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PART 2: How A Potato Chip Can Increase Your Driving Distance

It’s not often you are going to be told potato chips might be the key to dramatically improving your golf game.

This is the second article I am writing about increasing your driving distance, the key to lowering your scores.  If you can hit your drives 20 yards or so farther, you are going to reduce your handicap by about 30-40%, according to USGA distance studies.

My first instructional tip was about a swing flaw commonly seen in recreational women players, collapsing arms.  Today’s tip isn’t technical.  Instead it’s about what’s going on between your ears— a mental issue which one of the country’s leading instructors of top women players, Elena King, says women exhibit far more commonly than men.

Anxious to know what it is?  Well, you’re on the right track.  The issue is anxiety.

This post is based on an interview with Elena, ranked one of the LPGA’s Top 50 Instructors, owner of Experience Golf, which is headquartered at Common Ground Golf Course, home of the Colorado Golf Association in Denver.  I took lessons from Elena before we moved to Las Vegas a few years ago.  Elena’s instruction is designed to create playing breakthroughs for her students.  Helping you cut your handicap by one third, as she did for me, would certainly qualify, I’d say.

Her skills include being a recognized expert in the Vision 54 mental approach to the game.  Vision54 recognizes most “golfers underperform on the golf course and easily get frustrated.  (That) we are human beings who play golf, not robots.  All golfers need two sets of fundamentals – technical and human.”  (Perhaps the best book on the mental side of the game is Be A Player by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott of Vision54.)

The human obstacle Elena says recreational women players exhibit much more commonly than their male counterparts is “embarrassment about how they play and fear of doing the wrong things,” she said.

“That leads to self-doubt,” she said, adding “Fear and doubt equals anxiety and eventually tension.”

Tension, no matter your gender, causes slower swing speeds.  Slower swing speeds reduces driving distance, a lot.

In the Huffington Post, Roger Covid, Ph.D., author of the book The Need to be Liked, independently wrote a section confirming Elena”s observation. “Stress is often accompanied by physical symptoms. One of the most common physical symptom of stress is increased muscle tension, which can obviously interfere with motor functions like swinging a club.”

So it is key to recognize and eliminate tension, just as Elena said.

“You have to have an awareness of being relaxed when you swing,” Elena said.  “Indicators of tension might be how your shoulders feel, recognizing you are gripping the club tightly, that when you are about to or have completed a shot your toes are curled up in your shoes.”

But the most obvious and most likely indicator of stress and anxiety you can feel (and see in your friends as they play) will be the clenching of your jaw, Elena said.  You might also lightly grind your teeth.  Teeth grinding is common enough that it has a medical term, bruxism.

That’s where the potato chip comes in— put one between your teeth and practice not breaking it as your hit range balls and play.  You may be surprised when you break the chip— as you start your backswing, or at the top of your swing, as you start down, perhaps at impact.  In any case, you’ll learn where in your swing your tension resides.

There is no cookie-cutter way to eliminate your tension once you discover it, Elena cautioned.  Some players players try to eliminate it by counting to themselves, others sing out loud or in their head to themselves as they play. Re-living happy memories is reported by many.  PGA Tour player and Masters winner Fred Couples says he eliminates tension by remembering a shot he hit well that is like the shot he is about to execute.  You might listen to music (where it’s allowed).  Every player has different amounts of and deals with their tension differently.  All have some and are affected by it, however, Elena said.

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