In the aftermath of Cam Davis’ win at last weekend’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, the Sydney golfer went out of his way to credit his hypnotherapist for helping to improve his attitude on the golf course after six months of struggle.

“Sticking with the work that I’m doing with Grace has made a very big impact very quickly,” he said. “From where I was a couple of weeks ago to today, I’m a completely different person… it worked extremely well, extremely quickly for me.”

Cam Davis: Trophy Hunting

“Grace” is Grace Smith, whose website bio describes her as “the world’s No.1 provider of hypnotherapy education, products, and services”, including the Grace app and the Grace Method Hypnotherapy Certification School. She works with “elite clientele” in private hypnotherapy sessions – an initial 90-minute consult with Smith costs $US2,230, though her team of certified therapists offers 45-minute sessions for $US200 – and after Davis’ wife Jonika had success in hypnotherapy sessions, she asked her husband to consider trying it. Davis also works with the sports psychologist Bhrett McCabe, and the two agreed it was worth a shot.

Smith’s husband reached out to Golf Digest via Twitter suggesting an interview, and what follows is our discussion about her work with Davis – her first PGA Tour client – the benefits of hypnotherapy generally, and what it takes to succeed at this kind of work. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Golf Digest: We appreciate your time. How long have you been working with Cam? When did that start?

Grace Smith: Two weeks ago.

So you’ve only worked two weeks with him? How many sessions is that?

I think we’ve done six sessions.

How long are the sessions?

Between 45 minutes and an hour. The very first one I think was 90 minutes just so I could teach him about all this because it was very new to him.

And how did this relationship start? You’ve never worked with a golfer before.

So Jonika, his wife, was working with a hypnotherapist on our team and it changed her life and people kept saying to her, “I’m noticing these incredible changes in you.” And I saw the word “begged” in another article. His wife begged him to do hypnotherapy. I don’t know if it was that dramatic or not, but it sounds as though Cam was a little bit reluctant as I think many people are reluctant to give this a try just based on how misrepresented it is by the media. But he did, and it’s obviously working incredibly well, and now Jonika actually joined my hypnotherapy certification school. So she’s going to be a hypnotherapist herself, which is going to be wonderful.

Hypnotherapist Grace Smith.

Maybe a good way to start is for you to explain how this works. I’m sure a lot of people have preconceived notions, but what does hypnotherapy actually look like?

So for someone like Cam Davis, who is already an incredible professional golfer, the last thing he needed was another expert in golf on his team. What he needed was someone who could help him with all of the things that were getting in the way of his ability to play golf. So that’s where I came in.

And essentially all hypnotherapy is, is meditation with a goal. So I help my clients relax down into what’s known as the theta brainwave state. It’s nothing like in the movies. There’s no blackout state. You don’t give up control. There’s no mind control. You’re literally in a state of meditation. You know exactly where you are, your eyes could open at any point and I just help Cam visualise what he wants instead of what he doesn’t want, because when the subconscious self-sabotage starts activating, as it does with everybody to varying degrees of severity, it works against us.

Our mind is working against us instead of with us, and hypnotherapy helps us flip that script and get the mind being our partner instead of our adversary.

A notion I hear a lot with hypnotism is that some people are more susceptible to it than others. Some people are better at going under than others. But it sounds like that’s not even a consideration in this case.

No, I’ve never found that to be the case. And our team, our company has conducted more than 20,000 sessions just in the past year-and-a-half, so if that were the case, it would have come up.

What is absolutely the truth is, if you don’t want the result, it’s not going to work at all, because it’s not mind control. So if someone buys hypnotherapy for their partner for their birthday and says, “Great, go use hypnosis so you can stop smoking,” and the partner doesn’t want to stop smoking, it’s not going to work.

But if you are desperate to improve something, you really want the result, hypnotherapy will work for you, whether you “believe in it” or not, because no belief is required. We go in and out of theta all day long. Every single person goes through the theta brainwave state when they wake up. And they go back down through it on the way into sleep.

If meditation can help your golf, it surely can help your coronavirus anxiety

Our readers will want to know on a practical level how you helped a professional golfer, and I don’t know if that’s going to be tricky for you because of confidentiality, but what can you tell us about your work with Cam?

Well, Cam was so generous with his explanation of our work together that I can touch on the things that he shared and then a bit more broadly because it’s very different, right?

If you’re a brand new golfer, golf could be the problem. You might just be bad at golf. It’s going to be very different than it would be for a professional who is absolutely incredible at golf. For them, it’s just all the other stuff that’s getting in the way. One of the things that Cam shared is that our hypnotherapy together helped him fall back in love with golf.

And this is a very interesting concept because when you’re a professional at any sport, you won a lot growing up. And in golf and in tennis, there’s only one winner and you have to learn how to lose.

Even if you’re making tons of money and you’re in the top 20, you’re still losing all the time. But that’s not how these folks are built. They came up as winners. So the thing that got you here won’t get you there. You have to really re-associate your relationship to the sport and it can’t just be about winning every single time.

Otherwise, you’re going to swing back and forth between elation and catatonic depression since that’s going to be such a common occurrence. And again, for somebody who’s just playing golf for fun, they do feel some pretty deep trauma when it’s not going well, but it’s not quite the same as when it’s your livelihood.

That sort of dictates where we begin based on your starting level of golf in the first place. But with Cam, we had to make sure that he was loving the sport and that he felt the desire to play it. And so many people don’t when they’ve been in a slump for a while. So that was step one.

And what does that look like? How do you make somebody fall in love again?

So everyone will be different and they all have the answers inside of them. Essentially, when you’re in the theta brainwave state, you are returning to a brainwave pattern that’s similar to how you are under the age of 7.

Because under the age of 7, we haven’t developed the other brainwaves very much yet. So we’re basically always in theta, which means we’re little sponges taking in new information, but we’re also much more creative. We’re connected to our intuition, our inspiration. So when you’re in theta and you ask, well, what was it that you loved about golf in the first place?

Why did you fall in love with golf in the first place? People will give you the deepest, truest answers and it will surprise them because it’s often things they totally forgot about. So one thing for Cam was just the idea of being able to do something he loved that was also outside. It might sound very simple, but day in and day out, when you are having this very difficult heartbreaking relationship with your job, you forget like, I’m outside. I love being outside. I can’t believe I have a job that lets me be outside. So it might sound simple, but it means so much to the subconscious to reconnect to those types of things

When I hear that, Oh, we’re outside, I would think, Oh God, we’re so far beyond that when we’re adults, there’s no way you can be grateful for being outside, you know what I mean? It sounds like kid stuff, like something your brain would override so quickly. How do you rewire that?

It absolutely does do that at the conscious level of the brain or the grown-up level of the brain. There’s something called the critical factor of the mind. It’s literally critical and it’ll say, “Oh, that’s dumb.” Or, “Oh, we’re so far beyond that.” Or, “That’s not going to be enough for me to focus given what just happened at the last hole.”

But we are, with hypnotherapy, bypassing the critical factor of the mind. We are getting beyond that voice that says, “That’s not going to be enough to help me.” And we’re getting into the emotional mainframe where that is the No.1 thing that helps you and clicks you back into why I’m here, how I got here in the first place.

And so Cam had many more than just, I love to be outside, but that was one of the ones where it was so deeply meaningful for his brain to get to marinate in the remembering of those first few times when he was like, This is my job. I get to do what I love and be outside.

Again, to the conscious mind, it sounds so simple. It sounds so light and kind of fluffy, but to the subconscious it’s everything and it makes a huge difference.

Golf Trips

What else can you tell us about your sessions with Cam?

I’ll just touch on things that he already mentioned. So having a baseline of contentment is a really powerful superpower to develop. We’re not having these radical swings between elation when something goes your way, or this horrible down on your luck, everything feels like it’s going wrong feeling. It’s really difficult to get yourself out of that dark ditch once you’re in it mentally, especially from one move to the next. You’ve got a couple of minutes at best.

So if we can shorten the swing of the pendulum from elation to a horrible, deep, dark ditch, from really great to just content, it’s so much easier to reset. And that has a lot to do with, again, getting your subconscious in alignment with why you’re here in the first place. What it is that you love about this, why you’ve chosen this.

“Sticking with the work that I’m doing with Grace has made a very big impact very quickly,” Cam Davis said. [Photo: Gregory Shamus]
That’s another piece, is understanding that this is a choice. You don’t have to be here, right? You are choosing this and doubling down on that.

Another thing is, where did the emotions go? This is an incredibly frustrating sport, and the emotions have to go somewhere. So are they going to be expressed outwardly in front of all the fans and on television? Are you going to let the world see this or are you going to bury it deep down inside where it doesn’t go away and when you do that it just shows up in other unhealthy ways? Or are you going to find a safe productive way to express that energy in the subconscious? So that’s a really important one.

Every golfer is going to be different. You know, Cam’s personality, he’s unbelievably kind and generous as we’ve seen, and as I’m getting to know him and his wife better, they’re really wonderful salt-of-the-earth people. If I was working with a client who was a lot more boisterous naturally, we’d have a very different strategy. You always have to leverage what’s naturally going to work best for the client. You can’t turn them into someone they’re not. It’ll never work.

So what’s the middle ground between screaming and cursing and suppressing all those emotions?

Some people can scream and curse and it’s honestly fine because it’s congruent with who they feel they are meant to be in the world, so it doesn’t create a huge amount of emotional backlash for them when they exhibit that behaviour. They’re fine with it and they move on. For others with a different personality it’s more helpful to find a way to release that energy in the subconscious rather than out in front of massive crowds and media. How we do this is unique to the client but essentially we find a productive way to release that anger/frustration/embarrassment/negativity. For some it might be going into the theta brainwave state and imagining punching a punching bag until the energy is gone. For others it might be going back to a moment in the game where it didn’t go their way and imagining it had turned out differently again and again, for others it might be imaging going for a run and screaming at the top of their lungs the entire run. The important thing to keep in mind is that just imagining doing this at the level of the conscious mind (the beta brainwave state) is not enough. It has to be done in the theta brainwave state for the negativity to be removed thoroughly enough that it stops getting in the way of and blocking the muscle memory, creativity and inspiration that are needed to continue to play well.

When you’re doing these sessions, you talked about being in that meditation state, does that last the whole session? Is some of it talking?

I’d say on average the first 15-to-20 minutes, we’re catching up. What worked last time? What’s sticking with you? What do you love? Is there anything that didn’t resonate over time? And then the rest of the time we’re in the session.

To what extent is this stuff sticky? Will what you’ve done with Cam work for the next 10 years, or will he have to continue with hypnotherapy?

It’s a good question. If I were working with someone to overcome their fear of flying, I would say that is extremely sticky and barring a terrible flight where someone almost crashes, the likelihood of the fear coming back is very minimal.

I work with high achievers in a lot of different areas and every single day, the stakes are so high and every single day there’s a different reason to have to up your game. So for something like golf, I think there’s elements of what Cam and I have done that will be with him forever. And there’s also going to be new players and there’s also going to be new courses and there’s also going to be different weather and there’s going to be different opportunities on the business side of him as a professional golfer that he may not have seen before. And so I work with my clients long-term.

Did you have to learn anything about golf when Cam got in touch with you?

Absolutely not. Because again, I don’t want to conflate what the wonderful people who are golf experts around him are saying. I’m not coming in with an opinion about golf. I’m just helping him get rid of all the stuff that’s in the way of it. And having been said, if someone on his team says, “You know, Grace, here’s this one thing that we really want to make sure Cam is doing every time he putts,” I can take their exact verbiage and help bring it down into the subconscious mind. But I’m just showing up as the expert in the subconscious.

Can you give me a distinction between hypnotherapy and something like cognitive behavioural therapy?

Sure. So CBT is wonderful, has fantastic outcomes. The primary difference between hypnotherapy and all of the other talk therapies is that we’re focused entirely on the subconscious. And we are exiting the beta brainwave state, which is normal waking consciousness. The beta brainwave state is where we experience sleep, and experience fight, flight, free survival mode. That is our least adaptive state, our least malleable state, the state where we can take in the least amount of new information. But when you enter down into the theta brainwave state, you are so relaxed. You feel so completely safe that fight, flight, free survival mode completely turns off and you have this surplus energy required to create new neural pathways in the brain.

Also, we as hypnotherapists don’t diagnose or treat disorders. So we always have wonderful psychotherapists that we can refer to if that’s necessary, because that’s just not a part of our jurisdiction.

It is interesting though, when you say, “We don’t treat disorders.” If someone has terrible anxiety standing over a putt, or OCD patterns where they keep picturing the worst possible thing that can happen on a swing, I would push back and say, “Well that’s at least some sort of gradation of mental illness.” And you are treating that, right? You’re treating thought patterns, and you can argue that faulty thought patterns are a key component of mental illness.

Well, the primary thing is that we’re not diagnosing anyone with a disorder. Someone came to me and they said, I’m really sad. Every time I wake up to go do my job, you know, let’s say it’s a CEO. They’ve got hundreds of employees when they were an early stage founder. They loved work. They bounded out of bed in the morning.

They were so innovative. Now it’s this bloated company and it takes so long to make any changes and they just hate it. Of course, I’m going to have them visualise enjoying work again, or they’re just going to subconsciously try to destroy it so that they can get out of there. Again, it’s not a conscious thought, but the subconscious is going to say, this is awful every day, I need a change. And what’s the easiest way to do that? To implode this thing, right?

So I’m not treating depression exactly, but I certainly am helping the person feel happier about their circumstances. And so that’s why it’s always great for us to have a fantastic psychotherapist to refer to for the heavier, deeper, more clinical side of things. But we just help folks essentially relax and visualise what they want instead of what they don’t want.

How long have you been doing hypnotherapy?

I’ve been a hypnotherapist for more than 12 years now. The first way that I was introduced to it was to quit smoking myself. So I had tried everything under the sun and nothing was working. Someone suggested hypnosis. I went in very begrudgingly, not expecting it to work. And I quit in one session. And then I used it to overcome a debilitating fear of public speaking. So after 10 sessions, I was the lead singer of an all-girl rock band.

At that point I said, “OK, this is really working. And I don’t know why. I don’t know why this same tool helps me stop smoking and help me overcome fear of public speaking. These seem like two completely unrelated things. How can one tool help for both?” So I just got a certification for my own edification.

In my first class, it was the most natural at anything I’d ever been. And I started helping people on the side. I couldn’t believe their results. I was astounded every day.

Going back to the practical nuts and bolts way of how this works, maybe it would be instructive to talk about how you quit smoking in one session.

Absolutely. Again, this is going to be very unique to the client, which is why one-on-one hypnotherapy is so much more rapid in getting the results you’re looking for than a recording.

So for me, the hypnotherapist asked, “the smoker” – we give the thing that you don’t want to be doing anymore a personality, so we identify it, call it “the smoker” – why are you still smoking? Grace says she wants to stop and yet here you are. Why? I was living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I was in my early 20s and “the smoker” said, “I’m trying to keep her safe. When she’s smoking, she looks mean and unapproachable, and it means people aren’t going to talk to her on the street as much.”

So this was a completely convoluted belief that had nothing to do with a conscious thought I had ever had. And yet it was so deeply ingrained in my subconscious attempt to keep me safe that it was having me do something that’s not safe at all. So then we essentially negotiate with this part and let it know, first of all, it’s not working. People are still talking to me on the street. Second of all, I really want to stop doing this and it’s not healthy. So can we replace you with something else? And so at the time it was as simple as just make sure your phone is on and have it in your hand wherever you go.

Sorry to belabour this, but the traditional idea would be that you’ve developed a chemical dependency, but the hypnotherapy revealed for you that it was a psychological issue of keeping yourself safe, and by uncovering this issue, that led to the cure? Am I summarising that adequately?

Yes, you are actually giving the brain a better answer than the one it came up for by itself. So I call it living life by design rather than by default, because when the subconscious comes up with a solution by default, it usually does a very poor job and it chooses something that’s not great and it chooses something that’s rote and it’s used to doing it. You’ve got to get into the theta brainwave state, genuinely create new neural pathways by imagining that new way of being, and then over time with enough conditioning, that becomes your new normal.

You mention one of your goals as making hypnotherapy mainstream, but looking at your website, you describe your clients as “elite” and obviously it’s very expensive to work with you personally. So are people who are naturally successful or who have reached a high level of achievement, whether it’s in sports or business or whatever, are they inherently better at hypnosis?

It really does come down to how much you want the results. Oftentimes someone who’s in the position of leading a company worth billions of dollars or someone who’s on the PGA Tour or someone who is singing in front of thousands of people every night, want it badly.

I believe the people I work with have that desire in droves for what they do and it is why they are where they are. That’s not to say though, that wonderful people who work with my team aren’t at a level eight, nine, 10 for the thing that they’re coming there to work on too. And they’re seeing great results as well. So it’s not so much about. It’s not about money. It’s about how much do you want the result? It just turns out my clients want the results really, really badly.