Carolyn Hoffman A sports psychologist found a home on the staff at Olympic in San Francisco, the golf club that has everything

October 07, 2001

Besides two great 18-hole layouts and a terrific short course,
golfers fortunate enough to be members of the Olympic Club in
San Francisco have at their disposal an indoor range, a
state-of-the-art fitness facility, nine teaching pros and
Carolyn Hoffman, the only psychologist who works solely for a
golf club. As those bank card ads used to say, membership has
its privileges.

Hoffman, 33, played field hockey, lacrosse and soccer while
growing up in Saratoga, Calif. She graduated from UC San Diego in
1990 with a degree in psychology and earned a Ph.D. in sports
psychology from Kansas in 1995. After two years in private
practice, Hoffman was hired by Olympic in '97, primarily because
she had transformed Paul Kennedy, the club's general manager at
the time, from a mechanical 12 handicapper into a
results-oriented seven. She has been a staff member ever since,
as available to the club's 6,000 members as one of the pros or
the masseuse. Unlike those colleagues, though, Hoffman isn't paid
by the session. She receives a salary from the club, so her
checkups from the neck up are essentially free to the membership.

Says Hoffman, "The majority of golfers I've observed are
negative, mechanical and indecisive. I try to teach them to focus
on the shot, not on the swing. In every other sport, whether
shooting a free throw or pitching a baseball, focusing on the
target is natural. Only golfers obsess about the swing, breaking
it down into pieces and thinking about swing plane and hand
position instead of where they want the ball to go."

Hoffman, a nine handicapper, has worked with hundreds of members
at Olympic, initially meeting them in her office and then moving
to the range or the course, depending on the client's wishes. The
skill level of those who seek her help runs from that of a former
pro who had qualified for last year's U.S. Senior Open to that of
frustrated beginners. "An elderly gentleman brought me his
scorecard, which added up to 176," says Hoffman. "He amazed me
for several reasons. First, I couldn't believe anyone would
actually keep that card, that he would still be counting. Second,
I was blown away that at his age he would ask a woman sports
psychologist, someone 45 years younger, to help him with his
game." The consultations proved fruitful for the frustrated
senior. Hoffman says he shaved about 60 shots from his score.

The best clients are the "sponges," says Hoffman, referring to
people who willingly seek help. She cites a man who took up golf
late in life. An untold number of lessons, golf schools and
training aids hadn't helped him break 100, but several sessions
with Hoffman did. Sounding like a weight-loss counselor, she
proudly says, "He has taken 15 shots off his game, and he's
keeping them off."

Any golfer familiar with the inner game has heard Hoffman's rap.
"I try to teach the members that you cannot disconnect the body
from the brain," she says. "What you think about, whether you
realize it or not, has a tremendous effect on your body. You
must control your thought process. People say, 'I don't
understand it. I specifically said to myself, Don't hit it in
the water, but it went right in the water.' The body is
listening to the mind, and the mind is obsessing about the
water. Players need to think about where the ball needs to go,
aiming at a distant tree limb or the corner of the clubhouse,
for example. You're obviously aware of the water, but you must
focus on the target, not the danger."

Hoffman has cut back on her hours at the club so she can travel
with her husband of 14 months, former basketball coach P.J.
Carlesimo, who's an NBA analyst for NBC and an Olympic member.
(They were introduced by club members.) Perhaps because he's
used to giving orders instead of taking them, Carlesimo has been
a slow learner. "If I'd listen to her as her clients do, I
wouldn't be such a lousy player," says Carlesimo, a 14
handicapper. Hoffman has a different theory. "I try to counsel
P.J.," she says, "but he's a little set in his ways. He was
single for 50 years, so he's used to figuring out things on his
own."

She pauses, then adds with a laugh, "Even if it takes him longer
than it should."

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BURGESS Hoffman has been unable to get into Carlesimo's head.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)