There are two different approaches you can take in pursuit of better scores, but only one that will actually work. Golf success comes from freedom, not force.
Playing better doesn’t mean trying harder.
In order to achieve more consistency in your rounds you need to play with more trust because trust will allow you to swing with more freedom. And when you swing with more freedom you execute more technically solid shots.
Too often golfers think the right course of action is to put in more effort, to “press” during a round and try to make good shots happen. If this is your approach, then you’re just getting in your own way.
I was chatting with a client this morning about this very topic. As he described his last tournament round he referenced “trying to make birdie putts” and “pressing for eagle chips” because he wanted to make up some lost strokes from prior holes. It was evident that his focus was wrapped up in the past and the future, when he needed to thinking only about the shot in the present.
Any time your focus is split in two or more directions rather than selectively locked onto the task at hand and your next target it’s impossible to give 100% to your shot. Why? Because you need 100% of your focus on your shot to hit a 100% quality shot. Makes sense, right?You need 100% of your focus on your next golf shot to hit a 100% quality shot. #playgreatgolf #golftips #golfswing Click To Tweet
Because my client was trying to force good things to happen he was likely carrying a lot of extra tension in addition to the adrenalin we typically have to deal with when playing under pressure. Mental tension leads to physical tension which can cause pushes, pulls, chunks, tops, and alterations in swing tempo and technique. It can also leave you questioning your mechanics which is the opposite of playing with trust and freedom.
To play with freedom there are three simple things you need to consistently pay attention to ~
1. You must keep your thoughts focused on the present.
Be aware of the times when you allow your thoughts to venture to the outcomes in the future. Even if you start thinking about what you could make on the hole you’re still playing, or considering that you’re facing a putt where you could still save par your thoughts are on the future. In the same way, avoid considering how to make up for past shots that didn’t go so well and added to your scorecard. By freeing your mind of thoughts around the past or the future you will free your swing.
2. You must play to a specific (and desired) target.
It can be easy to get distracted by where you don’t want the ball to go, or the disappointing shots from the past. As you begin thinking about your next shot you must limit your thoughts to the target you actually want to hit and no other possible outcome. By planning for one target it’s much easier for you to mentally lock onto and swing to that one target than if you are playing to avoid other undesirable ones. By freeing your mind of additional targets, desirable or not, you will free your swing.
3. You must play with a belief in your ability to execute the shot you want to hit.
A plan is not a good plan if you doubt in your ability to execute it. Don’t waste time on shot plans that you can’t approach with 100% confidence. There are always options that could advance the ball, so pick the one you know you can hit. By freeing your mind of self-doubt you will free your swing.
Before you can effectively manage the mind game of golf, you must be aware of your mental habits. I encourage you to start looking for ways to play with more freedom by creating habits around the three guidelines above. When you learn how to free your mind of unnecessary clutter you unlock your ability to more consistently swing with freedom and hit better shots.
Leave me a comment below and let me know which of the three guidelines above you think you need to be more mindful of in your rounds.
Until next time…PLAY GREAT!
Sara B. Mills says
Staying focused is still a challenge for me.
Too focused on how I do compared to others
Sara, Thanks for your comment. It’s about staying focused on the simple things that actually contribute to good shots rather than allowing your attention to drift to the things that don’t matter. I encourage you to measure your performance using your own yardstick rather than comparing your performance to others’. Shannon
Ian Munro says
This is very good advice … it is difficult to be social and chat and still concentrate on just the shot and the target. I used to play a lot of other courses. A good host would just say aim for the middle of this fairway then the dogleg is easy. the bad ones would say ” you must avoid the bunkers on the left, the pond on the right, etc.
Ian, Thanks for your comment! There is an art to balancing the social and serious sides of the game, and that’s a common topic I teach golfers to build skills around. It’s a matter of training yourself to transition in and out of your mental bubble by way of a good mental pre-shot routine. You want to be 100% absorbed in the shot at hand from the first moment you start planning it through your evaluation of it. The rest of the round you can enjoy the social aspects. Thanks for reading! Shannon
LV Wynalda says
Keeping my thoughts focused on the present is challenging. It’s easy to get caught up into looking back or thinking ahead. I talk to myself internally to think of only the particular shot, but it is a challenge.
These tips are all good reminders.
LV, Thanks so much for sharing your struggle. You are not alone, as I hear this from clients all the time. You CAN train your mind to stay present. One of the best ways to do this is to make sure that you use your post-shot routine process. It is specifically designed to help you process all your thoughts and feelings about the shot you just hit so that you may close the chapter on it, wipe the slate clean, and then move ahead to the next shot. When golfers don’t take the time to go through an effective post-shot routine process they tend to carry over thoughts and feelings to the next. This causes thoughts to pop up around the past and the future. The more carry over you permit, the more it can accumulate as a distraction during your round and you’ll get to the point where those carry over thoughts become overwhelming to manage. So be vigilant with your post-shot routine discipline. 🙂
Dale Pritkin says
Great hearing from you. Whenever my game gets a little out of
Control I always go back to focusing on where I’m going to hit the next and freeing my mind.. it’s a beautiful thing. Thanks for the tips again
Dale, Thanks so much for your comment! I love the growth you’ve experienced in your awareness of when your game starts to demonstrate a shift in your mindset. That’s what’s enabling you to do something about it as you are by redirecting your attention back to what’s most important for your next shot. I’m so proud of you! Keep up the great work!!
Lee Chepenik says
Nailed it. Same things I was saying 30 years ago. Awesome stuff.
Hi Lee! Thanks for your comment. 🙂 I am glad you liked the article. Please share it with a friend you know could use some help with their game. Play Great!
Barb Wilcock says
Shannon, first of all, thank you so much for getting back to me on my specific challenge and the great advice. I I LOVED these 3 simple things and for me to pick one was a challenge in itself. But I think #3 is probably the one. I need to focus on more. Let’s say I’m playing a hole that’s a par 4, I can hit a great drive, a decent 2nd shot and then when it comes to the third shot which is usually the approach shot, I don’t have the confidence that I can execute that shot to land on the green and close to the hole. I tell myself I just want to get it on the green instead of on the green and close to the hole. So I grip the club with a death grip and don’t have the confidence that I can execute that shot.
Barb, I am glad you found my reply to your challenge helpful! I encourage you to reflect on your past success hitting to the green. And also make sure that you plan and proceed with a shot that you actually believe you can hit. Be specific about the shot you desire, and select a shot that seems absolutely doable to you so that you don’t put yourself under the pressure to perform. Shannon