By Paul Monahan –  GGA Performance Mindset Coach.


Recently, I heard a celebrity speaking about golfing with his buddies. He mentioned that there was one person in his circle of golf friends that he particularly admired because the playfulness that person brought to the course.

He said that his buddies all wished they could be more like that…especially on the golf course. He said that this guy nearly ALWAYS played well – and without a lot of effort.

Playfulness is just one of those things that elude most adults you now.

And if you think about it, it’s not their fault. It’s just a product of the society and culture we all grow up. One that rewards serious, adult, responsible behavior.

But studies show that the more we can tap into our child-like playfulness, the better we perform – particularly when it comes to skills-based, physical endeavors.

Last Spring, Tim (Graves) invited me to attend and teach at a 5-Day Build Your Game Alumni Camp in Orlando. (If you ever get a chance to visit a 5-day camp, do it. It’s a fantastic experience.) It was an opportunity for me to teach performance mindset concepts to the attendees, and also to work on my single plane swing.

Among the many fantastic learning dynamics Todd and Tim create in the 5-day camps are some live scenarios designed to replicate the competitive situations – and the pressure – we may encounter during our weekly games at home.

One of the scenarios is a bracketed putting contest called “21” that lasts from Wednesday to Friday…with the winner earning lots of cool swag – plus bragging rights for a whole year.

I played in the contest that week and happened to face the eventual winner in the semi-final round …a virtual putting buzz saw named Gary Gustafson.

Following an incredible hour-long quarterfinal match against Tom Lagos (Tom is an excellent competitor…watch for my blog/story about that match in a future installment!), I got crushed by Gary by a score of 25 – 2 within about 15 minutes!

After our match, when I asked him what his secret was to such a fantastic performance, he told me this story:

While he was watching the game between Tom and me, Gary noticed a little 5-year-old boy putting on the other end of the practice green. (The boy was there with his mom, just goofing around on the putting green. We saw him too…he was a pretty cute kid, and a tremendous little putter!)

Gary said that he noticed two things that this boy was doing: First, that he was putting remarkably well for his age, and second that he was putting rather quickly.

He interpreted the quick pace of play by this boy as playfulness. Or, generally just NOT OVERTHINKING each putt. And he noticed a sense of joy and eased the boy displayed as he stepped up to each shot, took a look, and pulled the trigger.

So Gary decided he would take playfulness into his upcoming match. He would set up his putts carefully and deliberately, but he would trust his line and pull the trigger without lots of time to let over-thinking set.

And MAN did his strategy work! His putting was amazing!

Throughout our (very short) match, Gary made a bunch of long putts, as well as plenty of shorter ones. And if he wasn’t making putts, he was super-close, so he was always picking up points. It was an impressive thing to watch. (I had a pretty good seat for that show!)

I think it’s a good lesson for all of us. No matter what the performance or the situation. (Leading in critical moments, negotiating a sale, or playing golf.)

We nearly always perform better when we trust in our ability to do the thing, and step into it without a lot of over thinking. Todd (Graves) likes to say that he tries to “play empty.”

And while there are undoubtedly multiple dynamics that determine success in a skills-based performance like golf, a sense of fun and playfulness during our performances can go a long way.

So, try this: The next round you play, or the next time you practice, be intentional about NOT OVERTHINKING. And step into your shots with a more playful mindset.

Play the game. Have fun. Don’t overthink it!

After all, we call it PLAYING golf…don’t we?

Paul Monahan, Graves Golf Mental Game Coach, PCC is a Peak-Performance coach, member of the International Coach Federation and a certified COR.E Performance Dynamicsä  Specialist. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife Paula and is the proud dad to three young men. He works with elite-level performers and leaders, helping them to expand their awareness so that they perform at their best more consistently.

One thought to “Playfulness”

  1. Excellent perspective!!!!
    Put your ego in your pocket and think about “why’ you are PLAYING the game.

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