What We Can Learn From "Seve"

For anyone who plays golf, or for anyone who’s interested in golf, or better yet; for anyone who’s interested in finding and following their dreams, the newly released film, Seve, is a must see. Directed by John Paul Davidson, the film is an epic tale and true story of the life of the late Severiano “Seve” Ballesteros, one of the best and most charismatic European golfers that has ever lived. Known for his daring and creative play, Seve arguably transformed modern golf by turning the Ryder Cup from a US dominated foregone conclusion to an intense, emotionally draining, competitive clash that has resulted in some of the best moments in golf over the past 30 years.

The film does a great job of exploring Seve’s life, especially the difficult path the man took on his route from to the top, from young farm boy to Masters Champion. I’d like to offer three concepts that you can glean from Seve and his insights on the game of golf and how you can apply them to your own game.

1. Make practice harder than the real thing:

Primarily due to his difficult financial situation as a child, Seve played a lot of early golf with just a single iron, conjuring up all kinds of shots out of necessity. This early equipment limitation forced him to experiment in ways many youth golfers never have to. Imagine learning flop shots, bunker escapes, low shots, high shots and being able to curve the ball on demand with just a single iron! His uncanny ability to maneuver the golf ball around the golf course and create many magical and ridiculously creative shots were no doubt developed by his need to manipulate the limited tools he had available as a child.  Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, might refer to this sort of preparation as “High-Leverage Practice.”  Recently, he wrote a post about how pre-creating pressure conditions can set a performer apart from their peers and used this ridiculous catch by Odell Beckam Jr. as a model.

Next time you play a round of golf or head to the practice range, limit the number of clubs you bring and begin to develop your ability to problem solve. Start by removing the odd number irons and then keep playing. This will force you to try different club selections that are way outside of your normal choice. You may be surprised by not only the creativity you develop, but also by the outcome of shots when you are forced to either club up and swing smoothly, or by playing lower and lower risk short game shots. After all, stuff happens in golf.  We have to be prepared to deal with situations we are confronted with.

Like most players, you probably spend most of your time practicing on flat, well-manicured driving ranges. It’s comfortable, but not particularly realistic. One thing you can do is practice hitting from lies above and below your feet. It will help prepare you for similar on-course situations and also increase your awareness of the relationship between path and face angle. Try this drill called "Line Up, Swing Up":



2. Develop all of your senses to increase your awareness and have better control of the club:

By hitting golf balls in almost pure darkness and having to feel where the ball went (to avoid losing precious golf balls!), Seve developed a great ability to sense the position of the club through his swing. Instead of just relying on your eyes, allow your other senses to get heightened. This will help with engraining swing changes and increase your ability to alter ball flight to fit whatever shot may be called for.

Try these four ideas to help develop your feel: 

* Putt to a hole with your eyes closed and call out where you believe the ball has finished, before checking the actual finishing position with your eyes. 

* During your backswing, have a friend call out a shot that you attempt to execute during the downswing. The friend can increase difficulty as you improve by calling out shots with varying heights (high or low), launch direction (right or left) or curvature (fade or draw).

* Stop the club early in your backswing and again close your eyes. Have a friend wiggle the club in your hand and then try to identify from the feeling in your hands as well as the weight of the club, where the clubface is pointing.  

* You can also try a game called “Guess The Target” which is a great alignment drill you play with your partner.

3. Confidence is key:

Seve had a tattoo of himself celebrating on his arm to remind himself that he is the best.

Many champions possess this exact, unwavering, and extremely strong self-belief that transcends and filters down to how others think of them. Just faking confidence, however, when your skills aren't up to task, isn't the best idea. Instead, monitor your practice time and the  games you play in order to really gauge your improvement. Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken, describes games as the ultimate flow experience.  We probably don’t use them enough in practice.  In McGonigal’s words, games are ’challenging endeavors with a clear goal, well-established rules for action, and the potential for increased difficulty and improvement over time’.  Sounds like a description of a smart practice session, doesn’t it?  

Here are a few games that we've seen instructors and Tour players implement in their practice.  Give them a shot:

* Use a launch monitor such as Trackman to see your scores progressing in a 'Combine Test' or created short games skills test.

* Give yourself a challenge of hitting 3 consecutive drives down a predetermined 'fairway' and note the number of attempts you require. Not only will this simulate competitive pressure well, it will also give confidence as you see your scores progress and give you a really solid basis for confidence. 

"17” is a great way to work on your distance putting.  It keeps practice random and simulates an on-course environment.

* Zach Johnson plays a game called “Worst Ball” where he hits two balls and uses the worst ball for his second shot.  As he says, “It’s easy to do it once, but can you do it twice? That’s the question.” It’s a great game to increase the degree of difficulty and add some pressure:

* Partner games are a great way to keep golf social and competitive. Knockout Chipping and Tick Tack Toe are two games that are easy to set up and especially good for junior golfers.  According to game-expert McGonigal, “experiencing a short burst of community in a space that previously felt uninviting or simply uninteresting can permanently change our relationship to that space.”

* As Titleist staffer Ben Crane demonstrates, you don’t even need a golf course to compete with your friends: 


If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend watching this film. These are just three out of an almost infinite number of fantastic insights we can take from the career of this great man who the game of golf sorely misses.

By Andy Griffiths

TPI Level 2

Twitter: @AndyGriffiths1

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