I don’t think anyone goes to the golf course without wanting to play to their potential, whatever that might be. Whether you are a tour professional or a casual weekend player who just wants to have fun, playing to your perceived potential just makes it more enjoyable to be out there.
This week’s post was inspired by a conversation I had with a young man I’ve been helping with his golf. His frustration was that he couldn’t seem to hit the same shots on the course as he could on the range.
So, I told him, “Well son, welcome to golf the way everyone plays it.”
There is not a player on earth, from the best tour pros on down, who hits it as well on the course as on the range. If you’ve ever been to a PGA Tour event and spent time on the range, you wonder how these guys ever miss a fairway or green. But it is said that the longest distance in golf is that from the range to the first tee, and there’s a lot of truth to that.
On the range we are totally immersed in the swing and our mechanics, repeating the moves we are learning or have learned. While there’s a target line we are aware of, there is no penalty for missing it. And the fact that we are setting up the same way, ball after ball, does eliminate part of the process.
The culprit is what we call “pressure.” It might be a large wager, trying to impress your friends, or simply playing to what you perceive as your potential, but there is always pressure when you are on the course. Bad shots have a penalty and good ones a reward. The goal of all the mental coaches and trainers in golf is to figure out how to help each one of us deal with it the best way we can.
The funny thing about pressure is that it affects each of us differently. I have known recreational golfers who will play their best when the bets get right but can’t get all that interested until they do. There are others that, if they stop to think about how much is riding on this hole or that shot, can’t execute to their best level.
Everyone has to find their own way to keep their “game face” on and perform to their best ability. But here are a few of my tips that might help.
1. Get small. If you find yourself thinking about how you’re scoring, or the size of the bet on the line or anything outside the shot at hand, “get small”. Rein in your thoughts to focus only on the exact shot you want to hit. Recall shots just like it that you’ve pulled off in the past, and the simple swing thoughts that were in your mind when you were hitting it well recently. At its “smallest” a round of golf is just one isolated swing event after another. Each one really has nothing to do with the one before or after. Stay small and get out of the moment if you need to.
2. Remove the pressure. If you put too much pressure on yourself to hit your best shots repeatedly, or to score well, it can take the fun out of the game. Some time back, I dropped out of a game at my club because the other guys were there more for the “action” than for the golf. I really liked most of those guys, but after working at golf all week, I really don’t want to have to work that hard on the course to keep from losing my shirt. If you are not comfortable with the pressure that you feel on the course, change it.
3. Enjoy the process. Unless you are doing this for a living, the main reason to be on the course is to enjoy the game itself and your friends, right? You’ve set aside the morning or afternoon to enjoy yourself, so make that your first priority. Take in the sights, and sounds, and the design and beauty of the golf course. Relish the practice swings for each shot and the challenge of pulling it off.
4. Change your routine. If you’re finding that golf isn’t as much fun as you think it should be, stop to figure out why. And change the influences, whether they are from the outside or from within, that are taking the fun out of golf. This game is more fun when you play well, so find the routine that brings out your best more often than not.
If you find yourself not enjoying your golf as much as you would like, I hope those tips help you relax and have more fun on the course.
After all, it is just a game — and games are supposed to be fun!
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