The "Other Side"
I have written this blog for four years now, and the body of content here is getting rather extensive. I get emails regularly from new readers who’ve taken time to go back and read various posts about equipment and technique and have told me they’ve found “pearls of wisdom” in the archives that have helped them improve their golf games. Those are the rewards for taking the time to write this every Tuesday and Friday morning.

One area I haven’t spent nearly as much time on is the mental side of this crazy game we all have chosen. That was brought to my attention by Chris M., who wrote in asking:
“Most of your articles provide valuable information with regards to the mechanics of golf swings and the equipment. But do you have any tips or help which have been passed on to you with regards to the mental side of golf? Pre-shot routines, confidence triggers, etc.?
Well, Chris, you’ve touched on a whole other aspect to this crazy game. And I am happy to indulge in this side, as I think it is at least important as the technical prowess one achieves. I think the most important aspect of the mental side of golf is to develop a pre-shot routine that gives you the highest chances for your best performance on each swing. No matter how you look at this game, or what your skill level, it still boils down to a rather disconnected sequence of individual golf shots which are quite dissimilar from the one before. Think of that for a moment.

Your opening drive is followed by an approach shot with a club that is up to a foot shorter and has 3-5 times the loft – two very different swings and objectives. That is followed by either a putt or greenside recovery . . . again, very different from the immediately prior shot. The last swing before the next drive was a short putt most likely. This sequence of very dissimilar swings makes this game difficult. And the only way to achieve a measure of success is to “lose yourself” for a minute or so in each shot you face.

You can have all the fun with your buddies and playing companions you want. No one has to “concentrate” for 4 hours. But if playing well is important, you do need to block out all the distractions and focus on the shot at hand for a half-minute or so before each shot. And that is easiest to achieve if you have a set pre-shot routine that provides a “trigger” to get you into the right frame of mind before each shot. For some, it is pulling the club from the bag. Others use the tightening of the Velcro tab on their glove. There are many triggers to use to get you in the zone to allow your golf swing to “do it’s thing.” Find yours.

There are some very good books on this subject, and I certainly cannot even attempt to dive into details in this column, but I’m convinced that almost all bad shots are caused by a failure to put ourselves in position to do our best at that very moment. Most bad shots are the result of a disconnect between our mind and body. We didn’t have a clear picture of the shot we were trying to execute, so our learned swing didn’t have a chance. We didn’t focus on the details of our set-up, so the ball position was incorrect. We didn’t rehearse the swing required for the shot at hand. We still were fuming about the last shot we hit poorly, or a botched up hole. Or we had other things on our mind from home, work, etc.

Some of my favorite books on the mental side are “Golf’s Sacred Journey” by David Cook, and Tim Gallwey’s “The Inner Game of Golf”, but there are many that are great. One or two should be in your golf book library, for regular return and refreshment. I’m sure you readers have your favorites too, so share them with Chris and the rest of us, OK?
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[ comments ]
DoubleDingo says:
I have to admit that I have tweaked my pre-shot routine. I take a practice swing to see where the club wants to hit the ground, and adjust ball placement accordingly, and of course what type of swing for the shot at hand is how I determined the ball placement. It has worked well thus far, but is still new for me.
bkuehn1952 says:
The idea of a "trigger" for the shot routine is interesting. I try to not pull a club until the group in front has cleared out and it is my turn to play. It has become almost second nature. However, at times I catch myself pulling a club and then standing around waiting. While it is not guaranteed that I will hit a poor shot, it sure seems like deviating from the routine increases the number of poor shots that follow. Something to work on.
ppinkert says:
I've started a new routine that I am finding some good luck with to start and end the shot process for me. A way of bringing peace to my swing and help me be in the swing. I start behind the ball looking at the shot to be made, and then say a mini prayer talking to JC about what we are going to do, and then once the shot is done (for better or worse) I thank JC for his help. So far it has help me find a my quiet place before, and during the shot. Following sage advice I try to not think of the next shot until I am lined up behind it looking down the fairway and JC and I can have a chance to talk about it.
aaronm04 says:
"Golf is not a game of Perfect" by Bob Rotella really helped me.
bducharm says:
"Putting Out of Your Mind" by Dr. Bob Rotella is a great book as well.
Paolo says:
Ppinkert... J.C. ? J.C. Snead ? Sam's nephew? Good guy to help I guess.
legitimatebeef says:
"Golf is a not a game of perfect" helped me too and I didn't even read the thing. The title alone helps me. Plus I thumbed through a copy of "Putting Out of Your Mind" at the bookstore, I think I just read the preface and that alone made an impact on me. I didn't even have to buy it. But I guess now I owe Dr. Bob a couple of bucks for his help.
Paolo says:
I've started approaching a tee box with my mates, chatting and putting the world to rights. When it's my turn, the velcro goes across the glove, tee peg goes in the ground, I step back behind the ball and picture the shot. Practice swing, step forward, swing and send the ball down the fairway (hopefully). I find having a process like this and something to focus on stops any unnecessary doubts creeping in and a similar thing off the fairway minus the tee peg.
jrbizzle says:
I play a lot of solo golf, so often find myself backed up and waiting. One thing I've found what really helps me is I don't watch the group in front of me (i.e. don't stare at the target) until they clear. I'll face to the side or even turn around and take some slow swings to stay loose and keep the mind clear. I used to find when watching the group in front I'd get too frustrated by seeing them do stupid "slow play" moves or I'd start over-thinking hazards and the shot.

I'll check in here and there and once they're clear, and only then do I start looking at the target and start my pre-shot routine (look down line behind ball, walk around and in, address, one more look and go).
ppinkert says:
@Paolo: JC = Jesus Christ
Envythepea says:
@ppinkert: that's too many players on the tee box. JK!
mattyk695 says:
I start off by looking at my shot and taking a practice swing to see where my club hits the ground. I back off and look at my shot from behind the ball and pick out a target about four inches in front of my ball that is in line with my target. This really helps me feel that my aim is correct as soon as i take my grip. Then i do one of two things...hit a good shot or bad shot :)
shaffer1969 says:
I'm a fan of Dr. Bob Rotella as well. "The Golfer's Mind" and "Putting Out of Your Mind" have really changed my attitude on the course.
blundermuz says:
Some good points taken but, sounds like a visit to Amazon to buy some literature. Chris M
blundermuz says:
Of all the shot routines I've seen I like the look of Jason Days? Anyone have any views on that?
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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