Expanding Your Comfort Zone

By: Billy Bondaruk

First off, if you have physical or psychological symptoms that you can't handle, please see a family doctor before confronting your fears. Also, don't discount this article if you don't suffer from anxiety - there are likely to be other areas in which you could use a bit of courage. Finally, if your condition leads to panic attacks, please seek professional help - I don't mean the PGA pro at your course for a lesson.

Where Does Fear Show Itself?

There are two ways you can approach fear and anxiety. The first is to deal with it on an emotional level. The other way is to deal with the thoughts that cause your fear. To deal with your thoughts, you need a journal, preferably one you can carry around every day, so get one.

Thoughts that Cause Fear

Where does anxiety come from? While it sometimes feels like pure emotion, almost all anxieties are based on an underlying belief or thought. It feels like the emotion starts first because you didn't catch the thought quickly enough or were unaware of the underlying belief.

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, these thoughts and beliefs stand between you and reality. You might think an event like hitting your first tee shot or a difficult pitch over a bunker triggers your emotions and reactions directly, but it doesn't. An event happens, your mind filters it through thoughts and beliefs, and then there's the end result: Your fear or any other reaction. Tiger Woods said in an interview that he's just as nervous as the next guy on the PGA Tour. It's just that he deals with fear very differently then they do.

The problem arises when thoughts and behaviors are unhealthy and distorted. Now, distortion is the norm for us. This is why no two people react the same way to the same event. Take that first tee shot. When I play a lot and practice, I look down the first fairway differently than if I wasn't so well prepared. I have an inner faith that I can beat the guys I'm playing against, or at the very least they will have a fight on their hands with me. When I haven't been playing nor practiced, I stand on the tee with completely different thoughts - stuff like: "Don't go left and don't embarrass yourself." This viewpoint stems from the same input but different distortions, therefore creating a different response.

When Joe DiMaggio turned 37, he was asked why he kept practicing so much. It was, after all, the tail end of his career and he didn't need to. In response, he simply pointed up into the stands and said, "Not all of these folks had the chance to see me play when I was younger. I don't want them leaving after a game thinking I'm not that good."

The key, then, is to catch your distortions if they are unhealthy. I believe healthy responses come from seeing the situation and your thoughts and beliefs as realistically as possible. (Seeing things exactly as they are is highly unlikely, and probably means enlightenment. But that's moving out of psychology, so I won't get into that.) Some people recommend positive thinking. I don't as it could be another form of distortion.

Now, the more realistically you see your fears, the better you can split them into the logical and illogical. From there, you can take steps to cope with them. As an illustration, let's revisit my old anxiety on the first tee. It stems from an unrealistic view of the circumstances, which come from simply standing on the first tee. A portion of it is logical and realistic, but a portion of it isn't. Once I knew what I was realistically afraid of, I took steps to deal with them. The unrealistic portion will be dealt with differently.

So, how much is logical, and how much is illogical? In my case, my only logical fear is inexperience on the first tee. But there are many other possible realistic fears. What if I was out drinking the night before instead of preparing for golf the following day? I could understandably be anxious if I stepped onto the tee with a hangover.

What about the illogical? Briefly, they stem from three areas: core beliefs, mental conditioning, and cognitive distortions. My core belief is that I have to practice to play well. My mental conditioning - to believe that I'm a good golfer - comes from past experiences.

The distortions are a part of having never stayed in the moment. The "now" can solve all the true nature of these distortions. When we ground ourselves more in the "now moment," it helps us get out of our own heads. But thinking about it won't do you any good. As I said earlier, I am not a big fan of positive thinking as it too can be a distortion.

Just remember that the "now moment" on the tee is filled with infinite possibilities. What if your first bad shot that day didn't matter, and that you went on to play the round of your life? Is that a possibility? Only you can answer that.

Bill Bondaruk is a PGA Class A member and the director of instruction at Catta Verdera Country Club in Lincoln, Calif. He was named the 2006 Northern California Teacher of the Year. Billy learned the principals of golf by such legendary luminaries as Eddie Merrins, Jerry Barber, Paul Runyan, Mike Austin, Ben Doyle, Mac O'Grady, Jim McLean, Mike Labauve, Scott Sackett and his father.

Bondaruk started playing golf and caddying at age 7 at Franklin Park Golf Course in Boston. He played for the University of Massachusetts golf team while pursuing studies in Biomechanics. He took his game to the upper levels at age 24. He's played in over 100 tournaments on various mini tours, including the Hogan Tour in 1990. He was a Benson & Hedges Tour member in Mexico 1992-93, and was a second stage qualifier for the PGA Tour in 1995.

His playing highlights: two-time winner on the NGA Tour, 1985 Arizona; two-time winner on the Sun Belt Tour 1989, Phoenix; winner of the North Atlantic Tour 1991, Massachusetts; winner of the Northern California Section Apprentice Championship 1995; runner-up in the Western States Apprentice Championship 1993, Palm Desert Calif., and Mass State Open in 1996.

After traveling on the mini tours, Bill began teaching at a few world-renowned golf schools such as John Jacobs, Jim McLean, and Scott Sackett's Resort Golf.

He came to Catta Verdera by way of Tucson, where he was the Director of Instruction at Arizona National, Canoa Hills, San Ignacio Golf Club and worked as an instructor for the University of Arizona men's and women's golf teams. Among the Tour pros, sports celebrities and collegiate stars he's worked with are Glen Day, Lorena Ochoa, Natalie Gulbis, Ricky Barnes and Scott McCarran.

Billy's book, "The 7 Myths of Golf," is a video-enhanced web-based learning system, complete with e-lesson capability. The "The 7 Myths of Golf" (visit http://www.7mythsofgolf.com) has grown in popularity as it features videos of Tour pros. He is currently a feature writer for PGA.com's "Improve your Game" section and writes for the Press Tribune of Lincoln, Roseville and Grant Bay.

With his background in Biomechanics, Bill is leading the way on how best to teach and learn golf. Above all, he promises to bring joy and enthusiasm to your game.