Where is your “Locker Room”?

If you were to have dinner with Zach Johnson and you asked him to describe the 2-3 hours prior to his tee-time on a competitive tournament day, you would hear him talk of many things. He would explain how at age 43 he has to spend considerably more time “warming up” his body in the gym than he ever did in his 20s.

He would tell you that he simply gets up earlier than he used to (at least 3 hours prior to his tee time, regardless what time that is) because he knows it takes more time for his body and mind to be fully “alert” to compete at the highest level. He would describe the shake he makes each morning prior to his workout and breakfast as a way to maximize those 2 events themselves (the workout and breakfast). He would probably mention that one of his “goals” for the morning is to do nothing “rushed” – don’t read his morning devotional quickly just to “get through it”, don’t make his shake fast, don’t shower and get dressed in a hurry, don’t drive to the course aggressive and fast, don’t walk into the clubhouse at a hurried pace, NEVER run to do anything, etc.

And one of the things he would mention for sure is to spend time in his 2 “locker rooms” before he heads out to the range and practice putting green to warm-up.

And although it is very likely he will spend time in an actual locker room at the club (where he changes his shoes and makes sure he has everything possible he would need in his bag for the upcoming day), this is not the “locker room” he is most attentive to.

He is most attentive to getting himself mentally prepared to focus on what he wants to focus on for the upcoming day and being mentally prepared for the adversity that he knows is sure to come at some point over the next 4-6 hours.

Because he knows that if he doesn’t do this, if he isn’t mentally prepared the absolute best he can be, there is a very reasonable chance that all of the physical work he has done for hours, days and weeks leading up to this round could literally be “thrown away” by poor thinking in just a manner of minutes, possibly even seconds.

So how does he do this?

First, he decides where (what physical location) he can minimize distractions and have the best chance of being alone with no one (and/or no “thing”) to distract him. While various locations could work (in the car by himself, walking from the parking lot to the clubhouse, in the actual locker room as he is changing shoes and getting prepared), all of these have the possibility of distractions and/or other people being around, so they aren’t ideal. Currently (because the location could change if he wanted it to), Zach gets himself mentally prepared before every competitive round in two locations – first in the shower at his hotel or house and second, while lying on the “physio’s table” just before he leaves the “locker room area” to go outside and do his physical golf warm-up on the range and green.

In the first location (the shower), Zach is completely alone and there is no music or tv or any other audible noise in his immediate environment. So, what is he doing at this time?

He is simply reminding himself of the controllable actions he can take later in the day that give him the highest likelihood of achieving the result (a good score) he desires.

He does this by talking to himself, either out loud or just “in his head”, repeating the things he has already written down in his yardage book the night before. These might include things such as (1) “Have great tempo in everything I do” (walking between shots, walking into the ball just before I swing or putt, taking the club out of the bag, putting my umbrella up or down or taking my rain jacket on or off ), (2) “Swing free through impact and let myself react” (as opposed to “guiding” or “steering” the ball because I have too much emotion about where the ball could end up), and (3) “Accept whatever result I get on any given shot or putt and keep moving forward” (not letting myself get “bogged down” with poor results I know will happen from time to time).

It doesn’t take much conscious thought to shower, so literally as he is performing the physical action of showering, he is mentally already pre-setting the mindset that he hopes to take into competition.

In the second location (on the physio table), since there is a higher likelihood of others being around and distractions being present (most of the time there are 3-4 physio guys, each with their own table, and thus, 5-10 people around this area of the clubhouse), Zach wears headphones and has music streaming during this time. This physical action (the physio effectively giving him a sports massage) takes about 12-15 minutes.

So, during this time, Zach focuses on good breathing and visualizing the “keys” mentioned during the shower locker room. He literally tries to “see himself ” walking with good tempo, swinging free and “accepting,” and moving on. He likely wouldn’t see the actual adversity (he doesn’t visualize a bad drive or a missed putt), but he might remind himself of things that he can’t control and has to accept to move on from (a poor shot, a spectator’s phone going off while he’s over a shot, a volunteer standing in the wrong place where it’s distracting, etc.). He doesn’t have a “set script” that he visualizes (but athletes, like downhill skiers, that know exactly what the course setup will be, often do visualize every foot of the course), but just tries to stay engaged and make it as real-life as possible.

And once the physio is done working, Zach usually “stays put” face-down on the table for another 15-20 seconds, finishes with a good breathing rhythm, and then gets up feeling confident that he is prepared regardless of what will happen over the next 5 hours or so.

So here are a few potentially relevant questions:

  • Do I have a set “locker room” where I get mentally prepared for the adversity I will face today?
  • Do I know what “my keys” are that give me a chance of turning my desired results into controllable actions?
  • Do I talk to myself before a challenging meeting with a customer?
  • Do I visualize how I want my board meeting to go?

If I am not doing some of these things, it doesn’t guarantee I will fail. But it may be giving me a false sense of security for the next time I am facing adversity.

Because that time will come.

Whether at work, or with family, or just traveling to and fro, one thing we can all be sure of in this world is that we will have trouble. I might as well get ready for it, and one way I can do that is by starting to figure out where my locker rooms are going to be. We all need a place of refuge. We all need a safe room.