“I’m no good”, “I never hit good shots”, some days Pesky can rule your mind and fill it with all sorts of garbage.
And it can get worse.
The next step is you start believing him. You keep making up stories like, “yeah, I always miss those little putt”, “last week I hit it out of bounds” etc etc. It’s like you give Pesky a reason to keep coming back.
Here’s my take.
You have all the necessary talent to play great golf. You really do. Maybe you’re not going to win the Club Championships or compete with a golf pro, but you’ve been playing long enough and you have enough skill to play better golf than you do right now.
The trick is to ignore Pesky, you can’t fight him because he is always there. You’ve gotta accept he is there but not give him any power. This is difficult but possible.
For me, when there’s lots of internal conversation and story telling happening, it’s a sign that I need to get back to basics and play golf. Playing golf is my term to swing freely and hit the shots that feel good to me. “Playing Golf” gives Pesky the cold shoulder – he won’t like this and he’ll try really hard to creep back in. But you can’t let him.
So don’t worry if the odd bad thought comes in, it’s going to happen. Just don’t give them any power by believing them and making up more stories.
Controlling Pesky is a learned skill, it’s really up to you to take control. So please don’t tell me you’re no good if you keep listening to (and believing) him.
Golf always gives you a next shot. You can hit a terrible shot over the fence or have a shocker of a day and console yourself with the fact there is always the next shot or the next round.
But the problem with this is you can fall into some poor thinking. Because you get another go you might not be giving the shot at hand your best effort. You’re not really getting into the ideal mindset for mastering your game.
A better mindset is,
How would I approach this shot if it was the last one I was ever going to hit?
Absolutely not. This mindset changes the game. You’ve got nothing to fall back on and you’re attention is snapped back into the moment. And this is exactly where your mind needs to be.
Stop thinking “next” and focus on “last”.
Here’s a better way to practice golf.
Don’t keep practicing success. Push yourself a little so you make a few errors and you feel a little uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean you try the impossible shot – but strive to reach for those shots that seem slightly out of reach. Why?
Because this is how you learn. By feeling and experiencing something new you’ll grow. You’ll change gears and get a little better.
The temptation is to only hit the shot you know you’ll hit well – to practice success. But if you’re going to make inroads and see improvement, you’ve got to be prepared to experience some failure. Here’s a list of things you might want to try next time you’re in a paddock with a few stray golf balls.
I’m sure you can add a few more.
The thing is this: The ideal golf practice session doesn’t need to consist of 100 perfectly struck towering drives – like that’s going to happen anyway.
It’s more likely that your perfect practice session is going to be where you’ve struggled, felt uncomfortable and made all sorts of funny errors. It might even be that you didn’t actually notice success. This is all OK – the skill is in going through the exercise, not hitting perfect shots.
It’s good to be back after a short spell. I’ve used the break to spend some time thinking about my game and what I’d like to achieve. The upshot of my thinking is that I’ve been working too many hours and not doing enough I’ve what I really enjoy doing.
And that is to get out and play golf. Hopefully I can live up to my conviction and play a little bit more and turn my computer off when it really doesn’t need to be on. Time will tell.
The last two weeks I’ve been playing a bit with the young guns around my club. They remind me a lot about how I used to be. Looking for the perfect shot, practising heaps and generally expecting to play well all of the time.
They’re also looking for the fancy tip or swing secret to find their best game. In fact, they’re always searching, not content to put up with what they’ve got and truly enjoy their game.
This got me thinking about my own game. If I’m truly honest my swing skills haven’t changed that much over the journey. The shots I can play today are exactly the same as I could play 10 years ago. There’s absolutely nothing I can do today that I couldn’t do last century.
The big difference today is I can more often than not hit the right shot at the right time. I have minimised the chances of stuffing up. I can play under pressure and don’t get distracted by all the noise.
Here’s the thing.
Great golf requires you to find your shot and keep doing it time after time. It’s almost boring because you’re no longer looking for the secret or magical swing tip. You turn up and play the shot (or shots) you know you can hit.
The young guns were almost surprised at how I play. They were expecting me to have some fancy way of approaching the game and seemed disappointed when I told them otherwise. Fancy fails. Learn to master your way first and then, and only then, should you look elsewhere.
After years of searching for “my way” I’ve still got lots to learn and I’m not about to change anytime soon.
My main point is this. If you’ve been playing for more than a few years the chances are it’s unlikely you’re going to suddenly start hitting the ball better than you do now. You’ve reached your potential, there’s no more magic to be found. Your real success is in learning how to find your real game and then bringing that game to the course. There’s nothing much else you can do.
Enjoy what you’ve got because it really isn’t that bad.
I watched you play today. You may not have noticed but I was watching every move you made. I saw some things I liked and there were some things I didn’t like too much. I don’t want you to think I’m bashing you because I’m not.
You have all the skill and talent to be a great player. But you’re making some common mistakes that are holding you back and unless you become aware of them you’ll always struggle with your game.
At this point you’re in that nasty place where lots of players are – you have a nice swing, you can hit some good shots and you have potential oozing from your pores.
But you’re not really playing golf.
And you can’t play the golf of your dreams because you’re falling for the trap of trying to be “perfect” at all parts of your game.
Let me explain.
Western life drums into us that we need to practice hard and become good at everything. The thought of a well-rounded game makes most golfers get excited.
You get the idea.
But I think trying to be all these things is not a good thing. Because you’re always thinking (and being distracted) on how to improve each area of your game.
“How do I hit a draw with my driver?”, “If I could only hit a lob shot like James”, “Why do I struggle with bunker shots?”
These thoughts take you away from the joy of playing golf. In fact, continual thoughts of improvement will consistently hold you back.
So what’s the solution?
You’ve got to break through the self-doubt and have the guts to play your way.
You need to find your mojo. Discover a way of playing that suits you perfectly. You must master your way first – then and only then should you start looking at doing something a little differently.
Stand up on the tee, get comfortable and make the best swing you can. You’re completely comfortable in the fact that your fade (or draw, hook or slice) is your shot and that’s the way it’s gunna be.
You aim your iron shot at the front of the green because the big bunker at the back right is protecting the pin. And you know deep down that your bunker play is no good so there’s no point in trying to hit a shot that gets close to the pin. There’s no point in risking exposing your weakness.
You feel good on the green so you hit your putts with confidence. You knock the shorts putts into the back of the cup and you’re not scared to give the long putts a go.
It doesn’t matter what your situation, you keep coming back to the shots that feel good to you. Nothing changes the way you approach the game. You keep doing the same things over and over. Boring? A little. Effective? Absolutely!
You can’t play remarkable golf unless you first master your own game. As much as it would be great to be an expert at all levels, it’s not realistic. Even the great players continually go on about how they have to keep working at their game and fixing their faults. Their continual effort doesn’t not seem to be helping – they’re never happy and always searching.
But the true masters? They’re unbeatable because they know what works for them and they wouldn’t change for anyone. They have the courage to play their shot each time they play, despite Pesky and tradition yelling at them to do something differently.
Timbo, find the shots you like and you know you can perform successfully. Then go to these shots each time you play. At all costs avoid hitting the shots you know deep down are not you.
The more simply you approach playing golf the better you’ll do.
Problems arise when you make a mistake and Pesky wants to assert his power. The normal thing (what you’re probably doing now) is to think and try and work out what you’re doing wrong. This is complicated. It takes effort and almost always leads to you jumping from thing to thing. It fails.
Automatic golf makes a complicated task as easy as it’s going to be. Each step is simple and easy to follow and maximises the chances of you achieving success.
And don’t confuse simple with ineffective. The automatic process works because it takes something detailed and gives you a method of executing successfully. Also, simple in this case is definitely not a quick fix or some kind of magic.
Here are the main steps:
Einsteining allows you to think, panic and worry without affecting the outcome – this is ideal for those technocrats that struggle to “stop thinking” and like to analyse every detail of each shot.
The walk to the ball ensures your remain in the zone and avoid distractions – this part of the swing I consider to be of most importance. Get the walk to the ball correct and you’re almost certain to avoid distractions (both internal and external) and make a good shot.
The Automatic Cue distracts you for the duration of the swing so self-doubt and fear have no way of interfering – this becomes your security blanket and “go to” guy on every shot you play.
None of these are hard to do. But because of their simplicity they’re easy to overlook and ignore. Golfers far and wide want to over think the game of golf and add unnecessary steps to the process. It’s these extra steps (and processes) that kill the simplicity of automatic golf.
My final point: If you’re ever in doubt take a simpler approach. Think less about what you’re doing. Take a deep breath, listen to your gut and walk up to the ball and hit it. I can almost guarantee you that all of the other garbage that you’ve been carrying around has been holding you back. Simple wins almost every time.
If you want to be the best player you can be then you’ve got to play. There’s no point in hiding on the practice fairway or playing the same course over and over.
So get out there and play. Play as many different courses and events that you can. This will take you out of your comfort zone for a little while and increase anxiety levels – but there is a way to combat that.
Here’s how a Pioneer prepares for a round of golf:
In an ideal world you’ll treat every round as the same. This works in theory but it’s much harder in reality. Important rounds will always increase our desire to do well. This is a good thing because if you know how to control the nerves you can play even better.
The first step is to relax and avoid panicking. Lots of golfers (including me before I worked it out) will change their routine completely before the big game. They’ll practice more, they’ll get to the course too early and worry and stress about certain holes and upcoming shots. The short answer is don’t.
Stick to what you normally do and you’ll be in good shape.
Practice rounds: If you get the chance to see a new course then you’ve obviously got to take it. But don’t fall for the trap of trying to shoot record scores or even worrying about your score during practice. These rounds have one purpose. And that is to learn the course. Study the course, learn the bounces and how the ball rolls. Never get suckered into playing matches during practice rounds – they are for learning the course.
Another fantastic tip is to walk the course backwards. Start on the 18th green and make your way through the course back to the first tee. This gives you the best view of the course. You can learn about the best landing zones and see all potential trouble. I often think this exercise is better than playing the course.
Game plan: Your practice rounds will give you an idea how to play the course. I’d like you to stick to the shots you like best. Sometimes this means that you’ll hit irons when others are smashing the driver – don’t let this worry you – your plan is for YOU only.
Your game plan needs to be flexible. But don’t fall for the mistake of getting too aggressive. In most cases a flexible plan will mean you gear back. Taking less club and aiming away from the trouble will mean you’ll swing with more confidence.
Most of all you have to listen to your gut. The game plan is not set in stone – you’ve got to trust your instincts and learn to live with that.
Pre round: This is the time to warm up. You are not making swing changes or trying to find your swing. If you don’t panic your natural swing will present itself. It can be a good idea to avoid the practice fairway altogether – there’s too much distraction there. All the others tweaking, searching and disrupting you is not a good thing.
If the golf course has a practice net use that. Start slowly and gradually get your body moving. Remember, you are hitting balls to warm up. There is no need to tweak and alter your swing. An automatic golfer doesn’t judge and rate his practice performance – he is simply getting ready to play.
The same goes for the short game. Unless you think the greens have changed dramatically there’s probably not much need to speed time on the putting and chipping green. Automatic golfers don’t lose their skill – it’s there waiting for you. So use the short game areas if you feel the need – but don’t waste time and energy attempting every conceivable shot.
Opening tee shot: This is important Timbo. My advice here is to take the longest club you feel confident hitting. Then you’ve got to do your best to let go, relax and let the shot happen. If you can get good at this you’ll maximise your chances of hitting a great one.
Too often I see golfers get scared. They swing carefully and simply attempt to guide the ball. Don’t be shy. Learn to hit the ball with authority and without fear.
Here’s another point: Your opening tee shot is the best one to stuff up because you have the rest of the round to recover. So let rip – you don’t have anything to lose.
Random thoughts: Here’s a few more things that popped into my head.
That’s it for today Timbo. Next lesson we’ll talk about some on course strategies.
For some time now I’ve said that “the walk to the golf ball” is the most important part of the swing.
There’s good reason for this. If you can’t walk properly, then you’ll never be able to make good use of your skills. You’ll never be able to automate your golf swing and you’ll find consistent, reliable and predictable results impossible.
A key part of the approach to the ball is where your eyes look. It’s such a small part of the routine that it doesn’t get a run in any other golf instruction. But it’s important. Actually, where your eyes focus is a key fundamental of the routine.
You don’t want to be visualising when you’re walking to the ball. Visualising is taking your mind into the future. Going into the future is no better than thinking about the past. If you don’t get this you’ll always struggle with your game. Automatic golf is all about getting your system in the present. You want to be in the moment – your thoughts in the “now”.
And one of the easiest ways to do this is to focus your eyes on the ball. When you’re walking to the ball your gaze is set on the ball or somewhere around it. You’re not looking at the target and therefore you’re not tempted to get ahead of yourself and start thinking about the future.
This little strategy allows you to get into your own cocoon or bubble. It’s like you’re shutting out the rest of the world when you’re ready to get down to business – hitting the ball/playing golf.
I have put some videos that talk about the walk to the ball and getting set in more detail. There’s even a case study or two. Best you check them out because they are really important:
Let me know your thoughts.
I see that you’ve been helping others around the place. This is important and something that I encourage. It’s not something that is widely known but if you really want to learn something to the master level then the best way is to teach and help others.
It might seem a bit airy fairy but I encourage you to keep going with it. By explaining, teaching and thinking of others forces your brain to go deep. You’ve got to think outside the square, you’ve got to experiment and most importantly you get to make mistakes.
All this helps you learn and improve further. Making mistakes might seem like the wrong thing to do – but it actually fast tracks your progress. There’s nothing like working out what doesn’t work and then finding an alternative. The modern world is full of people that are stuck – too scared to move in any direction, fearful they might do something wrong.
So make mistakes and move on quickly. You’ll leapfrog all those statues who think mistakes are bad.
Automatic golf might be the single best discovery I’ve made with my golf game. But learning to share it with others has allowed me to apply it to my game and actually experience the magic of remarkable golf. It’s my little golfing secret that far too few people will ever experience.
If you ever feel you’re stuck and not moving forward, spend a few minutes with someone else. Help them with their chipping, talk to them about automatic golf, demonstrate your routine or write down your thoughts and share it with a golfing buddy. It will unlock the shackles and have you back on track.
Keep up the good work. There’s more to come.
This is the second letter in the Timbo series. To gain access to them all you will need to become a member of The Golf Tribe
Stuffing up the last few holes seems to be a common problem. Just this week I received an email from Julie who managed to lose the last four holes in her match to finish square. This type of thing can be incredibly frustrating and unless you have a strategy, it can keep happening time and again.
In this lesson I’ll give you my ideas for combating choking. In fact, the golf lessons below will make you bullet-proof and enable you to finish off every golf game in style. Before I get going check out Julie’s email below:
Can you help me with a specific problem I have just developed? My last 9 rounds are in my “top ten” cards all within one or so of my handicap. This is not a good thing cos the more it has gone on, the more I have noticed how I tend to tighten up on the last couple of holes (trying to protect a good score). I was willing to try and work through this but today I played the first pennant match of the season. I was dormie 4 up and ended with a squared match. Good grief… Cam, I know the theory.. play automatically every hole..shut the door on the opposition.. play not to to protect a good position but go all out to see how low you can score etc….
Any thoughts on a method I can work on to overcome this reluctance to get out of the comfort zone and play freely?
Here’s my best thoughts on how to stop choking on the golf course:
This one is important. Many get the two confused and if you don’t understand it you’ll repeatedly stuff up when the pressure is on. Here’s the Cameron version.
Choking is when you think too much and panicking is when you don’t think enough. This might sound confusing but it’s really simple. The process for learning and then implementing it is outlined in full here. (it’s premium content and requires full membership).
Next is a brief rundown.
Sometimes you need to think – water, wind, trouble, and what club to hit. The thinking is done before the act of hitting the ball. Automatic golf is not about NOT thinking all of the time. It’s about learning to know HOW to use your brain and subconscious mind together to give you the results you want.
Stop your wheels spinning is a term I use to calm the mind. When the pressure is on it’s normal for your little brain motor to go into over drive. Boy is this hard work and tiring. Learn to relax, slow down and I promise you’ll play better and find extra energy and enthusiasm.
This little step goes against the norm. Society wants us to think, analyse and try and work out every detail. It’s normal but it’s not going to help you swing a long stick and hit a tiny ball sitting on the ground when your heart is racing and you’re having trouble breathing.
Give yourself a break. Take it easy and you’ll do just fine.
Don’t make up stories. These are lies that you tell yourself to justify poor (or good) golf. Your mum told you that lies are a bad thing and they are. On the golf course these little lies keep you from the moment and hide exactly what is in front of you.
Want an example?
You miss a small putt on the 1st and second green. Walking to the third tee you’re telling yourself that you can’t putt and that you’re the worst putter in the world. This is a story. The truth (reality) is that you’ve missed two tricky putts and everyone misses these from time to time.
Did anyone see Phil Mickelson in the third round of the Masters?
This might be the most important. I’m pretty sure that winners in all walks off life don’t let any situation change them. They keep doing the same thing over and over again. The less experienced let a big decision affect them. A nervous golfer will change their approach at the worst possible time.
Keep playing the same way. Trust that you’ve got to play the same way that put you in the pressure situation. Changing over the last few holes because you feel a little uncomfortable or nervous is going to destroy your round.
This is a Pesky thing. Keep him at bay and you’ll reap the rewards of all your hard work and earlier stellar play.
The adult mind likes to take control and feel a part of your success. It’ll start writing the victory speech and prepare you for how you’ll feel at the finish line. Unfortunately this needs to be ignored – despite this feeling comfortable and the right thing to do.
Stuffing up when you least want it comes from not understanding your system. In most cases you’ll destruct when you stop hitting the shots you know you can hit successfully. You overload your system with too much and forget about the best part of the game.
As always let me know your thoughts and feel free to share this post with anyone who you think would like it.
For a comprehensive approach to mastering your game and avoiding the nasty habit of choking, check out the premium content in The Golf Tribe