Golf is fickle. One day you'll hit it great and the hole will seem as big as a bucket. The next day, inexplicably, you have a two-way miss and every putt is burning the edge. While it may be possible that you're somehow causing these good and bad results, it is also possible that you got some good and bad bounces or breaks. All is not in your control. As a tournament player, you'll play in wind, calm, tightly lined fairways and wide open spaces. You'll get paired with a slow player or wake up with a sore shoulder from sleeping funny. There is so much that is completely outside your control and all of it creates chaos instead of consistency. Golf has a lot you can't control, but you can answer these things with your ability to control your approach to the game. You can have a plan for the day which allows you to control your preparation, your mindset, your focus and your emotions. Your plan is your goal for what you want to accomplish.
Over the years, I see so many players jump from thing to thing in their attempt to improve. They fail to plan and have different goals for each round. They are inventing and reinventing their approach week to week. Their focus changes so often that they don't learn what went right and what went wrong. It is an approach based on instant results and an "aha, I got it now" mindset instead of a slow and steady wins the race mindset. To become great, there is a lot of learning to take place. Learning takes place when your effort is consistent, measured and adjusted.
Let's stay with the idea that your performance is a puzzle. You need to find your four cornerstones. These are the pieces that will allow you to fill in your frame and the big picture.
As a coach, some of the cornerstones I've seen from players are determination, love of the game, focus, commitment, athleticism, fun, visualization, connected to your target and breathing. There are many from which you can choose and it needs to be what is most important to you as a player. If you are like my student and know that you need commitment to hit great shots, then that cornerstone piece needs to consistently be in your mindset in both your preparation and during the tournament. Over the years in working with players, I've urged them to adopt one focus goal for each and every round. Many players will tell me the same one over and over while keeping it fresh and vital. Others need a bit of variety to keep it fresh and not get bored. This is your individual approach to the game, but I'd urge you to narrow your focus goals down to your four cornerstones and stick with them until you've had enough rounds to know you're making ground. Here are some that I've heard. "Roll the rock." "Fairways and greens." "Be an athlete." "SFT" (see it, feel it, trust it). "See the shot." "Find the fun." As you can see, there are some very different approaches to cornerstones and there isn't a right or wrong.
Consistency in your approach will allow you to learn what leads to success and what doesn't. If you have a rough day out there and your goal was to see the shot prior to hitting it, my question to you would be, did you? Did you see each shot clearly? If not, when was it tough and what got in your way? Let's figure out how you can quiet your mind and see the shot more easily. Do you need to say out loud what the shot will do? Do you need to see the shot from beginning to end? Do you need to have the ball fly to a cloud or simply see the end when it rolls up to the target? Are you picking a target when you see your shot or do you only see it start?
There are many ways to approach just one cornerstone and improvement in tournament play doesn't come unless this work is done. These are the tools that allow a player to be consistent in her approach.
Let's say you've chosen the visualization cornerstone. Learning to use this one skill will help you in so many ways. As in the picture above, you will start to put the puzzle together and see your game as a whole.
Visualization will keep you in the moment when you play. It will allow you to connect with a target. It will tap into your creativity. It will give you a solid goal for each shot. It will help you alleviate mechanical thoughts. The list goes on and on. However, you can't get to this point if you say this will be your goal and do it for only the first four holes. Or if you say it will be your goal and do it for only one event. Learning to have a consistent mindset based on your cornerstones is a lot like learning to hit wedges. It takes a lot of work and when you get the basics, you've only just begun. This focus goal might be the key to winning the NCAA Championship, because under the greatest pressure, you have a tried and true skill that allows you the freedom to hit the shot needed. Your cornerstones are like good friends. They are there in tough times and you can lean on them to help you when you need them the most.
Great players treat their mental and emotional games the same as they treat their physical games. They work hard to make them better over time. We all know that guy who has a new swing thought every time he steps on the range and proudly exclaims, "I got it" ten swings into the session. We all also know he will lose it soon, because golf can never be truly gotten, kept or discovered. It is a game that needs steady and focused progress on the fundamentals. The fundamentals, once mastered, will allow a player to be creative and individualize the game to himself. When he loses track of what he's doing, he dives back into the fundamentals and builds his foundation back up. That is how it works and the mental and emotional sides of the game are no different.
Your goal is to see your own game as a puzzle that needs cornerstones, a frame, individual pieces that fit together and a big picture that emerges to make you a tournament player. Your pieces don't change every time you show up to a course to play. They are there to provide you with consistency and structure. Make sure that you have a consistent mindset and emotional approach so you don't start from scratch each time you tee it up. Your goal is to learn and grow as a player and that means to put the pieces together and hold them in place with consistency.
Homework: What are your four cornerstones for your mental and emotional games? If you want to include your physical game you can do that, too. Perhaps it's balance or tempo? These are your cornerstones and they will always be there for you.
Now, choose a cornerstone as your focus goal for your next event. Give yourself a tally mark whenever you used it to hit your shot. For example, if your cornerstone is to be calm, focused and present, then you'd get a tally if you were calm, focused and present for each shot. Let's say the officials put you on the clock and you lose your calmness out there. It will be clear to you that it's lacking and you'd lose the tally mark. The longer you work with this tool, the quicker you'll recover the state of calmness you want to play with.
Keep a journal of your tallies for at least 3 months. Do you see a correlation between scoring and your focus score? How can you improve your focus score? Does it need to be adjusted? Does it work in all areas of the game?