How I learned to play golf
That title is a little wrong. It should read “how I relearned to play golf”. There was a time when I was the perfect golfer. I had no fear and each time I played I would improve. Golf was truly enjoyable and I couldn’t wait to get to the golf course.
Then something happened. I changed. I expected more and I became frustrated at poor shots. There was also swing changes – more shoulder turn, improve swing plane and less pivot on the way down. You know the kind of stuff – probably the things you’ve tried in the past.
Before long I wasn’t playing golf anymore. I was lost. Frustrated. And working harder then ever at my game.
It took a while but I was able to reignite my A-game and then learn how to play the best golf of my life. Since starting this golf blog I’ve been asked things like: “What helped get you back on track?”, “What moment inspired you to make a change for the better?”, “What series of events helped you unlock your game and truly grasp the secrets of the golf improvement process?” and “What did you do to change your approach?”
These are not easy questions to answer. I’ve reread the previous post and comments many times. I’ve taken some notes. I’ve spent time contemplating what I did and how I achieved my golfing success. Here’s a list of things that I think are crucial.
Every shot is important
I came to realise that every golf shot I played was important. A two-foot putt on the practice green and the closing drive in a tournament all require full attention. In a moment of clarity I started playing every shot like it was my last.
The quality of my practice and performance on the golf course improved considerably once all shots had my full attention. The only real skill needed here is discipline. Patience doesn’t hurt either.
I woke up
The fuzziness of the white zone was left behind as I woke up. I started feeling my swing – and I mean really feel it. I started to become aware of everything that was going on from the moment I walked to the ball, right through until the swing finished. I learned that I had been asleep – not aware what was happening with my swing (and not much else either).
And don’t confuse this with analysis. Awareness is different than analysis – a lot different.
Removal of self-doubt
This one is obvious but golfers still continue to let self-doubt get in the way. Concern about your score, your swing, playing partners, the future and the past are a waste of time and effort. Self-doubt has no positive affect on your game.
When I stopped the worry golf got simpler. I used less energy and had more fun. Self-doubt is a killer – learn to eradicate it from your game and you will improve.
For me the big change was made when it became more annoying to play with self-doubt then to rely on it as a security blanket. This is a big step to make but a worthwhile one.
Power of proper distraction
Part of my development was learning to control my mind. When I discovered techniques to distract my conscious mind and play subconsciously, amazing things happened.
I have written about this process in great depth on this website. Check out these pages for the full story.
Let me make another point: The automatic process is the road map on how to play golf with confidence and consistency. Automatic golf is HOW you play one shot at a time and maximise your full potential.
I’ve recently named that little annoying voice in your head Pesky. I’ve learned that he is never going to go away. He wants to feel wanted and he really wants you to listen to him.
But you have to ignore him. Thank him for caring so much but you can’t listen to him. Over time his contribution will lessen. He will become less powerful and you’ll better be able to play automatic golf.
Ignoring him is different from fighting him. Fighting Pesky is hard work. Acknowledge his presence and move on. This is a vital difference that needs attention.
Stop telling stories and making excuses
This was a huge thing for me. Stories are just excuses for a poor shot.
“I lifted my head and swung too quickly” is a story to justify the poor shot. It’s highly unlikely to be the truth. My advice is to stop analysing and trying to work out what you’re doing wrong. You’ve already made the mistake so move on. There’s nothing you can do about it.
Stopped worrying about others
Tournament golf used to be a nightmare for me. I would consistently worry about what others were thinking about me. My game lacked purpose because I was over thinking and analysing the situation. When I realised this worry was stupid and a waste of energy I made progress.
People are more concerned about their own game anyway.
In what will seem like a paradox, trying too hard fails with golf. Here’s a little story that sums up my thinking here.
A former tennis pro was staying with me over the weekend. He has had trouble with his putting. Without any prompting he went on to tell me that prior to playing he always spends a few minutes on the putting green. He places two or three balls on the green and almost always sinks a few long putts. He always knocks in the short putts and then quickly rushes to the 1st tee. He is giving the task little thought.
Then the problem starts. On the golf course he is thinking about how hard to putt. He is worried about the line. He thinks about what will happen if (and when) he misses. He is trying hard. He is making putting harder than it needs to be.
I told him he needs to take that relaxed mindset to the 1st tee. It works well on the practice green and can do wonders on the course too.
To play your best golf you’ve got to stop trying so hard. “Let it happen” is a common catch cry. It’s good advice. It’s another way of saying, “get out of your own way”.
Why do I play?
This is getting deep and meaningful but bear with me because it’s important.
Too many of us play for selfish reasons. We want to hit the ball further, play nice shots and look good to our friends. While these are OK – they sometimes can be hard to control and measure. This makes them difficult to achieve, so they become worthless.
I have found when I set out to achieve obtainable goals things start happening. Here’s a few things that generally get too much attention:
- Length of drive
I’ve moved away from traditional golfing goals in recent years. My basic goal now is to perform each shot as automatically as possible. This forces me to give each shot full attention and usually takes care of all the superficial stuff.
There’s also a part of me that wants to play golf as art. While this is hard to quantify but I usually know when it happens. It feels good and makes golf far more enjoyable. This is also getting away from focusing too much on the score – something which can lead to major breakthroughs.
It’s all about playing
This one is straight to the point.
Real golfers care more about playing golf than practice.
Playing golf is when golf can become an art. Hard to do if you spend too much time on the practice fairway.
By practicing less I actually improved my play.
I’ve also found that playing the game is more important than doing what you think is right.
The walk to the ball is vitally important
This has become a fundamental of the automatic process. When I realised this (it took a while but suddenly hit me like a tonne of bricks) and then mastered the walk to the ball the game really did become simpler. My golf swing took care of itself and I had a system for beating nerves and self-doubt.
The proper walk to the ball leads to automatic golf. And automatic golf is easier than any other method or system I’ve tried.
The tools are tools – the most important factor is the system
When you understand what you need to do for good play you keep doing it. There’s no need to change – just keep repeating time after time.
There’s also no need to be distracted with fancy technology, swing tips and gimmicks.
A fancy tool might look good in your bag but it really can’t help you – the important factor is the system.
And the final thought is this:
You don’t get automatic golf – you are it. The process should become part of who you are. It’s present each time you play and you should be starting now. Automatic golf doesn’t happen when you start playing well – great golf happens when you start performing automatically. It’s never the other way around.