How TTW Techniques Might Have Helped Jordan Spieth

(Before we go any further, you might enjoy reading this article by Rick Reilly about the twelfth hole at Augusta National, from the April 2, 1990, issue of Sports Illustrated. It's a long piece, but gives a great sense of how challenging No. 12 historically has been. Money quote: "The best hole in the country is the 12th at Augusta National. … Jack Nicklaus calls it 'the hardest tournament hole in golf.'"

One more thing: Keep in mind that, irrespective of the difficulty, everyone plays the same hole.)

The central idea and understanding of the TTW project is that the techniques that could help Tiger regain his dominance (or at least start playing golf with pleasure again) are the same techniques an amateur would use to improve her game, and vice versa. With that perspective in mind, today I'd like to explore what Jordan Spieth could have done differently on the first three holes of the back nine in the final round of the Masters.

Let's review the situation one more time. Spieth finished the front-nine with four straight birdies, giving himself a five-shot lead going into the final nine holes of the tournament. Here's an outline of all of his shots on ten, eleven and twelve:

  • Ten (Par 4)

    • Tee shot: 3-wood. Off to the right, into the rough.
    • Second shot: Short and right, into the front-right bunker by the green.
    • Third shot: From the sand, well short.
    • Fourth shot: Medium-length putt, missed.
    • Fifth shot: Makes the putt.
    • Result: Bogey
  • Eleven (Par 4)

    • Tee shot: Driver. Well right, into the trees.
    • Second shot: No shot at the green. Pitches out to center of fairway.
    • Third shot: From 122 yards, right at the pin. Lovely shot.
    • Fourth shot: Putt, about 6 feet, missed just below the hole.
    • Fifth shot: Makes the putt.
    • Result: Bogey
  • Twelve (Par 3)

    • Tee shot: Short and to the right. Falls back into Rae's Creek.
    • Second shot: (Penalty)
    • Third shot: Wedge from maybe 80 yards, hit fat, right into the creek.
    • Fourth shot: (Penalty)
    • Fifth shot: From same place as last shot, hits back of green, bounces into the sand.
    • Sixth shot: Out of sand, close to pin.
    • Seventh shot: Makes the putt.
    • Result: Quadruple bogey

(Also worth remembering: two years ago, in his first Masters, Spieth had come to twelve chasing the lead on the final day and had hit short and to the right and seen his ball bounce back into the water.)

Seeing it written out like that, the pattern is kind of hard to miss. With the exception of his second and third shots on eleven--the former a high-margin shot, the latter a beautifully hit wedge--every shot he hit on the back nine (excluding putts), up until the fifth shot on twelve, was short and to the right.

What do you think was going through his head as he stepped up to the tee on 12? How likely do you think it is that he was thinking, "Don't hit it short and right?"

Pretty likely, I'd say.

One of Jerry's teachings is "The body doesn't know 'not.'" That is, the abstraction of "not" has no energetic meaning to the body. When we say to ourselves, "Don't hit it to the right," the energy in the body is, "Hit it to the right."

In last week's piece, I noted that something changed substantially with that fifth shot at twelve. I bet Spieth was thinking something like, "I'll hit it toward the back of the green. If it goes into the bunker, fine." And by changing his conceptualization of the shot into something with a higher margin for error, and with a positive visualization without a corresponding negative one (i.e. no "don't hit it right"), he changed his energy. Again, for proof, I offer that he made an comfortable up-and-down from the bunker, then birdied the par-5 13th and par-4 14th.

So from a TTW perspective, what might we offer to Jordan Spieth to keep this sort of thing from happening again, or to stave it off when it starts to happen?

A regular practice of centering might have helped. As I noted in my piece from two weeks ago, I noticed as he addressed the ball on ten that he collapsed his shoulders forward. Energetically, this is a way of protecting the heart center, and is usually a sign of trying to keep fear at bay. With practice, he might have noticed that in fighting his fear, he was pulling himself out of center, and then been able to re-center himself.

By the time he hit his second shot on ten, and certainly by his third, he should have been able to notice that he was establishing a pattern in his shots. Again, by this point, taking a few moments to re-center would likely have helped him.

Another possibility would have been to change the energy of the situation by changing the parameters for success. Narrow parameters for success, when not met, lead to feelings of failure and a diminishing of energy. Broader parameters for success make success much more likely, and success leads to positive changes in energy-- literally, success helps beget more success.

Now, this approach is no panacea. Spieth said later that part of the problem was that he got conservative after the turn. Perhaps that's why he grabbed 3-wood instead of driver on 10. A 3-wood is a higher margin club than driver, but nevertheless his tee shot on 10 went to the right, into the long grass. So something was different between his high-margin approach on the tee on 10 and his high-margin fifth shot on 12.

The point here isn't to engage in endless counterfactuals. It's to suggest that there are strategies to counteract a swing toward negative energy. Centering alone might be enough. Playful imagining might work. Changing the parameters of success and failure can help. Many of these tools involve using the thinking mind to generate a positive imagined outcome, which is unlikely to succeed without a means--like centering--to turn the process over to the body's intuition.

Jordan Spieth has all the physical tools to be a great golf champion, but what we saw at Augusta during the final round this year tells us that he doesn't yet fully have the energetic tools. (Jordan: call us. We can help.) He'll need to develop them, or he'll end up in exactly the same situation again and again.

And as for the rest of us? We, too, need to develop our energetic skills, or we too will end up playing out the same patterns again and again in our lives.

Building Flow Part 5

Over the last four weeks, I have attempted to teach you to systematically increase your capacity to feel and create flow. The next step in this process is to begin to consciously apply the lessons in building flow to other aspects of your lives. As an example of how to do this, I went to the driving range in order to practice building flow within my golf swing.

I started by centering and doing a few light stretches while paying particular attention to my breath. At the end of five minutes, I was relatively loose and very centered. I took a few practice swings using a 58-degree wedge.
The goal was to create a reproducible pattern with my pre-shot ritual that would help to keep me centered while minimizing potential errors during setting up and executing the swing.

I started by standing behind the ball and taking a centered breath while picking my aim point. I placed the head of my club on the ground aimed through the center of my ball at the target. I then squared my club face to the ball and aligned my body to my club.

Addressing the ball (doffing my cap and bowing - Hello Ball! – and no it never gets old for me), I took an open and flowing breath up through my body and released the tension in my torso. Then, in order to ground my energy and lower my center of gravity, as I exhaled, I would bring the breath back down through my body and anchor it deep into to the earth. I practiced this ritual until I could comfortably execute it and felt balanced within my stance.

Now for the test: Using my newly developed pre-shot ritual prior to every shot, I would initiate my backswing from my core and attempt to hit a nice high arcing shot towards the red flag about 100 yards in front of me.

I considered a successful shot any that hit within a 10-yard radius of the flag, and the results were absolutely stunning. I hit 12 consecutive shots that all were well within 10-yards of the flag. Several actually hit the flag itself.

The next test would be switching to a longer club. Using my nine iron, I took a few practice swings and spent a couple of minutes working on the pre-shot ritual. After getting comfortable with a longer club in my hand, I started hitting balls toward the white flag about 130 yards out. After a couple of shots to dial in, the results were very similar: 8 of the last 10 shots were within the 10-yard circle.

The techniques for building flow that I have laid out over the last four weeks can be applied to all aspects of our lives. Using ritual practice to help build flow and create habits that help create consciousness is critical to the process.

This week’s assignment is to apply these principles to another aspect of your life. Create a ritual that centers you while building flow within your body. Allow yourself to stay conscious and notice what happens.

Thoughts on Spieth’s Fifth Shot on Twelve

It's been almost two weeks, but Jordan Spieth's fifth shot at the 12th during the final round of the Masters is still on my mind. In the midst of everything bad that happened during the first three holes of the back nine, that shot stood out.

Let's review the situation as he stepped up to the tee box on twelve. On 10, he'd been short and right on his tee shot, ending up in the rough. He was short and right on his second shot, landing in the front-right bunker. His sand shot fell short, and then he two-putted for bogey. On 11, his tee shot went right, into the trees. He had to chip into the fairway for his second. He pitched from the fairway to within six feet, but two-putted for another bogey. He walked onto twelve having seen his five-shot lead cut to one. Finally, he certainly remembered his tee shot on twelve two years ago when he was chasing for the lead. That day he hit short and right. It didn't make the green and ended up in the water.

This year, his tee shot on 12 was an echo of the shot two years ago. It went short and right and bounced back into the water. After the stroke penalty, he took his third shot from about 80 yards and hit it so ridiculously fat that it barely made it to the water. Unfortunately for him, though, it did.

He took his fifth shot from the same place as the third. This time, he hit well long. The ball hit the very back of the green and rolled into the back bunker. It's not a deep bunker, and from there, he made an easy up-and-down (well, as easy as an up-and-down as it can be when you've just blown up into a million pieces) for a quadruple-bogey 7.

So why does the fifth shot on 12 continue to so fascinate me? Because after so many bad shots in three holes, with his energy all in a whirl, he hit what appeared to be another bad shot--after all, Jordan Spieth is capable of pitching onto the green from 80 yards. But that shot appeared to settle him down. He calmly made his up-and-down. He went to 13 and hit a lovely drive, which led to a birdie. He made par on 14 and another birdie on 15.

Which suggests that with that fifth shot, he substantially cleared out the negative energy. So what was it about this shot--still apparently a bad shot--that allowed him to re-center?

I have no way to prove this, but I think he hit that "bad" shot intentionally. More specifically and accurately, I think he gave himself permission to widen his target and his definition of success. Had he hit short (within reason) of where the ball ended up landing, he'd have simply been on the green. Had he hit long, he'd have landed directly in the bunker. He knew it wasn't a particularly hard bunker to play out of. By changing his approach to a broader notion of success, he found a way to make a successful shot. In doing so, he was able to re-center.

All of which leads me to suggest that he had that tool all along. Had he intentionally hit an "imperfect" tee shot on 12, perhaps even aiming to put the ball into the bunker, thereby giving himself permission for par (or even bogey), he would have been able to clear out the negative energy. My major point of evidence for this assertion is that he hit a shot that did exactly that. He just did it four strokes too late.

Building Flow Part 4

Last week we continued to work on establishing a sense of flow and allowing ourselves to move into our habitual patterns while doing chores.

Creating a state of flow as we move through our habitual patterns actually begins to infuse flow into the habit itself. Essentially, we are working on giving ourselves permission to habitually stay in a state of flow.

The assignment for this week is to continue creating flow as you move through your day. Consciously, check in with yourself a little more frequently and make adjustments as necessary. Pay particular attention to maintaining center.

Remember, staying in a state of flow requires good posture, an open flowing breath, core activation and a willingness to stay conscious.

The Energetics of Jordan Spieth’s Meltdown

I had a very busy Sunday, and so was only able to dip my head occasionally into the Masters. When I checked on Spieth during the latter holes of the front nine, he was several strokes ahead and seemed to be cruising. But when I checked back a couple of hours later, I found Spieth several strokes back, and the commentators were talking about a "meltdown." After looking a sure thing to win his second Masters in a row at the age of 22, he ended up having to put the Green Jacket on Danny Willett.

A few days later, Jerry and I spoke about it. "The energy of it was fascinating," he said. "You should watch and see what you think."

So I did.

Because I hadn't been able to pay close attention on Sunday, I first went and did a little research. Just how had the round played out before Spieth's meltdown? What had Spieth done to be cruising during the earlier part of his round? I looked at his scorecard, and what I saw grabbed my interest. After a bogey on five, he birdied the next four holes, and started the back nine with a five-stroke lead.

I went back to five and watched from there.

On five, his drive left him on the left side of the fairway behind some trees. For his second shot, he attempted a low-margin sharp hook that he failed to fully execute, leaving himself with a challenging chip just off the grandstand on the side of the green. He then two-putted for a bogey. Though laying up may have been a better play, it was hard to fault his aggressiveness.

Afterwards, he played beautifully. His approach play left him easy putts on seven and eight, but his birdie putts on six and nine were both quite challenging. When he made the last of these, he had moved himself to -7. He genuinely appeared to be cruising.

With my foreknowledge of what was about to happen, I expected to see someone either overconfident or not paying full attention as he started the back nine. Instead, as he took his tee shot, I noticed that he seemed slightly hunched at the upper back. His normally erect posture seemed a little curved in on itself. Now, I don't yet have a particularly practiced eye for golf technique, but I recognize this posture from my own hitting. Indeed, in my own practice, I've been working on trying to stand more erect and pull the shoulders back in order to open the chest. "If I'm right in what I'm seeing," I thought, "He'll hit it right." And he did. His 3-wood off the tee landed in the rough. On his next shot his body alignment looked similar. I predicted that he'd be short and to the right. Sure enough, that's exactly what happened. The ball landed in the bunker on the front right of the green. His sand shot looked lazy and he left it well short of the pin. He missed his par-putt about a foot right, and holed in for bogey.

Meanwhile, Danny Willett had a chance for eagle on the par-5 13th, missed but managed a birdie. A five-stroke advantage had just become three.

Spieth hit driver off eleven, and his swing looked better to me, but he went right again, into the trees, and left himself no shot at the green. He had no choice but to chip out to the fairway. His next shot was announced as "122 yards," and he hit right at the pin, ending up below the hole, about six feet away. His par putt missed just below the hole, and he tapped in for bogey.

Meanwhile, on 14, Willett put his drive into the second cut, then hit a beautiful second shot to within three or four feet of the pin. After Willett made his birdie putt, Spieth's five-stroke advantage had fallen to one.

There was a huge grandstand behind the tee on the par-3 twelfth, and I have to assume there was a leaderboard there as well, and I have to assume that Spieth saw it. Because, again, I watched his shoulders hunch forward and his back curl slightly downward. Once again, he hit short and right. The ball hit below the green and fell back into Raes Creek.

His wedge from the drop zone looked even more extreme. Watch the curve in his upper back and the way his shoulders extend away from his body:

That's one of the worst shots you're likely to ever see a professional golfer hit.

Now lying five, and desperate to not leave his next shot short, he hit well long into the back bunker. He got out of the sand and close to the pin for his sixth shot, and then made his putt for a quadruple-bogey seven.

As this was happening, Willett's tee shot on the par-5 15th left him needing to lay up. He pitched close, then two-putted for par, staying at -4. His playing partner, Lee Westwood, rolled over the green for his second shot, then hit an amazing chip for eagle to go to -3. On 14, Dustin Johnson made par to stay at -2. Spieth's quadruple dropped him from -5 and the lead to -1, into a tie for fourth.

It is a testimony to how good he is that he was still in contention late in the round, that he didn't freak out completely and shoot like eighteen-over the rest of the way. At the same time, isn't it interesting that once he'd lost the lead in so dramatic a fashion, his play immediately improved?

So what happened? I wouldn't be surprised if, as he made the turn, he thought to himself, "So long as I don't collapse, I've got this in the bag." As Jerry likes to point out, "The body doesn't know 'not.'" By thinking something like collapse, he engendered in his body the fear to do exactly that. The extension of his shoulders and the curve of his upper back look like someone collapsing his body around his heart to protect himself from fear. It's something I see a lot with my beginning ski students--and something I have recently noticed in myself in both skiing and golf. In Spieth's case, by fighting the fear, he put more energy into it, thereby enabling it. Once the collapse was done, he could release the energy, relax and resume playing his game, though sadly now no longer from a position to win.

Building Flow Part 3

Last week we worked on creating flow through the breath while completing a mundane task. Before we begin this week, take a couple centered breaths and reflect on how your practice went.

Was it open and flowing? Did you breathe new life and meaning into doing chores? Or like most of us, did you got caught up in completing the task at hand and slip into the comfortable rhythm of habit?

Although most of us will return to our habitual patterns after a couple of minutes, our practice is always rewarded. Because once an open and flowing breath is established, it continues to flow long after we stop paying attention to it.

The assignment for this week is simple. Continue to practice paying attention while doing chores. Establish an open and flowing breath and move about your business. However, this week, give yourself permission to move into habit. Try to notice the increased flow within your system as you move through your habitual patterns.

The Sweet Sound of Potential Improvement

Jerry and I had a practice session yesterday at the chipping green and driving range that left me quite frustrated.

As of right now in my golf practice, I'm incapable of hitting anything longer than about a nine-iron. I've been feeling a bit demoralized, so I'm trying to find my way past the struggle and discover new ways to practice and improve.

This spring, I've been working on initiating both my up- and downswings from the hips rather than letting the arms lead. The result, when I've succeeded, has been effortless power and beautiful flight paths. I've been most successful at it chipping and pitching, and while "effortless power" isn't something you may particularly want in your chipping, I've been willing to accept overhitting the hole in exchange for substantially better direction and loft.

I came to yesterday's practice session with a question I wanted to test: would it be possible to practice chipping with, say, a six-iron, and begin to groove that same swinging-with-the-lower-core that I've been playing with on pitches and nine-irons, and then bring that groove to the range on full-swing six-irons?

So far the answer is: nope. (Anti-climax, I know.) But my struggle and frustration led us to some ideas that will be interesting to play with over our next practice sessions. We think we identified some physical patterning in stance and alignment that I've done so long I'm no longer aware of them, patterns that are substantially getting in the way of a smooth, fluid swing. A fair amount of my practice over the next several weeks may be as simple and unexciting (but critical) as addressing the ball over and over, trying to groove a new stance.

Not to say that there weren't a few real positive results (rather than potentialities and areas for future practice) from the session. The most notable was that on a couple of occasions, practicing chipping with the six-iron, I hit the ball extremely cleanly. The sound of a cleanly struck ball is unmistakable and tells me that I'm doing something right, and gives me hope that I'll be able to do so again.

(I should note that while I struggled during the session, Jerry, playing with the idea of chipping with longer clubs and putting a similar focus on the hips as the driving impulse of the shot, ended up hitting seven-irons at the range so well he was giggling.)

After we finished at the range, I decided to go to the tennis courts to hit some serves while bringing that same focus on the hips. I also decided I would approach the shot differently from how I ever have before. Rather than try to emulate the smooth, unified toss-hit motion I see from top servers, I decided to just toss the ball up high enough that I could kind of reset before swinging through. Because I wanted to get the feeling of swinging from the hips and letting the arm follow, I gave myself permission to do nothing more than try to strike the ball that way, with no focus on aiming at all. To my surprise, I immediately found myself hitting some of the smoothest, most powerful serves of my life, with surprising accuracy. To my further delight, the sound of the ball leaving the strings was, like I describe above in relation to hitting a golf ball, immediately recognizable as an extremely cleanly hit ball. I've never heard that sound from my shots before. Previously, all I've ever heard when hitting the ball was a relatively high-pitched toink, but yesterday the ball came off the strings with the deeply satisfying pock sound that I've heard from better players but have never before achieved.

So while it was partly a frustrating day, and while I may not always be seeing improvement, what I'm hearing is that putting focus on motion from the hips is leading to the potential for definite improvement.

Building Flow Part 2

Last week we worked on the centered breath. Before we begin this week’s lesson, center and take 5 breathes.

Did you feel the breath rise effortlessly through the body? Try again and really allow yourself to feel the breath rise. Notice how the system relaxes into the breath and the breath flows throughout the body effortlessly. Try it again. Really pay attention to that sense of flow and ease as the breath rises throughout the body.

Now, I want you to pick a mundane chore that you perform all the time. Something like sweeping the floor, vacuuming, dishes, etc. Center yourself and practice breathing while doing the chore you picked out. Notice the flow of breath and the sense of ease in your body while doing the task. Notice how the work progresses and how your body feels. Try to re-create this feeling with each chore you perform this week.

Don’t work too hard at it, just allow yourself to find the flow and the breath within the process of being centered while doing the chore.

We’ll continue to build on this idea next week.

Ski-Teaching Reflections

Now that my ski-teaching season is over, I've been reflecting a lot on my teaching, what I learned, and how to teach more effectively.

I had to admit to myself that I went into this winter with the idea that learning centering would enable everyone to improve radically, almost as if by magic. When I put it that way, the idea looks pretty ridiculous. Certain students had major breakthroughs through centering and focusing on the breath, but in general, while a few minutes' instruction followed by consistent admonitions of "remember to breathe" may have sped up learning (hard to know for sure), it was no panacea.

What I didn't understand with sufficient clarity was this: People bring deeply held patterns of stress with them. The process of learning a new skill will dredge those patterns up from the sediments of the students' lives.

Getting students to center and breathe freely on flat ground while not moving worked pretty well. But as soon as they did something that took them out of their comfort zone--which, for some first-timers, came as soon as we started to practice side-stepping (the second skill we practiced once we got both skis on, after sliding around on flat terrain), and hit almost all of them the first time they went up the magic carpet and saw that even on the minimal slope of the bunny hill, being unable to control one's speed could have serious consequences--patterns of stress in the body generally came clearly to the fore.

Thus the question that's dominating my reflections: How do we most efficiently replace those patterns of stress with patterns of flow?