Head professional and Director of Golf at Chalet Hills Golf Club, Tony Castelluccio shares the simple secrets on how to connect your body and your mind for lower scores in this episode of the Chicago Golf Report Podcast. Tony is a certified golf instructor, certified yoga instructor and uniquely gifted progressive thinker who explains how one simple Yoga pose can change your golf game.
Interviewer: Walter Lis. Running Time: 22:41
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WL: Our guest this episode is Tony Castelluccio, who is the Director of Golf Instruction at Chalet Hills in Cary, IL. You can visit Chalet Hills at chaletgolf.com. Tony has a unique background in that he is a certified golf instructor and also holds a certification in healing arts. This week we are going to be talking about how he applies those different techniques to teaching people. So Tony, tell us a little bit about how you got started and how you got to Chalet Hills.
TC: I started out with my first job after golf teaching school with Rolling Green Country Club. I worked there for 2 seasons and I was really successful in students. When I got there, there was no one taking lessons. And I thought, “This is a country club, there should be more lessons, people should try to get better. This is what golf is about.” So I started showing people how to chip, and some techniques I used. Next thing I know, I’m doing 12-15 a day. So it was a really big change for the course and it was a lot of fun.
After that, I went to the Golf Center right when it first opened. I was one of the first 6 teachers there. It was perhaps the most populated golf facility in the country for a few months. When it first opened there was a 3 hour wait to hit balls on Saturday, and it was in the middle of February. It was a very exciting place. It had a 3 story automated driving range.
WL: Sure, and you’re talking about Golf Center
TC: It had a sushi bar; it had a regular restaurant; a huge putting green indoors and 80 stations that had balls. And there was still a 3 hour wait. It was just a great place for a teacher; more students than we could even work on. It really showed how many people are interested in golf in Chicagoland. They were out in the winter like that.
So after that, I did a lot of raising children and I taught on my own for about 6 years before I came here. And I went yoga school and Qigong School and kung fu school. I’ve always, for the past 20 years, even before I got into golf, I’ve been into the healing arts. And to me, the mind-body aspect of golf is kind of an underappreciated thing in our culture; except maybe Tiger and most of the Tour pros. But, as our mind goes, so goes our will. If our will is weak, we don’t usually hit the ball to where we want it to go, particularly if our mind is intricately connected to our own bodies.
A lot of people have a disconnection. You tell them, “Try to pull with you left side.” It might take 5 or 10 times for them to do it. Where if you work with a blue-chip athlete, or a professional athlete, you show them it once and they do it. I’ve noticed that throughout my teaching, that certain people have the ability and certain don’t. So what I wanted to do here at Chalet was offer a mind/body health class before the season started, which we did. And we taught 2 weeks of yoga and Qigong here at the golf course. It wasn’t exactly packed, but we had about 9 or 10 students in each group. Even one student would be enough for me because teaching this stuff to other people is at least as fun as teaching golf. Because it has a lot to do with getting them to feel good. By the end of the week, you could see the energy in all the students was up, and their smiles were up, and they were “getting” it.
With students, I’ll see sometimes, particularly the older students or heavy students, that they have trouble turning well. Or you’ll see tightness in their neck or upper shoulders in their turn. So I might offer a few suggestions for simple moves that will help loosen those up. And a lot of them we don’t know here in the West, because their methods of exercise are considerably different than here in the West. Everything has to do with mind and everything has a mind aspect to it. If you go to a step aerobics class, they don’t even mention the mind. Do you know what I mean?
WL: Right. Right.
TC: In golf, it’s certainly the most cerebral of almost any sport. So the mind part of it is, to me, kind of an underappreciated aspect. That’s basically the background.
WL: As you’ve kind of taken this philosophy and put it in, I know you just said this year where you’ve had your first kind of implementation of this. Have you seen a willingness of Chicago golfers to accept that the fact that the mind/body component is there and like a willingness to be open to it?
TC: I think there is a hunger for it. You know, certain students are like “Boy, have I been looking for this! I just don’t know what I’m doing.” And this and that. And if they become kind of self-assured in their movements and in their body, then it starts to reflect in their game. Their stance is stronger.
Stance training is a big aspect of the healing arts. It develops the lower root chakra. I mean, if you really want to get into it, it develops the red energy of the body. To me, our hands and our feet are the 2 things that we need to think about in golf. I’ve had so many swings where I didn’t root well, and the swing isn’t nearly as good.
There is a great player named Justin Rose. He took 4th in the British Open back in probably 1999 or so. He said his only swing thought that week was to feel the ground on my downswing. I told a bunch of my students, “This is the kind of stuff that I try to talk about.” The ground is where we can really get our energy from. It’s kind of hard to really imagine, but when you feel like your cleats are 4 inches, you really feel like you have to something to throw your weight well at the ball and balance.
TC: It’s how I taught myself the game; it’s how I teach other people the game.
WL: When you begin this sort of evolution for people, how do you connect them, initially, with the idea? Like, you’re talking about hands and feet being so valuable and dictating a lot that goes on in the swing. How do you make that connection where people go from being confused to “Oh, okay, now I’m starting to get what you’re talking about?”
TC: Well, it depends on what you’re talking about. Are you talking about the exercise part or the swing part?
WL: I guess I’m talking about the swing part.
TC: I tend to follow the old Harvey Penick rules, where we start right at the green; get them used to making short putts; work our way back. Get them used to impact and the chipping, where their weight is solid left, particularly in the left heel; and they learn to move the weight through the left heel and keep it there in the beginning of the backswing. Because acceleration is the main focus in the short game. But if we’re already at the impact site, it’s a waste of time to go all the way to the right if we don’t have more than 60 yards or so to deal with. We could just let our hands and acceleration do it all. And if our weight stays solid, we don’t have that extra kick of leg; throwing the ball too far; too short; whatever.
We kind of simplify the game by taking the weight out of it in the beginning. The weight will just be left and you’re just going to learn how to hit balls with your weight left. And that way, they get used to impact for the full swing. Because our weight is left in the full swing at impact. So, gently, we let them get the weight to the right; but no further than the inside of the right foot. More of an athletic swing, where they are restricted in their backswing at first. So that they get the feel of how you load up the legs and the torso as part of a good lower body.
Are you familiar with that technique?
TC: It’s an old-school method where the student has to be aware of the leading edge of the club face. For chipping and for, ultimately the full swings, I want them to have that leading edge on their mind; breaking tees; being able to hit things at will with it; and then we’ll get further. So I want you to get this leading edge real comfortable to where you’re landing it and then we’ll go more to full swings.
It’s an old way of learning but I just think…Learn the best way. Don’t change everything just because it’s a new time.
WL: Right. Now, when you were talking a little bit earlier about the connection with your mind and as our mind goes, so goes our will; I saw recently, on the Golf Channel, a show with Michael Breed and he was talking about his philosophy where if the mind says “don’t,” don’t. He was more specifically talking about putting, but basically what he was referring to was if your mind is saying, “Don’t pull this, don’t push this, and don’t come up short.” Then stop your mind, stop your swing, stay away, and refocus.
TC: He’s right. There is a really famous golf psychologist who said that the brain doesn’t understand the word “don’t.” It will say, “Don’t hit in the water.” And the brain will think it said, “Hit it in the water.” For some reason, the brain doesn’t understand “don’t”; it just thinks “water.” Do you know what I mean?
TC: He’s right. Michael Breed is kind of quoting, I can’t think of the guy’s name, but he’s very famous. I’ve read his books.
ML: Was it Bob Rotella?
TC: Bob Rotella! That’s it. He explained very clearly that the brain doesn’t understand that word. So if you even think of the word “water” that’s not where your target is. So you obviously are not controlling your thoughts, you’re letting your thoughts control you.
One of the most basic, important part of mind/body health is getting the brain to be under our command instead of under its own volition, running from thought to thought without much organization. They call it “monkey mind.” And it’s very common in the Western world because we don’t meditate and we don’t pay attention to stillness.
That’s why we have these troubles and maladies and cancers and all sorts of things. Everything is mind. Even with my own children, we always teach them stillness from when they were very little, like the American Indians did. Those are the things that I think are imperative for brain development. We did it with our own kids. They’re getting all “A’s”, they’re happy, they’re good kids.
WL: Do you have any ideas, any techniques for your everyday golfer to strengthen that ability on the golf course and kind of get rid of the “monkey mind?’
TC: Absolutely. For example, hopefully they are walking the course. Say they want to focus on having a day when they are going to really work on peace of mind. So while they are walking the course, just pay attention to your breathing. You know, the next 200 yards, I’m just going to pay attention to my breathing. And it all starts from that. Once we become internal, then we can silence it. But until we do that, we can’t silence it; we can’t shove it down. It’s just too active, there’s 7 trillion cells all talking to each other constantly. So we physically or mentally have to turn our attention inward.
Particularly females, because they do all thinking of others; you know, their children, their wife, their husbands; they’re always thinking of others and that’s why they have a lot of health problems lately.
I took my wife to my doctor, who is from India, and I said, “Could you do her pulse? Can you test her for me?” She’s a very fit-looking woman. She runs every other day and she does yoga every morning and she looks as fit as fiddle. He says, “Is you lower back tight?” This is while he is feeling her pulse. She says, “Yes, it’s always been tight.” He says, “Do you wash the table but think of other things?” And she says, “Yes, Tony is always trying to get me to focus on what I’m doing and [inaudible 0:13:46.9].” And he says, “Right now, even though we’re sitting, you have a walking heartbeat. When you focus on the table, your heart will slow down and your body will become more normal.”
So she went and got “The Power of Now” and all these other books on this kind of subject and she’s doing really good. He’s tested her lately and her pulse has come down. Just that little notion was enough. A lot of times it is that, it’s just a thought sometimes. Like Tiger the other day wasn’t swinging well and someone had him come in just slightly more inside and he went 30 minutes straight without a bad hit.
WL: So then, connecting the mind component with the body component; what would you suggest for a golfer, and again, probably a weekend golfer here in the city of Chicago, to help with the body component? I know you mentioned the yoga and the involvement with yoga; is there a program, is there something that a golfer should be focusing on specifically, say with yoga, that could help them immediately in terms of their body being able to make a turn and being able to more flexible?
TC: Okay, there are many forms of yoga, first of all. There is one directly developed for the United States called Bikram yoga, by a teacher named Bikram. It has 26 poses that you do twice and it’s in a 105 degree room. This one was designed specifically for the stresses of an American life. It’s amazingly popular. They have one in Naperville, Chicago, and, I forget, there’s 3 of them.
Hatha yoga is what I’m certified in. It means “sun, moon” yoga and it’s kind of what is most mainstream. And if the student wanted to get a taste of it, he should type in the sun salutation and Google it, and he will instantly learn how to do the root of Hatha yoga. It takes about 2 minutes to learn and a lifetime to work on. You need to do 2-12 repetitions and most assuredly, his game will improve. Just from the sun salute alone. It’s the most popular exercise on the planet. More people do the sun salute than any other movement on Earth. Even another more startling point is that they say doing the sun salute affects a thousand generations positively after you. I mean, it’s just staggering.
WL: Sounds good.
TC: One of the things about it that is really unique is that there is what they call marma points, or mind/body points. You have 3 main ones: both your heart, your lower abdomen, and your forehead. But there is 103 more, and this one move, the sun salute, addresses all 107. So it is considered a perfect series of movement that, to me, I notice if I don’t do them; and how much better I play when I do. And other people can benefit from the same thing.
That was one of the main things we taught here at the club when we had our class before the season started.
WL: You mentioned Bikram earlier, is that something you would recommend for golfers as well?
TC: Absolutely. It’s a one-and-a-half hour commitment to working out. Which, first of all is amazingly good for you, and people should do it every morning. But I can’t be everyone’s daddy here. They have to want to do it. But Bikram kind of forces you to do it because you are stuck in a room, and you’re 105 degrees, and within a minute and a half you are totally drenched. It’s just amazing how fast they get you pumped up. And you don’t really move, you just put your arms over your head and breathe, and the next thing you know you are sweating. But it is a great workout. It’s cleansing; make sure you hydrate before you go there, and it’s fairly safe.
WL: Okay, so you have given us some great ideas on body and mind. Can you tell me a little bit about what you are doing at Chalet Hills and the programs you are putting together and what the course is instituting to help golfers?
TC: Well we are trying to make golf instruction more affordable. We’ve cut our prices right in half for all bookings before the end of this month. Kind of like an early season push to get people to…This course we’re at here at Chalet is a demanding course, particularly off the tee. If you don’t keep it straight, you’ve got to get another ball out. Some of them, both sides of the fairway have woods and plenty of water. I just talked to a guy who shot 130 and lost a dozen balls here, to give you an idea. And he’s not a terrible golfer, but he just had one of those days.
The junior program is one of our main focuses. That is starting in the middle of June. Depending on how many kids we’ve got, one of the first things we’re going to teach them is stillness. Because I know how much it will benefit their golf ultimately and the rest of their existence as far as school an all kinds of things. That’s where I start. I work on safety with the young kids a lot. We keep them real separate from each other. I’ve had groups as large as 35 kids and no one has ever gotten hurt. So that’s where I stress it; hold or finish, nobody gets hurt, everybody swings when we are told to swing. To me the safety aspect is something that I’m really concerned about when we have a lot of kids with a weapon in their hands, potential weapons!
With kids, I think they are even easier to teach. They generally don’t already have a lot of bad habits that they can’t seem to get over and I don’t work on too much more than what we talked about. The short game; the breaking a tee; and holding their finish on the full swing. Too many [inaudible 0:20:30.7] for young kids is troubling. Let them have fun and let them just work on getting hand/eye coordination. By hitting tees; breaking tees.
As far as movement goes, with the world of Chinese exercise, which we haven’t even talked about, which is probably more easy to teach on a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing than yoga. Yoga, you kind of need a classroom; but Qigong I could do right on the range. I could show people in 4 minutes and they can understand something that they can work on every day. In less than 4 minutes, they will know how to do it. Qigong is almost magical in its simplicity, but complexity at the same time. There is one form called the JamJung, which means “standing like post”, which back in 1986 was the first book ever in America on the subject of Qigong. My mom gave it to me when I had a car accident and it kind of rebuilt me. And it turned me into this healing arts teacher because the wisdom of China was to send us the very first and most important Qigong, because there are a thousand of them registered in China. The one to learn first is the root of all the rest of them. So it was just a brilliant way to learn it.
For real serious students, that’s where I would recommend them to go. Learn JamJung, which is the root of all Qigong and then you could learn the healing arts, martial arts; you could learn how to heal others. It just has unlimited potential. Even doctors in China, if you were to go to a medical establishment, they have Eastern medicine on one side of the hospital; Western medicine on the other. In the eastern side, they will have Qigong doctors who work with their Qi and teach you certain movements to help whatever organs might be bothering you. It’s a vast science. And it’s coming, it’s coming, it’s taking a little longer than yoga but it’s easier to learn. That’s why I’m trying to push it in a public place like this, so that it becomes a little more mainstream.
WL: That’s a lot of great information. That’s terrific.
TC: All right Walter; it’s been nice talking to you.
WL: Thank you very much, Tony. Take care.
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