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Golfing Goals: Do they work… or is there a better way?

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Sometime after The Masters and before golf season gets into full swing, golfers write down their goals for the summer; win the club championship, finish top-5 in the National Championship, make the National Team, etc. But is goal-setting helpful? Does setting specific tournament results assist golfers in achieving them? Did Tommy Fleetwood sit down at the beginning of 2017 and write out that he would like to win the Race to Dubai and win three tournaments?

There’s a now famous story of Rory McIlroy writing out his goals for the year on the back of an Emirates Airline boarding pass, but in my conversations with European Tour players I’ve found the practice to be the exception, not the rule. I’ve asked the goal-setting question to former World No. 1 players Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Adam Scott. I’ve even asked Tom Watson about it when sitting down for breakfast with him at the 2014 British Open. Very few top golfers formally write down specific goals on a sheet of paper at the start of a year.

So why is goal-setting not an essential tool? After all, most sports psychologists encourage their clients to do this ritual. I believe goal-setting has a place for some players, but for many players it can also create counter-productive expectations. Anyone who has read my Elite Performance Workbooks knows that I see expectations or “performance demands” as a cancer for elite players.

Being a world class tournament golfer is a performance art that’s akin to being a great chef; it’s about having quality ingredients that are cooked in the right way and at the right time if you hope to create a great dish. So while I’m not a fan of  goal-setting, I do believe that it’s very important for players to have a vision. Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Adam Scott and Tom Watson all have had a great vision of what they wanted to achieve.

So what is the difference between a vision and a goal? 

For me, a vision is a picture in your mind of what’s possible. A goal is more rigid and inflexible. It’s black and white. You either achieve it or you don’t. The difference is subtle — and so is the difference between success and failure at elite level. That’s why I like players at the beginning of each season to build a vision instead of creating black-and-white goals. I also like to see them describe their vision for three different parameters:

  • An OK Season
  • A GOOD Season
  • A GREAT Season

As golfers, there are many things not directly in our control: injury, outside golf life things, etc. Having a vision with three different parameters does not induce the pressure that goal setting can. Instead, it creates a motivating picture of clarity that the mind can gravitate toward, and having clarity in your vision of where you are going and how you are going to get there is such an important part of the performance jigsaw puzzle.

What happens once you’ve created this vision? First, I want you to pin it up on your wall or your bathroom mirror (so you’re guaranteed to see it twice a day when you brush your teeth). Each day, you should be visualizing  your OK and GREAT visions being achieved and grow this picture in your mind in rich detail. I call this “watering your dream daily,” and it’s hugely important if you want your dream to flower. Many months from now, you may be just be eating your holiday dinner and recounting to your distant relatives how this was your best golf season ever.

Thanks for reading, and here is a Vision Map PDF you can download to help you build YOUR vision for 2018.

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Jonathan Wallett has been a coach on the European Tour since 2011. He's also the National Coach for the Hong Kong Golf Team. His academy specializes in assisting elite juniors, elite amateurs, and touring professionals in reducing their scores. Interested in learning to perform your best on tournament day? Jonathan has developed a system called the "Tour Player Tournament System," which helps players understand the keys to play their best on tournament day. Sign up for some free coaching videos at elitegolfplayer.com

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WATCH: How slow-motion training can lead to more power and consistency

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Eddie Fernandes has made big changes to his swing (and his power and consistency have gone up) by mastering the key moves in slow motion before he speeds them up. Everyone should use this kind of slow motion training to make real changes to their swing!

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WATCH: What you really need to know to control the direction of your shots

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In this video, Top-100 Teacher Tom Stickney shows you how to better control the direction of your shots by understanding how both the club face and swing path determine where your ball goes.

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Stickney: There are many ways to pitch the ball that work

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While surfing through some old swings, I found a great photo of two players hitting pitch shots at Augusta. Both are great pitchers of the ball but use differing techniques. It goes to show you that there is more than one way to get the job done and in fact it reiterates that there is really no “law” when it comes to what shot to play under certain circumstances.

Note: I did NOT say that one was better than the other; I said both work, but you must decide which style works better for you in the end.

In the photo on the left, the player in the white sets his wrists fully, but as we look at the player on the right (in the blue) you can see no wrist hinge at all. So, which is more correct? Both are!

The player on the left hits his pitch shots with more of a driving of the leading edge, which relies on a steeper angle of attack. The golfer on the right uses more of the bounce of the club and thus will come into the ball more shallowly. Not setting the wrists as much helps him to do so.

So, remember that you must experiment with both styles to find your best way…but don’t forget it’s nice to understand and learn how to use both!

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