For a while there, despite what we were hearing about El Niño, it was looking like Jerry and I were going to be able to practice golf all winter long, like we'd have no hiatus at all. But now it's finally gotten cold and the snow has arrived and winter has come.

Assuming the White Walkers don't make it all the way to Boulder, what are we intending to do with Training Tiger Woods during what will be the golf off-season?

Well, first of all, every year that I've lived in Boulder, there has been a mid-winter warming in which the snow melts, things dry out, and it's possible to go out and hit balls, perhaps even play. I'd be surprised if that's not the case this year as well. When it rolls around, doubtless we'll take advantage of it and get outside to practice.

But our focus will mostly be elsewhere. As Jerry said on Monday, in the gym we're going to focus on foundational conditioning, as well as applied meditation and visualization. And I'm hoping to take a little time to let/help my body return to full health. I've had pain in my elbow from overextension during tennis serves since back in the summer, and I still have a lot of tightness in my body from when I separated my shoulder, because the muscles tightened to protect the injured area. I'm hoping some regular yoga practice and body work will help open up the stuck energy in and around each of those parts of my body.

Also, I'll be on the slopes a lot this winter. I'm working as a ski instructor this year, and while I'm in the high country I intend to work on TTW-related skills quite a bit.

With respect to my own skiing and riding, I've already been practicing and playing with the sorts of techniques we've talked about here on TTW, and I've seen them apply successfully to skiing and snowboarding. Back in 2013, poor early season snow had me spending most of January and February skiing cruisers and working on my technique. I subsequently had the best late-season of skiing I'd ever experienced. Though the snow is much better this season, I've taken that same focus and coupled it with centering, breathing, and the kind of practice techniques we've talked about here. So far the results have been quite positive.

I'll also be exploring teaching TTW techniques to my students. Instructors are given a pretty thorough training by the resort before we first work with students--the ski school's trainers have been doing this a long time, and they have the teaching of skiing progression pretty substantially down at this point. But I've already found that there's a gap in the training. Already I've seen the necessity of teaching core activation and breath focus. I've also seen that those areas are really unfamiliar terrain for most people, far more unfamiliar than skiing itself.

Getting to work directly with students throughout the winter will doubtless teach me a huge amount about how to teach and apply these techniques effectively. When golf season rolls around again, I expect to have a lot more in my bag, as it were, and I'll be very excited to get to apply it.

Off Season

As I mentioned in my last post, we are heading into our off season. In fact, this post officially begins the off season for Ben and myself. Now I’m not saying that I won’t swing a club or occasionally practice if the weather permits. I’m saying that my clubs will not be in the trunk of my car and Ben and I will not be at the driving range on a regular basis.

During the off season we will be working on our flexibility and improving overall strength and physical conditioning for golf. Ben and I will be creating stretching routines and looking at strengthening exercises that improve the body mechanics associated with golf. We’ll also look at the role visualization exercises and meditation can play in improving performance.

We will take a break for the Christmas Holidays after Ben’s post on the 18th. We will resume our regular Monday and Friday posts on the 4th of January.

I wish you and yours the happiest of holidays.

Fun, and Why It Matters

Over the past couple of months, we've given a pretty good background about what we're trying to do here, what the goals might look like, and how we aim to achieve them. I've written about practice, about my baseline abilities (both physical and mental), and about my relationship to centering. But I notice there's something missing that needs to be addressed.

Ultimately, my goal with golf isn't really to lower my score, not really. What I really want to do is to be able to go play 18 with a friend and have a lot of fun. That's what I'm really aiming for.

Now, that doesn't mean I could just go to the course and whale away. That's not how I derive my fun. I don't enjoy performing poorly at things. Not being able to hit anything besides the shortest irons isn't fun. Not being able to encounter common situations on the course with a sense that I have the ability to meet those situations isn't fun. Flubbing shots completely isn't fun. My goal isn't really to shoot a lower score, it's to be able to grab any club from my bag and feel like I've got a pretty good chance of doing what I envision with that club--because that's fun. I want to feel like I have an amateur's full repertoire of shots--because that's fun.

Of course, a pleasant side effect of developing that repertoire and having more fun is that my scores will fall. All the things that make me say, "Hey, that was a pretty good shot," are things that would make me a "better" golfer than I am right now.

In last week's piece I wrote about noticing negative emotional patterns held over from when I was a kid. I've used these patterns to hold myself back throughout my life. Holding back served me in some fashion. It no longer does.

So when I talk about having fun at golf (or any of the myriad activities I participate in), I'm really using it as a shorthand to describe something deeper still. What I'm really talking about is developing and deepening an approach to life that sustains me in a way that my earlier habits did not. Seeing better scores on the golf course will be lovely. I'll enjoy it. But the real goal is living a better life.

Jerry’s Baseline

A couple of weeks ago, Ben shared a self-analysis of his current golf skills. As we get ready to move into the off season for golf, I thought I should do something similar.


I’m a fairly good putter. I’m comfortable within 3 feet of the pin, and generally I can 2 putt inside of 10 feet. I continue to work on controlling the speed of long distance putts. Ben is definitely a better putter from outside 15 feet. In fact, he usually wins our putting competitions when we are practicing.


Since starting this project, most of our practice has been on the short game. For the first time in my life I am confident that I can keep the ball on the green within 2 putt distance. That’s really a huge improvement for me. Before we started this project, I could easily chip the ball back and forth from one end of the green to the other.

Short Irons (9i – 58 degree wedge)

Over the last few years I have usually been solid with my short irons. My struggles have usually been hitting to the right of my target. I’m not talking about slicing the ball; I struggle with my aim. With the swing mechanics that Ben and I have been developing, I have gotten better. I am usually hitting the ball within 10 feet, left or right, of my aim point.

I can still struggle with shots from 40-80 yards out. Typically, if I take a full swing with my 58 degree wedge I hit the ball round 100 yards. I will continue to work on accuracy when having to shorten my swing, but I also hope to improve my course management and leave myself more comfortable distances when hitting into the green.

Longer Irons (6i-8i)

I don’t regularly carry any irons under a 6i. Typically my favorite club to hit is my 7 iron. I can usually hit it about 165 yards with a comfortable swing. With the improved swing mechanics, my aim has gotten better and I am usually hitting in the direction I’m actually aiming. I have often thought that I would score better if the longest club that I played with was a 7 iron. But, the goal isn’t only scoring better, it’s also to be able to reach into my bag and feel confident with whatever club I chose to hit.

The rest of my clubs (Driver-3&4 hybrids)

Really, who the hell knows? Over the years, I've been really inconsistent. One day I might hit my driver relatively well, and the next it’s like I’ve never swung it before. Of my longer clubs, I’m most consistent with my 3 hybrid. Often I will use it instead of the driver off the tee, and sacrifice the distance for a more accurate shot.

My biggest challenge when playing a round is hitting the ball in the right direction. I usually hit the ball relatively straight, just off line 15-20 degrees. I also struggle with obstacles. I’m pretty good getting out of sand traps, which is good because I find myself in them quite often. In fact, if there is an obstacle between me and the flag, I usually find myself in it. It doesn’t matter if it’s sand, water, or trees, I seem to launch my shot as if hitting it was the goal. And god forbid if there is a person or cart in my vision. I have often said that they should make the distance markers and flags in the shape of people and carts. I seem to be able to hit them without too much trouble.

All things considered, I feel that I can be a solid golfer. I really need to improve my ability to think my way around the golf course while maintaining a centered swing. I look forward to starting fresh next spring and continuing to develop the ideas that Ben and I have put together so far.

Baseline, Part 2: The Mental Game

In my piece from November 13th, I wrote about my baseline golfing abilities from a physical perspective, but that's only part of the picture. At least as important is what's generally referred to as the mental game. Perhaps you noticed in that piece that there's a fair amount of language about inability, frustration and not having fun.

Because Jerry and I practiced a lot but didn't play much--only that one nine-hole round--there was only so deep into the mental game that I could explore, at least as it pertained to golf. During practice, I noticed lapses in concentration, frustration, and times of not enjoying myself. But practice and performance are two very different things.

However, over the course of the summer and fall, I played a lot of tennis, and what I kept discovering within myself were mental/emotional reactions accompanied by body sensations that I recognized, via the discernment that comes with centering, as the same sensations I felt and the same behavioral patterns I engaged in as when I played tennis thirty years ago.

For example, I choked a lot when I played tennis as a kid. If I was beating someone, and he began to show frustration and anger, I would tend to ease off and, to my own perplexed frustration and dismay, eventually lose. Earlier this year I faced a similar situation. I was winning a match handily, and my opponent started getting really angry. I found myself falling into the pattern from my youth--easing off, dropping games, and so on. As I noticed what was happening, I also noticed that it was accompanied by some complicated physical sensations. When I dove deeply into those sensations, I suddenly realized that the pattern from my youth stemmed partly from empathy--I felt bad along with my opponent--and partly from a fear that winning would make the other person not like me. So I would choke, and the other person would feel better. Of course, then I would feel very bad indeed.

That pattern may have "worked," after a fashion, for a shy, sensitive kid who really wanted to be liked, but I'm older now, and I'm not interested in making others feel better by making myself feel bad. In this specific case, once I noticed what was happening, I recentered via the breath and closed out the match.

Now, what I'm describing may look like something I should be discussing with a therapist--"I was a choker as a kid, and I'd like to tease out the reason why"--and there is an element of therapy when these sorts of things come up in the body, but Training Tiger Woods is all about meeting and overcoming our limitations, and what I've been continually noticing since we began this project is how many of my negative patterns I recognize from years and years ago. They are still concentrated in the body. What's been critical is recognizing, as I did in the tennis match I just described, that those patterns served me in some way at some point in my life.

It is very uncommon that we make bad choices in order to hurt ourselves. It is very common that we make unskillful choices, thinking we are helping ourselves or others or both. In many ways, the techniques we're describing in Training Tiger Woods are about finally learning to bring skill to the mental/emotional/energetic patterns that underlie our athletic endeavors.

Let's come back to golf and what I said in the earlier piece about my baseline abilities. What I wrote there is descriptively true: I'm not a very good golfer and it frustrates me. But that day on the range, I also began to recognize within my body the same feelings I felt back when I was young and used to go golfing with my dad on Saturday mornings. I was a poor golfer and it made me angry and eventually I quit. I see now that my relationship to not being very good at golf is substantially a pattern still carried forward from my younger self. On some level, that pattern served me at the time. It no longer does. Changing it will not be easy--I've carried it within myself for most of my life--but I believe that the tools Jerry and I are developing will finally allow me to do so.

Centered Swing Part 2

When talking about the mechanics of the golf swing, what I am really trying to do is simplify the process of hitting a golf ball. With the couple of lessons that I have taken in my lifetime, the instructors talked lots about hand position, locked arms and wrists, and a couple of other biomechanical positions that did not come naturally to my body.

Having a B.A. in Kinesiology (the study of human movement), the unnaturalness of the process never made sense to me. When the body is aligned and centered the process of swinging a club and hitting the ball should come easily. However, if you have been struggling in mastering the mechanics of the swing, letting go of what you either know or assume can be very complicated. This is where breathing comes in. By making the breath the focus of movement you can short-circuit the thinking process of the swing and let the body move in the manner to which it was designed.

This is why centering is so important to the game of golf. When you’re centered, your core muscles are actively engaged and ready to create movement. In preparation for finishing the mechanics of a centered golf swing, let’s take a quick look at core alignment and activation when addressing the ball.

Establishing the “V”

When standing centered at address, if you move from the belly button outward towards each shoulder you have a “V.” The raised diaphragm squares and drops the shoulders while engaging the core muscles. If you are truly moving from center you should be able to maintain your “V” at all times. Any movement that distorts or breaks your “V” is considered to be outside of center. The goal during any activity is to monitor and protect your “V” at all times.

The Backswing

Standing at address in the centered position, take a couple centered breaths while relaxing your body. Initiate your back swing by turning your back shoulder slowly so that your “V” remains intact at all times. Ideally you’ll rotate until your front shoulder is directly under your chin.

Understanding your flexibility in rotation is essential here. Anytime you rotate too far, your “V” will collapse and your head will move off of the ball. When this happens you change your contact point, causing the club face to be less then centered when it contacts the ball, causing a misdirected shot.
If you have maintained your center throughout the back swing you should be able to pause at the top of the swing and take an open flowing breath. If at the top of your backswing your breath is limited you have either rotated too far, so you’re now out of center, or you have over tightened muscles in anticipation of hitting the ball.

If you are finding it difficult to relax your body during the backswing, return to addressing the ball and take several centered breaths. Practice rotating into your backswing and relaxing the body until you can easily hold the back swing and take open flowing breathes.


Having completed the backswing, you should be centered with your front shoulder under your chin and your head directly over the ball. Being centered you should be able to hold this position comfortably.
To initiate the down stroke, pull the front shoulder back, rotating around the axis of your spine. (You should be able to maintain your “V” throughout contacting the ball) Keep your head over and your eyes on the ball so that you can actually see your club make contact with the ball.

The rotation that pulls your club through the hitting zone will cause your hips to rotate so that your weight shifts over your front leg with a balanced and centered stance. Your navel will be pointed at your target as you hold your follow through with your head up and eyes on the ball.

The way I have described the swing here makes the most sense to me not only biomechanically, but also as an organic movement. As I continue to experiment and practice, I might offer suggestions and ideas on further modifications. Until then, I suggest you play with the ideas I have shared here, making adjustments based on your individual strengths and weaknesses.