Is This A Game . . . Or What?
I don't think anyone goes to the golf course without at least wanting to play to their potential, whatever that might be. Whether you are a tour professional, doing this for a living, or a casual weekend player who just wants to have fun, playing to your perceived potential just makes it all the must more enjoyable to be out there, doesn't it? This topic was stimulated by a question from Mike M., who asked:
I want so badly to play well. I practice a lot and read about the mental game, but when I go to the course, I just can't pull it off and hit the shots I do on the range. What can I do to take my range swing to the course and play to my potential?
Well, Mike, welcome to golf the way everyone plays it. There is not a player on earth, from the best tour pros on down, who hits it as well on the course as on the range. If you’ve ever been to a PGA Tour event and spent time on the range, you wonder how these guys ever miss a fairway or green. But it is said that the longest distance in golf is that from the range to the first tee. And there’s a lot of truth to that. On the range we are totally immersed in the swing and our mechanics, repeating the moves we are learning or have learned. Sure, there’s a target line we are aware of, but there is no penalty for missing it. And the fact that we are setting up the same way, ball after ball, does eliminate part of the process.

But the real culprit is what we call “pressure”. It might be a large wager, trying to impress your friends, or simply playing to what you perceive as your potential, but there is pressure when you are on the course. Bad shots have a penalty and good ones a reward. And the goal of all the mental coaches and trainers in golf is to figure out how to help each one of us deal with it the best way we can. And it sounds to me like you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself to perform. Lighten up!!!!

The funny thing about pressure is that it affects each of us differently. I have golf buddies who will play their best when the bets get right, but can’t get all that interested until they do. There are others that, if they stop to think about how much is riding on this hole or that shot, can’t execute to their best level.

Everyone has to find their own way to keep their “game face” on and perform to their best ability. But here are a few of my tips that might help.
1. Get small. If you find yourself thinking about how you’re scoring, or the size of the bet on the line or anything outside the shot at hand, “get small”. Rein in your thoughts to focus only on the exact shot you want to hit. Recall shots just like it that you’ve pulled off in the past, and the simple swing thoughts that were in your mind when you were hitting it well recently. There is really no such thing as a round of golf, it’s just one isolated swing event after another. Each one really has nothing to do with the one before or after. Stay small and get out of the moment if you need to.

2. Enjoy the process. Unless you are doing this for a living or playing for wagers that are too large, the main reason to be on the course is to enjoy the game itself and your friends, right? You’ve set aside the morning or afternoon to enjoy yourself, so make that your first priority. Take in the sights, and sounds, and feel of the golf course. Relish in the practice swings for each shot and the challenge of pulling it off. Give yourself a break.

3. Remove the pressure. If you put too much pressure on yourself to hit your best shots repeatedly, or to score well, it can take the fun out of the game. I recently dropped out of a game at our club because the other guys were there more for the “action” than for the golf. That isn’t why I’m out there at all. I really enjoy those guys, but after working at golf all week, I really don’t want to have to work that hard on the course to keep from losing my shirt. If you are not comfortable with the pressure that you feel on the course, change it.

4. Change your routine. If you’re finding that golf isn’t as much fun as you think it should be, stop to figure out why (that’s what I did above). And change the influences, whether they are from the outside or from within, that are taking the fun out of golf. This game is more fun when you play well, so find the routine that brings out your best more often than not.
So, Mike, I hope those tips help you relax and have more fun on the course. And if you guys have any other tips or ideas for Mike, chime and share them, OK?

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[ comments ]
mjaber says:
I've noticed that on the range, my swing is much smoother and easier. I'm not trying to kill the ball. When I get on the course, I'm trying to hit a certain distance, and I try to swing hard enough to get there with the club in hand. The better rounds I've played, I focused on simply making the swing and trusting that the ball will go that far.
lcgolfer64 says:
Super-timely article!
I've been going through the same exact thing the last few weeks to the point of not wanting to even play the game for a while (I was thinking of going to the emergency room... okay just kidding) But honestly 'nothing seemed to working mentally as of late and its directly translated into what I consider really BAD golf. 15 strokes off of what I would consider a good game - low to mid 80's.

Working on finding a way back to playing better mentally, and enjoying the process again!
Banker85 says:
well put mjaber, i am the same way when i relax and let the club do the work especially w/Driver i put it out there far enough and more consistent. When i try to kill it never works out ever. I dont feel pressure on the course, the only time is when i have an easy shot and start to think about flubing it.
dottomm says:
High Expectations are the number one contributor to disappointment.
Bryan K says:
The biggest difference for me on the range is that I'm making the same swing over and over again. This allows me to get into a groove and hit the ball well even when I'm swinging too hard. I've learned to never take more than 2-3 shots in a row with the same club while on the range in order to compensate. This makes me think a lot more about each shot, and it keeps me from getting into a groove.
Agustin says:
Another "small" difference between the range and the course are the lies we encounter. In 99.9% of the ranges I've seen you are hitting from a flat lie on eithera mat or natural grass mowed down to fairway or tee lenght. The % of shots on the cours you take from an ideal lie are few other than tee shots). Usually you fave rough, sand, and all sorts of uneven lies.

Every serious range should offer am area where you can practice iron shots, pitches and chips for various lie conditions. I most of us hir faiways les than 65% of the time why do we practice most of the time shots wiht perfect lie conditions?
Agustin says:
Darn it, should have used spell check... Apologies.
chief_broom says:
I'm no fan of the driving range. It has it's purpose and can be useful, but as far as I'm concerned I've hurt my game on the range as much as helped it. Last year I committed to spending a lot of time at the range on a regular basis (to the tune of hitting 5-10 buckets of balls a week) and while my game did improve overall it had nothing to do with the work I was putting in at the range. Late last year I joined a league that plays 18 twice a week and since the weather has warmed my game has improved more than at any other time in my life. Playing competative golf on a regular basis has taught me more about my swing than hitting thousands of range balls! Other's experience might be different, but golf isn't a game of rapid fire repetition, and figuring that out has helped my game.
mantajim says:
If you have more fun playing golf, you'll play better golf.
Not the other way around.
GolfSmith7 says:
@ Chief_broom I agree with you I hardly ever hit the range, what I do is play as many rounds as possible and grove my swing in actual game conditions. The range throws off my tempo.
stedar says:
Great question Mike M and well answered Wedge Guy :-)
The hardest battle on the course is not with anyone else, but oneself. A little friendly competition can raise the level of pressure, some times good, sometimes bad. When you step back and wonder why you scored what you did, it often comes back to something very small - what you were thinking about before making your swing.

For me, this article has helped put it all back into perspective...

birdieXris says:
I can't play to a high game right out of the gate unless i go to the range. When i head out to the grass, i can groove my tempo because there's no trees and no scrub to catch my errant shots. I barely look at where the ball is going, i just know that when i swing properly and remember my swing thoughts it's going to go right where i want it. Then when i get on the first tee i'm able to stripe it right down the middle. If i don't go to the range, it takes 2 or 3 holes to warm up and on some courses that can be really costly because it gets in my head like i should be playing better than i am - in reality though i'm just not warm.
Bryan K says:
@birdieXris: I think you got it right on the money. The best use of the range for me is to warm up. I don't need a half bucket to do it, either. I need about five swings with my driver, 2-3 with a hybrid, 2-3 with an iron, and 2-3 with a wedge...and I'm ready to go.

I spent a lot of hours on the range over the winter. It seemed like I was getting worse as the winter progressed, but once I hit the course this Spring, I did see a lot of improvement.
Swingem says:
@birdieXris & bjohn13- Agreed. I love dawn-patrol rounds but always play better when I get in some range time before a round. If I don't get time to warm-up before the round, I accept that the first three holes could cost some strokes (lower the expectation), and try to play more conservitive with club selection to minimize the damage. Related to changing routine; A couple months ago I started having a tough time putting. I've always putted pretty well (avg 1.8 putts per hole), with my glove on (too lazy to take it off), but suddenly couldn't lag anything within 5 ft. After a particularly bad start one day I began taking the glove off to putt, instant improvement, and its made a huge difference since.
DougE says:
Hitting a full bucket (or more) on the range is something I reserve for practice days. Blasting balls one after another, with no real focus does nothing for me on game day. Instead, before a round, I spend as much time as possible chipping and putting. I practice up & downs. I will chip 4 balls from off the practice green to a hole and then try to 1-putt all of them. If I can't do it, I start over. My short game gets really dialed in by doing this. Then I will make a quick stop at the range to hit a few pitch shots, some full wedge shots, and a couple mid-iron shots, focusing on tempo. Now with that same tempo, I will tee up the ball and visualize the first hole and hit driver, approach shot(and chip if my approach was not on target). Then I will pick a par 3 to visualize and virtually play that one too. In total I hit maybe 20 balls on the range and leave the rest of the bucket for someone else, before moving to the first tee. I am now warmed up (not overly so) and my tempo is set.
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