Developing a Consistent and Reliable Golf Game (Part 6 – Practice)

Here are my thoughts on practice. You can improve your ball striking, chipping and putting by practicing, but the only way to improve your game is to play. Some people enjoy practice, sometimes to the extent that they would rather practice than play. Others don’t practice much because they would rather use the time they have to play the game. Let’s face it, if you want to improve you are going to have to do both. It has been written that it takes 10 years and thousands of hours of practice and playing time to become a touring professional. Average golfers don’t have that kind of time, so it is essential that if they want to improve they need to practice with a purpose every time they go to the range.

Beginners are going to have a different set of goals than more experienced players when it comes to practice. To keep practice fun and productive, have a plan before you go to the range. Do some stretching first and then warm up with the club that you feel the most comfortable with. The reason is that if you start with a club that you have less confidence in and it does not go well, the rest of your practice session may not either.

The goals for the beginner in those first practice sessions should be to work on what was learned in their lessons and to begin to determine how far they can hit each club. Improving on accuracy and consistency is going to take a while, but having to select a club for each shot is going to be required the very first time you play. Allocate at least half your allotted time to the short game. More experienced players know that a good short game improves scores significantly and therefore devote more time to that part of the game.

A more experienced player is going to have a different set of goals when they practice. First, on days where you have some time, decide what and how you are going to practice before you get to the range. Include time for working on your strengths along with your weaknesses. Visualize every shot before swinging. Try different shots similar to those that you might encounter on the golf course. Every shot on the golf course results in a consequence. Rotate your clubs every 5 to 10 shots and always aim at a target. Utilize practice swings and make sure to work on your pre-shot-routine. In other words, the more you practice things that you might encounter in an actual round of golf the more comfortable you are going to be when you do play.

Another idea is to simulate playing each hole on the course that you are about to play in the next day or two. This is a great way to prepare for that next round of golf. By doing the above you may be able to avoid being one of those players that complains that they can never hit the ball as good on the course as they do on the range.

Developing a Consistent and Reliable Golf Game (Part 5 – Mental Mistakes)

As a beginner, golfers are more occupied with fundamentals and swing mechanics than they are with making mental mistakes. As a golfer gradually becomes better and better, mental mistakes are more likely to have a negative effect on scores than the aforementioned. In fact, it has been said that golf is 90% mental and 10% physical. A mental mistake can be made at any time during a golf round. Recognizing and having the ability to avoid them in the future is a characteristic of all better players and one more key to having a consistent and reliable golf game. Below is a list of some common mistakes and steps you can take to avoid or minimize them.

Expecting Too Much from Yourself:
One of the most common and biggest mistakes that a golfer makes is putting a lot of pressure on himself by expecting too much. Have you ever shot that once in a lifetime score and felt that you should be able to shoot that kind of score all the time? Trying to chase a once in a lifetime score promotes self-created pressure, which one needs to eliminate if he wants to become a better golfer. Expectation demands that we should play in a certain way, and if we don’t, it leads us to frustration and self-doubt. Having too high expectations of yourself is one of the biggest causes of a loss of self-confidence and not playing to your potential.

Instead: After a once in a lifetime score don’t keep score for the next round or two. Focus on your pre-shot routine and play only one shot at a time; this will help you focus on your process and when the process is right, the outcome will automatically be good.

Focusing on What You Don’t Want to Happen: Mental blocks and challenges arise when you focus on what you don’t want to happen instead of what you do want to happen. When you focus on what you don’t want, that is usually what you get. For example, when you focus on not hitting the ball into the water, then what would be the first thing that your mind visualizes. The first picture that would come in your mind would be the water and most likely that is where you ball is going to end up.

Instead: The golf swing is executed with the subconscious mind and it does not understand negative. That is why when you think “I don’t want to hit the ball in the water”, your subconscious will immediately thinks about hitting the ball in to the water. Forget about the water and visualize yourself playing to your target.

Taking a Negative Emotion from One Bad Shot to the Next Shot: Most golfers of lesser ability make the mistake of taking their negative emotion from one bad shot to the next shot. Everyone plays a bad shot; even better players and professionals. Verbalizing and thinking about a bad shot imprints the subconscious with thinking that a bad shot is acceptable. Thus, a similar situation on a future shot is likely to result in another bad shot.

Instead: As hard as it may be to do, forget about your bad shots. Think to yourself, “What is my goal for the next shot?” and focus on that. When you make a good shot, do not think of the ways it could have been better. Accept it and visualize what it felt and looked like. That is what you want your subconscious to remember.

Playing a Shot When You are Not Ready: Sometimes golfers feel they have to hurry up with their shot because people are watching them. Other times they take their shot even though they knew something wasn’t right. What ever the reason, taking a shot when not ready is likely to lead to a bad shot.

Instead: Whenever you feel that you are not mentally prepared or ready to play a shot, back-off and start all over again. You will stand a much better chance of making a good shot if you are mentally ready.

Going Against Your Own Gut-instinct: Although the subconscious mind is going to make the best shot given the circumstances, it is the conscious mind that makes the decision of what club to use, wind conditions, yardage, etc. The idea is to match your conscious decision with what your subconscious knows. Your subconscious mind knows everything about your abilities and your game, and it also knows the shot you should choose to hit. When something does not feel right it is because you have not matched your conscious decision with your subconscious ability.

Instead: Know your abilities and learn to listen and trust your gut-instincts as most of time it is going to be right.

One of the differences between a mediocre player and a better player is a follows: A mediocre player has a couple bad holes and thinks that their round is not going to be a good one. A better player has a couple bad holes and knows that they can still make some pars and possibly birdies to make up for the bad ones, resulting in an acceptable score.

Developing a Consistent and Reliable Golf Game (Part 4 – Pre-shot Routine)

Every golfer (whether they know it or not) already has a pre-shot routine. Some go about their pre-shot routine in a methodical way and others go about it in more of a haphazard fashion. Since a consistent and repeatable pre-shot routine lends itself to a consistent and repeatable golf swing and game, it makes sense to say that every golfer should strive to develop one.

It really doesn’t matter what your pre-shot routine is as long as it is consistent. Professionals spend a lot of time developing their pre-shot routines. Once this is done, they stick to it and always strive to make sure it does not change during a round of golf.

Just like working on swing fundamentals, professionals also use the practice range to work on their pre-shot routines. What they are trying to achieve is a set sequence of actions that lead up to the time that they swing the club. Additionally, they want the duration of the sequence about the same every time so that it fits into the rhythm they have established for their swing. Accordingly, fast players usually have fast pre-shot routines and slow players usually have slower pre-shot routines.

So, what should be included in a pre-shot routine? Some common things that professionals do during their pre-shot routines are to check wind direction, line up their shot, take a practice swing, approach the ball a certain way, set-up properly, execute their waggle and what ever else is conducive to making a good swing. Checking to make sure you have the correct grip and grip pressure are other things you might consider incorporating. Also, you might want to check and take steps to reduce tension throughout the rest of your body. After developing your pre-shot routine, use it every time you play and every time you are on the practice range. Try to be consistent with the time it takes to go through your routine. Yes, you will hit fewer balls during your allotted practice time, but after a while you should see noticeable improvement in your consistency.

Developing a Consistent and Reliable Golf Swing (Part 3 – Tempo)

Without question good tempo, timing and rhythm is key to having a consistent and reliable golf swing. So much so that I devoted a whole chapter to the subject in the second edition of my book “Triangulate Your Golf Swing.” Now, new information on tempo has come to light since the book was published. In the April, 2012 issue of Golf magazine the subject of tempo was discussed as it relates to professional as well as amateur golfers. The author of the article started studying video clips of every PGA and LPGA golfer that could be found. By counting frames it was discovered that professionals swing at a 3 to 1 ratio. That is, they take 3 times as long to complete their backswing as it does to complete their downswing. This held true even when actual cadences varied for different golfers. For instance, some swung faster at say a 18/6 frame ratio while others swung at 30/10 and others somewhere in between. The common factor was that nearly every tour player timed out at a 3-1 ratio. They also studied amateur golfers and found that the ratios were more like 3.5/1 and higher. They also viewed some not so stellar shots of professionals and found that in many cases they failed to maintain the 3 -1 ratio. To substantiate the findings, the data was submitted to independent researchers at the Yale University Department of Applied physics.

To find out what your own swing ratio is, Golf magazine suggests that you have someone take a video of your swing. Then count the frames using a computer program that shows videos frame by frame. Once you determine the ratio, you can take steps to develop it into a 3-1 ratio like the pros. Although the article gave some ideas on how to do that, I found them to be impractical in practice.

What I finally came up with is the idea of counting as you swing. That is, count 123 to the top of your backswing and 4 on the downswing. The goal is to keep the cadence smooth (1234 or 1-2-3-4 or 1–2–3–4). Try different speeds until you find the one the suits you best. This may take a few practice sessions, but eventually you will start to groove your swing.

The best way to put your improved tempo to use on the course is to continue using the count method above. At least until it is built into your muscle memory and subconscious. You will discover two things when you do this. First, you will not think about swing mechanics and second you will not force your downswing. In fact, if any part of your swing goes out of cadence you will instantly know it.

Don’t forget your putting and chipping. Good tempo counts just as much around the greens. Professionals use either and 2-1 or a 1-1 cadence for putting. You will have to experiment to see what works best for you. When just off the green try 2-1 for chipping.

I encourage you to try the above methods as I have seen some very positive results in people’s games when using them.

Developing a Consistent and Reliable Golf Game (Part 1)

If you are trying to get your game up to bogey golf level or better and nothing you do seems help, you may be paying attention to the wrong things. First, you need to realize that bogey golfers are in the top 22% of all that play the game. The second is that to get there may require a lot of effort over time with improvements coming in small increments. This may be time that you do not have. Better golfers spend a lot of time working on their golf swing and need to practice regularly just to maintain a certain skill level. For those with limited time, it would be beneficial to spend at least some of that time on what is going to result in a more consistent and reliable game.

Swing fundamentals are important, but what I am referring to may have nothing to do with swinging a golf club. For instance, it could involve paying attention to other details like making sure your equipment is right or that your course management skills are up to par or that you maintain the proper mental attitude or that you have a good pre-shot routine, etc.. These types of details can take a little effort to get right, but once they are it doesn’t take much more to maintain them. Playing at a higher level requires a certain amount of confidence. Knowing that you can still make pars or birdies after a bad hole or two and end up with good score is a comfortable feeling. This comes with practice and paying attention to the related details. They can’t be separated. Everything must work together harmoniously.

In subsequent posts on this subject I will discuss these types of details and how you can incorporate them into your game.