Archived Newsletters - PLAY PERCENTAGE GOLF FOR LOWER SCORES :
Newsletter June 2010
Building your mental golf game is like building a house, from the ground up. When you put in the stairs you look at each step going up toward the top, but are also aware of getting to the top. If you put all of your attention on the top you might stumble on one of the steps. It is important that you focus on what you are doing in each moment, doing it according to your blueprint. Then you will achieve the results you want. The blueprint for building a house is the same. It is a process of putting in a good foundation, then adding the walls, the roof, etc. There is always a vision of what the finished house will look like but in order to have a good finished product, you need to put all your attention on each step of the building process. It is the same with your golf game.
The first step is to learn the fundamentals of the golf swing. And then to trust that you have learned them. Let’s look at some of the thoughts and emotions that are keeping you from trusting them, and to doubt yourself.
I believe that every missed shot in golf is a mental error. Think about that. Golfers always blame the swing or putting stroke for a miss. And then they judge themselves badly for making such an error.
How do you miss a shot? You have not given the correct information to your subconscious mind which takes all your thoughts literally. The last thought that you think before you swing the club is the one that your mind is going to take action on. If you are telling yourself a swing thought that is a part of the swing, such as “turn your shoulders,” or “keep your head still” your subconscious mind will do that ignoring the rest of the swing. Your thought and visual instead needs to be the execution of a smooth, fluid, effortless, powerful swing.
As Jack Nicklaus says, “The more things you can do right before you swing the golf club, the easier the game of golf will be.”
In addition to giving yourself mechanical direction, mental errors are created by not thinking the shot through. Here are some examples:
- As a result of short-siding yourself, you have a pitch shot over a greenside bunker to a pin cut close to the edge. Because you are trying to get it close to the pin, which is not a percentage shot in your favor, you tense up and chili-dip it into the bunker, wasting a shot. Most golf courses have sand bunkers on the sides of the greens. If you had looked beyond the flagstick you would have noticed that there was a lot of green and no trouble. If you had relaxed and hit it over the flag, at worst you would have had an easy chip or a long putt.
- Do you always pick a spot on the green to land your chip shot? You may not always land on the spot, but planning your shot this way every time will build confidence and put your focus where it needs to be.
- On every tee, select where you want the ball to land and make a mental picture of the ball flying there. As Harvey Pennick said, “Take dead aim.” Use the same preshot routine on every shot for consistent results. Program your mind the same way every time so it can send the same instruction to your muscles. If you only use a routine on some holes, it is like trying to remember where you put your keys when they aren’t in the place where you usually put them.
- You have a 30-foot undulating putt and want to 2-putt for par. Do you study the line carefully, fall in love with the line, and then leave the putt 6-8 feet short? With a putt of this length your thinking needs to be 95% about the distance, 5% about the line. As long as your putt ends up in the 3-foot circle around the hole, you have increased your chances to make par. As Tiger said, “Now that my lag putting is so much better, I know if I can get the ball in the center of the green, I can basically two-putt from anywhere.” He added, “There is nothing wrong with two-putting from 40 or 50 feet away. It takes a lot of strain off your game.”
- You have a downhill putt of 15 feet. You stroke the putt firmly. It goes past the cup picking up speed, and you have a 15-foot putt coming back. With the first putt you didn’t notice that the green breaks downhill even more after the hole. Because your emotions took over when you saw the ball picking up speed after the hole, you didn’t notice the break and missed the uphill putt coming back.
- You are playing a par 5 that you know you can reach in two (or three) if you hit your best shots. Your ego takes over and you swing faster trying to generate more distance. And then you take a high risk second shot in search of the ego gratification of having an eagle putt. Swinging faster you lose your timing and the ball flies shorter than it normally does. Now you swing even harder to make up for the lost distance. A better solution would be to determine the distance you want to hit from into the green and hit the club(s) that will get you there. Going for the green in two isn’t a percentage shot, even for the average pros. The tour pros don’t make many eagles, but they do make lots of 4’s on par 5’s.
- You have a tee shot on a 4-par hole to a narrow fairway bordered on one side by a pond and on the other by overhanging willow trees. Out of habit you hit your driver, slicing just enough to end up behind the tree where you have no shot to the green. A better decision would have been to hit a shorter club off the tee landing short of the water and the tree so you would have a shot to the green, thus avoiding a costly mistake. Think one shot ahead. Your strategy should always be to make your next shot easier.
- You are uncertain which club to hit into the green. You pick the shorter club knowing that you have hit it that far before. It falls short into the front sand bunker. Most amateurs try to hit their perfect shot every time and wind up short. The better option would be to take the longer club, swing easy and end up on the green or on the fringe over the green. Very few amateurs hit over the greens.
- You have a four foot putt to win the tournament. You look at the putt from all four sides, take practice putts, step up to the putt, and tell yourself not to miss. Because your subconscious mind gets the message reinforced with fear, it obeys and sends a message to your muscles to miss. To have your mind instead respond to making the putt; visualize the line to the cup, look at the part of the cup where you want the ball to enter the hole, hold your eyes still on a part of the ball, take a deep breath to relax and focus, and easily roll the ball on the line.
- You hit your drive into a fairway bunker with a high lip. You have a flat lie and think you can reach the green. Hitting your wood you take a big swing and hit the sand causing the ball to hit the lip of the bunker and fall back into the bunker. The first mental error was in not taking a more lofted club that would clear the steep lip. Failing to get out of the bunker can lead to a big number. The second error was in not taking a smooth swing that had little lower body motion so you hit the ball clean without taking any sand.
Most golfers repeat errors because they are consumed by their emotions. The questions you need to ask yourself are; What did I learn from that miss? instead of thinking of how you can make it up on the next shot. What was my last thought before I swung? If you don’t get an immediate answer to these questions, swing the club until you find the timing and tempo that you wanted to use. It is important to replace the emotions and incorrect swing with the tempo and good feeling of the swing you did want. If you don’t you will have the memory of the missed shot at the forefront of your consciousness and will repeat the missed shot. Get into the practice of replacing a missed shot by learning from the mistake and finding your fluid tempo.
Decide if you want a spectacular game, playing aggressively by shooting at the pins, or if you want a game where you can score lower by being more consistent, playing to the percentages in your favor. Camilo Villegas said if you aim at the center of the green, you’ll save at least 4 shots a round. Jack Nicklaus said; “play badly well.”
When you consistently play the correct percentage shots, instead of aggressive shots (remember Tin Cup or Jean Van de Velde’s 1999 loss at The Open Championship) you can minimize your mistakes and be in contention for winning more. As Tiger said, “I’ve learned you don’t win golf tournaments on tour by just making a boatload of birdies. It’s about minimizing your mistakes, about making your bad shots better. It always has been.”
Entrain Your Heart & Brain for Peak Performances!
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