Updated: Dec 18, 2018
So, you get ready to hit a tee shot and something’s just not right. Perhaps you have one foot in a little divot or perhaps you look down the fairway and you see the water hazard waiting for your ball. Despite these doubts and apprehensions, you swing anyway.
Or perhaps you’re standing over a putt ready to hit and you take one last look at your line and it just doesn’t look like right anymore. You hit anyway.
Take a moment to think about the number of shots that you’ve played when you know you’re not 100% comfortable over the ball. If you are like most people, it happens to you a lot. First of all, understand that this is perfectly normal. There are so many variables in golf that Hogan once said that there is not enough time in the day to practice everything. Add the fact that you have a day job and don’t have the time to perfect your game.
Although it is perfectly normal, it is not conducive to good golf.
There is a saying in golf that one should try to control only what one can control. That is, once your ball is gone there isn’t much you can do about it. You may hit a tree and get a good bounce or you may get a bad bounce. You may hit the ball down the middle of the fairway and it could end up in a divot. Those things you can NOT control. So you shouldn’t worry about them. What you CAN control is your SELF. You can control what you do during your pre-shot routine. You can control your thoughts. You can control your reactions to what happens to your ball.
Control what you can
Are you having negative thoughts? Are you being realistic? Are you having doubts? Have you taken the time to analyze the shot completely? Are you getting mad after shots and it affects your next shot? Are you thinking more about your score than the shot you are playing?
These are the things that you CAN control. These are the things you NEED to control.
Here are some ideas that can you help master this part of the game.
1) Know your game
Plato said “Know Thyself.” In golf, “you can only hit the shots you know you can hit”. To play this game effectively you need to know what kinds of shots you can hit. Can you hit a high draw with the driver or are you always slicing it. If you know that you are likely to slice it, you shouldn’t be trying to hit the high draw. If you know that you have a hard time with your 3 wood, you probably shouldn’t try to hit it over the water.
One of the most underestimated bits of “self-knowledge” in golf is the distance that you hit each club. One of the most common reasons people miss a shot "before they hit it" is a latent doubt about club selection. You’ll swing much more freely when you are positive that you have the correct club in your hands.
Take some time on the range to find the distance for each of your clubs, especially the irons, keeping in mind that you’ll want to focus on the CARRY distance of your clubs and not the TOTAL distance.
2) Set up a plan based on the shots you know you can hit
Once you know the shots you are able to hit, you can set up a game plan for every shot. At times, however, you may have to accept that you won’t be able to cut the corner, get the par 5 in two, or attack the pin.
Think of strategy. You know that you won’t drive the green on the par 4, so think about what would be the ideal second shot into the green. Sometimes closer to the green isn’t always easier. For example, sometimes a full 9 iron is easier to hit (and spin on the green) than a 75 yd shot. Pay attention to slopes in the fairway. Try to end up on flat spots when possible.
A fun thing to do when playing a course is to “play the course backwards”. That is, start at the green and think about the best shot in. From there, identify the tee shot that will get you there. You will be surprised to find that the driver is not always the best club to hit off the tee, especially if that is not your best club in the bag. Know Thyself!
You’ll discover that when you set up a game plan based on the shots with which you are comfortable, you will play with much more confidence.
3) Practice being decisive and accept the results
Once you have set up a game plan, you have to be decisive. Remember that every shot is a bit of a gamble. After all, that is the fun of the game. Don’t get down on yourself if you miss a shot. Accept the results.
This will become easier if you play to a game plan. Having an organized strategy in mind creates a confidence in yourself that helps you deal with bad shots. The more you do this you will even find yourself making a game plan that allows for bad shots. At this point, the bad shots will have no effect on your game. After all, you’ve planned them out!
4) Practice your routine on the range
We are all creatures of habit. This means that when you want to apply a new mentality on the course, you should first practice it on the range. Take time to practice your different clubs on the range. Try to hit to different distances. Practice a routine for every shot, including visualizing shots and doing practice swings.
A great way to prepare for the course is to imagine hitting the full swings shots for each hole while on the range. For example, if the first hole is typically a driver then a 7 iron, hit the drive (while doing your full routine) and then hit your 7 iron. Then go to hole number two., then number three, etc. “Play” the entire course like this. You can take it a step further and imagine the club you would need if you missed a shot. So the first hole could become a driver then a 6 iron if you feel like you missed the tee shot a little.
Golf is played outdoors, sometimes in extreme conditions. You can only control so many things. Ultimately you want to make sure that you are controlling your SELF.
The next time you play, monitor your mindset of every shot. Try to identify when you are not 100% sure of your shots and try to identify what might be causing the indecisions and doubts that you have. Get a notebook and start writing down the thoughts that are creating problems and when they arise.
To help guide you through the process, I have listed some of the most common reasons below. You may identify others reasons that apply to yourself. Most importantly, by doing this you will start to gain control.
Overwhelmed by nerves Not committing to club selection Not committing to shape of shot Not comfortable once over shot, hit anyway Incomplete analysis of shot Tried an unrealistic shot Played a shot not in game plan Gave up/stopped trying Thinking about score Too many swing thoughts Focus nowhere on golf
Thinking about score Not committing to your read Undecided about how hard to hit it Head moved early Overwhelmed by nerves Focus nowhere on golf Too many stroke thoughts