will continue to grow and develop and change as a person, and as you do, your golf will evolve,” Valiante promises. “By enjoying each stage of development for what it is, you’ll see the solutions to your game more quickly and effectively, keep better perspective, and manage stress better.” In Kuchar’s case, his love for golf has allowed him to view disappointments as learning experiences rather than negative ones, and to channel his energy into answering a simple question all fearless golfers ask: What can I learn from this experience?
Written by one of the PGA Tour’s most prolific performance consultants, Golf Flow offers a variety of time-tested principles and innovative strategies for keeping the mind quiet and distraction-free. Valiante shares the methods and strategies he has used with six of his PGA golfers, including Kuchar, to get them into, or back into, flow.
Dr. Gio Valiante is one of the most prominent sport psychologists specializing in golf in the world. He has worked with many of the sport’s top players to improve their game, including Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose, Stuart Appleby, Camilo Villegas, Sean O’Hair, Jack Nicklaus, Davis Love III, David Duval, Fred Funk, Bryce Molder, and Alexis Thompson. His clients over the past 10 years have won dozens of tournament titles and championships, and he has become the winningest sports psychologist on the PGA Tour during that time.
Valiante has been named one of the top 40 most influential people in golf under the age of 40 by Golf Magazine, and was dubbed “Guru of the Year” by The Golf Channel in 2010. His book Fearless Golf: Conquering the Mental Game (Doubleday/Golf Digest, 2005) is a standard in the area of golf psychology. He is currently a professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, and serves as the mental game consultant for the Golf Channel, Golf Digest, and the University of Florida.
Valiante lives in Winter Park, Florida.
The Golf Flow Experience
Chapter 1 Time
Chapter 2 Control
Chapter 3 Effort
Chapter 4 Awareness
Your Flow Toolbox
Chapter 5 Skills to Meet Challenges
Chapter 6 Mastery Orientation to Keep Ego in Check
Chapter 7 Growth Mind-Set to Adapt to Changes
Chapter 8 Resilience to Overcome Adversity
Chapter 9 Confidence to Achieve Sustained Success
Flow on the PGA Tour
Chapter 10 Matt Kuchar
Chapter 11 Justin Rose
Chapter 12 Stuart Appleby
Chapter 13 Camilo Villegas
Chapter 14 Sean O’Hair
Chapter 15 Bryce Molder
Ten Keys to Flow on the Course
Chapter 16 Study Success
Chapter 17 Manage Time Effectively
Chapter 18 Practice With a Purpose
Chapter 19 Achieve a Mastery Mindset
Chapter 20 Discern Between Real and Perceived Limitations
Chapter 21 Craft Your Environment
Chapter 22 Respond Positively to Negativity
Chapter 23 Control Your Body
Chapter 24 Emphasize Rhythm, Not Mechanics
Chapter 25 Play Fearlessly
Dr. Gio Valiante
- Golfers who focus exclusively on the mechanics of their golf swings while ignoring the subjective power of the mind put themselves at a disadvantage.
- The subjective slowing down of time associated with flow often allows golfers to see and do things typically beyond their abilities; their tempo is perfect and they can actually feel every moment of the transition from their backswing to the downswing to impact—a flicker of a moment in the golf swing that happens so quickly that it is typically lost.
- For golfers in flow, time seems to slow down, get heavy, leisurely, gentle, and soft as if they have “all the time in the world” or at least, all the time they feel they need.
- When golfers interpret something like a bogey as a negative experience, a corresponding physiological impact in the brain sends signals for the body to create stress hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol leads to stress and tension. Stress and tension compromise a golfer’s ability to swing the club.
- Regardless of talent or pedigree, no one is immune from golf’s inherent difficulty, and if you plan to improve you shouldn’t expect to avoid adversity; rather, if you plan to improve you should prepare your mind to effectively absorb adversity.
- When golfers describe playing golf while in flow, they almost universally report the game as being effortless. Even more interesting is that the aftermath of effortless flow leaves golfers feeling exhausted and in a state of fatigue that you only see after an athlete has expended enormous amounts of energy and effort. This is the reason why it is often difficult to follow a great round of golf with another great round of golf.
- The flow state is characterized by a seamless marriage of self and task. Golfers in flow are usually aware on some level that they are playing well, but that is as far as attention to the results or the score tends to go. They are aware of the quality of their play, but their attachment remains weak and vague enough to prevent anxiety. They rarely know their exact score or the exact score of their opponents. In this sense, they lose self-consciousness while increasing self-awareness and awareness of events around them.
- Because seamless thinking and a quiet mind characterize flow states, achievement goals absolutely provide clarity to one’s own motivations. Conflicted motivation results in conflicted thinking, whereas clarity of motivation sets the stage for peak performance and ultimately for flow.
- Despite the degree to which they help transcend ordinary abilities, flow states are very real and they happen to normal golfers all over the world. This suggests that human beings are walking around every day of their lives with untapped reserves of potential. Like an overlooked goldmine with reserves of bullion, individuals possess untapped reserves of energy, alertness, clarity, and potential.
- Golfers who achieve flow consistently function beyond the normal; they are at the highest point of the bell curve. They deviate from the norm in order to unleash their full potential. They celebrate the things about themselves that are unique and uncommon. As such, when exploring flow, individuals are essentially choosing to live their lives at the fringe of their capabilities, or at the very least looking within to explore and expand the internal potentialities—and break through the limitations—that they possess.
- Too many golfers aim to remain static. They resist the fact that life—at biological, physical, and psychological levels—is a process of change. By accepting and embracing this fact, we can better understand how and why golfers should give up trying to overcontrol their destinies in golf and, instead, to play with the momentum of their lives. When they do this, their golf begins to take on emergent properties.
- Mastery golfers often respond to bad scores with curiosity. Because their motivation rests on continued learning and improvement, they reflect on their performance, identify what went wrong, and approach the next round with increased determination. Because they are driven by the love of challenge, they strive to rise to the challenges the game provides. Ego golfers ruminate in an entangled mess of misery, embarrassment, doubt, and frustration.
- Mastery athletes in general—and mastery golfers in particular—realize that the game requires one to continually take risks in order to test one’s own limitations. Because pushing one’s limits to the point of failure becomes an end in itself, failure is a key variable in the equation of success. More accurately, becoming comfortable with failure, and learning the valuable lessons becomes paramount in importance.
- Although the importance of confidence in sport has always been acknowledged, it wasn’t until relatively recently that psychologists were able to isolate and categorize the specific types of experiences that develop confidence, as well as the particular channels through which it enhances performance. Because of those breakthroughs, we are no longer restricted to merely stating the obvious, which is to say that confidence is important. Now, we can specify why it is important.
Source: Golf Flow (Human Kinetics, 2013)
*What kinds of disadvantages are golfers at when they focus only on the mechanics of their swings and ignore the subjective power of the mind?
*What kinds of things can golfers see and do when they experience the subjective slowing down of time associated with flow?
*What is an easy way of explaining flow as it pertains to golf, and what are some of the ways in which it can improve someone’s game?
*Why is it important for golfers to not interpret bad shots or bad rounds as negative experiences? How should they prepare themselves to deal with adversity?
*What does the game feel like to players while they are in flow, and what effect does it have on them?
*What kind of awareness do golfers in flow states have about the quality of their play, their score, and even the score of their opponents?
*What kind of thinking and state of mind characterize flow states, and how does clarity of motivation set the stage for performance and flow?
*Being in a flow state can help a normal golfer transcend his or her ordinary abilities, but can regular people also experience a flow state and tap into potential they didn’t know existed?
*Why is it important for golfers to accept and embrace that life is a process of change, and how can doing that help their games begin to take on emergent properties?
*What are the major differences between mastery golfers and ego golfers?
*Why is failure a key variable in the equation of success for a mastery golfer, and why is it important for them to become comfortable with failure?
*Why exactly is confidence so important to golf and to sport in general?
*Who are some of the top golfers you have worked with, and what have you learned from their games about flow?
To schedule an interview with Dr. Valiante, contact Maurey Williamson at 1-800-747-4457, ext. 7890, or firstname.lastname@example.org.