Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How to Prepare

How do you prepare to play a good round of golf?

Whether your time is limited by real world responsibilities, like a job and a family, or you have a lot of time to prepare, here are some ways to make your preparation pay off and transfer to the golf course.

Complaints of not being able to take it to the course.

So many people complain of being great on the range and horrible on the course.  They hit it well during a lesson and when the pro walks away, they duff it.  Why is that so common?  I believe there are two main reasons.  The first is tension.  Tension tightens muscles, changes tempos and causes problems.  The second is the "one shot" factor.  On the course, you get one shot and only one, unless you are one of those annoying people with a constant supply of pocket mulligans.  On the range, you probably dismiss the duffs and instead remember the three in a row that soared to the flag.

How do you change these two factors?  First, you need a great pre-shot routine that allows you to be into the process of the shot instead of the outcome or the trouble surrounding the target.  Tension generally comes from a lack of focus on the right thing.  Where is your focus on the first tee?  Is it on what the new guy will think of your swing or smoothing it down the right side with a little draw?  Tension comes from unclear goals, thinking about what you don't want and placing focus on trouble or results.  In order to alleviate tension, you need to practice thinking about the right things.  How much time on the range do you spend working on your pre-shot routine?  Do you visualize what you want the shot to do when you are on the range?  Do you choose a target and pay attention to where the ball landed in relationship to the target?  One of the first questions I ask a client is "what is your target?".  You would think I asked them a calculus problem.  I get head scratching, guilty grins, excuses and explanations.  As the lesson progresses and clubs change, targets change, too.  Hopefully, along with learning about his swing, my typical client also gets the importance of having a goal for each shot.  Distance and direction are important on each and every shot, so we need to practice with that in mind.  There will be more discussions of focus on the golf course in upcoming blogs.

The second ingredient in taking your game to the course is learning to practice with a "one shot" mentality.  Kids are awesome at this without ever being taught.  They get on the range and they challenge each other to hit the highest shot, the biggest hook or the closest to the flag.  They focus on what they want the ball to do and they compete with each other or with their best ever.  Each and every shot seems hugely important to kids on the range when they prepare to hit it and means nothing the moment they decide on a new shot.  If we could all play the game with this mentality, imagine how much fun we could have on the golf course.  So, you aren't a kid and you practice by yourself for only an hour a week.  I understand.  You think it is better to grind for that hour.  You need to get your mechanics perfect and think about two or three swing thoughts for the entire hour.  If you can, you will hit two large buckets in that hour, because the next shot will be the "one".  Drag it over, hit it, barely watch the flight and drag the next one over.  Does this sound like you?  If not, you are rare, because I stand on the range all day and watch 80% of the people there practice in exactly this manner.  I am amazed at how few people watch their ball flight when hitting balls.  It is similar to the target question I wrote about.  It is torturous to my students when I make them wait and watch their ball until it quits moving.  Given the choice, I know that they are far more worried about what they are doing vs. what the balls are doing.

So the alternative is to practice like a kid and when you learn to do this, you will soon learn to take the great range shots to the course.  First, think quality not quantity.  With each shot, have an intention for the ball's flight, including both distance and direction.  Visualize the flight.  Go through a routine that allows you to see it, feel it, set up correctly and execute it.  Watch the flight and learn from it.  Now, do it again.  Challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone.  Hit a few from tough lies, see if you can curve the shot right or left, see if you can hit a low shot or a high shot.  I can hear you from here; "...but, I'm not good enough to curve the shot!"  Golf isn't about hitting perfect six irons from perfect lies to perfect distances, despite what you think.  Learn to curve the ball through trial and error and you will learn a lot about your swing, the club face and how to get out of the woods.  That would be a great practice session no matter the level of your game.

The next time you practice, remember to incorporate these ideas into your range time and I think you will more easily transfer your good swings on to the golf course.  I also think your practice time will be more enjoyable and that will lead you to want to practice more than you do currently.

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