2006: For your game - Shrinks of swing

By James Achenbach

Look into my eyes. You are feeling sleepy.

OK, don’t look into my eyes and, no, you aren’t feeling sleepy.

Hypnosis is beginning to make an impact among competitive golfers, although these hypnotic states have no resemblance whatsoever to stereotyped images of individuals doing things against their will.

“Hypnosis is not something people do to you,” says Dr. Denise Silbert, who practices hypnotherapy in San Diego (www.golfhypnosis.com). “It is something you do. I can’t do it to you, but I can teach you how to put yourself in a trance-like state.

“You trust yourself enough to go into this state. We’re doing this all the time, anyway – you drive somewhere, and suddenly you realize you don’t know how you got there.”

Why subject yourself to hypnosis?

“It offers a way to focus, quiet your mind and visualize the shot that you want,” says Beth Pry, a hypnotherapist in Orlando, Fla. “It can allow you to let go of all outside distractions, to be in the moment and see exactly where you want the ball to go.

“Basically, your body is not all tensed up. Everything can flow – your energy, your muscles.”

Silbert and Pry are among the hypnotherapists who actively seek golfers as clients. Private sessions are held in an office or sometimes on a golf course.

“They play, I watch,” Pry says. “We talk about what is happening in their mind, what they are thinking. We talk about the use of the subconscious mind, where all the decisions are coming from.”

In one sense, hypnosis is not that different from meditation, yoga or sports psychology. It’s all about using the mind effectively.

“In the end, it’s psychology,” says Silbert, who carries a single-digit handicap. “It’s what you’re telling yourself. Hypnosis helps you get to the zone more often, but you have to keep practicing.”

San Diego psychiatrist Lawrence Jaffe, a friend of Silbert, calls hypnosis “a great way to improve focus and concentration on the golf course. It has helped me feel confident about the shot I’m about to hit versus thinking about technique.”

Regardless, there are skeptics of hypnosis.

Dr. Gio Valiante is a professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. He also is a high-profile sports psychologist who works with clients such as Chris DiMarco, Justin Leonard, Camilo Villegas, Davis Love III and Chad Campbell. Valiante urges caution with hypnosis.

“I’ve never recommended it or used it,” Valiante says. “More than anything, hypnosis is

a state change – quieting some areas and engaging other areas. To a talented psychologist, it can be a valuable tool.

“By itself, though, it is overused and misused. If you are trained a certain way, you see solutions that way. I would advise any golfer to be careful.”

Still, Valiante has referred several golfers to Dr. Michael Lardon of San Diego, a sports psychiatrist who occasionally uses hypnosis. Lardon does not talk about his patients by name because of confidentiality. However, he is known to have worked with Rich Beem, David Duval and other touring pros.

Lardon generally combines hypnosis with other treatments. “You have to be in your cocoon world,” he observes. “It’s a relaxation. It’s a focused attention. When you are competing, you need to go to an autopilot place.”

To get golfers to that cocoon world, Lardon starts with an assessment of their mental health. “Do they have substance abuse or marital problems, for example,” he says. “Jack Nicklaus used to talk about getting everything in his life in place before the major championships.”

Lardon, who carries a 2 handicap, tries to put golfers in touch with their subconscious intelligence.

“These guys (touring pros) tend to be so technical,” he says. “This is particularly true with putting. It gets them in a heap of trouble, if you ask me.

I have (putting) drills where I try to distract them, so they let their subconscious intelligence take over.”

The subconscious mind is what hypnosis is all about.

“We want the conscious mind and subconscious mind to agree,” Pry says. “It is a marriage of the conscious and subconscious. If a golfer is saying negative things to himself, he needs to know this.”

Negative thoughts are one of the big targets of hypnosis. “The winners are the ones who have mastered the mind game,” says Silbert. “Golfers have to learn to deal with their inner thoughts and their emotions. This is a big part of what I do.”

Pry calls it “the noise we have in our heads, things rattling around in there that have an impact on us, whether we know it or not. So I help golfers identify the thoughts in their heads that are messing them up.”

Although Lardon is a psychiatrist, many hypnotherapists are not medical doctors. Silbert has a doctorate in psychology. Pry, with a masters degree in counseling communication, was a special education teacher and a human resources director before turning full time to hypnotherapy.

How much does golf hypnosis cost?

Silbert charges $155 per hour. A 90-minute session with Pry, including 30 minutes of discussion and an hour of hypnosis, costs $150. Pry offers a four-session package for $400.

In comparison, Valiante charges $4,000 for an all-day sports psychology session. It lasts six to eight hours and focuses on real-life golf course situations. A half-day session is $2,000. It is crucial to hypnotherapists that their clients feel comfortable. Silbert lists herself as “founder and mother” of a discipline she calls golfology. If golfers choose to confide in her as they would their mothers, it’s a sign of trust.

Pry’s smiling face dominants the home page of her Web site (www.mindlinksgolf.com). “I have

a trustworthy face,” Pry says. “I’ve always been

a trustworthy person. Some of my clients trust me enough that we have sessions over the phone.”

Look into my eyes. You will bark like a dog.

No, no, no. You will win the U.S. Open.





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