William, Nick, and James; the Lee family: Gene, Amy, Jamie, and Samantha; the Parra family: Tim, BJ, and Chris; my newest family: Ryan, Desi, Art, and Anita Conrad; and my colleagues at Rollins College.
The golf world is full of enlightened, well traveled, humble, smart, and fascinating people. Those who challenge me and help fashion my thoughts on the game include Roberto Castro, Buddy Alexander, Dr. Craig Davies, Jeff Paton, Camilo Villegas, Jaime Diaz, Tim Rosaforte, Kelly Tilghman, Bryce Molder, Matt Kuchar, Stuart Appleby, Heath Slocum, Charles Howell III, Sean Foley, Jimmy Johnson, Julieta Granada, Steve Bann, Geoff Ogilvy, Notah Begay III, and Justin Rose.
The staff at Human Kinetics has proven to be exemplars of professional excellence: smart, focused, detailed-oriented individuals dedicated to producing the best book possible. Special thanks to Carla Zych, Ted Miller, Jason Muzinic, Gayle Kassing, Bill Johnson, Melissa Steiner, Alexis Koontz, Maurey Williams, Claire Marty, Tara Welsch, Martha Gullo, and Marii Master.
Finally, to my father and best friend, Fred Valiante, and my gracious, brilliant mother, Joanne Valiante, thank you for the unfailing love, guidance, and support.
In 2010, golfers I work with won 8 PGA Tour events, completing a run of 10 wins in 12 months. The wins were distributed across 8 different golfers all with different personalities, talents, tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. This pattern mirrored the 2008 season, in which golfers I’d worked with won 5 of the last 15 events on the PGA Tour.
The results from my work are often dramatic. Justin Rose hadn’t won on the PGA Tour in the nine years he’d been competing. Twenty-eight days after our first session, he won The Memorial with a final round 66. Twenty-eight days after that, he won the AT&T National. Similarly, when Arjun Atwal and I first began working together in April 2010, he was ranked 750th in the Official World Golf Rankings and had never won on the PGA Tour. Four months later, he won the Wyndham Championship. Sean O’Hair hadn’t won in over two years and when we had our first meeting in July 2011, he had missed 8 of his 10 previous cuts. Fifteen days after our first session, he won the Canadian Open. What’s most compelling about these results is that between my first meeting with these golfers and their subsequent wins, not a single one of them changed their golf swing, their equipment, their diet, or their fitness. They simply changed their minds.
If there is any secret to the work that I do, it is that I try to guide my athletes toward what modern psychologists refer to as “flow states,” a term that describes a synergy in which all aspects of a person’s being—mind, body, will, and intentions—converge to work in perfect harmony. According to the leading researcher on flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “The metaphor of flow is one that many people have used to describe the sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives” (Csikszentmihalyi 1997). When this happens, people sense their full potential, achieve excellence, and perhaps even glimpse perfection.
My journey to better understand flow states began over 20 years ago, when I was a teenager deeply immersed in my first love affair—an affair with the game of golf that continues to this day. One late autumn afternoon, after chores and homework were done, I headed out to our local 9-hole municipal golf course, as was my habit. It was autumn in New England, the evening was creeping in quickly, and I wanted nothing more than to take advantage of every last drop of daylight to play as many holes as the fading visibility would allow.
But this particular afternoon was unique. The midday rains that had rolled in and the gloomy weather forecast kept other patrons away. The pro shop was closed, and I had not only the first tee but the entire golf course to myself. I vividly remember the sensation I experienced as that first tee shot came off the center of the club face and flew with a penetrating ball flight that was new for me. I don’t recall actually feeling the ball come off the face of the driver, and I only knew for sure that I made contact after seeing the ball in flight. It was better than even the best of my previous drives.
My second shot on that par-5 felt similarly impressive, and I remember not just the view of a perfect divot flying through the air—the kind I had seen while
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