Friday, October 10, 2014

Are You on Offense or Defense?

When you play golf, are you on offense or defense?  You play the best golf on offense.  That means that you are playing without fear and without protecting against mistakes.  Many players change their approach mid game and that might be the most helpful way for you to understand what mode you are in when you are on the course.

First Example:  Match Play
You are paired against a big hitter.  She knocks the ball past you by 40 yards off the tee.  You lose the first hole in awe of her power and wondering how in the world you will keep up.  You are playing fear based golf.  By the time you snap out of it and pay attention to what you are doing, you are 3 down after 5 holes.  Now you are forced to play offense and go after the big hitter.  What happens?  You start producing good shots and making putts.  You have switched from playing with fear to playing to score or playing offense.

Second Example:  Match Play
You are the big hitter.  You start off the round playing your game and enjoying the day.  You build an early lead and it looks to be an easy match.  Then, your opponent starts to climb back into the match with a few great shots and long putts.  Now, you decide you need to protect your lead, so you gear down and become more conservative and conscious of what you are doing.  When you protect, you play defense.  Soon, you watch your lead completely crumble and when it's time to turn to offense again on the last holes, you've lost the edge.

Third Example:  Stroke Play
Your warm up felt good and you walk to the first tee swinging freely.  You make a birdie on the first and feel great.  After 9 you are -3 and begin to think about shooting your lowest score, which is -4.  As soon as that thought enters your mind, you begin to play to not make mistakes.  The freedom you had on the front slowly leaves you and by the 18th hole, you are tight and struggling to make par.  You are +1 on the back nine, but you know that you had a much better day in you.  When you thought about your opportunity for a personal best, you began protecting your score and playing defense.

You have to love Charlie Brown.  He just doesn't have it in him to play defense.  All of us are thinking, "no, not again!"  But Charlie Brown goes in for the kick in total offensive mode.  His attitude is exactly what you need to play great golf.  That determined run and grimace in the fourth frame from the last is a clear indication of offense.  The height he gets on the miss in the next frame and the huge wham that occurs when he hits the ground all give you the same idea.  Golf is a lot like Lucy, making it tough to go in time after time and give it our all to score.  We have all walked off the course feeling like Charlie Brown after a whiff.  However, we all need his optimism and ability to give it all we have if we ever want to achieve greatness.  I love Charlie Brown's optimism and determination.  He is a coach's dream!

Fourth Example:  Stroke Play
You start your day with a double bogey.  Sure, it was a bad bounce and a lip out, but it is still a double bogey.  You go to the second hole with a sour taste in your mouth.  On the second hole, you lip your par putt out and make another bogey to go to 3 over.  Before you know it, you are +4 and struggling to hold it together.  You resign yourself to the fact that it just isn't your day and give up the idea of having a good day.  Funny thing is, when you give in to those ideas, things seem to go better.  You give up the worry of scoring well and the ball starts to fly at the hole.  With nothing to protect and nothing to lose, you begin to play offense.

A one on one competition is a simple scenario.  Match play is a lot like arm wrestling.  Quick, personal and with a clear winner.  Also, you can get a rematch in a minute. 

Can you recognize yourself in any of the above scenarios?  Many players love match play, because it is very easy to have a scoring mindset based on offense.  The goal is very simple, one hole!  Win it.  Beat the person standing next to you.  Your feedback is quick and gratification follows each win.  In stroke play, your goal has to last four hours and it will include many opportunities to succeed or fail.  You will have many events that will lead you to question your mindset or change your approach from offense to defense.  In match play, the need for a mindset of offense is evident from the first tee on.  It is the underdog's goal to get an opponent to question that mindset and put her on defense.

How can you learn to play the game with your foot on the pedal at all times?  That is the question you come away with.  First, have a game plan for each hole.  Know how you want to play the hole and how that will change if the winds shift or conditions change.  Know the best place on each green to attack the hole.  Know your strengths and keep them in mind as you form your game plan.  For example, if you are a great bunker player, give yourself a green light for pins tucked behind a bunker.  If your bunker game isn't good, play to the middle of the green and attack the hole with your putter.  If you are a great wedge player, attack par 5's with a wedge in your hand.  If not, stuff the ball in as close to the green on your second shot as you can.  Everyone has different strengths that require different positions.  You need to plot your path around the course based on what you do well.

Next, figure out a mindset that works for you. When you are playing with freedom, what is your approach and how did you create it?  Understand what gets under your skin and creates problems with your mindset.  What causes you to tighten up and play defense?  It might be certain ball flights that signal old habits.  It could be a string of birdies or a string of bogeys.  Some people don't like the look of certain holes or shots.  Just being in between clubs is a big reason that a player might tighten up and swing defensively.  Know what your triggers are and game plan to stay in an offensive mindset.

How?  Have a pre-shot routine that is focused on getting you ready to hit the best shot possible.  It should allow you to visualize, commit, stay loose, and connect what your eyes and mind see to what your body produces.   When you have Big Picture thoughts that could lure you into playing defense, you let them go and replace them with thoughts of your game plan on this shot, this hole and this golf course.  You have prepared well and you know how to play offense on this golf course.  Finally, step away from results, whether good or bad and put your energy into producing a great shot on the next shot you have.  Simple stuff, but tough to commit to all day long.  You are on the course for at least four hours and that gives you plenty of time to think about your score, your chance of winning or qualifying, what your score will look like online, what people will think of your score, what your score means compared to all the preparation you put in, what your coach will do when you shoot that score, etc., etc., etc.  You can spend time thinking about what isn't happening for you and what bad breaks you've gotten.  You can spend time wishing that all the bad shots you had hadn't happened.  You can spend time wanting to start over or be somewhere else entirely.  However, NONE of those thoughts have anything to do with your game plan or a mindset to play offense.  Don't give in to the why's, what's or how's when you're playing golf.  Those are all questions and questions don't help your mindset or your scoring.  Answers are the Answer!

Questions on the golf course lead to playing defense.  Don't question yourself or go to a shot with a question in your mind.  Instead, stick to your game plan.  Commit to the shot without questions.  If you have a question, such as when you are in between clubs, find a reason to commit to one or the other.  Look for answers, such as their is more room behind the hole, so I'll just hit more and accept a longer putt.  Or, I know I need to carry that bunker and this is going to be close, but I'm a great bunker player, so I'll hit this 8 iron.

Your answers for playing good golf are:  play offense, have a game plan and stick to it, rely on an active and positive pre-shot routine and use your strengths to attack the hole.  Everyone has questions that pop into their head when playing golf, but you can understand that you don't need to answer them.  Instead, you can replace them with the answers you've prepared for yourself prior to the round.  Know what your best mindset is for playing good golf and put it into play as soon as you hit the parking lot on tournament days.  Remember, you don't score in any sport you play when you play defense.  It takes offense to score!

Your goal on the first tee should be to score as well as your game allows that day.  If that is a 65, then embrace greatness.  If all you can do is shoot a 76 with what you have, then accept that, but work hard to shoot a 76.  In other words, play offense with each shot you hit. 

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