If you’ve ever battled multiple swing thoughts, shot indecision or given in to negative thoughts on the golf course – and who hasn’t? – Dr. Michael Lardon has a book for you.
Lardon, a San Diego sports psychologist and professor at UC-San Diego, has worked with elite athletes, including golfers, for nearly 30 years and has distilled his mental game plan for golfers into a book called “Mastering Golf’s Mental Game.”
Whereas golfers will spend hours on the range honing – or looking for – their swing, few amateurs have given much thought to their thought process on the course and managing emotions. Lardon says in these areas amateurs could benefit greatly from an approach he uses with the pros.
“I think everybody has an idea of what they want to do with their swing,” he says, “but nobody really has an idea of what they want to do in terms of their mental game.
“This gives them a template for it. It gives them a playbook, if you will.”
By mental approach, Dr. Lardon means managing emotions on the course, having a vision and process for each shot and then distilling your “swing thoughts” into one thought to guide each play.
While these techniques help athletes became elite, the principles have potentially greater applications for amateurs in terms of score, Lardon says.
“For the Tour pro, we’re talking about a shot a round here or there because they’re obviously pretty darn good,” he says. “But for the 20-handicapper, it could make a tremendous impact on their game and in many ways.”
Lardon preaches a pre-shot process that consists of calculation (factoring variables: wind, club, shot), creation (visualizing the shot) and execution (hit the shot with one simple thought – or none).
Lardon reinforces his process by citing anecdotes from his work with the pros, including Phil Mickelson, who provides a foreword for the book. They were introduced over a game of table tennis at The Bridges County Club at the invitation of Tim Mickelson, Mickelson’s brother and coach of the University of San Diego men’s golf team.
Lardon, a UCSD professor, had worked with the golf team and ended up working with Mickelson prior to his 2013 British Open victory. Mickelson actually coined the term “mental scorecard” for Lardon’s process.
The mental scorecard Lardon advises players keep during their round rewards process independent of result and gives them a measure of their mental focus for their round.
In short, if you go through the process on your drive, for instance, and slice, you still get a point. Whereas if you thoughtlessly hit a nice chip, no point is rewarded.
“He was probably at 98-99 percent that week,” Lardon says of Mickelson’s British performance, “but that’s what it takes to win a major.”
The score is normally expressed in a score equivalent to a players’ actual score, but Lardon it can also be termed as percentage of time that they execute the process.
Over time, players realize a connection with process and results that, when included with a pre-shot routine, provides a framework for growth and success.
Just prior to this interview, a 12-handicap who’d read the book e-mailed Lardon about his breakthrough round.
“I shot 71 … out of the blue,” he wrote, “a quantum leap for me. Shows what can happen when you get out of your own way.”
That’s the type of success Lardon wants for more players and he believes his book can achieve.
“This book is a playbook for the average guy and the Tour guy,” he says. “But I’m hopeful that it will end up helping everybody play better golf.”