Relaxing your way to a better game

By BRYAN FITZGERALD, Special to the Times Union First published in print: Friday, May 22, 2009 GUILDERLAND — Two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw was once quoted as saying, "I'm about five inches away from being an outstanding golfer — that's the distance my right ear is from my left one."



No sport weighs as heavily on the mind as golf. Be it a book, a lesson, or an instructional video, golfers are always looking for a mental edge to shave a few strokes off their handicap.A few weeks ago I tried something different. I signed up for a golf hypnosis session at the Knowledge Network on Central Avenue in Albany. Golf hypnosis attempts to lower your score by tapping into the power of your subconscious. Similar techniques have been used to help people quit smoking or lose weight.

"Everyone has their own concern that they can't verbalize or express, yet they know what it is. Even the subconscious mind knows it," George Gaurino, the hypnotist for my session said. "(Hypnosis) is beautiful for all sports, but particularly for individual sports, because everybody has a particular concern that they want to work on."

I was skeptical at first. I have never been hypnotized, nor have I ever felt the urge to be. I had no idea what to expect, but just minutes into the session and I could tell what it was all about.

The term "hypnosis" is misleading. It wasn't like one of those gaudy Las Vegas stage shows. No one waves a nine-iron in front of you like a pendulum, snaps their fingers and has you saying, "I am Tiger Woods." Golf hypnosis is about deep breathing, relaxation and positive visualization. Basically, you close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and picture yourself hitting the perfect shot, on the perfect course, concentrating on just the muscles that are used in a golf swing. You're supposed to be able to put yourself back in that state of mind before your first tee shot, and then rinse and repeat for 18 holes.

On Wednesday, I went to Western Turnpike to play 18. It was just my second time out this year, so I was aiming for marginal improvement on my typical early-season score of 85-90. A little less than four hours after teeing off, I was sinking my final putt on the back 9 for my 88th stroke of the afternoon. Not great, but not terrible either.

But, more importantly, did the hypnosis work? Yes and no.

The breathing and concentration on just my golf muscles — mainly my hips — helped with my consistency. The visualization also helped give me a temporary case of amnesia after every bad shot, forgetting what just happened and focusing on the shot at hand.

The hypnosis couldn't cure my slice, however. On three separate occasions, my tee shots went too far right, leaving my Titleist three feet in front of a tree. Valuing self preservation over par, I was forced to sacrifice three stokes and lay up each time. I also had a threesome ahead of me — I was a solo — which delayed my tee shots by 5-10 minutes per hole, just enough to keep any momentum from carrying over from the previous hole. No matter how hard I visualized them waving me up to play through, they never did.

I'd recommend giving golf hypnosis a try. It didn't hurt my game and maybe I just haven't practiced with it enough to maximize its potential. If hypnosis isn't for you, there are other ways to lower your score. As Arnold Palmer once said, "I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone's golf game: it's called an eraser."