Listen To Your Heart

Over the past few weeks, I have been down in Florida with our academy kids on our annual spring trip. The students spend about a month down south attending on-line classes, practicing during the week, and playing in tournaments on the weekends. This trip, they will be playing in a total of three tournaments. Given that there is no way to recreate the pressure golfers feel during tournament time, these past few weeks have been a great opportunity to check in on our athletes’ mental games and see how they are handling themselves as they start the 2022 tournament season. 

One area I like to focus on during tournament time is the heart. In Measure for Measure, one of his less known plays, William Shakespeare wrote, “Go to your bosom; knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know…” Now, I guarantee that Shakespeare was, in no way, thinking about golf or expert performance when he wrote those words, but they are applicable  nonetheless. Listening to your heart can provide you with profound awareness and insight into how you respond to pressure when it matters most. 

How do you listen to your heart, you might ask? I listen through a heart rate monitor. Using a chestrap style sensor, I ask the kids to wear them during tournament rounds. Of course, the information we gather cannot be shared with them during the round per USGA rule, however, the post-round analysis can be game changing. Specifically, I am always blown away by how unaware our athletes are of their stress levels during competition. Compared to baseline measures, there are times on the course when their heart rate is 70 plus beats per minute higher. In a recent tournament, one student’s heart rate rose to 181 bpm over a birdie putt. Most amazing was the player had no awareness their heart was beating so fast. Interestingly, that same student’s heart rate while warming up on the practice green before the round was 105 bpm. 

From a psycho-physiological perspective this is not all that surprising given that when under significant stress, our ability to be self-aware becomes diminished. However, regardless of whether or not a player is aware of how they are responding to stress and pressure, there is no doubt that it is having an impact on their performance. By the way, that student missed their birdie putt and ended up three-putting for bogey. 

Once we identify the times during the round when they showed physiological signs of distress, we then come up with a plan to more effectively cope with and manage their stress response during a round with the first step always being to develop self-awareness. With a little bit of training, our players are able to quickly identify when they are stressed to the point of interfering with their play and can work towards recovering. As it turns out, when you ask the heart what it knows, it can give you helpful feedback about how to play better golf.