Col. G.R. HallHow a P.O.W. Use Golf to Survive the Hanoi Hilton for over 7-Years

There is a proven method that can allow the golfer to accelerate their golf practice and training hours by 50 percent. The best proven method is referred to as Mental Continued Incrementalism. In the Japanese language, there is a similar term, called Kaizen, which means continuous improvement. All of us, especially golfers, have an ability to achieve an incremental, or continuous improvement where we can continually build on what we have previously have learned through experiences, as it relates to our golf game or academics. The challenge or odyssey is figuring out how. All roads to mental continuous improvement in your golf game or learning lead in one direction, through the subconscious mind wired with mental images and through experiences.

01LockPositionThe subconscious mind provides a huge advantage for the golfer and students to make significant gains in their golf game and education. The subconscious mind has an incredible advantage and ability of boosting our education, training, and practice time. Here are just three advantages of the subconscious mind. First, the subconscious mind has no concept of time; second, the subconscious mind does not rest or sleep; and the third and most important, the subconscious mind does not distinguish between the actual and the virtual world of imagination. You can actually imagine and work on your academics and performance without even being on the golf course, practice range, or even a classroom. You can take your learning with you anywhere you go. My Grandmother, to help reduce the effects of DARE (Deficit Academic Retention Effect), established an Academic GYM consisting of reading, writing, math, science, including athletics (in my case golf). This was the modern day homeschooling for the summer months.

DARE stands for Deficit Academic Retention Effect of summer vacation.

A major part of DARE is athletics, in my case was golf, to take advantage of the summer and allow the student to maintain maintain a mental edge and build mental skills of learning on and off the course.

In golf you can literally take your golf training with you anywhere you go by just learning to preset the wrists. I dedicated five sections in my book, The ESPY Golf Swing Coach, to the mental horse- power of true grit, consisting of faith, positive thinking, and mental incrementalization of improving your golf game and learning. As illustrated in the Figure the hands and wristbands are preset using the right Hypothenar and left thenar for the right hander. The thenars are the strongest and most dexterous muscle in the hands. The thenars are the only muscle directly connected to the handle of the club that can adequately transfer the power generated from the lower and upper body. They also act as shock absorbers for the wrists and elbow if used correctly. Ben Hogan even reference the Thenars in his commentaries.

Here is the obstacle facing the golfer. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers it takes approximately 10,000 man-hours to become a expert in a particular field. Yogi Berra’s quote about baseball can equally be applied to golf just as well. In Yogi’s quote, he stated “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”

This is an obstacle, but it can be just as well be an advantage used by athletes. This means the athlete in this case the golfer doesn’t have to spend 100 percent of their time on the practice range. The golfer can use their mind to create the important muscle memory to develop a consistent golf swing with power, speed, and control. I had the rare opportunity to interview a Vietnam War POW while I was meeting at the Hattiesburg, MS Country Club on business. As I was leaving I met Colonel George Robert Hall.

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. 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.

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, but 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.”

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. Their prison cells became their world of existence. Colonel Hall took advantage of his isolation and confinement to increase his ability to mentally focus, or what athletes refer to as being in “THE ZONE.”

Colonel Hall was held prisoner 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 and in his seven-and-a-half by seven-and-a-half prison cell he called his Pebble Beach. 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 sight and sound of each stroke. He counted the steps between each shot and 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 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.

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 six weeks 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.)

Below was my interview I had with Colonel George Robert Hall in March of 2002 at the Hattiesburg, MS Country Club:

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.”

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 Hypothenar. 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 Hypothenar 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: “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:

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.

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 process. This is the mental incrementalism that Colonel Hall used that I was able to interview in 1995. This allows the golfer to work on one element at a time in the golf swing. The ESPY Golf Swing has three very simple (E) ergonomic elements (SYNCH, PRESET or PROTRACT, and YAW) that the golfer can work on anywhere and at anytime. The letters ESP also stands for ExtraSensory Performance that Colonel Hall was able to use in his performance at the Greater New Orleans Open.

Clipboard01  Preset Pro Elements

For the right handed golfer, by presetting the wrists with the SYNCH (CAM) of the right Hypothenar and PROTRACT or PRESET (CAM-OVER) of the left Thenar elements, the golfer places their wrists, hands, and the club into the LOCK position as noted in the first figure. The LOCK position indicates that 80 percent of the total golf swing has been completed by just using two simple elements, to CAM with the right Hypothenar follow immediately with the left Thenar to naturally set the CAM-OVER element. This is the same muscle memory that most of us developed in our baseball-type swings as noted in the illustration below in the baseball bat diagram. 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 significant downtime. Colonel Hall proved that downtime does not have to be condition we have to experience. Mental lapse or DARE does not have to be the case for golfers, even during the long winter months, or with students during the summer months. We need to always focus on the process, instead of the results. Colonel Hall proved that the process of muscle memory is more essential than the results, so much that he could not even imagine what his results were until the New Orleans Pro-Am, but he had confidence in his sequential process. He used his golf game just to maintain his sanity.


The thenars work like cams on a camshaft in the wrist area of each hand. Boxing gloves help the golfer to mentally imagine and maintain their muscle memory on and off the course.

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.

This 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 six weeks after his release. He credited his 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. Now, no excuses for golf rust over the winter months!

The PGA has been working with Veterans since World War I to help them transition back into civilian life.

The ESPY Golf Swing Coach– Price for Paperback $15.75 and E-Book $8.99, Hardback is also available on my website: OR your local bookstore and also:


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YouTube Videos: (Cam & Cam-over elements) (Figuring your proper swing plane) (Developing muscle memory)

A Recommendation for your Golf Game:

I would like to recommend a wonderful radio program that I regularly listen to on my I-Heart Radio app to KARN 102.9 FM station out of Little Rock, AR. They air a golf show called “Arkansas Fairways and Greens,” at 7:00 AM CT each Saturday morning, hosted by Bob Steel and Jay Fox. Bob 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.

Until next time– Be Synched, Tee-to-Green, with The ESPY Golf Swing!