Thursday, July 4, 2013

Is Your Golf Warm Up Actually a Warm Up?

You have an important round today!  It might be an AJGA event, a qualifier to get in the lineup or the first round of your club championship.  Whatever it is, it's important and you want to do well.  The scene is set and it's one hour until your tee off time.  How will you warm up?

Your warm up should do a few things for you.  It should get your body warm, loose and moving.  It should get you in the right frame of mind to play the game.  For most players, this means focused, visualizing and observant.  It should also serve as a time to get you excited for the day.

Your warm up shouldn't be a practice time.  How many of you go to the range with the best intentions to simply warm up, but then become reactive to a bad shot?  After just a few swings, you are working on your swing instead of warming up.  This seems normal to you, because you spend most of your time on the range working on mechanics.  You move from the warm up stage to the searching stage.  You are looking for a move or a feel.  You file through the swing thoughts that have worked in the past.  You are trying things and hitting balls quickly.  STOP!

Instead of spending your warm up time practicing or searching for answers, simply warm up.  A bad shot on the driving range doesn't have any effect on any other shot unless you allow it to do so.  First of all, in a perfect world, there wouldn't be any judgment on the range when you are warming up, but we will start with a simple strategy for your time.  If you hit a poor shot, simply take a break.  Clean your club, tie your shoe, talk to a buddy, walk away and stretch or find something else to take a mental break.  You can begin your warm up again when you are over your poor shot.  When you start over, remember to focus on what you want with your shots.

If you need a mental break to let go of a bad shot during warm up, take time to stretch.  Here is Natalie Gulbis getting warmed up for her round.  Photo credit: David Cannon

When you warm up, warm up your mind, too.  Choose targets, visualize shots, commit to them and hit them.  Hit some draws and fades.  Hit some low runners and some high, soft lobs.  See it, feel it, trust it on the range.  Use your pre-shot routine and match your warm-up to what you want to do on the course.  Be decisive, be clear, be simple, be creative and be visual.  In other words, play golf.  A great way to end your range session is by visualizing and playing the first hole you will see in competition. Make sure you note the wind and your lie.  Use the same skills you will use on the course.  This will help you focus your thoughts on the outside world instead of the world of your body's movements or your brain's thoughts.

"Sometimes the biggest problem is in your head. You've got to believe you can play a shot instead of wondering where your next bad shot is coming from."

Jack Nicklaus

Now you are ready for a short game and putting warm up.  If you don't hit chips, pitches and bunker shots in warm up, you are missing out on the most important part of your game.  In the short game area, you will learn what the sand feels like and the shots it produces.  You will figure out if chips bite or roll out.  You will figure out if the greens hold your pitch shots or if they release.  Most players miss 30% to 50% of the greens during a round, so your preparation shouldn't be focused on being perfect with your 6 iron, but with your ability to score.

One ball and one goal is a great way to prepare for your next round of golf.

End your short game practice with one ball and your putter.  Give yourself three or four up and down opportunities and work to make them.  Don't fall into the practice trap by giving yourself a "do over".  Focus on what you want to do with the ball and execute the shot.  Use your routine and incorporate visualization and commitment.

When you get to the putting green, your goal is to be observant of the speed and any local knowledge you will need.  Are there features that cause break, such as slopes, grains, wind or water?  Get a feel for the impact they will have on your roll.  Spend your time watching the ball rolling and matching your feel to the speed and breaks you see.  So many players warm up with three balls and putt the second without watching the first roll.  They are clearly practicing instead of warming up and preparing to play.  End your time on the putting green with one ball, a pre shot routine and the goal of making putts.

You can begin your warm up in any of the three areas.  There is nothing wrong with ritual in your warm up routine as long as you don't get lost in the ritual and go through the motions.  Remember what your warm up is for; preparation.

Our team warm up at SMU starts with some football in the parking lot.  It sets the tone for our day.  We are together as a team, our bodies are getting warm and loose and we are laughing and having fun.  Getting excited for your day is a big part of your warm up.  If you are on the range searching or becoming frustrated and angry, then you are setting yourself up for dread and disappointment and your excitement will be gone before you play one hole.

Take the time to come up with a plan for your warm up.  Pay attention to what you are doing with your time, your focus and your game before you go to the first tee.  Prepare for playing a great round and get ready for greatness.

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