Let Lardon help you find your zone

SAN DIEGO – Dr. Mike Lardon is a sports psychiatrist. The difference between a sports psychiatrist and a sports psychologist can be as wide as, oh, the Pacific Ocean.

Unlike sports psychology, a largely unregulated field with a wide range of qualifications, sports psychiatrists such as Lardon are medical doctors.

Lardon majored in psychology at Stanford University, graduated from the University of Texas Medical School, attended UCLA for internal medicine training, and completed his psychiatry residency plus a two-year fellowship in psychobiology (the relationship of the mind and body) at the University of California at San Diego.

He serves as an associate clinic professor of psychiatry at UCSD and maintains a private practice.

So lay down on my couch, and I’ll tell you how to hit a 300-yard drive.

No, no, no.

Lardon constantly crusades against stereotypes in the psychological arena.

“In psychiatry, we are pigeonholed all the time,” Lardon said as we walked Torrey Pines Golf Course during the U.S. Open. “People talk about us like we are the ones who give drugs to crazy people.

“In the same way, sports psychologists and psychiatrists are pigeonholed: ‘Oh yeah,
I know all about them. They give advice to athletes.’ Well, it isn’t that simple.”

Lardon stresses this reality: Our lives outside golf have a huge influence on our golf success or failure.

“On any given day,” he said, “your score depends not only on how you play, but also on the framework and context of what is going on in your life. Using the same reasoning, what you do off the course can help you on the course.”

He has been an adviser to David Duval and works with Rich Beem and Michael Campbell. All three are major champions who might be viewed as restoration projects, having plummeted in the world rankings.

Lardon does not discuss his players, and they, too, remain largely silent. Excessive testimonials invariably place too much pressure on the golfers who utter them, something Beem avoided when he said simply, “I’m getting there, and Mike is helping me.”

Lardon is ready, though, to dispense specific advice that might help all golfers. His new book, “Finding Your Zone, Ten Core Lessons for Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and Life” (Penguin, paperback, $14.95), is aimed heavily at golf.

While observing the U.S. Open, he offered seven tips for golfers of all skill levels.

TIP NO. 1: Keep two scorecards.

One is for your score, the other is for your commitment to every shot.

“On every single shot, I want you to answer yes or no,” Lardon said. “The idea is to achieve a yes on each shot. To do this, you need a clear image of the shot, you need to step into the shot with conviction, and you need to execute it with full commitment and a clear mind.”

TIP NO. 2: Develop instant amnesia.

“Tiger Woods has this uncanny ability to forget one shot and go on to the next shot,” he said. “I’m not saying that all of us can be Tiger Woods, but I am saying that we can learn from his example. Too many golfers become self-conscious after a bad shot. It happens to good players as well as average players. We need to overcome this self-consciousness and focus on the next shot.”

TIP NO. 3: Let-go-of-the-club drill.

“Try this drill for letting go and moving on,” Lardon said. “After every shot, do not let go of the club until you are ready to forget about the shot. If you are steaming mad, hold onto the club and recalibrate. Letting go of the club – whether you hand it to your caddie or stuff it into your golf bag – is a signal that you’re ready to move on.”

TIP NO. 4: Trust your training.

“Don’t try to change things on the course,” Lardon said. “Trust your training. Each time you play, that’s what you have that day, so go with it. Maintain a clear plan. Don’t complicate what your mind and body are doing.”

TIP NO. 5: Stepping-over-the-line drill.

“Avoid overthinking,” Lardon said. “I talk to players all the time, and you would think they’re doing brain surgery. They get in their own way.”

Lardon recommends a drill that has been advocated by Henri Reis, Annika Sorenstam’s teacher, and others: Draw an imaginary line 3 or 4 feet behind the ball. Once you step over that line, all your computation has to be gone. Maintain a clear image of the shot and swing away.

TIP NO. 6: Anxiety is fine; fear is not.

“It is normal to be anxious,” Lardon said. “Anxiety can be beneficial. Fear, on the other hand, can be inhibiting.

“Ask yourself, ‘What am I afraid of? Can you live with the result of your shot? Can you accept it?’ If you hit a bad shot, you’re still going to be here tomorrow to play again.”

TIP NO. 7: Keep a dream journal.

“The night before you play, run through the golf course in your mind’s eye,” he said. “Develop a mental template for it. Give yourself suggestions. You might be able to dream about your success. We all have the ability to move our dreams and influence our dreams. The unconscious mind is a powerful place.”

“Then keep a journal. Jot down tidbits, what worked for you. Dreams go in there, too.”

No couches here, just solid advice.

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