Are you a smart golfer? Or do you regularly toss away unnecessary strokes due to mental mistakes?
Working with golfers at all levels on the mental/emotional game and having spent the better part of my entire life around the game, the things I’ve seen very smart people do on the golf course really leaves me scratching my head sometimes.
You don’t necessarily need to practice for hours and hours to lower your scores; all it takes is smarter thinking and preparing with a purpose.
What Most Golfers Do
Let’s start with an example:
A few months ago I was standing on the first tee at an event greeting players. Some arrived from the parking lot after racing across town to make their tee time, while others arrived after a brief stint on the practice tee.
The first hole was a slightly elevated par-4 about 410 yards, straight away with water down the right side. The hole opened up on the left — a wide fairway, a generous cut of rough and then trees about 30 yards beyond. On that day there was a slight cross-wind blowing from left to right.
As the players pulled up to the tee, about 95 percent of them pulled the driver from their bag without considering the shape of the hole, hazards or wind. Almost all walked up on the tee, aimed down the middle, and watched as the ball sailed into the water on the right. Every second player watched their ball start in the fairway or right-center, spin right and splash!
It was bewildering to see the look of surprise on their faces afterwards. What were they expecting? About 80 percent of golfers slice the ball for various reasons, yet none of these players considered aiming away from trouble and avoiding the hazard, even with wind blowing towards the water on the right.
Yes, mistakes were made during the swings, but these penalty strokes could have been saved even before stepping on the tee.
Are You a Smart Player?
My job is to essentially help performers/athletes get out of their own way. There are so many things that keep athletes from maximizing their performance, but the most common is just plain lack of thought.
Questions to ask yourself:
Do you properly prepare to play? Are you aware of your strengths and limitations? Do you play the course like a chess match, strategically placing your ball around the course?
Or, do you fall into the same traps that the players in the example above fall into — little to no warm-up, not paying attention to what the course gives you and not playing to your strengths? Do you makes mistakes that could have easily been avoided? Do you play some good holes but also have “too many” disaster holes?
A Few Ideas to Help You Play Smart
Here are a few simple ways — some factors you can directly control — to smarten up and immediately lower your scores.
1. Prepare yourself to play! Most players just do not allow for adequate warm-up time — a key part to allowing yourself to play to your strengths. Pay attention to your warm-up and get a sense for the flight of the ball — it will enable you to know “what you’ve got” that day. Also, standing on the first tee with the right club in your hand and thinking strategically can help build positive momentum for the remainder of your round.
2. Have a plan on how to play each hole. Evaluate each hole by first having a general focus of the entire hole including all trouble spots. Error away from trouble, then narrow your focus of the hole on a specific target area and hit the shot there. Remember that each hole is a chess game vs. the architect’s design, and you must know how to position your strength against the hole’s limitations.
3. Start slow and build. Stick your toe in to test the water early in the round and focus on keeping the ball in play. Hit the club that makes you feel most comfortable, allowing the nerves to settle and dissolve over the first few holes. Many players ignite the nerves by playing well beyond their capabilities very early in rounds. This approach puts players on the emotional roller coaster early in the round and it can be difficult to overcome.
4. Develop a “stock shot.” Every player will feel uncomfortable on certain holes in a round. What may be a comfortable-looking hole for me might be very uncomfortable for you. You should develop a shot you can trust to keep in play. It doesn’t matter what the shot looks like as long as it produces the result. Smart players acknowledge when things aren’t quite right and have a “go-to” shot when things get uncomfortable. This helps to eliminate big numbers on holes that just don’t fit your eye.
While there are many things you can’t control in the game of golf, being prepared and being smart are factors you can control. Many players like Jim Furyk have had great careers and made tremendous livings in the game of golf maximizing their abilities by having a plan and playing smart.
Use your head and see your scores drop!
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