HOW NOT TO PLAY THE Golf Errors GAME
Eliminate golf errors
Dr. Tom Kubistant, CSP
For years in these pages, I have presented a comprehensive system for optimizing golf performances. I addressed broad playing perspectives, general strategies, and specific tactics. I always strived to make these principles and techniques easy to understand and apply. From your feedback, it seemed to have worked. Golfers of all abilities have experienced greater improvement and enhanced joy in playing this grand game.
However, I am continually amazed how so many golfers make the same basic mistakes. These flubs are not so much mechanical, but mental. While some of these errors emerge from encountering new situations, most of them are repetitions. When we talk, golfers confess these patterns seem to be deeply ingrained within them. It is like they cannot stop themselves. Quite often, golfers fall into the same patterns because: (1) they are not aware when errors are emerging and (2) they do not know any alternatives.
It makes sense that if players could prevent errors from grabbing hold, they would squander less shots. They would then be in stronger positions to maximize more of their abilities. Indeed, managing error patterns is one of the basic keys in playing better golf.
So as much as I have always been positive, I�m going to become negative here. I am going to present what NOT to do in golf. I will also then include alternatives to that error. Let�s begin with general emphases.
APPROACHING THE GAME
Simply stated, how we approach the game determines how we play. Sure, we would like the time to practice everyday like the pros do. For most of us, this simply is not possible. If we can become a little more purposeful toward our games, we can achieve sustained improvement. Here are some basic “don�ts.” .
NEVER BE LACKADAISICAL TOWARD YOUR GAME. Golf demands ongoing attention. Actively commit yourself to your game. Now, commitment does not mean sacrifice. One secret to success is to live with your commitments. Motivation, consistency, and resilience all emanate from commitment. Nothing in life stands still. Remember, if you are not actively improving your game, you are allowing it to slowly deteriorate. This is an essential choice. But on the other hand…
NEVER CHANGE JUST FOR CHANGE SAKE. As detrimental as not being committed is always changing. I�ve worked with too many golfers who changed so much until they lost their essential games. They lost touch with those core skills and emphases which initially made them successful.
You see, there can be a very fine line between systematic improvement and capricious experimenting. Always ground your game upon existing strengths. Identify and honor these. Consider any change in terms of how it will enhance your base. Along with this…
NEVER TAKE ANY UNSOLICITED ADVICE. Every golfer–even those who have been playing for just a couple of years–seems to have a “magic” swing theory. While we should have our own theories, we should keep them to ourselves. But many of us just can’t! All of us have experienced times when we think we have found “THE SECRET.” And then we have to profess it to everyone! Although we have good intentions, realize that your secret won’t apply to everyone.
Whenever someone needs to give you advice, graciously thank them…and let it go. They have no idea the emphases and sequences of your practices. You cannot control them telling you. You do have control of what you choose to emphasize in working on your game. And finally…
NEVER BELIEVE ANYTHING YOU READ (including this article!),
VIEW, OR HEAR. There is so much golf information out there. Some of it is proven, but some of it is utter garbage. Added to this, there are new products coming out every month. The psychology of new implements imply that one can buy a better game. Sometimes you can, but most of the time you can’t.
Approach any improvement in your game with a healthy dose of caution. Be wary of what, and when, to add something to your game–whether it is a change to your golf swing, a new driver, or a new grip during putting. Only after the change has proven itself effective should you embrace it. “Caveat Emptor — let the buyer beware.”
For my money, one of the best theorists in playing the entire game is Mike Hebron. His mind-body series of books have become classics. He once said that one “has to have strong concepts to play strong golf.” No matter our current abilities, each of us has to create solid general approaches to our games before our approaches on the course can be solid.
PLAYING THE GAME
There is a plethora of playing strategies and tactics. In every shot situation, there are at least a half-dozen different things you can do. Even though this can be overwhelming, exploring shot options is really one of the joys in playing golf. While there are some things always to do (such as concentrating, following your preshot routine, and swinging relatively easily), there are things never to do. Here are the most destructive of these playing patterns.
NEVER FORCE A SHOT. Whenever you feel tempted to blast or jam a shot, you are actually outside of your optimal playing rhythms. A forcing mentality promotes greed and impatience. It seems strange, but you cannot force power nor precision.
Stay aware of not only your swing rhythm, but also your thinking rhythm. Develop the discipline to take out one longer club, choke down on a shot, or swing easier. Not only will you better execute these shots, you will better stay in the rhythm of the rounds. Implicit in this is…
NEVER QUESTION INTUITIONS. How many times after a bad shot did you lament, “Deep down, I always felt it was the wrong club,” “I knew not to miss it there,” or “I sensed the ball would react that way.” These are instances you had intuitive messages.
Especially during decision making, really listen for any intuitions. Listen closely for valid intuitions as opposed to impulses, doubts, or expectations. Even if you cannot explain them, trust that all intuitions are true. And then immediately implement them. Doing strengthens trust. Part of this includes…
NEVER SUCCUMB TO TEMPTATIONS. Golf tempts us. While it is fun to succeed with risks, most temptations suck us down into a morass of frustration. Again, even if you cannot explain it, whenever you sense being tempted DO EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE. So if you are tempted to bust a driver, immediately swing easier. Or if you are tempted to cram an approach shot to a tucked pin, immediately take out one more club and smoothly stroke the ball to the middle of the green. Or if you are tempted to hit a flopper from a downhill lie, immediately pitch beyond the pin.
When you think about it, most temptations create disastrous results. Whenever you feel tempted, immediately do just the opposite. Tied in with this is…
NEVER BE TOO CUTE WITH SHOTS. Temptations trick us into believing we can execute with a very fine margin for error. Especially late in the round and under pressure, we at-tempt too many cute finesse shots. Fatigue, stress, greed, and even desperation all conspire to corrupt fine motor skills.
Learn to play–and accept–the percentages. The entire round actually becomes easier when you think clearly and play standard shots. As Tommy Armour always advised, “Play every shot to make the next shot easy.” All of this takes into account…
NEVER CHANGE YOUR PACE UNDER PRESSURE. Sustained playing pressure does some interesting things to the mind and body. One doesn’t have to be a tour pro to experience pressure. A three-footer on the final green for all the skins is as valid of pressure as during tournaments.
When one is under playing pressure, there is the tendency to change the pace of play. We walk or talk too fast, fidget, become timid and somber, mentally short-circuit and blank out, and/or rush our routines. Our swings typically then become shorter, quicker, and more staccato.
Become aware of your personal thinking and feeling patterns under pressure. Rely on those regular patterns of decision making and preshot routines which enabled earlier successes. Don’t be afraid of pressure. These situations are really gifts from The Game. Seen in this light, pressure is actually a doorway to improvement. A part this is…
NEVER WISH-AND-HOPE. Whether it is reacting to expectations, pressure, or temptations, we often hit shots which we just want to get over with. We wish the first drive into the fairway, we hope the ball over a hazard, and we pray a putt will stop somewhere around the hole. Golf is a game of targets. It is also a game of precision.
Precise targeting commences in the mind. Take time to plot out the desired outcome to a specified target. Detail the target–whether it is a brown patch in the fairway or the exact edge of the hole in which you want the ball to enter. Then precisely visualize how the ball will arrive there. Mentally and physically rehearse ideal swings. Then, forget it! Trust you have programmed your mind and body. Finally, immerse into what I call being “Clear & Committed.” Have a clear mind over the ball and settle into the shot performance. All of this includes…
NEVER FOCUS ON OUTCOMES. Now, this may seem contradictory to the above, but hear me out. One temptation is to become distracted with outcomes. I am sure that all of us have encountered situations where we stood on the 16th tee fantasizing about what a great final score would mean. And then what happened?
Yes, have goals and be Clear & Committed with them. However, you cannot totally control outcomes. Instead, learn to emphasize those processes and qualities to reach those outcomes. You CAN totally control these. Believe that if you emphasize the shot processes and personal qualities, the outcomes will take care of themselves.
Golf wisdom comes from learning and honoring essential playing strategies. Now, these strategies may not seem flashy, but the results are satisfying. All golfers say they strive for consistency, but relatively few honor their playing strategies. Consistency emanates from strategy.
BLENDING WITH THE GAME
Good golf, creative golf, and adaptive golf are all dependent on blending with the conditions, the situations, and yourself. As such, there are some things which deflect and block this blending mentality. The following are specific club and shot issues you should avoid.
NEVER SWING THE SAME ON FULL SHOTS. Now, this may seem illogical, but one of the secrets to consistent ballstriking is to never swing the same. Especially with drives and approach shots, there is the temptation to always swing full-out–at the outer limit of that club. Granted, you may pull off a couple of these shots, but doing this for an entire round is nearly impossible. Full-out rhythm and timing are difficult to achieve, difficult to maintain, and once lost, nearly impossible to regain.
Great ballstrikers and scorers understand the need to continually adapt and adjust. Just as every shot situation is unique, so must be the response to it. Granted, there are times to hit full-out swings on some drives and approaches, but these are really rarities. As such, creative players calibrate each of their swings based on their optimal (not maximal) rhythm. Particularly if they choose to work a shot (high or low, left or right), these require easier, abbreviated, and softer swings. There is an inherent joy in matching the appropriate swing to the specific shot.
A round of golf is NOT a long drive nor busted-iron contest. Remember, ultimate consistency involves continual adjustments. Applied to the short clubs…
NEVER HIT A FULL WEDGE. Wedges are key scoring clubs. There are a multiplicity of shots which can played with each of them. Many times, the wedges overlap. Learn to create different shots with each of your wedges. Distance, trajectory, spin, and release are all factors to take into consideration when creating short shots.
The only factor to avoid is to swing fully with a wedge. Even if you can pull off these shots, you tend to lose precise control over the ball. Such full shots usually produce more spin and height (not to mention skulls and chunks!) which actually reduce direct control. It is actually fun to create different touch shots with each wedge. These shots may not look as spectacular as when a high lob sucks back, but the better results will speak for themselves. Related with this issue is…
NEVER BECOME INFATUATED WITH THE LOB WEDGE. I have encountered so many players who have fallen in love with their lob wedges. They use it on every short game shot. They rationalize “Tiger and Annika do this, so I should as well.” A lob wedge is a very difficult club to master and it requires constant practice to keep it sharp.
Now, there are situations where the LW is the best choice. However, use this club as the last option. In short game decision making, start with your longest flattest clubs (including the putter, hybrid, or fairway wood). Proceed considering club options going from longer to shorter. When you arrive at the best choice, go with that. Such decision making usually creates easier, more effective, more forgiving, and more consistent shots. Starting each short game decision with the LW not only is more risky, it also stifles creativity. Here is a new one…
NEVER THINK OF SHORT SHOTS IN TERMS OF “UP-AND-DOWNs.” One of my tour pros brought this up. He became aware that thinking of “up-and-down” was too result oriented. This mindset took him out of the flow of executing the shot.
Instead, he came up with the notions of “approach chips” or “approach pitches.” Such concepts anchored him in the same solid frame of mind as his approach shots or approach putts. He could then better emphasize the processes of execution. (And oh, by the way, his up-and-down conversions improved significantly.) Experiment with the mindsets of approach chips and approach pitches. And finally…
NEVER GIVE UP. Perseverance is not only essential to golf, but to all of life as well. Giving up tempts us. Whether it is on a shot, near the end of a discouraging hole, at the end of a round, or during a tournament, giving up tempts. You question, “Why persist?” Only you can answer this. And you had better come up with many positive answers.
Golf is tough enough in itself without us becoming pessimistic and giving up. You see, giving up is really a contagious disease. Once we give up, it is easier to give up next time. Very quickly, giving up expands to become the norm. Learn to persist, persevere, gut it out, grind, hang in there, remain doggedly positive, redeem, and believe. There is strength, and even pride, to be gained from these qualities.
So these are things NOT to do…along with some alternatives. It makes sense that if you can eliminate the things not to do, what is left are positive alternatives. Become more aware of your own self-destructive playing patterns. Catch them and do something different.
True to what I said, DO NOT believe me! Find out for yourself. Now stand back–I’m gonna swing out of my shoes on this next drive!
Dr. Tom Kubistant is one of the original modern day sport psychologists. He has been researching the mental game and helping athletes since 1972. He has written five books and over 440 articles on the psychology of human performance. ==========================================================
“Dr. Kubistant does a tremendous job in helping people reach their goals not only in golf, but in all aspects of their lives. It is remarkable watching him work with players from the junior level all the way through the college and professional ranks helping them reach as high as they can go.”
Pamela A. Whalen – Executive Director, Northern Nevada Golf Association
Dr. Tom Kubistant, sports psychologist has worked with world-class athletes since 1971. He is one of the most prolific writers and speakers on the mental game of golf on the planet. To take advantage of his decades of golf wizardry, visit Mind Links
Author of “Performing Your Best, Links Golf, Mind Pump: The Psychology of Body Building, business and sales training audios, over 280 articles for magazines and now………Mind Links – The Psychology of Golf.