Ruts and Grooves... Getting Out and Staying In
Two of the hardest things to accept, understand and deal with in this crazy game is the cycle of “ruts and grooves” that we seem to slip in and out of. By “rut”, I mean those periods when your ball striking, chipping, putting or entire game just get into a funk and you can’t seem to escape them. And by “groove”, I’m referring to those times where you are just “on” and probably aren’t sure why. You want to stay in that zone but it might last a few holes or a few rounds, and then it’s gone.

I’m speaking of personal experience here because my ball striking got in a rut around Christmas when I got a light, low sprain in my left ankle, which caused me all kinds of swing problems. Then it just got worse, it seemed. I wrote about this a while back. So, what I did was spend additional time on the range, working on set-up, ball position and alignment, so that I could allow my swing to “find itself”. And I began seeing progress. I went back to basics which have inspired some posts recently – left side dominant, pre-shot routine, etc.

The fact is that if your game – or part of it – gets in a rut, you need to change things up to get out. GO TO THE RANGE. Begin by focusing on your set-up, alignment, grip pressure and basics. Hit some shots at 30-50% speed so that you can feel what’s going on in the swing. Forget results and focus on process. LEARN what it is that is causing your funk. When we hit one or two bad shots, we tense up, we press ourselves, and that causes tighter grip pressure and less attention to the basics, and more of a “hit” at the ball than a swing of the club. Disaster begets disaster usually.

So, to get your golf game out of a rut, put yourself into another comfort zone. It takes a little focus and time, but the results are well worth it. And remember, nobody ever said this game was easy.

To escape my rut, I spent a few two-hour sessions on the range, hitting hundreds of short chips and pitches just to work on tempo and get comfortable that I could shift my weight to my left side without hurting my ankle (learning to trust my ankle brace!). I paid very close attention to alignment, ball position and grip pressure. And I worked on tempo to get slower.

Well, last weekend, my buddy and I played in our first big tournament of the spring, and I made my mind up that I was going to play loose and confident. On each shot . . . most of the time . . . I stayed “in the moment” with that shot, and stayed with my pre-shot routine and swing thought. Maybe reading my own stuff works, because I hit the ball better than I have in 15 years it seems. I was in a “groove” that wouldn’t quit. We ended up making 13 birdies in 36 holes and winning by five shots over the next team. My pre-shot routine was focused on set-up, alignment and target, and my only swing thought was to feel the end of the backswing to keep my tempo from getting too fast. At home that evening, I made myself a note card of exactly that so that I can use those triggers to see how long I can perpetuate this groove.

I’m sure I won’t hit the ball that well every time I play, but I have something to build on and some triggers to help me find that groove more often as I progress through this season. I know the same processes I went through will work for you, whether you’re trying to get out of a rut or into a groove.

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[ comments ]
svj says:
i think, the thought of feeling the end of your back swing is amazing idea. i get super fast with my hands and i think that, will put the tempo back in the swing.. wedge guy, you the man..
birdieXris says:
i seem to be in a pretty big rut now. I'll have to try those things on the range and see if i can't get out. Perhaps Sergio Garcia should be reading this... anybody see his play yesterday?
lcgolfer64 says:
Another good one by Terry, thanks! I found out just last night - couldn't find a shot in any of wedges, fullswing, chipping, etc. I sttod over the ball earlier in the week and found myself saying: 'How do I hit this?.." if was a straight wedge shot from about 80 out, and I was at a loss. Same thing occurred around greens, it was just plain ugly! Spent over an hour yesterday between the range and the chipping green before the round. -10 strokes difference!
Banker85 says:
ya the back swing tempo tip is great, i like to almost come to a complete stop for a split second at the top which keeps my tempo flowing nicely. I say enjoy the grooves when you get em they wont last they never do. the basics are key to to hitting consistent shots that has been huge for me this year. I played 36 last week and on my 2nd front 9 i shot an even 35 first time in my life it was just a great ball striking day for me if the putter was on i would have been a couple under at the turn easy but it wasnt, always seems like one aspect of my game is missing, if i am striking well putter is off, if putts are rolling my driver is eratic i love this game.
Agustin says:
Unfortunately my ruts are far more common than my groves; and last much longer as well. I've also noticed that often I experience bot at the same time. During the same round I may be on fire with my driver and not hit a single crisp iron. On other occasions I'm striking the ball true only to get to the green a 3-put every time. This drives me mad.

The one thing I've noticed when I've been "in the zone" is that it's been mental more than anything. My mind is at ease, and I can "see" my swing in my mind's eye. At address I can actually see my swing plane and club path, and my whole swing seems to happen in slow motion. When my putt is on fire; when I read the green I actually see the entire line of the put appear and as soon as I strike it I just know it's dropping in the cup.

Too bad these moments are few an far between.
Agustin says:
The best advice I can give it that when you happen to be on just sit back and enjoy the ride. And when you are in a rut don't stress, it will pass.... eventually. This is when the bar cart helps me enjoy the round anyway ;)
Banker85 says:
Well put Agustin, it is really frustrating for me because i know i can hit the shot i envision. Really sky is the limit for my game i feel like i can do what i want w/ the ball 99% of the time, but it only happens maybe 60-70% of the time. When i carded a 77 it was my best ball striking day i ever had, i mean any tee shot or approach felt automatic but my putting was atrocious. I don't think there is a worse feeling than hitting the GIR and then 3 putting. This has been a trend so far this season so i am going to have to suck it up and spend some time practicing my putting which is the most boring thing while golfing a round unless you are holing out on a regular basis. For now I am blaming my new putter.
Banker85 says:
When i am in a groove it is all 100% confidence, not thinking things like "hope i don't chunk this." Being confident in what you want to do allows your mind to free itself of the negative thoughts about what could go wrong.
mjaber says:
I have found that when I get into a "funk" on the course, there is always 1 club that I'm hitting well, usually a 7- or 8-iron. To enjoy the round, I'll use that club almost exclusively for my full swing shots, even if I know that it's not going to get me to the green. After a few holes with just that club, I'll get some of my confidence back in my swing, and start adding in clubs again.
scottccherry says:
I went through the worst rut I've ever been in over the winter months, but I'm clawing my way out little by little. Just recently, I changed my routine to include saying, out loud, "I love this shot." just before I address the ball. I have found, similarly to Banker85, is that saying this instills confidence and allows me to swing freely and without negative thoughts.
golfray says:
Wedgeguy, It would be nice if you would post some scores. I see another poster here who has lots of advice but is a 28 handicap. We'd be more inclined to follow your suggestions if we could see how it's working out for you.
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