What’s awesome about golf is that you learn something new every time you play or practice. As you may or may not know, I’m in the midst of a two-year experiment to overhaul my game. I’m trying to get better at every facet and last year took four full swing lessons and one playing lesson. This year, I’ve had a full swing lesson, a short game lesson, and am excited to go for my first putting lesson on Saturday. As I work through the instruction, practice, and play, several themes continually emerge.
Theme 1: Be Your Own Best Friend. Change is difficult, especially after doing things one way for over 40 years. It’s best to acknowledge that and while you enjoy the improvements, don’t beat yourself up during setbacks or while hitting the occasional bad shot. Practice talking to yourself in an encouraging fashion. Many players including myself have criticized themselves after a physical mistake, but try not to. It’s okay to be more critical of mental miscues because they’re easier to control, but give yourself a break after a bad swing; you’re human.
Theme 2: Integrate Feel Into Your Practice. When you warm up before play, never work on your swing. The easiest way to do this is to switch clubs and targets on every shot. When you practice your swing, it’s fine to work on mechanics, but finish up with some drills to work on your mental game and touch. It will help you transition more easily to the course.
Playing golf during a period of sustained instruction is hard because your tendency is to think mechanics on the course. To help, try practicing your full game the day before you play. While hitting balls, leave the last 20 to play an imaginary nine holes at a familiar course. This gets your mind in sync with the natural cadence of play and for using different targets. Around the practice green, throw balls into different lies and don’t improve the lies. Hit the shots with a variety of clubs. Try to flight them as low as possible. Low ball flight is easier to judge distance and helps you visualize the shot. Playing it as it lies builds mental toughness. Vision and intestinal fortitude are two essentials.
Theme 3: Know your tendencies. If you are taking instruction, you will identify your common mishit and work to get it out of your game. Mine is a pull hook. When it occurs on the course, acknowledge it and move on. Do not think it’s something new that’s crept into your game and do not start searching for a swing thought on every shot until you happen to hit a good one. This is the most difficult thing about playing during periods of instruction because you’ll probably be thinking about a swing key, even if you’d prefer not to. Keep working on what you are trying to do, not what you are trying to avoid. It’s the only way to remain sane.
Theme 4: Understand your physical limitations. 95% of amateurs have overactive hands and arms and under-active core muscles. They will pull and slice the ball. This is the most common miss and is usually caused by casting the club (early release). Conversely, look at the pros who rip the ball. Rory, DJ, Koepka, Tiger, Jason Day. They all build up their big muscles because they understand power comes from leveraging their core. These guys all look like football players and you will never hit it like them, but you can work your core muscles and build power and stamina into your game. I pay specific attention to my back, butt, and hips. I may not crush the ball like Brooks, but my body no longer aches after I’ve walked 18 holes and that’s a reasonable measuring stick. Also, know that when you get fatigued, your core muscles will suffer first and making good swings is increasingly difficult. Definitely exercise your core and if you can, walk when you play. If it’s hot, take a cart. If 18 holes is all you can manage, don’t try for 36. I keep relearning this last one and probably will until I’m no longer playing.
I look forward to hearing if these tips work for you.