George Groves lives with Erbs Palsy, following a medical accident when he was born, which left him with only 20% movement and strength in his left arm. But he is typically bullish about his disability, and says that the mental side of the game is much more important anyway.
The EDGA golfer’s results speak for themselves – in just three years he has risen through the highly competitive ranks to the number one spot, with his breakthrough coming in the 2017 Swedish Invitational where he rocketed from 70th to third. (He currently has a handicap of two.)
His recent win in the English Open has cemented his success – RSNG spoke to him about the importance of mindset, the breathing technique he uses to soak up pressure, and why golf offers a challenge to anyone…
RSNG You clearly have honed a positive mindset to life – how useful does that become on the golf course?
GEORGE GROVES, WORLD NO. 1 DISABLED GOLFER ‘To play golf to the best of your ability a positive mindset is crucial. I’ve actually got quite a laid-back attitude to life which means that I’m quite relaxed off the golf course. This attitude is something I’ve found has been easily transferable onto the course.’
‘I rarely let the pressure get to me when I’m in a competition. If I play a bad shot, I remain very calm. Despite my laidback nature, I still possess competitive traits that has helped me win tournaments and become the world’s number one golfer with a disability.’
‘Learning about and having a positive mental attitude during competitions has helped me drop my handicap drastically’
RSNG In terms of the psychological challenge of golf, do you think it can be greater than the physical one?
GG ‘I would agree that golf is more of a mental challenge than a physical one. While I was studying at college, I learnt a lot about the mental aspects to the game. If you don’t have a clear mindset going into a competition it can result in a poor round of golf.’
‘Your mentality must be strong because if you let the pressure get to you it can throw you off your game. I think learning about and having a positive mental attitude during competitions has really helped me drop my handicap drastically over the last few years.’
RSNG What headspace tricks have you learned to help your game?
GG ‘One of the tricks I’ve used to help my mental game is a breathing technique. If I feel a bit uncertain about my performance or a little bit nervous, I take a couple of deep breaths to relieve the pressure.’
‘This technique really helped me when I played in my first EDGA (European Disabled Golf Association) event three years ago. There were a lot of people watching and I felt incredibly nervous, but when I took a couple of breathers it helped me regain my composure and lower my heart rate. Ever since then I’ve used the technique if I feel slightly nervous or agitated during a round of golf.’
RSNG What brought you to golf in the first place and what do you find satisfying about it?
GG ‘My parents are the main reason I pursued a golf career. I picked up my first club when I was about seven years-old and began going to the driving range to practise. My parents initially introduced golf to me as a form of entertainment and exercise but back then I was more into my football. It wasn’t until I was around twelve years old that I began enjoying golf more.’
‘I got my first handicap when I was 13 and was capped at 24, but since then it has come down to two. I’m very pleased that I took up golf again, especially given the tournaments I have had the opportunity to play in.’
‘I find that golf a lot more social than other sports. It’s really enjoyable to talk to people or have a laugh with your friends while playing an 18-hole course.’
RSNG How have you developed your swing through coaching?
GG ‘My swing has been adapted during my time at the golf college in Lindfield. Paul Lyons and Dennis Pugh helped me adapt my swing to compensate for my left arm being shorter than my right. The flexibility and extension in my left arm is more limited because of my condition so my swing is slightly different to most peoples’.’
RSNG Tell us about your journey to No. 1 spot – what was the toughest part of achieving it?
GG ‘Becoming the World Number 1 was a challenge, especially as the competition is so strong now - there are a lot of highly talented American golfers.’
‘I’ve been playing competitively for three years and I’ve grown a lot during that time. I would never have envisaged becoming world number one because of how strong the field is, so to play well during the 18/ 19 season has been fantastic.’
‘A turning point for me was the Swedish Invitational tournament. There were around seven of the top ten ranked golfers in the world competing and I was ranked in 2017 around 70th at the time.’
‘I went on to win the event and my ranking jumped from 70th to third because of that event alone. That tournament really gave me a confidence boost. The following year I finished the year in the top five and now I’ve now hit the personal goal of being the number one golfer in the world!’
RSNG What did your recent victory at the English Disability Open mean to you?
GG ‘It was very significant to me because it was my first win on home soil and fourth time playing the event.’
‘The first time I finished fourth, the second time I wasn’t pleased with my performance and lost first place on count-back. Last year I lost by one shot partially due to the torrential weather. So, to finally win it a couple of weeks ago was an amazing occasion.’
RSNG Do you think golf provides a challenge for all?
GG ‘Yes. EDGA try to inspire those of all capabilities to play and have an aim to develop the disabled golfing community. The organisation has seen a lot of growth over the last few years.’
‘I have been playing golf from a young age. It’s a challenge for everyone, I have erbs palsy which is a paralysis of my left arm, but I won’t let that stop me playing. There are a lot of golfers I play against who are disabled. However, the tour employees a handicap system to make sure everyone can play no matter what.’
RSNG Have you been using any new tech to your advantage?
GG ‘I would say the only new tech that I use is my mid-driver. I have a Taylor-Made M5 golf club, which has a curved face – this means that if hit the ball slightly off the heel, it will encourage it to go straighter than a standard golf club. This is the only tech that I would say gives me a slight advantage.’
RSNG Which is your favourite course to play at?
GG ‘I would have to say that the golf course I’ve enjoyed playing the most is the St George’s Golf Course, in Weybridge – the houses you see when approaching the course are just spectacular.’
‘If there was a golf course though that I wish I could play it would be the old course at St Andrews. There is so much history there and a lot of great players have competed on the course so it would be incredible to play there one day.’