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By stuwarren, Jan 27 2021 03:15PM

This is where most players go wrong. Think of it being the point of no return. What you do at this stage has a direct impact on your execution of the shot. Your space includes the area around the golf ball, the space where you will be having your practice swings and the window where your ball will fly. The most important part of managing your space is understanding the lie of the ball.

We’ve all walked up to our ball, anticipating the next aggressive shot towards the flag, only to find it lying poorly. The strong sense of going for it, even though the lie doesn’t give us access to a successful shot, is overwhelming and ultimately we walk straight into a poor shot.

This inability to correctly assess the lie of the ball is a major contributor to your overall score. I use a percentage scaling method against the desired shot. If I want to hit the ball at difficult target, I need to have at least a 75% lie to give myself any chance of success. If it’s less than 75%, then I need to aim at a bigger target. If its 50% then I need to be looking a different shot altogether. Most players I see on the course react more to the overall distance they want the ball to go, rather than a shot that the lie will permit. This is especially the case on longer second shots using hybrids or fairway woods.

Once you’ve assessed the lie, give yourself at least two options for the shot. This could be the same distance but having an easier and more challenging target, or two completely different shots. Choose the shot that gives you the most chance of success, not just distance!

Once you’ve selected the shot, you can then select the club and start your practice swings. Managing the space is vital here, so where you have your practice swings matters. Always try to take them behind the ball with the club on the ball to target line. This means that what you see when practice swinging is exactly what you’ll see when you step into the shot for real. A big mistake, made by everyone, is to practice to the side of the ball. You are now looking diagonally towards the target, so when you step into the ball, you will mostly be aiming the body too closed, leading to blocks and heavy shots.

At this point, you will be switching on to the angle of attack and depth of strike that you’d like at impact for a successful shot. Feeling through the hands and hearing the correct ground/ club interaction on your practice swings is the key. You will be tuning in to the ball flight trajectory and distance required. I visualise a football on fire streaking through the sky, before landing and setting my target on fire. This extreme mental image gives me my best focus to step in and execute.

To summarise, we walk in, assess the lie, choose our options, select the best one, create our practice swings whilst visualising and feeling the angles of strike and trajectory of flight from behind the ball and then step in to address. All of this happens within seconds and whilst described in sequence, many blend together at the same time. Players who do this are managing their space and ultimately their scorecard.

Now, think of your current play. It probably looks something like this. Another drive sliced out to the right rough on this short par 4. You normally reach with a 7 iron form a good lie 30 yards further in the fairway. However, your ball is half buried in the rough, well short. You arrive at the ball thinking of past plays and how you always reach this green. Acknowledging you are further back, you reach straight for the hybrid and take a swipe at the ball, scuffing it 30 yards in front of you!

Being so attached to previous plays of the hole and so blind to the lie of the ball, you selected a shot with a club that you had 0% chance of success. You have also added to the cumulative failure of the round from a ball striking perspective, increased poor feedback and poor body language. There’s only one way this round is going!

If you’d recognised the poor lie, you could have selected a wedge to a safe zone on the fairway. This could have been a warm up shot for another into the green. You would have left the hole with a maximum score of bogey, and had a chance of a par. You would have improved your ball striking outcomes, improved your feedback and your body language would have been better. It would have felt like you’d saved the holed, rather than lost it.

Managing your space is an eclectic mix of physical and mental skills happening quickly to maximise your outcomes and lower you scorecard. Get it right, more often, and the game becomes a pleasure. Get it wrong, it becomes a nightmare!

By stuwarren, Jan 26 2021 11:27AM

Golf is made up of 3 distinct phases; managing yourself, managing your space and managing your ball. These are performed sequentially in a never ending cycle from the 1st tee to the last putt. You almost certainly put most, if not all, your time, energy and money into only one of these phases… managing the ball. You consider that phase to be the root of all problems and the source of all solutions. You naively chase perfection in that phase, not understanding that the other two are just as, if not more important, as they drastically affect how you execute the shot.

So, over the next two articles, let’s look at the first two phases, how they interact with each other and how you can improve each to become a better player.

Managing Yourself

Possibly the most overlooked and under performed. This includes body language, self talk, feedback, pace/ cadence and your ability to switch your attention on and off to the right cues. An analogy might be that how you look, feel and behave is like the frame of an expensive road bike. You want it to be light, strong and perfectly engineered otherwise everything that is attached to it will sadly under perform.

Imagine if you’re playing really well and you are 2 under your handicap approaching the 12th tee, when suddenly you pull your drive out of bounds. A little shaken but still holding onto confidence you tee up your 3rd. This slices it wildly right into the bushes and trees. How’s the body language? What self talk has just entered your thoughts? Suddenly, how does the rest of the round look and feel? How will this affect your choices and decisions over the following holes?

I was always told that your body language shouldn’t give away your score. Tiger famously had the 10 step rule; within 10 steps of a bad shot he had completely eradicated it from his mind. Being even with your emotions is difficult, but by retaining good posture, walking with purpose and deep breathing you can maintain a certain level of control. Rolling with the punches is part of becoming a great player. Understanding that bad shots will appear, and how you manage yourself when they occur is vital.

Everyone knows about Tiger finding the water 3 times on the short 12th at Augusta this year, ending up with a 10. How did he react? By firing 5 birdies in the last 6 holes! For us mere mortals, we can prepare for the inevitable and have solid rescue plan in place to stop the scorecard spiralling out of control from that point on.

Practically, this could be to Identify PLAN B scoring areas on each hole which you can play to if you are in trouble. This means you probably won’t save par, but will ensure the highest score you can take is limited. I call this, putting a ceiling on your scores. An example of this could be a bail out zone on the fairway 50 yards from the green to use if your tee shot went into the trees or thick rough. It stops you trying to play the impossible hero shot and creating a compound error situation. 8s, 9s and 10s are not the result of a bad shot. They are the result of a bad shot followed by some very poor decisions and even poorer outcomes. By limiting the highest number possible on the hole, you can suddenly become far more positive with your body language and self talk.

Preparation can always happen in practice sessions. On the range or practice ground, try to replicate your “3 off the tee” drives, recreating the same gut feeling and emotions. This will prepare you for that turning point moment and increase your ability to manage and bounce back positively.

How often is your self talk positive on the golf course? Would you dare to be mic’d up like some of the tour players? Didn’t think so! I’ve seen some classics over the years, and embarrassingly, committed some myself. Failing to live up to the ideal in your head is the biggest factor in beating yourself up. It can be a long round of golf if you are already telling yourself how useless you are by the 2nd green. When improving your game, try to compare yourself to how you were last week, last month or last year. Do not compare yourself to others, especially elite players and tour stars! Limiting your self talk to objective feedback is vital. When you’ve struck your shot, ask yourself two very simple questions; What went well? Even better if?

These two questions should be asked after every shot. Even on poor shots we can identify some aspect that went well. For example, if you topped it 20 yards down the fairway instead of nailing it 100 yards onto the green, then your WWW could be, “I visualised the shot well, chose the correct club and it went straight.” Your EBI would be, “I need to get more depth on the strike and so I will try to graze the grass more on my practice swing”. This feedback/ self talk loop gives you solid, practical and objective understanding of the shot, not some subjective nonsense that will continuously bring you down.

When caught in the poor body language and poor self talk trap you tend to slow down, trudging around the course rather than walking with purpose. Having a positive cadence and strong walking pace brings energy to your game and I find helps me arrive at the ball far quicker, giving me extra time to assess and consider positive choices.

I often hear my clients talk about trying to concentrate more when they play. As if they can some how hold 100% concentration on their game for 4 and half hours! It’s a sport so we tend not to continuously use concentration but rather switch it on and off to various cues throughout the round.

When arriving at the ball your attention should shift constantly between the lie, the target, the desired flight, at least 2 possible shot choices before zoning in the correct decision and entering the execution of shot phase. Then attention moves to feedback before switching off and walking to the next shot. Most players are focussing on their overall score, consequence of not hitting a good shot, poor outcomes such as bunkers or water and memories of previously bad shots in the round. Hardly a recipe for success!

By stuwarren, Jan 25 2021 10:26AM

At what point do kids quit? At what age? At what stage in their development? More importantly why?

These questions have plagued the game for ever. As someone who has spent his whole working life helping young people play the game, and as someone who has lead classrooms in mainstream education, I’m ideally placed to answer these.

The WHY is easy. The game they have experienced on the course is nothing like the experiences that introduced and developed them in the first place. Most PGA Professionals have a games based approach to developing junior golfers. Engaging, lively and fun, these sessions teach the technical, tactical and provide great life skills in a setting with other kids.

Now think about parents or grandparents taking the young player onto the course for real. You can imagine the golfer to non- golfer pressure inadvertently put on the young player. Is the course shortened to an appropriate length, where the player can see and has the capability to reach the target? Are they having fun in a free environment, where its fine to make mistakes and also explore possibilities? Are they being bombarded with technical information that’s completely out of context and out of balance with what they already know?

Problematic moments include aim and alignment in the pre shot routine and providing unhelpful technical feedback once the shot is performed.

Too many adults fail to understand how difficult the golf course environment is for young players and how by playing proper golf too early in a players development is more than throwing them in at the deep end. If your young swimmer can achieve 10 lengths of the pool, it’s probably not wise to throw them off a boat in the North Sea and ask them to swim to shore!

Have you removed the tee peg too early? I see the tee peg a bit like stabilisers on a bike which should be filtered out appropriately as the player develops.

There seems to be a common factor in age for young players falling away from the game. This seems to be 11-13, when they reach school years 7, 8 and 9. At this point they grow more confident in and are exposed to many more different sports, of which some will be far more appealing and motivating than golf.

At this age the group dynamic becomes vital. If they aren’t playing golf with their peers, having a laugh and motivating each other, then they will quit.

At this age hanging out with parents at the weekend isn’t cool. Socialising with friends becomes a bigger priority than 9 holes with Granddad. Clubs who haven’t fostered consistent cohorts of juniors will undoubtedly fail to attract and keep young players. As I’ve said in earlier articles, the group is everything!

At this age, players move to adult equipment which can be expensive, and let’s be honest, they want the brands that cost. At this age, Players who show promise are plucked out of the group coaching environment and placed in a one to one setting, often with a perceived “better” professional. This sadly puts them on to a largely technical swing based approach to the game, leaving the young player no time to assimilate to their current level of play.

This continual improvement pathway does nothing to foster enjoyment or confidence, can often isolate the young player through prolonged practice and does not improve their tactical awareness of the game. We want to develop the player to a point where they can swing automatically (good or bad) and then focus on the situational aspects of the game.

Over the years, I’ve seen a few young players leave the academy after 3 or 4 years to join a “big” club I the area. They leave the setting, the coach and the group that got them this far for the promise of bigger and better. Instead of putting the young player on the pathway to success, they had inadvertently brought forward the Fall Away Point. Within a year, nearly all had quit the game!

So, what are tips to keep your young player in the game?

Firstly identify that there is a Fall Away Point and our job as parents and coaches is to extend it and eliminate it. Firstly, make sure that our young players are having fun and that golf experiences are helping them technically, tactically and psychologically. Secondly adapt the environment to their stage of development. Don’t throw them in at the deep end. Course length, tee peg use, shot choice and feedback are vital. Red tee markers, then as it lies is not going to cut it. Thirdly, get them into a great group setting with peers their age. Success doesn’t happen in isolation and a dynamic, fun and engaging group with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic pro is the perfect breeding ground for success.

By stuwarren, Jan 23 2021 09:12AM

Define the game by the EXPERIENCE not the outcome

This is an absolute key to helping young people fall in love with the game, not fall away from the game. It’s not about score. I’m not saying that score isn’t important, or a motivator. After all, it is how we differentiate winners from the pack and generally how we measure progress and success. However, score is only the product of a quality experience where a player is managing themselves, the playing space and then the ball.

We want our children to enjoy the course, enjoy the challenge of striking a ball with intention and skill, and be brave enough to face the difficult challenges that golf puts in their way.

On a practical level, this might look like having your child strike 5 shots out of the centre sweetly throughout the whole round. It could also be them taking on 2 shots that they would identify as 10 out of 10 on the difficultly scale. This is about them identifying the outer limits of their game and being brave to the challenge. The outcome doesn’t matter, although if they pull it off that would be amazing! How many Hi-5 moments have they set for the round?

These tactical and psycho-social targets will make the game far more enjoyable, far more engaging and ultimately lower their scores.

By stuwarren, Jan 21 2021 03:44PM

When playing the game for real, our young players are very vulnerable to the challenges of success and failure. How we as adults shape their experience on the course matters. I’ve seen some incredibly good skills over the years, sadly though, I’ve seen some shockers.

As we’ve said before, the golf course is a difficult, inconsistent, random and confusing environment. This is magnified further when looking at golf through the lens of a junior player. A huge responsibility for us as golf parents is to ensure that our children are playing the correct length course for their capability. Another responsibility is for us to set the correct types of outcomes for the game.

Correct outcomes should be based on values and the experience rather than score. Our Academy values are summed up in our tagline; Enhance, Enjoy and Excel. These set the template for every juniors’ golfing experience.

Are you enabling juniors the opportunity to enhance their skills on the course? This could be by allowing them to tee the ball up on full shots so that they are free to swing and hit. It could be moving the ball to a more playable position so that they have a shot to fit. For better players, it could be varying the clubs they choose, for example playing three different clubs to the 100 yard target. It could be changing shot shape or trajectory.

Are our young players enjoying the experience? Are there plenty of opportunities for fun with potential spot prizes for nearest the pin, longest drive or up and down from the bunker? Are they looking and acting like they want to be out there?

Do you provide opportunities for your young players to excel? Have you dropped a ball behind the lake and challenged them to fly it onto the green? Have you challenged them to strike the ball high up out of the trees, rather than just chip out sideways? Are you challenging them to drive the ball as far as they can down the further to chase a personal Best?

You can see that by having values driven outcome goals, great scores will naturally follow. If you don’t, then it’s unlikely that your young players will stick with the game long enough to enjoy good scores!

By the way, you might want to try this approach to your own game.

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