Teaching Golf with NLP™

by Kalliope Barlis

Golf is a game that engages all of our senses—especially seeing, hearing, and feeling—to land the target and score less. The more aware we can become of our state of being and how we play to produce optimal performance, the more often we will play well and score less. This is because, with this awareness, we can step into this state before we even start playing. Although people dress up before they go out or to a meeting, few golfers dress up their attitude before beginning a round of golf or practice.


Tim Gallwey wrote The Inner Game of Tennis in 1974 before he wrote The Inner Game of Golf. He created the formula that “performance equals potential minus interference.” He explains interference as being self-talk that goes on in a player’s mind while he is meant to just play the game. This concept became the foundation for coaching in any area and at all levels—in sports, executive training, life coaching, and so on. As a result of Tim’s work, we became aware that self-talk weakens potential performance . . . but no solution was offered to change it. Many players who play effectively move fast in their routine where there’s not time for interference. They are just fully engaged with the target. 


Neuro-Lingusitic Programming (NLP) has taken coaching and teaching to an even higher level by filling in the missing factor to make long-lasting change in performance. The truth is, we can control our self-talk—our thoughts and the way we feel about and see ourselves. Any performance in doing our best is relative to how we view ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, and how we hear things—and that includes our own voice. It’s not just self-talk that influences potential, but all of these senses: sights, sounds, and feelings. NLP offers awareness into how we—specifically and individually—represent our world and the world around us within us. This awareness can be applied to our golf game to get the results we want.


Self-Talk: What You Say Influences Your Performance

Too often, golfers state what they don’t want instead of what they do want. If a green is beside water, they decide where to land the ball, but while going through the process, they might say to themselves, I hope I don't land it in the water. If I say to you, “Don’t think of a gopher,” what happens? You think of a gopher. Maybe even Mr. Gopher from Caddyshack. So, likewise, when a golfer says, Don't land it in the water, he thinks of the ball landing in the water because the brain makes a representation of what the golfer says.


When you thought of the gopher, that’s simple proof that the brain does what you say—whether it is said aloud or internally as self-talk. So, on the other hand, if the golfer thinks of landing the ball on the green and says, I’m landing the ball there, while picking a specific target, the chances of landing the target become greater. At the PGA Show 2015, Bubba Watson said, “I’m gonna make a hole in one,” and he did. Everyone was surprised except for him. He clearly understands the power of stating goals the way he wants them to happen. Positively. 


Now, let’s take the sounds in golf to another level. You know what it sounds like when you strike the center of the clubface through the center of the ball. It is oh-so-sweet because you know your ball will land exactly where you intend. In those moments, anchor the experience. What that means is to do something that encodes the experience as a resource for future access. For example, play the sound louder in your mind; amplify it in full Dolby Surround sound. Or throw your fist up into the air with vigor or simply say to yourself, “That’s the way.” You see it all the time with the pros nowadays. They roar like tigers when they land their target or win a tournament. They anchor the thrill so that they can redo it. Often, a player will win at a course he’s won before because he has anchored that winning experience in some manner.


See Who You Want to Be: How You View Yourself Increases Your Development

Sir John Whitmore studied the work of Tim Gallwey and created an executive coaching system based upon it. Unsure exactly how he was influencing his clients specifically with the tools he was using, Whitmore hired NLP practitioners to define the process of his strategy for high performance.


In NLP, we learn that any behavior can be detected through the five senses (visual-sights, auditory-sounds, kinesthetic-feelings, olfactory-scents, and gustatory-tastes). By detecting the behavior, we can then elicit it and utilize it, or we can install the behavior in someone who wants to perform better. In our case, as golf teachers, we can guide our clients to choose their favorite golfer for the purpose of doing the following exercise. This exercise has magical effects on the nervous system, which changes golf performance on a deep and lasting level. Guide someone through this centering exercise or do it yourself in a quiet place with no distractions so that the focus is totally on carrying out the instructions. This can be performed in the mind or acted out physically.


Stepping Into Action Exercise

  1. Stand tall. Your feet are compressed against the ground as your head extends up. 
  2. Imagine a triangle of grass on the ground in front of you. 
  3. Inside the triangle, see your favorite golfer as a hologram while they are playing their best. 
  4. Look at them from all angles—from above down, from side to side, from the bottom up, and from all around. 
  5. Sense what they look like, feel like, and sound like to themselves. 
  6. Now, step into the experience of your favorite golfer and sense how their ability merges with your own, quickly.
  7. Sense how you feel, look, and sound, rapidly. Give this some time to synthesize within you. 


Some people can’t believe how a simple exercise like this makes a vast difference in a golfer’s ability to score less. NLP uses simple, effective techniques. They are so simple and effective that some people are challenged by the idea.


Feeling Good to Perform Your Best

Begin feeling good before starting any golf practice or play. This way you will be in the right state of mind to golf your best. Before dedicated martial artists begin practice on the mat, they know that the moment their foot steps on the mat, everything going on in their life wipes away. This allows them to focus on practicing a specific ability to do better than they did the day before. Golfers can adopt this same routine. The moment you step foot on the golf range, focus directly on what you have decided to practice that day, anchoring the good experiences, and then go play the game. If something happens on the course that changes how you feel, spin the feelings in the opposite direction or pop them out of your body into the ground. You don’t own feelings, and they can simply be removed—especially when it is something as insignificant as a bad golf shot in the grand scheme of life.


Planning for the Future (The Past Is Over)

The quality of practice determines the development of your ability to play. Too often, people practice without getting better. It all starts with planning. The more you guide your clients to plan their practice so they do improve, the more they will improve. The brain needs direction. Pilots have a destination whenever they fly. Otherwise, they’d run out of gas while flying aimlessly. With a destination, they know the route they need to take to get there. The brain works the same way. When a golfer has a clear vision of where they want to be and practice and play the right way, any golfer can achieve the level they want. Golfers have the resources they need to play better within them. Our job, as golf teachers, is to guide them to learn what works for them in self-discovery—not teach or tell them. It’s just a matter of making it happen for them. This happens first by planning.


Plan for the day, the week, month, and year. For today, what do you want to improve—putting, chipping, irons, woods, driver, or uncommon shots? Practice for 15 minutes and reflect on the what you’ve done for a few minutes. What can you do more of or less of? What can you stop doing or start doing? Move on to the next thing to practice and follow this same routine.


The brain loves what’s familiar, yet it learns through what’s different. After you practice for 15 minutes, stop, then reflect for a few minutes. This way, you’ve satisfied your brain’s ability to keep things familiar, but you are tricking it into learning by doing something different. That’s how you get better. Tiger Woods said the reason he got so good at different shots is because he got bored doing the same thing over and over again. He recognized that his brain needed to do something different to keep his mind engaged to improve. The brain does get bored after doing the same thing over and over again. This is where the negative self-talk begins to creep in, which sometimes seems uncontrollable. It’s a vicious cycle of getting bored, not realizing it, and then complaining because the shot was terrible, thinking it’s you, the golfer, who is a failure. But rather, it is feedback informing you it’s time to move onto something different to practice. 


If you eat pizza one night after a while of not having eaten it, it tastes terrific. But if you keep eating it night after night after night, it loses the power it had that first night. The brain works similarly when practicing. Practice similar shots from different lies on the grass so that your brain remains engaged. When it’s engaged, you have the ability to focus on landing your target. Therefore, you will improve when you practice and gain the confidence to take it to the course along with the good feelings that go with it to perform your best.


NLP offers full-proof strategies to play your best. It does take time and doing. No invention was ever created just by thinking about it. Someone did what they had to do to discover what it takes to make it a reality. That’s how we got to the moon. The hologram creates an image of reality that people think is real, except upon touching it. The hologram is a powerful tool. Our brain works holographically, giving power to our mind to make things happen. While thinking with our full senses, we can achieve anything we want by doing it the right way.


I hope you have learned some of the ways to do it here and pass it on to others so that they, too, can achieve all they want to achieve.