Playing in the Zone
By Mark Guttenberg, PGA
Have you ever played a round of golf in “THE ZONE”? You know those rounds where everything seems to be going your way and you just sit back and observe as the ball keeps going where it’s supposed to. Time stands still or moves in slow motion and you seem to have tunnel vision. Sometimes you don’t even remember hitting the shot, but there it goes, sailing down the fairway and coming to rest exactly where you wanted it to land.
What does it take to get in this state of mind? How do I reproduce this? What does it take to sustain it? Can anybody do it? I recently read a book called The Fluid Motion Factor by Steve Yellin and he answers these questions and many more concerning how the brain processes information and transmits that information to the body. It’s a short read and has some very clear information about how the brain works. There are several techniques that Yellin teaches that help you reach your potential. They are not all in the book, however, he teaches a class as well in order to further investigate the process.
When you are in the “zone” you have a very quiet mind. The front part of your brain has a department named the prefrontal cortex (PFC). This is not zone material here, because this part of the brain is the conscious mind, the decision maker, the CEO, the boss and its job is to micro manage every move you make.
The department you want to access is the called the cerebellum which controls your motor skills such as tempo, fast twitch muscles, core muscles, and firing sequence.
You even have a special place reserved in your brain where “muscle memory” is stored and it’s called the basal ganglia. Once it gets stored there you never lose it and you must access it when the PFC is sleeping. So the goal is to keep this part of your brain quiet.
I am not doing justice to this book but just sharing some of the insights that I think are worth mentioning. Yellin talks about the importance of not focusing too much on concrete thoughts like “hit the fairway” but instead, make your thoughts more abstract, such as an overall sense of rhythm and balance. When you think of the swing in parts you wake up the PFC and invite the conscious mind to take over. This thinking blocks a fluid thought process and interferes with optimal results.
Yellin suggests that you first think of the target and align yourself and then, bury it somewhere in the back of your mind. Don’t hold on to it for too long. Holding on to it complicates the flow.
I’ve always believed that the answer to playing your personal best lies in the mind. The ability to call up your best swing and do it consistently when it counts is really a matter of understanding how to use the right parts of your brain and at the right time. If you want to play in the zone more often you need a quiet nonjudgmental, state of mind. You need a fluid motion void of control and the way to get there is possible. Bottom line: learning to manage the traffic in your mind will give you access to your best golf. And don’t forget to breathe.