- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

The room is dim and cool. The plush chair is fully reclined, supporting your body on a raft of upholstery. But it's that voice that really has you on a leash, kneading your being with invisible fingers in a manner no masseuse could ever manage.
"Completely letting go from the top of your head down to the tips of your toes, allow your body to totally relax, concentrating only on the sound of my voice," says Robert Holden, a 56-year-old Vietnam vet who has been a professional hypnotist for 12 years.
"Some people report experiencing the sensation that they are no longer connected to their body. Some people feel a wonderful heaviness. Some feel pleasantly numb, others light or floaty. Maybe you are experiencing one of these feelings… . Or perhaps not. Whatever you are feeling is just as it should be, as you let your body take you where it wants to go, concentrating only on the sound of my voice and the peace of the moment."
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It's difficult to believe that a silly game has reduced you to such a seemingly desperate measure. But over the last year you've tried everything a battalion of different putters, old and new, mallets and blades, offset and conventional only to find that there hasn't been a short stick made that you couldn't quickly learn to loathe.
Ping Karsten should have named his company "Yip." Odyssey yeah, no kidding. What was Homer's handicap? Scotty Cameron Scotty Charon.
You've tried enough quirky grips to make Chris DiMarco blanch and changed stances more often than an unctuous politician. But the results are always the same: God created the four-footer as your personal penance for idolizing a game.
Now you've bent more steel than Andrew Carnegie, and without help you're likely to end up impaling yourself on a Sensicore stake.
Hell is 48 inches of bentgrass. And on just the outside chance that a hypnotist can deliver you to the promised land of the carefree comebacker, you'll be more than happy to risk being turned into a communist sleeper.
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"I want you to try and remember for me, if you can, the first time you can recall experiencing a feeling of dread when you addressed a four-foot putt," Holden says in the midst of your 90-minute session.
To your surprise, your subconscious mind immediately spits out a completely lucid recollection of a club tournament you played in as a 10-year-old.
Your only serious competition, a childhood friend from the neighborhood, doesn't hit the ball nearly as well as you from tee to green. But he's a junior version of Brad Faxon from inside 100 yards. Little Faxon couldn't find the average par-4 green with three swings and a road map, but darned if he can't routinely get up and down for bogey from Dante's Seventh Circle.
This Houdini routine has done a fairly nasty number on your psyche, the 10-year-old mind being about as stable as Krakatoa circa 1883. On the first hole of this tournament in the summer of 1981, you find it particularly galling that his wedge from the woods and 20-foot snake for bogey could match the pair of 5-woods that got you on in regulation if you can't hole a four-footer for par.
You, of course, convince yourself that this is the most pivotal putt in creation. You try to steer home the right-to-left breaker and predictably shove it three feet past. You hastily yank the comebacker below the hole and walk off the green with an ego-shattering six. The rest of the day is a futile blur on the greens, and though you had forgotten about it, you still have the second-place trophy (among a field of four) as a sad testament to the performance.
That experience, Holden later guesses, is the seminal moment for the 20 years of short-putting woes that have held your game captive and gradually become more pronounced.
"I want you to go back to that moment, envisioning that four-foot putt once again," says Holden after you have related the tale. "Now, erase everything from the scene except for you and the hole. Can you do that? Of course you can. The rest of the course is irrelevant. That other kid is irrelevant; he might be there, or he might not, but you are no longer thinking about him.
"Now, can you make that putt? Of course you can. Have you made that putt before? Of course you have. Now, envision yourself making that putt … over and over again. Go all the way around the hole, making putts from all different angles. It's just you and the hole and your ball and your putter. And it feels so good, doesn't it, just making putt after putt after putt? It's so simple and so easy and so fun to make those short putts, isn't it?"
After you make enough imaginary short putts to fill up Crenshaw's career, Holden gradually brings you out of the hypnotic state. You expected to remember nothing of the session, but that, as it turns out, is the swinging-watch stuff of film and carnival. You remember everything, most prominently a leaden, euphoric relaxation in which you could swear your left arm weighed more than an EZ-GO.
Holden, who along with his wife owns Potentials Unlimited in Gaithersburg and has worked with Olympians, professional football players, boxers and golfers over the years, smiles understandingly as you tick off your many baseless misgivings and misconceptions about the hypnotic process.
He explains that "hypnosis is nothing more than a physical and mental state of relaxation that enables your subconscious mind to become dominant, and therefore, more receptive to suggestions that can affect change."
He tells you that until the mid-1930s, hypnotic training was part of the core curriculum at virtually every medical school, "before advancements in chemistry made it easier for physicians to just give their patients a pill for the purpose of relaxation."
But according to Holden, who charges $95 for a session, hypnotherapy is making a comeback. So many people are involved in the profession that he actually belongs to a union (AFL-CIO Local 104). As for credibility, nearly 300 hours of training are required to become a certified member of the National Guild of Hypnotists. And the techniques used in hypnotherapy have produced so many well-documented successes that the National Institutes of Health recently recommended that every hospital have a staff member trained in it.
Holden tells you that athletes have been using hypnosis for years in the form of visualization, though few instructors or players refer to the technique as hypnosis. Tiger Woods, for instance, has used hypnotic techniques for years in his work with sports psychologist Jay Brunza.
Your session complete, Holden walks you to the door of his office and wishes you "happy putting" with a parting wink.
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You stand on the 17th green at Duck Woods, the oldest and perhaps best course on North Carolina's Outer Banks. A five-footer for par and the treacherous, though short, 18th stand between you and a certain sub-80 score. Just a week before, you might have tightened up over the testy little putt, but you casually dead-center the par putt and then clean up a solid 76 by rolling home a 20-foot honey for birdie at No. 18.
In the four days and 72 holes since you sat down in Holden's recliner, your ball-striking has been fair and your approach putting pathetic. But the short putts that bedeviled you pre-hypnosis have virtually all gone down. By your reckoning, you have faced approximately 30 putts between two and six feet, missing only one.
As the final putt drops, you think of Holden particularly of that voice, with its marvelous, rhythmic power. And as you walk off the green with your ego, and your putter, in one piece, you can't help but smile that it took a man you once considered a quack to provide you with a cure.Follow the bouncing ball


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