Henrik Stenson and Notes on Playing in The Zone

[I started this article three four days a go! Its a little different – concepts/words that may help you see the game/swing from a different perspective. For me – and hopefully for you as well – this is an inspirational topic: Playing golf in The Zone. These special rounds/times are ones that we absolutely cherish! The aim of this article is to provide you with inspiration and, tips that you may want explore further. Enjoy.]

Henrik Stenson!…Wow! One of the greatest closing rounds in one of the World’s premier theaters for golf – The Open. There have been quite a few 63’s in Major Championships, but this one was an 8-under par in the FINAL round – going head-to-head with the greatest left handed golfer ever, Phil Mickelson. Also, Stenson’s tournament total score was the lowest ever; very special.

I only saw highlights, as The Open is not covered on free-to-air TV, here, Downunder. And I’m no where near as driven to view it as in decades past. (I could have found away to watch it if I needed to.)What I did see was amazing play by Henrik, he birdied 4 of the last 5 holes (and three-in-a-row on the front nine) with fantastic putting.

​​​​​​​And Phil, he played great as well. He will have no regrets as he played a fine round and was part of a very special day and tournament.

​​​​​​​Zoned-In Performances 

What I noticed about Henrik in the highlights I viewed, and I had seen a few times before when it counted on the last days in Majors, was a balanced, at ease demeanor; a man tapping into the full potential of human performance – accessing the physical, mental and instinctual forces to near perfection. A zoned-in performance.

Greg Norman’s collapse in the 96 Masters was the opposite of Henrik’s performance, however, his 6-under par 64 in the closing round of The Open at Royal St Georges in 1993 was superb, and only a couple of shots behind Henrik’s final round score. Apart from a tiny missed putt half way through the back nine in the final round, Norman played an extraordinary round.

Remember in Norman’s case, he was a great player that had stumbled many times under final round, Major Championship pressure, notably, he lead all four majors into the final rounds in 1986, but only won The Open.

I witnessed Mark O’Meara in this “zone” in the Masters in 1998 on his back nine holes. As with Stenson and Norman in 93, I noticed him walking around in a very peaceful state, compiling what looked to be an effortless 4-under 32 on the back 9 holes to claim victory. (He won the Open that year as well.)

And it is worth noting that at the time of their victories, these players had played tens of thousands of rounds, played for three decades, and had hit hundreds of thousands of balls. So, because of this fact, and that there are only four majors each year and just a few times in their careers that they get in contention to win a Major on a Sunday, the internal pressure can rise very high if not managed or ideally, overcome.

Overcoming pressure with excellence

When these golfers enter a state such as what Henrik was in, pressure is drowned by excellence, purpose and mastery. Henrik wasn’t fighting pressure, he transcended pressure. He was playing and enjoying inspired, creative golf – the craft that he has devoted most of is waking hours to for the past 30 years.

Improvement along the path to mastery

Over these past few decades, Henrik would have experienced many near misses, errant shots, failures and crises of confidence, after all, he is 40 years old (good year that…1976:). But a man like him didn’t see these poor shots or near misses as failures…as Jack Nicklaus said, “Golf is a game of misses”.

How you perceive a missed shot or blown round is what determines how you respond.
For the positive mind, these experiences are opportunities to learn and improve. For the ignorant or negative, it is a trigger for frustration, anger, or simply ignorance.

By Ignoring the failure or not fixing/exploring the technical or mental error/deficiency, the player is doomed to repeat mistakes and not grow as a golfer. A simple way to improve, is to always use the goal/habit of consistently analyzing, discovering and practicing/playing with the new change/wisdom.

Back to Henrik’s long career march to Open glory…

…He kept practicing and improving is technique, tactics, and mental keys so the next time he faced similar situations in the next game, next year or, in 10 years time, he would be ready to excel and overcome the challenge. Henrik was indeed ready to produce a masterpiece.

Improvement is a work in progress. And of course, improving feels great, it’s the reason why we habitually leave the course/range enthusiastically, thinking correctly – and sometimes incorrectly – “I’ve found the secret!” Its not a bad thing, its a good thing, you must keep the faith! Take that gold nugget – that discovery – and apply it to your next game. If it doesn’t work, who cares, but if it works time and time again, you’ve improved and become a better player. Well done comrade, keep doing it, the small discoveries and improvements add up over time!

Career-Low Score improvements

What I have experienced in my 30 years of effort and play, is that once I reached a low scoring record of 1 under par, my next low score was 2 then 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 under par (I did get to 8 under twice in the 7-under round). I didn’t jump from 1 to 5 or from 4 to 7. This is not a rule, just my experience. And in between those progressions was a lot of time and many “blown” rounds. But, if you keep trying and keep an open mind on what needs to be improved and you improve those areas of your game, in a little while you will have a very good round on the go and you will be well placed to use your skills to shoot a personal best score.

Attributes that I have experienced in zoned-in rounds, and what you are capable of

I have played 18 hole rounds in the zone. And many more where I have played part of the round or had separate areas of my game like putting or driving, firing on all cylinders.

When you go low and have all areas of your game firing at 9-out-of-10 for more than four hours, that is quite special. For you now, regardless of your handicap, a complete game in the zone will result in you going 7 to 10 shots+ better than your handicap. This is what you are capable of at your current handicap. (Obviously, passages of play, or even 9 hole zone-visits, come more frequently than full round experiences.)

When playing one of these rounds, you don’t hit every shot perfect and you make a mistake or two. However, if you are aware and not clouded by frustration after poor shots, you will be open to seeing the reason behind the error – in quiet reflection between shots/holes. This reflection is represented by the Review in the 4 R’s of putting system in The Truth About Putting).

I found that my awareness, acceptance of results and decision making were excellent in zoned-in rounds. And add to that, the ability to let go – to not get too high or low, to try enough, but not too much.

“Letting go, is one out of the two parts of mastering balance, and balance is in between polar opposites.”

I’ll explain:

  • Swing over-the-top or too much from the inside is not balance, they are opposites. Be in between these two extremes – as great swingers are.
  • Putting too hard or too soft: a stroke that is too fast, a stroke that is too slow, they are opposites and equally as damaging; the stroke and effort is out of balance.
  • Spending too much time over the ball on a putt causes anxiety (not letting go), conversely, not enough time gives you a lack of focus. Opposites. Balance.

A mantra from The Truth About Putting is to “do your homework” (reading the putt – R#1). Once set up over the ball, take one last look at the line/hole after a routine that is not too long and not too short, and then react by swinging and letting go of care – as your eyes arrive back at the ball.

Letting go – in action

In my career-low, 9 birdie round of 65 a couple of years ago, my goal in putting for the day was to swing back after two looks at the hole, not three as I had been doing for along time. During the round, despite mounting pressure, I trusted the goal I had set for myself pre-round.

The discipline to focus and let go – to carry out your routine regardless of whether you are comfortable (letting go) is the key to putting well under pressure, and the key you need to access the door to mid-twenties putts/round putting.

When you have a putt to go 5 or 6 better than your handicap or par in my case, your first instinct is NOT to try less! Its to spend a little extra time reading or aiming. Fight this urge, if you stick to what is right and balanced, you will always be rewarded. (Try using a mantra to help you free up and relax, such as, “let go” or “be free”; I have used them a lot in my career.)

Another way to look at the balance between focus and carefree or, anxiety and carelessness, is to, “do your homework” (this focuses you), then, follow the prescribed routine – NOT taking too much time or doing anything differently – and then “give in, trust, and stroke.”

The same applies for driving tee-shots under pressure. Tension and “doing more” is the enemy and opposite of a balanced, robotic transition where, you do less from the top of your swing; you don’t come over-the-top or, come too much on an inside swing-plane. Your bodily movements, the club and your mind are in-sync.

Technique I hear you ask?
Sure, work on it, train it, but when you are out on the course, there is only one way to play – REGARDLESS of your current technique or abilities. Trust your swing on the course. Great scoring follows this process: think, see, feel and swing, and review when necessary.

Mentally, use “relaxed-focus” (as I described, not too much, but enough).

Technically and mentally: balance your polar positions. Make balanced movements, thoughts, perceptions, decisions and reactions. This concept of balance is universal in all shots in golf: chips, putts, drives and approach shots.

Try and incorporate some of this hard-earned golf-wisdom into your game and I’m sure it will help you. Try it, play with it, tweak it, get to know it, rename it, then let me know your thoughts/results.

I hope you liked this article, send it to others if you feel the urge. And to dig into these concepts further to improve any part of your game, see the below links to relevant training’s.
If you would like more training on mastering your putting, swing technique, short-game or playing feel-golf with more creativity and less swing-paralysis by analysis, these training programs will help:

The Truth About Putting (She’s a beauty!)

Build a Better Shortgame (For confident chipping, pitching and bunker-play)

The Automatic Golf System and Magic-Move (Auto Golf: Think, see, feel and swing. Magic-Move: mastering the Magic-Move – transition to downswing)

The Adults Golf Swing (Better swing technique)

New for 2016: The Simple Swing (Better swing technique plus training on feel, swing trusting-mode, and practice)


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