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12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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John Haime is the President of New Edge Performance. He's a Human Performance Coach who prepares performers to be the their best by helping them tap into the elusive 10 percent of their abilities that will get them to the top. This is something that anyone with a goal craves, and John Haime knows how to get performers there. John closes the gap for performers in sports and business by taking them from where they currently are to where they want to go.  The best in the world trust John. They choose him because he doesn’t just talk about the world of high performance – he has lived it and lives in it everyday. He is a former Tournament Professional Golfer with professional wins. He has a best-selling book, “You are a Contender,” which is widely read by world-class athletes, coaches and business performers.  He has worked around the globe for some of the world’s leading companies. Athlete clients include performers who regularly rank in the Top-50 in their respective sports. John has the rare ability to work as seamlessly in the world of professional sports as he does in the world of corporate performance. His primary ambition writing for GolfWRX is to help you become the golfer you'd like to be. See www.johnhaime.com for more. Email: john@newedgeperformance.org

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. shawn

    May 30, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    Young serious golfers aspiring to become professionals have low IQ intellect because all they have done is beat balls and seek ‘fun’ playing golf. Their brainlets are underdeveloped from childhood and they are unable to make intellectual decisions and solutions. Basically, they’re immature children.

  2. ogo

    May 29, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    13. Blame your equipment, not yourself!
    Hey, it can’t be you, it’s gotta be your obsolete equipment. Buy a new set of clubs and change balls, shoes and wardrobe. It will help the golf industry too.

  3. Frank

    May 7, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    How about just one reason: not enough money.

  4. Johnny Penso

    May 3, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    3. and 4. have always been important to me but even moreso this year. I’m no longer running through clubs in my bag from wedges to woods but sticking with 1 or 2 irons, a hybrid and a driver or wood. Practice hitting targets and creating the shots you need to play well. One of my favourite ways to practice hit the par 4 and par 5 teeshots I have to make on each hole of a course I’m going to play on the weekend. Pressure is on to move it left to right, right to left, high or low, a stinger etc. Just blasting the driver and watching the shot is a waste of time for anything other than warming up. Same with the wedges. Pick some targets and hit shots to the target. 5 to this flag high, then 5 low etc.

  5. Dee Mac

    May 3, 2018 at 2:23 am

    Whether I win or lose today is important, but not as important as what I’ve learned from the game today that will make me a better golfer tomorrow. In a paradoxical way losing today will do more to help me be a better golfer tomorrow then if I’d won. Losing will expose more opportunities for improvement then if I’d won.
    Golf as a “game” is a subset of golf as a “process.”

  6. Thirdy8special

    Apr 19, 2018 at 9:27 pm

    I agree with what he is saying on shot shape. Know how to hit both but stick with one shot for most, hit the green and 2 putt and everyone will be shooting in the 70s pretty fast.

  7. Nic

    Apr 18, 2018 at 11:09 pm

    Best article so far this year on this site.

  8. millennial82

    Apr 18, 2018 at 6:59 pm

    Hi John, this was such a good read.. Could you please write and article about how to make a plan to lower your handicap for different handicaps?

    if you could give us a break down on the road to success? I’m sure 30 handicaps- need to practice full swing contact with the ball.. 18’s- short game.. 10 and under- mental/ family/ work lol.

    • david

      Apr 20, 2018 at 10:32 am

      Nice effort millennial82, the problem is 98% of readers will NOT follow a plan. I know, I teach golf!

      • lulu

        Apr 20, 2018 at 3:32 pm

        ‘Commitment’ is not in the vocabulary of most rec golfers …. only ‘fun’ and socializing with your equally decrepit golffing buddies… yo man, great shot …

  9. Frank McChrystal

    Apr 18, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    The brain science of the past 10 – 15 years confirms the fact that chasing the perfect swing produces a high maintenance motion that actually picks a fight with the body’s will to be well. There are valid reasons why no two swings in the hall of fame are exactly alike. Your personal swing will serve you far better during competition than some perceived “perfect swing” you so brilliantly puppeteer on the range. There is a level of golf you have not experienced yet and it is not because of a lack of effort, it was pre determined by the era in which you were born. An entire generation accepts two or three errant drives and semi accurate approach shots as normal, relying on endless hours of short game practice to salvage scores. This joyless golf is the direct result of the “modern” instruction of the past 30 years. Relaxed concentration is never instinctive when you live the drudge of russian roulette every round, and no amount of “mental game” jargon spawned in the 70’s will ever change that. It is the instinctive beast that rules the athletic world, not the stressed out puppeteer. Do you think it is coincidence that chiropractors and mental game coaches arrived on the scene at about the same time?

  10. John Haime

    Apr 18, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    Hi Everyone – thank-you for your comments. As a complement to this article, you might be interested in an article I wrote for GolfWRX last month highlighting how we work with a young, up and coming player early in the year and the areas we focus on. The mental/emotional piece is woven through these areas to help them process the game well. Here’s the link – http://www.golfwrx.com/487194/either-plan-for-excellence-or-underachieve/.

    Thank-you again for your attention to the articles – great comments.

    • steve

      Apr 18, 2018 at 3:02 pm

      Great article on the 12 “roadblocks”, and I’ll just repeat my comment from your previous article here:
      Without structure and a customized plan, their careers become a hit-and-hope scenario, potentially leading to long stints on the mini-tours and frivolously throwing sponsor money into the wind.”
      This is such a telling comment (from your previous article) on the arrested mentality of most aspiring young players. Unfortunately, most are immature mentally and physically regardless of their playing ability. They cannot discipline themselves because they have a childish approach to the game and career. They play for fun and practice becomes a painful experience. Only those with an obsessive-compulsive mentality and proper mentoring and training can succeed. They are few.

  11. PSG

    Apr 18, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    Ugh. Not another one of you. Yeah, most shots happen within 100 yards, but most of them have pre-determined outcomes. Unless you are actually advocating that players practice tap-in putts, the average good players round has WAY more shots outside 100 yards (since they miss putts by so little).

    The rest of the article was good. The “the data is clear…” part was absolute nonsense.

    • John Haime

      Apr 18, 2018 at 2:46 pm

      good comment PSG – agreed that a poor player must focus more on long game. It’s pretty clear that if a player can’t get to 100 yds from the green – there’s not much point in excelling in that area. The better the player the more the short game becomes critical to success and the outcome.

      • Doug

        May 7, 2018 at 4:16 pm

        You really need to read Mark Broadie’s “Every Shot Counts.” You’re harboring some misconceptions about the relative importance of the short and long game at all skill levels. It hurts your credibility to be this off in an area.

  12. Michael Riechmann

    Apr 18, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    Number 6 hurts so bad you don’t even know … And it all started with improving my ability to work it both ways … I’m just scared to play a controlled hook allah Patrick Reed when I hit a fade with every other club in my bag …

  13. Zach

    Apr 18, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    I agree very much with points 4 and 5. When I am on the range you can look down and notice most people full swinging and trying to mimic swings their body cannot produce.

    The only positive, it helps me secure more students.

  14. Sup

    Apr 18, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    You missed the most important thing:
    SUPPORT.
    From your family and friends. Without support, there is nothing. You won’t get anywhere by yourself. You need a team with you at all times.
    Team to manage your time, to manage your food, to manage your tee times, to manage your practice, to manage your money, to manage your life.
    Any decent player has game. But without the support around him/her, you can’t take it to the next level.

    • Largechris

      Apr 18, 2018 at 2:31 pm

      Lol nonsense. How much support did Vijay Singh have in the jungles of Borneo as a young pro. Or Sorentram in the snow in Sweden. Or Woosnam living out of a caravan and building power by thousands of hours swinging in long meadow grass. It’s either in you or it’s not.

      • Sup

        Apr 19, 2018 at 11:34 am

        Is that why you still can’t play? You know about being alone, huh, you a loner and all, no friends, no family, you know it well lol

    • Andrew Cooper

      Apr 20, 2018 at 8:55 am

      If a player is good enough, physically and mentally, he or she will get there regardless of support. In fact the best get there often because they have the inner belief, borderline arrogance, to do it their way, not someone else’s way. They take responsibility, they don’t need someone holding their hand, or someone to blame when they play poorly. Not to criticise the author or this article, which is excellent, but if a young player is relying on a coach to structure their practice routines, or a mental coach to tell them to stay positive etc., then they’ve got a long way to go. Not to say that they can’t improve, but winners are simply cut from different cloth.

  15. Joe

    Apr 18, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    I agree with many of these points. I know my practice routine is not at all like my rounds. great things to think about.

  16. Steve Patterson

    Apr 18, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    Great article. Thanks so much for providing this information as I believe every golfer can find at least one aspect of your information to improve upon.

  17. stephenf

    Apr 18, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    Well, how about that. Every bit of this is actually excellent. #2 through #8 are particularly good, but I hate to single out any of them, really. Worth saving and going back to.

    One caveat: There’s some disagreement about #12. Some psychologists see a certain amount of blaming conditions, equipment, lies, weather, etc., as a useful device as a temporary buffer against the erosion of confidence after a tough round. I’m not sure I ever bought this either, but some pretty reputable people do. The idea is that it takes the immediate sting out of the deal, and if the player comes back in a day or two to work on whatever part of it actually _was_ his responsibility, the “blame” thing was never more than just a temporary device. I would think that if you were going to do some real research on the matter, you’d probably find that it depends on whether the blaming was at least partially true, what the specific player’s personality and orientation are like with regard to how well he can handle honest and direct self-evaluation in general, etc.

    • stephenf

      Apr 18, 2018 at 12:28 pm

      Also: Golf Digest (or maybe it was Golf Magazine) did an article quite a few years ago — pre-internet, I think — advising players to test and measure progress in practice: pick out a “fairway” on the range (between these two yardage signs, between the sign and the fence, whatever) and see how many out of 20 you could hit; keep track of how many times you were up and down in two from greenside or a practice bunker; how many putts you were making from three feet or six feet in a circle (maybe five balls at a time in a circle) around a hole with slope; etc.

      It’s the same kind of thing advocated here with regard to specific goals. Seems so simple that of course anybody interested in actually improving would do it, but almost nobody does.

  18. Bones Mackay

    Apr 18, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Pretty good overall but I have a couple of issues with 4 and 5.

    On #4 – Strokes gained has shown that driving and approach shots are a good predictor of performance over a longer period of time and are much more influential than SG around the green. You may get small gains from improving short game, but it won’t be as big as if you improve off the tee and on your approach shots.

    On #5 – Working on swing mechanics (assuming you’re working on the right stuff) can lead to improved ball striking and influence SG off the tee and approach.

  19. 2putttom

    Apr 18, 2018 at 10:51 am

    this is all too much to think about my moto keep it simple.

    • Miles M.

      Apr 18, 2018 at 11:53 am

      I think John is right on with this article. I played at a top-ranked DII school and I only found out most of what this article stated much too late in my process. This should be printed and taped above the bed for any young player who is serious and aspires to the PGA Tour.

    • Tycoo

      Apr 18, 2018 at 12:17 pm

      I don’t think it’s too much to think about . Players focus too much on how their swing looks as opposed to embracing their swing . Many of these points can be applied to every day life . There are a lot of haters on this site . It gets rediculous reading negative comments on an editor that is trying to help golfers stay positive .

    • steve

      Apr 19, 2018 at 5:16 pm

      When you are swinging a golf club you must not “think”, you must execute automatically. How do you do that? Lots of practice off the golf course.

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