Crowley is the author of Mentalball: How to beat your invisible opponent at its own game and the San Francisco-based psychologist has worked with thousands of athletes. His specialty? Curing the yips.
Most notably, Crowley helped Major League Baseball players like Steve Sax, Shawn Green and Mark Wohlers get over the problems that plagued them during their careers. For Sax, it was being able to make a routine throw to first base. For Green, it was breaking out of an awful hitting slump. For Wohlers, it was finding the strike zone again after it appeared he was destined to follow the path of Steve Blass -- for whom the term "Steve Blass Disease" was coined -- and have a premature exit from the game.
Those fixes had nothing to do with mechanics, which aren't the issue for someone suffering the yips. Crowley doesn't need to know anything about a particular sport to help an athlete, which is why his patients include everyone from baseball players to golfers to skateboarders. For the record, though, Crowley has never worked with a golfer as prominent as Woods -- or any tour player for that matter. But as he says, their level or sport is irrelevant.
"I never give any athlete advice," said Crowley, who posts many of his athlete's testimonials on his website, Sportsmaker.com. "All the advice aggravates the situation. Giving him advice is poison."
And no athlete gets more advice than Woods, who Crowley believes has never returned to his former greatness due to trauma he suffered during his 2009 scandal. But why are these pronounced short game problems just surfacing for the 14-time major winner?
David Owen wrote in a New Yorker story on the yips from last May, "No one understands for certain what causes any form of the yips, and no one yet has identified physical loci in the brain for focal dystonias." Crowley, though, is convinced the problem starts in the brain's right hemisphere.
"There's an extra thought in [the athlete's] head," Crowley said of Woods. "Every kid will call it 'weird.' 'The ball felt weird coming out of my hand.' That feeling comes from the unconscious and it comes from the middle of nowhere to a player. In a millisecond, they're disconnected."
That extra thought, Crowley says, can't be gotten rid of with a simple adjustment and can be triggered by a variety of things. But he believes finding the trigger isn't important and it isn't part of his solution. Instead, he treats athletes for these "invisible opponents" or "psychic viruses" by having them go through a series of mental exercises that shows them how to use their imaginations to fix themselves. This allows them to reconnect to the mindset that existed before the person encountered their problem. It sounds complicated, but Crowley claims to have a 95-percent success rate with athletes who spend five phone sessions with him.
Crowley acknowledged that the less an athlete has accomplished, the easier it is for them to believe it's not their fault and to buy into his method. He also says ego plays a large role since it's difficult to convince athletes they need a different kind of help.
"Most people will deny me and turn to a repeating pattern in which seeking instruction gives them false hope," Crowley said. "They think, 'I'll figure this thing out myself. I always have."
Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch was one of those people. Despite Crowley's previous work with Sax, another troubled second baseman, and Yankees GM Brian Cashman reaching out to Crowley, Knoblauch never returned any of Crowley's messages. He also never fixed his problems on what is essentially the chip-shot throw of baseball. Knoblauch was eventually moved to the outfield -- where he could make the longer throw fine -- before being out of baseball at 32.
The yips can be fixed, but any doctor would agree that first, they need to be acknowledged. That's something we haven't seen yet from Woods, who instead has blamed his short game woes on everything from a new "release pattern" under instructor Chris Como to rust to a new grind on his wedges.
Woods has been open to trying new things with his golf swing, but would he be open to doing drills that don't take place on a practice range? If so, Dr. Crowley is just a call away.
In 2002 I was terribly out of shape and desperate to get my health back. Needing to make a significant lifestyle change, I was introduced to group called Athletes Performance, now known as EXOS in Phoenix. My first workout was to begin at 6 am. I went to bed a few hours earlier than normal and arrived promptly at 5:45. At the time Athletes Performance was an offseason haven for professional athletes from virtually every sport. Now as EXOS it has grown into a monster brand developing strategies for athletes, corporations and even the military. Its staff meant business, and I knew this was an opportunity I didn't want to squander.
To warm-up, our group jogged to a massive astroturf field and began going through a number of movement-prep exercises. As we prepared to shake the rust from our tightened muscles, music began pouring through the raucous stadium sound system. It was the "Rocky" soundtrack, cranked up to Spinal Tap's infamous level 11. Standing outdoors on the astroturf field, my body shivered as I gazed up at the pitch black sky. Our coach's voice barked commandingly, as the first challenge took shape. My body was stiff and rigid as each move felt like my muscles and tendons were about to rip from the bone. Part of me wanted to quit, but inspiration echoed through the speakers as our captain led the charge. It was Bill Conti's "Going The Distance." In that moment my entire life changed.
The next morning, my muscles ached with soreness, but I showed up again at AP and every other day the staff let me participate in the program. I had turned into an animal. A fire-breathing dragon, hell bent on pushing myself to the limits. With each rep the muscle packed on . . . 150, 160, 175 pounds at only 8 percent body fat.
As I would arrive at the facility each morning, one of the defensive players for the Indianapolis Colts would grab onto my bicep and ask, "When are you coming to training camp?" I knew he was joking, but that kind of positive interaction made me want to work even harder. Nothing in my life up to that point had felt better, and to this day I rely on my experience in that program to keep me focused on what is possible.
What is it that drives us to Make The Turn in each area of our lives? Sometimes it's pure desire, sometimes positive people we surround ourselves with and sometimes it can even be a song that serves as our personal anthem for excellence. Twelve years later, "Going The Distance" still pushes me to try a little harder.
Have some fun making a playlist that acts as the driving force behind your success and you can count this week's challenge as complete.
If you need some inspiration here's a list of the songs that get me going. Share YOUR songs as well and let's create the greatest playlist of all time!
1. Going The Distance, Bill Conti (Rocky Soundtrack)
2. Stranglehold, Ted Nugent
3. Bullet The Blue Sky, U2
4. Little Black Submarines, Black Keys
5. Lose Yourself, Eminem
6. Gimme Shelter, Rolling Stones
7. In The Evening, Led Zeppelin
8. Where The Streets Have No Name, U2
9. Dreams, Van Halen
10. Along The Watchtower, Jimi Hendrix
Jeff Ritter is the CEO/Founder of MTT Performance. The program operates out of Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif. Follow him on Twitter at @mttgolf
Jeff Ritter is the CEO/Founder of MTT Performance. The program operates out of Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif. Follow him on Twitter at @mttgolf
Rhythm and tempo
On Friday I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Jack Nicklaus, the greatest player in the history of the game, for an upcoming instruction series for Golf Digest. In his office in North Palm Beach, Fla., we talked about a number of subjects, but one that might be important this weekend with the impending rain in the Southeast, is how to play in bad weather.
We talked about a lesson Jack first produced with Ken Bowden in the classic series "Jack Nicklaus' Lesson Tee," which ran in the magazine in the '70s and became a book. Here is the lesson, with Jack's current comment:
"Rhythm and tempo take on extra importance when you're being bullied by the elements. With rain running down your neck, you subconsciously risk hurrying both your setup and your swing. In those circumstances I try to make a conscious effort to get properly settled over the ball, then to swing as smoothly and fully as possible. Two of my key thoughts at such times are: 'Make a deliberate takeaway' and 'Complete the backswing.' "
"That's a great tip," Jack told me on Friday. "I never considered myself a mudder, like Tom Watson, who relished wind and rain, but there are three categories of golfers in bad weather:
"One simply stays home until the rain stops. If you're playing in a tournament, you can't do that. Another group goes out and plays but with a negative attitude and usually a lot of griping and poor scores. The third group accepts the elements as just another variation of the game. They assume the scores will be higher and don't get upset when they make a poor shot or a bad score. When I was playing tournament golf, I made sure I was in that third group."
So if you want to play your best golf in inclement conditions, adopt Jack's attitude and think of your rhythm and tempo.
Editor's Note: Ever play in a group in which one of the golfers is a really strong player? Maybe it's the club championship and you drew the defending champion. Or you're playing against someone who has a reputation of intimidation. Every week Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at
Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best
Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week,
Kevin discusses something a little different, inspired by a key pairing at the Barclays Championship at Bethpage on Long Island. For at least the first two days of this week's PGA Tour event, PGA champion Rory McIlroy and FedEx points leader Tiger Woods will be playing together. This gives Kevin an opportunity to discuss how tour players handle playing with a tough competitor, and how you can perform optimally when you're competing against someone who seems to pure it off every tee.
How do you play to your potential when you're battling feelings of inferiority or insecurity? That's often what you face when playing with, say, the top golfer at your course or the best player in your town. Here are some tips when playing with your personal rival:
1. Be more prepared
Tom Kite once told me that one of the reasons he would practice so hard was that it gave him a sense of "deserving" to win. He would tell himself that no one in the field had prepared more, thus he deserved to win.
2. Figure out how hard to try
This is one of golf's big challenges. Trying extremely hard and grinding on every shot is not likely the recipe for success, nor is casually hitting shots without any focus. It is important to find the right balance, and that will take some experimentation. When playing a rival, most people err by trying too hard. It is mentally exhausting if every shot is hit as if it's life or death.
One putting exercise I do with my students is to hit putts with different effort levels, and track at what level they make the most putts. I'll have them hit groups of putts at different levels of intensity. A "10" would be reading the putt from multiple locations and summoning as much mental fortitude as possible, essentially trying to "will" the ball into the hole. A "1" on the scale is barely reading the putt and taking no practice strokes. It's just about as casually as a putt can be hit. Most people find that they have the best results somewhere in the middle, but it varies for each player. You can also apply this to full shots.
3. Play your own game
Much easier to say than do, but there is actually no reason why a rivalry should affect how you play. Golf is an individual sport in which you play against the golf course and yourself. Overly focusing on your opponent's game isn't healthy, even in match play. Stick with your routine, and just keep playing as you know how. I think that's why many tournaments are won by players who are not in the final group, flying under the radar a bit. Both Webb Simpson and Ernie Els won majors this year by doing so.
Here are five of my favorites:
By Ian Poulter:
Get out fast: "In match play you have to attack every pin, and when you get a lead, keep your foot on the accelerator," says Poulter, who is undefeated in Ryder Cup singles play. At the 2010 Ryder Cup, he defeated Stewart Cink in 14 holes. "After every shot, the clock is ticking, and it's a lot easier to win holes early than late. Don't give anything away from the start. That's how you become a player who's tough to beat."
By Jack Nicklaus;
Forget your partner: "Tom Weiskopf used to tell stories when we were partners that I would say, 'Go rack your cue, Tom.' Meaning pick up your ball because I'm going to make my putt,' " Nicklaus says. "Of course, I didn't say that, but the mind-set is a healthy one for match play. If I had an eight-footer and my partner had a 12-footer on a different line, I might want to just hit mine in. Point is, don't rely on your partner, rely on yourself. You're playing your own ball, so think about what you can do."
By Michael Breed:
Have a safety drive: On a crucial hole, driving the ball in the fairway can be the difference between free drinks and picking up the check. "What I tell my students is, make a practice swing and feel what's happening to your body. Feel what it's like to stay in balance," Breed says. "If you can maintain your balance, the club will tend to meet the ball in the center of the face." Staying in balance also will improve your rhythm, he says, which always helps prevent wild tee shots.
By Padraig Harrington:
One hole at a time: "If you're down, your goal is to win that hole. Get one hole, then the next."
By Tim Mahoney:
Up big? Don't coast: "It's natural to be more cautious with the lead and force your opponent to take risks," Mahoney says. "But being conservative should apply only to the target and club selection. Once it's time to hit, make an aggressive swing. When players get a lead, they tend to guide shots or focus on just avoiding disasters. They start thinking about the next thing, like the next match. You have to keep playing."
Good luck with your game this weekend. I hope you win your matches, unless you're playing against me!
Photo by Phillip Toledano/Golf Digest
But what if you're one of those golfers coming out for the first time this year, and you feel like, as Dan Jenkins once said, the golf club feels like a parking meter in your hands? That's where this column will help you. Here are three tips, from some of the game's top feel players and teachers, to get your touch back fast. The last thing you want to do is three-putt all day, or take extra shots from just off the green, or snap-hook your tee shots.
1. Feeling your hands. When you haven't played in a while, your hands feel weak. So it's only natural to grip the club tighter to compensate. Resist that and do the opposite. As Davis Love Jr. and Bob Toski wrote in How to Feel A Real Golf Swing, with Bob Carney, "Your hands generate clubhead speed. They control the face. They shape the path of your swing. But nothing can sabotage a good grip or good swing quicker than excessive or inconsistent grip pressure. Tension is the enemy of the swing, and it emanates from the grip. Pick up a pencil and write your name. How tightly did you hold the pencil? Just tightly enough to accomplish the task at hand. Which is how you hold your steering wheel, how you hold a book, how you hold your sweetheart's hand. For most golfers, holding a golf club only as tightly as enables the club to swing will seem much lighter than normal." So remember to hold the club lightly, and you'll regain your feel in no time.
2. Feeling the putter. Gain control by giving up control. Sport psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella once told Paul Azinger that he could see tension and artificiality in his stroke. In his book, Putting Out of Your Mind, Rotella recounts how he told Azinger to putt like he hit bunker shots. "I just look at where I want it to go," Azinger said, "splash the sand, and it goes there." Rotella told Paul he had to become relaxed, even nonchalant, at the moment of truth in putting as well. Try it and your stroke will free up and become more natural. You'll regain your stroke very quickly.
3. Feeling your feet. When you've had a long layoff, usually your feet and legs are a little slow; you've lost some agility. Get that footwork back by trying this piece of advice, from Tommy Armour's book How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time. "In simplifying footwork, I'll give you one little tip that probably will greatly improve the hitting portion of your swing. Have the right knee come in fast at the right time. The knee action in a good golf swing is practically identical with knee action in throwing a baseball."
So give these thoughts a try and good luck with your game this weekend. I'll be pulling for you (unless I'm playing against you).
Nilsson and Marriott have written three books on golf with Golf World's Ron Sirak. The latest, Play Your Best Golf Now, crystallizes the concept of the Think Box and the Play Box. Their first book, Every Shot Must Have a Purpose, however, introduces the concept. I think their approach will help you shoot lower scores almost immediately. Hey, if it works for Annika and Yani, why not give it a try.
Basically, Pia and Lynn contend that every shot has a decision line. That's an imaginary line that divides the area where you do all your thinking and strategizing (the Think Box) from the area where you simply hit the shot (the Play Box). Annika was superb at this, says Sirak. Once she entered the Play Box, she never hesitated or became distracted. She simply went through her routine, trusted her technique and pulled the trigger. She left all of her thinking behind--in the Think Box.
Here is a short excerpt of the first book. Try their approach this weekend, and I bet you'll play better golf.
As you stand in the THINK BOX you should consider all the variables for the shot: wind direction and strength, the lie of the ball (is it below your feet and will it thus fade away from your body?), the hazards you need to factor in, and, if you are in competition, the point at which you stand in the match. VERBALIZE your intentions for the shot. "I am going to hit a
Kevin Hinton: Johnson Wagner's stellar play on the par 5s at Waialae Country Club was a significant key to his victory. Waialae is a par 70 and has eight par 5s. That's eight total par 5's for the week. Johnson played those eight holes in nine under, eagling the 18th hole in the second and third rounds.
To gain some insight into Wagner's par-5 strategy, I spoke with his coach Bobby Heins, who is the head professional at Old Oaks Country Club in Purchase, N.Y. Bobby gives much of the credit to Johnson's working relationship with his caddie Matt Hauser, as well as improved wedge play. Bobby says that, "Johnson is still an aggressive player and goes for many par 5s in two. However, he has become more willing to lay up and make birdie with his wedge when the situation calls for it. Much of that comes from knowing that his wedge game has improved, as well as good communication and decision-making with his caddie."
(Wagner, above, has learned to weigh the risks when deciding to go for it on par 5s. Photo by Getty Images.)
In my view, a good coach, a good caddie, and a good wedge game sure seems to be a winning recipe for Johnson's par-5 success.