In late 2017, after conducting a brain scan of a golfer replaying different shots of a recent round to track brain waves associated with the connection between shots and past memories, Dr. Justice found both increases in neuropathways activity and in the intensity of the frequency associated with those waves especially over poorly executed shots. The initial hypothesis was to study whether or not lower frequency brain waves and fewer of them, or both, were causal or correlated to perfectly executed golf shots. Similar studies have already been in done in other neuroscience endeavors, but not in golf and not against the unique variability of the sport of golf.
A Neuroscience-based approach to Golf's Mental Game
“The central premise of this book is that if a golfer can measure their emotional and mental state in golf, the two most constantly-changing variables when playing, and make the right adjustments to both, then performing to the best is achieved.”
Leveraging prior research in his 2017 book, Golf EQ, The Game Between Shots, (hyperlink), that focused on leveraging emotions (chemicals released in body by glands in the brain like the Amygdala, Hypothalamus, and Hippocampus) that showed how these chemicals influenced cognitive activity (thinking), it was a natural progression to study how both chemicals that impact neural direction (where stimuli go to be made sense of, given meaning) and then to explore how to create those lower frequency brain waves (Alpha and Theta) discussed in the book. In order to do this, Dr. Justice had to create a system to capture and track both, emotions (chemicals) and neural activity (thoughts). Thus, he created several versions of what eventually became the GYRA Mental Scorecard.
Golfers from a cross section of skills, geography, age, golf courses played on, etc, were taught the GYRA Scorecard and asked to keep track (1) golf score per hole (2) Emotional Temperature per hole – GYR and (3) Agnostic score per shot. Each completed GYRA Scorecard was entered into a database. Each GYRA Scorecard was processed with Dr. Justice or a member on his research team. This was done via interviews, written reporting from golfers, or in person observation. The latter involved Dr. Justice or a researcher following the golfer in a tournament recording observations as the golfer played. In what is possibly the first and largest longitudinal study of the role of the brain in golf performance, Dr. Justice and his team have amassed a massive database of over 1000 GYRA Scorecards, 18 000 holes of golf, over 90 000 golf shots.
Unique Variability in Studying Golf
- Each golf hole is in a unique geography of land.
- Each shot occurs in a unique geospatial place, making each shot a unique shot. This means the lie, wind, shot distance, shape, spin, direction, hazard, are all variables that impact performance.
- Golf is played over an extensive time period that makes it an emotional and mental endurance test. This means many variables, outside of golf skills, are likely also correlated to performance.
- With the exception of putting, it is rare to use the same club (equipment) consecutively. This adds to the variability of performance when having a different equipment per shot (unlike almost all sports, eg Tennis where it’s the same racket used).
- Golf is non-reactionary and without an opponent playing defense. This means the golf swing (whichever one a golfer has) and other golf skills (eg putting) have no real opponents. It also means that a golfer cannot ‘blame’ (cognitively transfer) anyone else for poor performance, which essentially means that golfers are more likely to blame themselves for poor performance.
These attributes make golf a challenging sport to study as there are so many variables to performance. A side conclusion of the study was the recognition that almost all golfers (post round) were diagnosing the wrong variables, and therefore, spending time fixing the wrong skill.
In order to distinguish between causation and correlation, it is worth noting the difference. If a golfer is routinely making 3-putts in practice, as an example, and then misses similar ones on the course or during a tournament, then practicing more 3-foot putts or changing the putter or putter grip are likely not fixing the cause of the missed 3-foot putt in competition. There is a correlation but not a cause. By changing the putter or putter grip, putting may improve and ‘feel’ better, but it is more likely that other variables were improved as opposed to the actual cause of missing 3-foot putts in competition. As discussed, golf has an abundance of variables to performance.
Therefore, there has to be a ‘process of elimination’ methodology to the inquiry process of eliminating variables to uncover the correct variable to fix for high golf performance.
Because the human body is filled chemicals, and the brain playing the role of commander-in-chief of all commands it wants the body to physically perform, and the body is present over every shot, the first variable to process for underperformance should be the brain – it’s emotions and thoughts. Let’s be clear, we are talking about analyzing under-performance – performing below what you are capable of, below what you can routinely do in practice or on a range. If you do not have the golf skill to execute a certain shot on command on the range/practice, then no amount of quality emotions or thoughts will give you that skill. In this case, you need to contact a Golf Instructor and learn the skill.
The GYRA Scorecard allowed for this primary variable to be processed. What initially was a hypothesis quickly turned into overwhelming data confirming:
1. The causational relationship between emotional temperature and quality of golf shot.
2. The causational relationship between brain waves (quantity and intensity) and quality of golf shot.
As scientists, we do not begin a study with a bias to prove a hypothesis. Scientific methods of inquiry and study allow for the data to be collected, processed, and presented without bias. For scientists, disproving a hypothesis is just as rewarding as proving it, as it often leads to a search for additional variables to study. In neuroscience, there is NO random emotion, thought, behavior or action. The data makes the conclusions. The data in this case was clear. Some of the key conclusions shared in the book are:
1. All shots are recorded by the brain.
2. Any similar current shot to a previous shot will make the brain retrieve either the most recent memory of the similar circumstance (positive or negative) or any previous memory that has a high emotional accounting value (intensity).
3. The subconscious mind, 80+ % of all neural activity, is ignited with any surprise in competition. Simply said, the brain does not like surprises, and worse, the accumulation of them. The higher the subconscious activity, the lower the conscious activity – what you want to do with the golf ball.
4. By learning Emotional Accounting, a golfer can dilute emotional costs (variable) of each hole, reducing the impact of bad holes on subsequent holes proactively.
5. By using the Agnostic scale, a golfer can score the surprise variable of performance per shot and reduce the subconscious activity by using specific GYRA tools.
6. An unaddressed surprise number of 3-5 results in a half-stroke penalty on a subsequent shot in the round.
7. An unaddressed surprise number of 6-10 results in a full-stroke penalty on a subsequent shot in the round.