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The Game #1 Manage Yourself

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!

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