I have my own brand of psychology regarding the game of golf. Here are a few tidbits.
From the Range to the Course
Why is it difficult for players to take their swing from the driving range to the golf course? I’ve seen players who hit the ball relatively well on the driving range and then once on the course, they can’t break an egg with a hammer.
While watching many players hit balls on the range, I’ve noticed they often don’t grasp a rhythm and begin hitting good shots until half the bucket is gone. As they become frustrated with hitting poor shots, I’ll see them take a break, drink some water, take in the scenery around them and try to relax.
A breather often is what it takes for players to begin hitting good shots and finding what I call their life rhythm. Many players think rhythm means how fast they swing the club or keeping a nice tempo, but by life rhythm, I mean having flow to your game — the time it takes you to approach your shot, how you walk down the fairway, how you breathe, how you take in the scenery around you.
On the golf course, many players rush themselves and are so focused on wanting to hit perfect golf shots or worrying about certain holes that they forget this life rhythm. Besides making a point to relax and slow down on the course, I have some specific advice about how to take the good shots you hit in rhythm on the range to the golf course.
On the course, pick out some common targets you hit at the range, such as 100 yards, 150 yards, 200 yards and 250 yards. Picture yourself standing on the driving range as if no one were there, hitting balls to these targets. Don’t think about the water on the left, the bunker on the right or the tight fairways; just think about the target.
Whether you have a 4 iron in your hand or a sand wedge, allow yourself to feel as if you’re hitting toward the target in your mind’s eye rather than hitting the ball 121 yards or some exact distance. You will be amazed by how quickly you will find your rhythm and, even more so, how you will hit your target with your mind’s eye. Simply pick the target in your head and make the swing.
When approaching a golf shot, it’s important to have a visual image of the shot you’d like to hit. Regardless of your playing ability, you probably have a certain golf hole at a certain golf course that you seem to hit consistently well — whether it’s your approach shot to the green or your driver in the fairway.
The hole I visualize is at a course I used to play, Lakeside Golf Course in Beverly, Ohio. It was the No. 4 hole, a dogleg right par 4. On the right side of the tee box were a row of pine trees, and you had no other choice but to hit a nice cut shot to get to the fairway. But for some reason on that hole, regardless if the ball cut or not, I always seemed to make a good, solid swing and good contact with the golf ball.
To this day, on each and every shot, I close my mind and visualize myself standing on that tee box, hitting that golf shot. I’m always amazed at the comfort this gives me, regardless of the difficulty of the hole, because my mind’s eye only sees myself hitting that shot on the No. 4 hole.
The next time you’re on the golf course, think about a golf hole you’ve played consistently well and see it with your mind’s eye. Recall what it feels like, and let that be your guide. When you come to daunting holes, you’ll be more relaxed, and you’ll more than likely hit the shot as you visualized it.
People often can’t get the job done with their golf swing because they don’t trust what they’re doing. When working on something new in your swing, give it time to sink in. I’ve learned while studying psychology that we have a short-term memory and a long-term memory. When we first acquire information, it is stored in our short-term memory. Later that information, when learned, is transferred to our long-term memory to be saved and retrieved for later use.
Many players have a hard time adjusting to change because they don’t give new information time enough to be transferred to their long-term memory. For example, players who naturally have a dramatic slice may continually struggle to correct the slice with no success. But if the player realizes that the slice is an advantage rather than a disadvantage, that’s when the player finally lets go and trusts that the ball will start down the left side of the fairway and slice back to the right. When players learn to play this shot effectively, they will become better because they have some control over the golf ball. But even more so, they begin to trust their swing.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s on the golf course or the driving range, you have to relax and trust that what you are doing will work. Give your brain time to interpret the information and find how it can work best for you.
As a caddie, I’ve heard many golfers on the course complain about mis-hits and poor playing in general. Most of the time, these players do not prepare themselves to hit shots. Usually, they’re not focused on what they’re trying to do. Some are talking to friends, discussing business and doing other things that distract their ability to hit good, consistent shots. And they wonder why they never seem to improve. When hitting golf shots, you must keep your focus on the task at hand, which is to make a good, solid golf swing that sends your ball toward the target.
When you are 20 feet or so from your golf ball, start preparing yourself to hit the shot and keep your mind concentrated on the task at hand. Once the shot is over, then do as you please. If you practice this, you’ll be surprised to see how naturally you’ll block out distractions and focus on hitting the ball.
Take Control of Your Surroundings
When it’s your turn to play your shot, take total command of your surroundings. You should not be afraid or feel uncomfortable asking people to step out of your line, be quiet or show respect. I’ve seen many golfers play a shot and then turn around and look at their opponents as if they were the cause of a bad shot. If you fail to take control of your surroundings, the mistakes you make are your own.
I feel as if the course is a stage, and I’m the center of attention with total command. Try doing this, and you will start to gain more confidence in yourself and your ability to manage your environment.
Controlling the Shot
In the game of golf, players must decide in what direction they want their ball to travel if they hit a less-than-perfect shot. If a player chooses to hit a fade, then it would benefit the player to have the ball travel from left to right on all shots if possible. If the player chooses to hit a draw, then it would benefit the player to learn to hit all shots from the right to left. If players learn to miss the golf ball to the left or the right, it will help them gain better control of their golf shot as well as improve their overall game.
Many players don’t know where their golf ball is headed. If they learn to miss their shots one way, it allows them to have more confidence and control to swing the club through the hitting zone without having to manipulate the club to hit the golf ball.
Dress to Impress
I learned a long time ago that you should always try to look your best on and off the golf course. If you look good, you feel good. I’ve noticed that my attire often gives a smooth flow to my round of golf.
Try taking your time when picking out your clothing for a round. Self-confidence is important to being successful in the game of golf.
Names Don’t Win Tournaments
Don’t let the name of a good player defeat you before you start a round. I’ve heard many people concede a match even before it begins. This type of thinking is dead wrong. No matter the reputation of the opponent, the player still must go out and hit the golf shots. If you spend your time focusing on what you need to do to defeat your opponent, you can become a much better player.
If someone feels intimidated by another player, usually that person has not put forth the work necessary to accomplish the task at hand. If you trust in your efforts at the range, there is no reason to feel intimidated.
Once while caddying for some gentlemen, a player told me it would be nice to play with Tiger Woods.
I replied, “Yes, but it would be even better to beat him.”
The player then asked, “Think you can beat Tiger?”
I quickly responded, “Yes, any man can be beaten at any given time.”
He said, “The best players in the world have trouble beating him. What makes you so sure you could win?”
I told him, “If I don’t trust in my ability as a player, then I need to find something else to do with my life other than trying to make a living playing golf. I will never say I can be beaten by anyone until we’ve had a chance to play. So I say to you, always feel that if you put forth the work, you can get the job done. Go out and take care of business and add the scores at the end of the round and see what happens.”