The most important golf tip you’ll ever get will not be about your swing. It will not be about the latest equipment. It won’t even be about getting your clubs fit correctly. It will be about the number one factor that effects how well you play…your attitude.
Everyone agrees that golf is a mental game. But vary few really think about what that means. Everyone would rather try that new driver or work on that hot new swing technique.
The fact that the average handicap for all golfers has not gone down in the last 20 years tells me that the newest equipment and the scientific research and launch monitors evaluating our swings has not done a thing to improve our games.
What if I told you could take five strokes off your score in your next round without changing a thing about your equipment or your swing?
It really is possible. Here’s how…
Setting Your Expectations
Part of the allure of golf is the challenge. It is a very difficult game but that difficulty draws many people to the game. Especially if you have been successful in other sports, or other parts of life.
But one of the secrets of playing good golf is playing within yourself. If you choose shots that are well within your capability it will take a lot of pressure off your game and remove tension from that swing.
In other words… make the game as simple as possible. That will lead to lower scores because you eliminate those really bad scores on a hole.
But doing that is often hard for a successful person. We want to try that difficult shot because we know if we pull it off it would make our day. But often the risk is not worth it if our goal is to shoot a low score. And after all that is the goal of the game. Of course if that is the game you are playing. We’ll talk more about that later. The real trick is to balance the risk with the reward.
So let’s talk about different ways to manage our expectations and our attitude.
Playing Within Yourself on the Course
It doesn’t take long to realize that your mind plays an important part in each shot. Tension caused by worrying about the outcome of a shot can cause that shot to be a bad one. So how do we reduce this tension and increase our chances of making a good shot.
Our Ego And Our Natural Self
One of my favorite books about golf is The Inner Game by Timothy Gallway. In it he talks about the different parts of our personality. He calls the part of us that judges our actions Self 1. Self 1 is the part of us that decides whether a golf shot is good or bad, whether we swing correctly, and takes all the credit when we do well.
Gallway says there’s another part of us that just lets things happen.
Our self talk plays a big part in our tension level. Positive thoughts help us relax and do our best and negative thoughts do the opposite.
I once heard an Olympic swimmer say during a interview…
“Winners think about what they want to happen, losers think about what they don’t want to happen.”
I’m not so sure it’s that simple but I know we all have negative thoughts about our performance and need to learn to manage them.
Be aware of Self 1’s bag of tricks. Our Self 1/ego wants us to do things we’ve never done before. It hopes to prove that we are better than we actually are. It judges every situation and outcome. It lives on drug called hopeium — hope that our next shot will be that career shot — the one we will never forget.
We think about the future and on the failures and successes of the past. Yet it doesn’t really trust us to pull it off. It’s quick to blame us when we fail and it won’t let us forget. That’s just how the ego works.
Confronting our ego/Self 1 thoughts is the first step in learning to play within ourselves. Leaning to notice them — and then let them go is the trick.
We can always make the choice of not responding to the ego if we want to. There is another choice. There IS a part of us that can pull off that great shot. Self 2, our natural self, has many talents and abilities. In reality that IS the part of us that pulls off any great shot, the part that does all the work— if we just let it. But often we get in our own way — or should I say — Self 1 gets in the way.
Letting Self 2 Hit the Shot
Letting Self 2 hit the shot is a matter of Trust and Acceptance. Trusting that Self 2 CAN hit the shot and accepting whatever happens is the key.
When we surrender to whatever happens we free the body to do it’s best. Our ego/mind becomes quiet. We can concentrate on the target and the shot freely. We can let the moment happen. We may not always pull the shot off but we are giving it the best opportunity to happen. We are allowing a great shot to happen by our acceptance.
Playing Within Yourself (Beginner)
First we have to be realistic about our abilities. It helps to know our tendencies, how far we hit each club, typical ball flight, etc. As beginner it’s hard to know some of these things. They will become apparent over time. For now, it’s probably good to know which clubs you feel the most confident with. If the driver has never gone well then leave that club in the car until you DO have confidence with it — from using it on the range.
In fact, the driving range is the place to decide what clubs you feel really confident about and only use those on the course. Start from your strengths and build from there. Use the range to expand your confidence and the course to use that confidence to have fun and learn The Game.
More than likely it’s just to not make a total fool of your self. You may be playing with people who are better than you which brings it’s own level of stress. Maybe you realize your playing on a course that’s much too hard for your current level of skill. Maybe your playing partners want to have a little bet. So before you even hit your first shot you may feel like you have three strikes against you.
The first thing to realize is what happens happens — it is what it is — as they say. Worrying about that bad shot (which you are bound to hit) or what your playing partners think (they’ll be screwing up plenty too) or if you lose your bet (it’s only money) is probably not going to help you play your best.
Playing Within Yourself for Advanced Players
Learning to play within ourselves is not easy. Some of the fun of golf is the result of meeting challenging situations and succeeding. There is nothing wrong with that. Success can breed self-confidence. Besides, risk/reward decisions are part of golf. We have to make strategic decisions on the course all the time. So how do we make the right decision.
Honestly facing our true capabilities is not easy. Our capabilities may change from day to day and even moment to moment. Maybe we had a good warm up sesson before the round and are filled with confidence. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe your first few drives of the day went left to right when your usual pattern is right to left.
Any good player realizes that their decision making will change depending on how they are playing. As a good player you realize that that is part of the game. But by now your realize that you have a tendency. A typical ball flight. A typical pattern to your misses.
Perhaps your natural shot is right to left. You accept that you don’t get to see much of the right side of the course. When you go bad it usually means a duck hook or a push/block right. Under pressure your “go to” shot is always that right to left shot. Sometimes, when you are playing well you can work it left to right. It doesn’t move all that much but it does move that way. Your misses for a fade tend to be a pull or if you go really bad a double cross.
So now your facing a 180 yard shot to a right pin, tucked behind a bunker. The green slopes right to left and is hard to hold. The big trouble is OB left 30 yards from the green. What do you do? What is the high percentage shot for you?
We can also choose the path of trust and acceptance. There IS a part of us that can pull of that great shot — maybe. If the risk is worth it The choice is ours.
The ego/self 1 keeps us out of touch with the present. Trust is not part of it’s vocabulary.
It really depends on what game you want to play. If the game to you is about hitting the longest drive, hitting that miraculous shot, and going where you have never gone before, feel free to play that game. A career shot is something that we can relive all week long and many years to come. It makes the game fun.
But that’s not the game of golf. The winner in golf is the player with the lowest score. If you play the game where the lowest score wins, then you may have to learn to play more conservatively — to hit the easiest shot for the situation — the shot you feel confident you can pull off. This is often called course management but it may be more accurate to call it ego management.
My score improved dramatically when I decided to make the game as simple as possible. The KISS principle really does work well in golf. Picking the easiest shot does one important thing— it takes the tension out of your swing. Tension is clearly the number one shot killer. A tense swing creates lack of release of the clubhead and also a lack of feel for the clubhead.
What I found when I have a good attitude is my bad shots, and high numbers went down. That immediately improved my score. And that’s always a good feeling.
Head Golf Professional