Leading Indicators Of Good Play

Can you correctly anticipate when you will play well or poorly?  What are the leading indicators?  My poor rounds are easier to predict and are usually preceded by a poor ball striking warm up.  Also, if I’ve practiced poorly the day before, it’s usually a bad omen.  If I find myself tired or disinterested, the hacks are usually coming.  Finally, if I’ve over-prepared, sometimes I’ll crash and burn.  Accordingly, it’s much harder to predict a good round.  I’ve been in awful slumps before and played great the following day with no rhyme or reason.  But this is the exception.  The one consistent leading indicator for a good round is that it’s preceded by good practice.

This was the case over the last couple of weeks.  Two Saturdays ago, I took a full swing lesson, which was excellent, and the following day  I tee’d it up and played poorly because I was thinking mechanically.  Last Thursday, I went to the range to try and fix things.  I laid my alignment sticks down and proceeded to strike it very poorly while trying to ingrain my lesson feedback.  What was wrong?  I couldn’t hit the ground if I fell from a tree.

I went out to the course on Saturday to try something new, which I will share because it worked.  My goal was to remove all vestiges of mechanics from my game and zero in on playing golf, not golf swing.  I’d use drills exclusively to improve my focus.  I had a round scheduled for The Links at Gettysburg the following day and I didn’t want to chop it up, but all leading indicators were pointing in that direction.

First, I went to the practice green and played nine holes of up and down.  The rules are simple; you throw a ball into a green-side lie and don’t improve your lie.  You chip or pitch to a cup, then putt until the ball is holed.  Even par is two strokes per hole.  The game is great for building focus because you are forced to use your vision.  An average day of playing this game yields a score of four or five over par, but previously I’ve played after chipping or pitching for an hour.  Here, I went right into it – from car trunk to game.  No warm up shots.  Final score; one-over par.

Next, I played nine holes on the putting green with one ball.  I varied the length of initial putts anywhere from 15 to 50 feet.  Again, par was two strokes per hole.  In this game, you mark your ball and go through your full on course pre-shot routine, really getting into game mode.  Again, there were no practice putts, just the game.  Final score; two under par.

Finally, I went to the driving range with a basket of about 50 balls.  I took six or seven warm-up shots with some wedges, a five-iron and driver.  Then played a full simulated 18 holes on a course of my choice.  During simulated rounds, you play a tee shot, any lay-ups, and all approaches.  Obviously there is no chipping or putting, and if you’re honest with yourself, your score usually approximates what you shoot during real rounds.  The drill is awesome for building focus especially when you start hitting recovery shots after wayward drives.  My course of choice was a local muni and previous simulated rounds usually yield about 75 to 80 strokes, which is close to what I usually shoot there.  On this day, I fashioned a 1-under 69.  I finished with about six balls remaining and just left them there.

The entire session lasted a bit under two hours and I drove home fully satisfied and thinking I had not practiced that well in two or three years.  Sure enough, the following day at Gettysburg, I played great and noticed I was focused like a laser, especially on my tee shots.

You get very excited in this game when you think you’re on to something.  Am I?  I know the key was that every drill and every shot was geared to help me play golf, not golf swing.   Tomorrow, the challenge will be if I can repeat the practice success using the exact same approach, but after a long day of work.  I hope it doesn’t rain 🙂

Do you have any leading indicators for good play?  Good luck if you do and please share. Play well!




About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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8 Responses to Leading Indicators Of Good Play

  1. Brian

    Love the drill! I am going to give it a try. It is difficult recreate course and playing conditions! I think your drill hits the mark!

    Cheers Jim

  2. Brian,

    One leading indicator for me at least is putting before my round. Typically, the final thing I do before I hit the first tee is putting, if I am rolling the ball smoothly and feel good that is a good indication for me that I could be in for a good round. I say this because if I know I am not putting smoothly before my round, that puts a lot of pressure on my other clubs which I don’t want. If I am putting it smoothly, I do not need to worry about making up for a possible bad putter, so less stress going into my round. Hopefully what I am saying makes sense but this works for me!


    • Brian Penn says:

      Sebastien, I used to hit a dozen straight 2-foot putts before I’d go out, just to see the ball go in the hole. Even if you’re putting poorly, you should be able to make those two footers. Worked for awhile but I got away from it. Not sure why, maybe I’ll drag it back out.



  3. Brian,

    Love the practice routine to simulate actual play rather than a robotic approach of getting in a groove and hitting the same shot over and over. That’s definitely something I need to work harder at.

    As far as good play indicators, good practice can be one of them for me as well. Especially with short game. If I have had a good practice session the day before I head into a round with a lot of confidence and my round is usually a bit tidier. It’s all about confidence with short game for me. The slightest bit of hesitation or doubt is detrimental. Having said that, I have played a lot of good rounds fresh off a layoff as well. That probably comes down to tempered expectations keeping me in check.


    • Brian Penn says:

      Josh, I think the benefit of a good short game session is that you are hitting your spots with precision. That’s what I have noticed when short game sessions go well. It’s always reassuring when you can hit what you’re shooting at.



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