By: Charles W. Boatright
Developing Your Incremental Mental Approach to Golf
How to take your baseball-style swing from the batter’s box to the tee box with real results.
How A P.O.W. Using Golf to Survive his captivity for over Seven Years
Some people might not recall the details of the Vietnam War, but this war produced some of the most outstanding people we have in our country and communities today. Their accomplishments and achievements should not be forgotten or diminished, compared to the achievements of the Greatest Generation (Veterans from World War 2 and Korean Conflict). We can learn a tremendous amount from these Vietnam Veterans about their mental discipline and how to cope with adversity.
One veteran of the Vietnam War was a P.O.W. (Prisoner Of War) held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton. U.S. Air Force Pilot, Colonel George Robert Hall was shot down over North Vietnam on September 27, 1965. The reason I noted Colonel Hall’s situation as a P.O.W. in an article about golf is because he used his love of golf to sustain himself through horrendous conditions of being a P.O.W., while held with others at the Hanoi Hilton. Colonel Hall with other P.O.W. were able to train their minds in the field of science, math, language, and sports. Colonel Hall particularly used golf to not only keep his sanity under adverse conditions, and to maintain his single -digit handicap in golf. For additional background on what these men experienced as a P.O.W.’s, there is a book by Colonel Edward Hubbard entitled “Escape From the Box.”
How to create ESP Zone-like performance that you can take to the course.
These P.O.W.’s were sociologically and physically tortured and held in solitary confinement for weeks and months, without any contact with the outside world. Their seven-and-a-half foot square prison cells became their world of existence. Colonel Hall took advantage of his isolation and confinement to increase his golf routine and ability to mentally focus, or what athletes refer to as being in “THE ZONE.” I like to call this zone the ExtraSensory Performance-ZONE, because it involves the subconscious mind. The golfer can use three of their five senses to enhance their ability to connect with the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind handles majority of our daily activities including the involuntary function like breathing, heart rate, and other vital functions including storing and activating our muscle memory.
Colonel Hall was held as a prisoner of war for seven-and a-half years, until his release on February 12, 1973. During his confinement, Colonel Hall heightened his mental and visualization skills to develop a virtual golf course in his mind. He imagined himself dressing for his round of golf each day by putting on his golf socks, pants, shoes, T-shirt, and golf shirt, and picking up his golf cap and bag and heading to the course. He mentally dealt with his nerves on the first tee box and played each and every hole of his home course, without missing a single feel, sight or sound of each stroke. He remembered writing down the score for each hole. He pictured the fairways, greens, and the trees, including the rough and the speed of the greens.
Colonel Hall imagined standing behind the ball to get his alignment, going through his setup and per shot routine, presetting his wrists, and taking the club back up to the top of his swing, and then dropping the club back down into the slot. He focused on the part of the golf ball that he wanted to impact. He heard the sound that the clubface made with the ball and held his photo finish position.
The Greater New Orleans P.O.W. Pro-Am in 1973
Colonel Hall mentally maintained his golf swing muscle memory, even as a P.O.W. Upon his release from the Hanoi Hilton, the first thing that he wanted to do was to play his first round of golf. He did a little better than that. In less than two months from his release on Feb 12, 1973, he was playing on one of the biggest stages in golf. On March 21, 1973, Colonel Hall was invited to play in the 1973 New Orleans P.O.W. Pro-Am Open, where he shot a 76, his handicap. This was after seven-and-a-half years of not even picking up a golf club, or having any physical conditioning. Not many professional golfers would even consider attempting such a feat. Colonel Hall lost about 100 pounds of his total weight, including muscle mass, during his captivity and still had an outstanding performance. The weight loss was due to the P.O.W.’s daily rations of approximately 300 calories. (By the way, Jack Nicklaus won the 1973 New Orleans Open.)
In my book, I use a conjunction of two words, mental and visualization, to create one word, “Mentalization.” The mind works more effectively if it can follow a well-established sequential routine and process and images. This is the mental incrementalism that Colonel Hall used. This allows the golfer to work on one element at a time in the golf swing. The ESPY Golf Swing has three very simple incremental (E) ergonomic elements (SYNCH, PROTRACT or PRESET, and YAW) that the golfer can work on anywhere and at anytime.
The SYNC and PRESET Incremental Elements of the ESPY Golf Swing
By SYNCING the elbow and PRESETTING the wrists, the golfer places their hands and the club into the LOCK position. The LOCK position indicates that 80 percent of the total golf swing has been completed by just using two simple elements. This is the same incremental muscle memory that most of us developed in our baseball-type swings. The YAW and DROP elements represent the remaining 20 percent of the golf swing. Guys, it doesn’t get any easier than this. Remember golf is mental, one of Yogi Berra’s best Yogi-isms, “Baseball is 90 percent mental; and the other half is physical.”
The major advantage of a process like the ESPY Golf Swing is that there is no downtime. You can mentally perform the incremental process of Syncing the elbows, Presetting the wrists, and performing the Yaw maneuver practically anywhere.
Colonel Hall proved that downtime is not a matter of fact. Mental lapse does not have to be the case for golfers, even during the long winter months. We need to always focus on the incremental process, instead of the results.
Colonel Hall proved that the process of incremental muscle memory is more essential than the results, so much that he could not even imagine what his results were going to be until he played in The Greater New Orleans Pro-Am Open, but he had confidence in his sequential incremental process. I had the pleasure of talking and conducting an interviewing with Colonel Hall and understand how he used his thumbs to represent the handle of the club to maintain his skill and handicap level. One of the advantage that the average golfer could use is to mentally re-orientate the golf ball from the ground level to height of the waist, similar to a baseball-type swing.
I regularly listen to a radio show on my I-Heart Radio app to KARN 102.9 FM station in Little Rock, AR. They air a golf show called “Arkansas Fairways and Greens,” at 7:00 AM CT each Saturday, hosted by Bob Steel and Jay Fox. He occasionally has on his show a guest named Shawn Humphries, a Professional Golf Instructor from Dallas, Texas. One thing that Mr. Humphries stresses is the mental part of golf, not focusing on the results but the process. Results of wining will happen.
Decision Factor: Establish a proven process, sequence, and incremental process; make sure everything is done properly and in order! Success will happen.
This incremental mental approach to golf was verified by Colonel George Robert Hall’s process, by maintaining his mentalization of his game. After his seven-and-a-half years of captivity, he played in a pro-am tournament and recorded a 76, less than two months after his release. He credited his incremental muscle memory process during his captivity to shooting his handicap. So next time someone tells you that they focus more on the process than the results, you know exactly what they are alluding to in their statement. Don’t get lost in the results, just trust and follow your process. Now, no excuses for golf rust over the winter months!
The PGA since 1919 has been working with Veterans since World War I to help them transition back into civilian life. Golf is a great method to deal with Post Traumatic Stress symptoms. See my article on ‘Operation DOG TAG:’ https://goo.gl/9gLZAc
Below, I have included part of my interview with Colonel Hall at the Hattiesburg, MS Country Club where I met him just by chance. He was kind enough to sit down with me and explain how he used his subconscious mind to overcome serious obstacles. There is not many professional golfers that could be out of golf for over seven years and return to the game on one of the biggest stages in golf and shot their handicap within six weeks. That is what was so fascinating about Colonel Hall’s story I wanted to hear. Below is part of my interview with Colonel Hall:
Interview with Colonel George Robert Hall:
Question No. 1
Boatright: “What did you use as a golf club?”
Col. Hall: “I used my left thumb to represent the handle of the club, and placed my right hand around the left thumb. This also gave me the opportunity to maintain the correct grip pressure on the handle of the club and preset my wrists, as I did when I played golf on a regular basis. I did have a stick that I hid in my cell, but most of the time I used just my left thumb”
Question No. 2
Boatright: “What was the key component in your golf swing to give you the most realistic feel, since you did not have a golf club or experience the results of your golf shots?”
Col. Hall: “Everything had to be associated with my hands and wrists. I could not think about the floor as the ground or as my reference point. If I could preset my wrists in the proper sequence, based on how I played golf prior to my deployment to Vietnam and my capture, I could feel how the forearms and wrists reacted during my golf swing.”
Question No. 3
Boatright: “So, your point of reference was waist level at your hands?
Col. Hall: “Yes, to be more specific, my thumbs. I kept all the impact, essentially, at the level of my hands, similar to how a baseball player uses a bat to take batting practice.”
Question No. 4
Boatright: “I have centered my muscle memory development on two points, the base of my wristbands and the base of the thumb and palm, called the Thenar. Did you center on keying in on a particular muscle to execute your golf shot?”
Col. Hall: “Yes, I read about how Ben Hogan described his Thenar as being a key part of his golf swing to pronate and supinate his wrists and hands to open and close his clubface.”
Col. Hall’s Question: “How did you determine the significance of the Hypothenar in the golf swing?”
Boatright: “In Kinesiology, my professor, Dr. Bunch, stressed the importance of two muscles used in the baseball-type swing that could help linemen reduce injuries to the wrists. These were the Brachio-Radialis muscle and the thenars, particularly the Hypothenar. Both are unique in that the Brachio-Radialis muscle can both pronate and supinate, and the thenars are the strongest and most dexterous muscles in the hand.”
Question No. 5
Boatright: “Have you ever read or seen a video series by Mr. Eddie Merrins, aka The Little Pro, where he focused on swinging the handle of the club and not the club, similar to how you use your left thumb to represent the handle of the club and the right thumb to represent the clubface?”
Col. Hall: “No I haven’t, but that is interesting how you use your right thumbs to represent the clubface. The more I think about it, that goes along with the same technique of having a strong or weak grip by the placement of the right thumb. I was doing the same thing, but I did not consciously go to that level of detail, like you are doing.”
Boatright: “If you think about the difference between the weak and the strong grip, most generally, it entails the placement of the right thumb on the handle of the club. That was the reason I think swinging the handle of the club is an important part to improving the golfer’s game and swing that you proved.”
Question No. 6
Boatright: “So you interface with your golf swing by moving the golf ball from the ground, up to your hands also?”
Col. Hall: “I found out by moving the ball from the floor to my thumb that you have a better point of reference to how you’re executing the golf shot, and you have a better chance of making a realistic and solid golf shot.”
Boatright: “You definitely proved that during the Pro-Am.”
Question No. 7
Boatright: “Did you try to engage, use, or set your elbows during your golf swings that you made in your cell?”
Col. Hall: “Yes, I read about the Pro-Am charity for the American Heart Association where President Eisenhower was paired with Arnold Palmer, I think it was 1963 in Pennsylvania. Arnold noticed that the President’s right elbow was separating from his right side. Arnold suggested to the President if he tuck his right elbow next to his right side he, the President, would have better control and power in his golf game.”
Boatright: “I came across a similar article in Kingdom Magazine that was one of my grandfather’s key fundamentals that he drilled into my golf training.”
Question No. 8
Boatright: “What was the technique or mental image did you create to feel that your elbow was set correctly, or what I call synced?”
Col. Hall: “I used my forearm to help shift my elbow toward my side. I wanted to feel my elbow was over my hip. This allowed me to feel I had a compact swing like how a ice skater does by bringing their arms in to increase their spin rate. The other image I had the the classic golfer inside a barrel, who has to tuck their elbows to swing inside the barrel”
Question No. 9
Boatright: “I’ve got to ask this question. What were your guards thinking when they saw you making a virtual golf swing with your hands, arms, and shoulders?”
Col. Hall: “Probably, they were thinking that they have finally broken me, and I lost all touch with reality.”
Boatright: “If I had been your guard in a country where golf wasn’t a popular sport, or even heard of, I would think the same thing. That you lost your mind!”
For a more in-depth story of Colonel Hall’s story as a P.O.W., please refer to my article written in November of 2015: http://goo.gl/W1jAuC.
Talking with Colonel Hall provided me the important background confirmation that I needed for the main theories in my book, The ESPY Golf Swing Coach. One of the biggest obstacles in golf is correlating perception with reality. What the golfer thinks works one day doesn’t even work the very next day. That’s one reason why I had three Xerox boxes full of data and results, with two boxes labeled, “THIS DOES NOT WORK.” The half-filled Xerox box labeled, “THIS WORKS,” were techniques I was able to replicate day-after-day, without fail, for a consistent golf swing.
What Colonel Hall provided me with was over seven years of substantiated data that he repetitiously practiced in his prison cell and proved on one of the biggest stages in golf at a Pro-Am, just six weeks after his release from North Vietnam’s Hanoi Hilton P.O.W. prison.
Colonel Hall also proved that downtime, or not being on a golf course, does not have to limit your golf practice or workout routine. This also proves that Yogi Berra’s quote that “Baseball is 90 percent mental, and the other half is physical” was more than just a line he believed in.
The quote that golf is 90 percent mental should be encouraging for most golfers who are trying to improve their golf game, in that we all can improve mentally, as Colonel Hall proves that playing golf is 90 percent between the ears. We just need to figure out how to use this huge resource. My book, The ESPY Golf Swing Coach, proves the necessary tools and techniques for the average golfer to improve his/her golf swing.
Once you learn WHY, you don’t forget HOW!
Until next time– Be Synched, Tee-to-Green, with The ESPY Golf Swing!