This article also appears in the July 2019 issue of New Zealand Golf Magazine.
This article also appears in the July 2019 issue of New Zealand Golf Magazine.
How many times has this happened to you?
Mid-round you start hitting it sideways, your score balloons and you for the rest of the round you literally don’t know where the next shot is going. Confidence is zero and you just want the round to end so you can go to the range to begin the reconstruction project that is your swing that has left you yet again.
The round mercifully ends and you immediately make your way to the range with a couple of buckets of balls. You hit your first shot and…wait, that one was perfect! Must have been a fluke. You hit another, What? That one was flushed too! You hit shot after shot and most are struck just like the old you. You ask in total frustration, “Where was that when I was playing!!!?”
We’ve all been there.
I’ve seen this scenario more times then I can count. When I was a University coach often during a tournament round I’d have a player really struggle. Afterward we’d go to the range to sort things out and he’d immediately and without much if any instruction from me hit it perfect. After seeing this pattern happen over and over I started to ask myself, Why? What I eventually determined is that a player doesn’t lose their SWING, they lose their FOCUS.
On the golf course everything is set up to make you uncomfortable. At it’s core that is really a course designers job. Beautiful lakes and brilliant white sand are fun if you are on holiday, but in golf those are the places of misery. The courses that are considered the greatest in the world are not easy, they are torture chambers. Course designers who are considered genius’s are really diabolical sadists.
Golf courses are set up to make you question every decision, see things that aren’t there, worry about things that actually are there and to create confusion and doubt with a variety of unpleasant obstacles. And if you know a course well, many times you’re worrying about holes you haven’t even played yet! Bunkers, water, trees, OB, etc. All of these distractions make it difficult to fully commit to your shot which translates into a swing that is not committed, which means that the ball is probably going fly to places you don’t want it to. After a while, you’ll feel helpless, which leads to even less committed swings which makes you think you perhaps you should be committed (institutionalized). Pause for laughter.
When this happens your focus becomes very wide. Meaning you see everything. Especially the bad things. You become so focused on the things you don’t want to happen that it becomes hard if not impossible to focus on the things you actually do want to happen. This confuses the brain which makes your body tense. The result, a weak and uncommitted swing. Time to re-load.
To combat this mental warfare we need to focus our attention on the smallest target possible. Try this, stare at something very small and notice that pretty quickly everything else seems to disappear. This is called Tunnel Vision. This tunnel vision sends clear signals to the brain on what you want to have happen. The result will be a far better shot.
This can also explain why you hit balls on the range so much better. There are no hazards or OB to worry about. Nor is there any scoring consequence for a shot flying off line. Since you are not playing for a score, your attitude is more carefree and thus you are more able to swing free. Which of course leads to a better result.
So the question is, How do you take your range swing to the course?
There are 3 things you need to do:
Regardless of level, a non committed swing leads to bad results. Even pros get nervous over shots or feel uncomfortable. They overcome this by being able to commit to their swing and live with the consequences. If it works for them, it will work for you too.
Most people who take golf lessons are impatient. They believe that their instructor has a magic wand and can fix their swing flaws in an instant. This is a myth. There has never been a student whose handicap has gone from 15 to scratch after a single lesson.
When you have a golf lesson you will get solid information from your instructor on why your shots do what they do, and then you’ll get equally good advice on how to fix the problem. After that it’s mostly up to you. Are you willing to change and put in the time and effort? If you hit a few bad shots and get frustrated then revert back to your old bad habits, you won’t improve. If the only time you practice the new technique is when you have a golf lesson you won’t improve very fast, if at all. If you only play rounds of golf and don’t hit balls on the range, change is not likely to happen.
That means you need to practice away from the course so you won’t be influenced by outcomes like score. When practicing, you also need to be patient with yourself and your progress. You must have faith in the process and stick with it. As I tell my clients when frustrated while trying to learn a new skill, “The old you is fighting the new you, and one is going to win. If you allow the old you to win, this is as good as you will ever be. BUT if you stick with it, the new you will eventually win out and then you’ll go to another level. But it will take time an patience.”
The other thing I impress on my students is that improvement is not a constant. There will be ups and downs. The analogy I use is a stock chart. The stock I will use to illustrate my point is Apple. Perhaps the best company in the world. As you see in the chart, even Apple doesn’t go up every day. Each little spike on the stock chart represents a day.
Learning works the same way. Some days are easy, others are a struggle. That is because what you are doing is uncomfortable and/or you just don’t trust those new feelings yet. This will especially be the case on the golf course. These “dips” in your learning are learning opportunities. Wise investors don’t panic and sell when this happens. They understand that this is completely natural and if they stick with the stock, over time they will see a tidy profit. Also, you can be assured that following the dips, as shown in the chart, the stock rises to new highs as new skills are ingrained. That being said, notice the TREND of the stock. The trend is very positive. If you were in the market for a good stock, this would most definitely be a BUY! You need to look at yourself and your progress in the same philosophical way.
Progress may not be happening as fast as you would like, but it is happening. Focus on your trend.
Often you’ll hear a tour pro in an interview when he/she is working on a swing change say something like, “I know I’m working on all the right things, I just have to be patient and wait till it all comes together.”
Why not take that same approach. Work on the right things. Don’t revert back to what frustrated you in the first place. Take a long term approach. Don’t expect it all to happen instantly.
If each time you practice you only improve by 1% then over 20 practices you’ll be 20% better! That is enough to see some real improvement.
A “go pin” is an approach shot that compliments a player’s natural shot shape. It allows a player to begin the ball safely toward the middle of the green and let it curve toward the pin. Everyone has go pins, regardless of handicap.
Simply put, drawers of the ball don’t feel comfortable fading the ball nor do faders trust their ball to draw. Which is why some hole locations make you feel uncomfortable. If you are flag hunting a pin you shouldn’t, your brain senses this and mid swing will say, “I don’t want to do this!” That is why you make an uncommitted swing. The next thing you usually see is your ball flying toward an undesirable location. We’ve all done it.
Accepting your tendencies and being disciplined in your strategy will allow you to swing confidently, thus increasing your chance to shoot your best score. When you hear a winning pro say, “I tried to stay really patient out there today.” It means he or she wasn’t going to hit a shot that could get them in trouble or allow them to lose a shot. Meaning not going after pins they shouldn’t.
If you are a fader of the ball your “go pins” are in the center or on the right side of the green. This way you can comfortably start the ball on a safe line and have the ball curve toward the hole. The pins you should NEVER go after are on the left side of the green. That is your No Fly Zone! On those pins hit to the middle of the green and be happy with two-putting. You’ll have chances to be more aggressive later. That’s called patience!
If you curve the ball right to left, the exact opposite is true. Your “go pins” are in the middle or left side of the green. Your No Fly Zone is a pin tucked on the right side of the green.
If you can be disciplined, you’ll see without doing anything special, your score will magically come down.