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In A Zone:

Author: Bob Buttitta, Staff Writer

Date Published:
Publisher: Daily News

Psychologist Smith suggests in book that visualizing positive can change your game.

Legendary golfer Ben Hogan used to say when he was playing at his best he could often see his next shot completed before he ever started the club moving forward.

Golf psychologist Al Smith said what Hogan was describing is a simple case of self-hypnosis and visualization.

"When athletes talk about being in a zone, often what is happening is a form of self-hypnosis," said Smith, who taught golf at Sunset Hills Country Club and Saticoy Regional Golf Course in the early 1970s.

"When you get in a 'zone' as an athlete, it's really about eliminating the negative thoughts and visualizing the positive."

To help athletes and even non-athletes reach a state where they can control their mind and reach peak performances, Smith has written a book titled "The Winning Zone."

Smith said the book, which is published by 1st Books Library, explains in simple language how the conscious and subconscious work and how they can be trained to allow a person to accomplish anything from quitting smoking to lowering his or her golf score.

"When our subconscious sends a message to our muscles, it travels 10 times faster than a message coming from our conscious mind," said Smith, a longtime Ventura resident.

"For an athlete, the zone is a mental state where our subconscious takes control of an activity. In that state, the ego and the conscious mind are prevented from interfering, so there are no conscious pressures sabotaging a person's success."

Most golfers have had a time when they are playing well above "normal," hitting great shot after great shot.

When the golfer starts to think about how well he or she is playing, that is the point where the conscious starts to interfere and often sabotage the player's game.

"When you start to think, your muscles tighten and you can't perform as well," Smith said. "The goal is to take the conscious mind out of the task and let the subliminal take over."

Smith, 70, has worked with athletes of all skill levels to perform better through mastery of their mind.

It started with his students at Sunset Hills, and through work of mouth, other athletes, including professional golfer Al Geiberger, started coming to Smith for help with the mental part of their sport.

He eventually started writing a regular sports psychology column for Golf illustrated magazine.

While today's athletes are happy to talk about the work they do with sports psychologists, when Smith started working with athletes most wanted it kept secret.

"At that time, people didn't openly talk about going to a psychologist," Smith said. "Most of the athletes I worked with didn't want anyone to know they were coming to me for help."

Geiberger was an exception, and the two men eventually created and produced a golf video called, "Subliminal Golf."

On the tape, Geiberger and Smith went over drills that Smith had used to help Geiberger relax on the course and focus on the task he was trying to accomplish.

They also discussed visualization, something that Smith feels can help any person achieve desired goals.

Smith said the subconscious is unable to differentiate between something that is real and what is imagined.

The more vivid the imagination, the more real the subconscious thinks the picture is.

Smith is convinced if an athlete spends enough time visualizing success on the field, and if he or she really makes the thought as vivid as possible, eventually the subconscious will believe it is reality and allow the body to perform the skill.

Smith's youngest son Stephen was a bowler with a 120 average. Smith sat his son down and made him watch hours of videotape of top bowler Marshall Holman.

He had his son focus on Homan's delivery and had him visualize making the same approach and motion when he bowled.

"A week and a half later, Stephen was bowling in the 185 range," Smith said. "I had so many people tell me bow much they thought he looked like Marshall Holman.

"At the Ventura County Junior Golf Championships, I had my son Al Jr. sit and look at the championship plaque, imagining his name on the plaque as the winner. He won the tournament."

Smith said the key to visualization is getting as many senses involved as possible. He said a golfer should not stop at thinking abut making a putt. He should imagine the sound of the ball striking the putter, rolling along the grass and falling in the cup.

"The more real the visualization and the more the subconscious believes," Smith said.

Smith, who still works with athletes on a limited basis, said most people can use self-hypnosis and visualization to improve their lives.

"If you really believe in the ultimate outcome, there's a great chance for success," Smith said."