At the highest level of the game all the best players can hit all the shots in the bag, but there are a surprising number of golfers of lesser ability, who can still produce some high quality shots on a seemingly regular basis.


Yet, paradoxically, when they take their pristine game from the range onto the course, they tend to fall apart slightly. Why is this the case?


The key lies in developing the other side of your golf game that isn’t to do with shot making, but instead is played on the course that exists permanently between your two ears.



1.  Course Management

Perhaps the most underrated skill a golfer can have is the ability to see a golf hole and then work out the best, safest and most productive way to play it.

To actually do this well you need a good understanding of both your own golf game, how far you hit each club and how consistent you are with the clubs in your bag, as much as you do an understanding of the hazards you face on each hole of a particular course.


A great example of faulty course management can be seen at a local course I play, with a first hole, a par four, of just under 300 yards. It is certainly driveable in drier conditions for players but requires a somewhat difficult draw shot to reach the green around a clump of trees, especially with your first shot of the day and a driver in your hands.


Time and time again I’ve witnessed players pick out the driver and either hook the ball out of bounds, or slice it miles off to the right, leaving them a hugely difficult second shot. All to often, what should be a relatively benign opening hole, turns into a 6, 7 or worse on the scorecard.


That’s just bad course management. This hole can easily be reached with an 8-iron from the tee, followed by a 9-iron, or in drier conditions, pitching, sand or even lob wedge into the green.  Played this way, it is a far, far easier hole.


I’ve seen and played with many players who can produce all the shots, but who have found course management a problem and instead of shooting the score that they feel they should, often shoot 5-10 shots more because of the wrong shot selection for the hole they face.



2. Dealing with Frustration

It’s very easy in golf to let the ‘red mist’ descend when you fluff a shot, play a bad stroke or wind up with your ball in the rough or in a hazard. Every golfer has endured the rising anger they feel deep within them when things don’t go their way. How you deal with this frustration is also a key mental skill to develop.


For some players, frustration overwhelms them and they lash out. Not only is this counterproductive, but also potentially expensive.  A partner I played with was so angry after slicing three tee shots out of bounds he hurled his brand new club into what he assumed were woods, not realising that behind the tree line, lay a pond.


That was an expensive tee shot in more ways than one.

The good players are those who can channel their frustration positively. That takes a good degree of self-control and an ability to view the positives even in a bad situation. So what if you took a 7 at the first? You still have 17 holes to put it right.




3. Dealing with Pressure

If you are playing in a competition, or even in a competitive game with friends, then there will be times when you face a pressure tee shot, approach, rescue shot or putt. Some players thrive under pressure, others can wilt. Which one are you?


Pressure affects people in different ways. Some seem to thrive when the chips are down. Others find the stress too much and cracks show in their swing and even the simple shots seem more difficult.


Dealing with nerves is a key aspect of golf, especially competitive golf and it is hard to recreate a scenario on the practice green or at the range where you are under duress to play a shot. Similar to the way practicing penalties in training is not the same as taking a spot kick in soccer during a World Cup Final penalty shoot out.


How you choose to deal with the pressure is up to you, there are lots of methods people swear by that work for them, you need to discover which one works best for you when the chips are down and you are standing over that 6-foot putt to win the competition!




4. Retaining Focus

The best golfers are those that can maintain focus even when things are going badly, the weather is awful, they have had a tough day or a myriad of other factors are combining to put them off their game.


Focus is more than just playing the game; it is about investing everything into the next shot. Blocking out negativity, focusing on the positives and working hard to achieve the best you can at every hole.

That means never quitting on a hole because you’ve taken more shots than you’d like. It means making the best of a terrible previous shot to put you back in contention.


It’s very easy to give up on a social round if things don’t go too well, but even if you are not going to shoot your best score, you should still focus for the full round. You won’t learn anything playing golf for the sake of it. It doesn’t matter if you have shot 50 for the front 9, why not try and shoot the back nine in 40?


To retain focus it is a good idea to remain context-dependent. By that I mean, if you are suffering with a run of poor holes, then focus on the next being better. Alternatively, if you are playing well, your focus should be on maintaining and improving your situation (rather than thinking negatively and saying ‘I hope I can hold on to this…’).


A golfer who can focus on each and every shot, regardless of their score, is always going to get more from a round than someone who effectively quits halfway through because they are not playing as well as they hoped.




5. Self-Awareness – Play the shots you can play, not the ones you hope you can play

The final mental skill to learn is self-awareness about your golf game and in particular, knowing your strengths and limitations.


Too often, you will see a high handicap player find the rough or a hazard and instead of taking their medicine and hitting a relatively easy escape shot back onto the fairway, they’ll attempt a far more difficult shot, with a low percentage chance of success for even a high-skilled player.


As a result, a bad situation usually gets much worse as the ball travels deeper into the hazard, doesn’t get out of the hazard in the first place, or ends up nowhere near the intended target, often in a worse position from where they started.


Self-awareness is linked to course management and for each shot, you should be asking yourself to play a shot you have the highest percentage chance of success. For a beginner for example, if that means laying up on a long par four, for a chip onto the green and a putt for par, then do it. Especially as that is far more likely to result in a par than trying to thrash a 3-iron onto the green from over 200 yards.




Get the mental side of your game right as well as your shot making skills and you start to become a much better golfer as you’ll be playing the right shot, with the right club from the right position on the fairway, more often.


Images Courtesy of Gorilla Golf Stock


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The Grateful Golfer March 26, 2014


You have hit the nail on the head. If more beginners understood the challenges of golf, the more players would break 100!



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