Playing Your Best
We spent most of May and June talking about golf clubs and shafts, so I thought I would change gears a little as we head into summer. By now, most of you have been getting in the rounds that have shaken off winter rust, and are seeing some consistency in scoring coming around. Some are probably in the middle of a commitment to play better in 2010 than ever before, and have spruced up your game with some lessons, a little more practice and possibly even a new equipment purchase or two. And some, I’m sure, are just playing as much as you can fit in, and hoping for a good round each time you go out. Today’s article is to try to help you make that happen more often.

No matter what our experience, ability and handicap, all of us golfers have one thing in common. We want to play the best we can every time we tee it up. But unfortunately, that is not always the case. Having a bad day on the course is just part of the game, it seems, but there are things we can do to make that happen less often, and other ways to get back on track when a round begins to go awry. Let’s start with giving ourselves the best chance of a good round every time.

Setting Up a Good Round

It all starts on your drive to the course. Think about good shots you’ve been hitting recently, and good swings you’ve made. Picture drives that were long and straight, iron shots that just hunted the flag, recovery shots that saved par and putts that dropped. I know it’s a cliché, but there really is no substitute for positive thoughts when it comes to golf.

When you get to the course, whether you change shoes in the parking lot or the locker room, S-L-O-W . . D-O-W-N. Savor the fact that you have a round of golf in front of you . . . not work, not yard or house chores. It is time for FUN!

Give yourself a chance to perform your best golf right from the first tee. If it’s worth taking a few hours out of your day, it’s darn sure worth taking an extra 10-15 minutes to give yourself a chance. Stretch your legs and back/shoulder muscles that have shortened up from a few days or a week at the office and/or even a few hours of sleep. This is crucial to performing your best. Take a dozen or two back and forth horizontal swings with your sand wedge to get the blood flowing. These aren’t “practice swings” but more like baseball swings to further stretch out your shoulders and back and upper arms and get the feel of the club in your hands.

And for Pete’s sake, hit a dozen or so shots before you go to the first tee. At least a few chips and/or pitches and some putts. You HAVE to get the feel of impact refreshed to have a chance.

Getting The Derailed Train Back On Track

We all are going to hit bad shots, no matter what kind of game you have, but what wrecks a round is when you get it going sideways for more than a hole. When that happens, the round can still be saved, but the key is to remove the stress caused by the bad shots or holes, and build on something you can believe in. If you find yourself tightening up as a result of a bad hole or two, take an extra minute to “step outside”. Walk away from your group (since you are probably last to hit now anyway), and take some deep breaths. Get your tension down and get positive thoughts back into your head. Take some practice swings with those positive thoughts back in mind. And here are what I find to be four keys to getting the train back on track:
1. Reach for the 3-wood. If you have hit a couple of bad drives, drop back to the 3-wood, and get one in the fairway. It won’t be all that much shorter than your driver and it will build some confidence. If the driver is the problem, in fact, bench it for the rest of the round.

2. Play to the “safe” side. If your iron shots are not sharp, play to the safe side of the greens and give yourself a chance to avoid the big number and put a par or two on the card. When you get your “mojo” back, you can fire at the flags again.

3. Play the fault. If you are blocking shots right, or a hook has raised its ugly head, play it! That is, if you can’t find the fault and fix it quickly. The range is the place to fix things, the course is for scoring. Unless you can find the fix quickly, just “dance with who brung you.”

4. Lighten Up. A few bad shots will cause us to build body tension, and the first place that manifests is in our grip pressure. You cannot hold a golf club light enough, in my opinion – your body won’t let you. But you sure can get into a death grip quickly when the tension mounts. Run a mental check on your grip pressure and lighten up, particularly in the right thumb and forefingers. It will change things immediately.
So, there are my thoughts on playing your best. I’ll bet the readers have their own suggestions, too, so let’s all share our ideas, OK? This should be fun and informative for all of us. And if you have a topic you’d like me to sound off about, just send me an email via the “Ask” button below.

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[ comments ]
mjaber says:
When I'm off, I always seem to have one club that I'm hitting well, even though everything else is bad. Unless there is a forced carry I can't clear with that club, I'll make it the only club in my bag for a couple holes. After that, once I've gotten a little confidence back, I go back to my bag for a few more clubs.
Scott Shields says:
Speed speed speed .... when things start to go bad for me, I press, and swing faster and harder. Doesn't work. Slooow down, and the good shots will come.
DiC says:
Great idea mjaber!

We've been [url=]having the discussion in the forums[/url] about average distance you need to hit each shot, and maybe reducing the amount of clubs you carry, but there also goes the theory that "Why leave them out completely". Take them all with you on the course but have the will power to just pick up the 5 / 6 or even 7 or 8 iron off the tee if that's the club that's going straight. Then start using the others once your confidence is up again.
DiC says:
ok so that didn't work but try:
mjaber says:
@DiC... I do have all my clubs with me. However, when issues arise, I find the club that is working and use that club for all my full swing shots until I've gotten my confidence back.
Bryan K says:
Tempo, tempo, tempo.

Tempo is everything.

Lately, I've been finding that when things start to go bad, I need to address my tempo to set them right.

Take a bunch of practice swings to find your tempo.
TravisMiller says:
I have also realized recently when playing that when I get out of my preshot routine even the slightest I start playing worse. This is a quick fix like TWG was talking about.
DiC says:
@mjaber. Sorry I did realise what you meant. My post was not worded very well, that's what I was trying to say. There is the thing Ive been trying which is to just take a few clubs out with me or you could do like you are saying here and take them all but only use one or two for a while if things are going pear shaped. Problem I think I'd have is I'd not have the patience to hit 7 iron off the tee if I had the driver in my bag! haha
Bryan K says:
Yes...rhythm and tempo are both very, very important, and that was something I learned from Terry. I have my preshot routine, and I follow it to a "t". I have a different preshot routine for putts and chips than I do for all other shots because chips and putts are more delicate.

However, if I'm having a bad round, I use down time in between shots to take practice swings to find my tempo. Heck...I do that when I'm having a good round. It seems to help most of the time. I have found that I tend to have my best shots when I line up my shot, take a single practice swing, line up my shot again, and then hit it. If my tempo is off on that practice swing, I'm best off taking a few more before starting the preshot routine again. If I'm alone on a slow day, that's what I'll do. If I'm in a group or if the course is busy, there isn't enough time for all of that rigamarole.

And that's why I think I tend to play best when I'm by myself.
TeT says:
ditto solo golf.... Buddy of mine chivies me about my best rounds being alone especially since he is Mr Consistent
cjgiant says:
I have found slamming club into ground or throwing it while cursing at how stupid a game golf is helps relieve the tension. Doesn't necessarily help the round go any better though ;).

Depending on how serious you are about the/your game and scoring, sometimes it's better to just turn the round into a "practice" or "fun" round, and ignore actually trying for today. I have found that a half a round of not focusing on technique does not ruin my swing forever. To paraphrase the article, some days you are just not going to "fix" anything on the course - hit the range later/tomorrow for that.

That being said, do others find they play a little better when they are out for an enjoyable day of golf versus being out for a round of golf focusing on improving or bettering their game/scores?
aaronm04 says:
I can attest to #1 working for me. I was pull-hooking my driver something fierce. Came up to a short par 4 and used my 3-hybrid where I normally hit driver. Used that same club on a long par 3 on the next hole. Both were near-perfect shots. On the next tee box, I had a nice big fairway so I pulled driver and roped it right down the middle with that baby-draw I like to hit. Ditto for the next (and final) hole.

I think part of this is that I tend to try swinging my driver harder than my other clubs and using the shorter clubs slows me down.
legitimatebeef says:
I find that I have trouble concentrating at the start of a round. By the end I'm usually in a zone, able to identify an objective and then execute it with relative ease. But after a say a week of not touching a club, then I'm out on the first few holes and find myself distracted, partly just excited to be on the course again, then catching up with your friends, etc. It's hard to really zone in on shots and make sound decisions, especially over early putts. It's been hard lately as my local course removed any and all practice areas. First six holes for me are like survival time, just trying to hang on and avoid disaster.
Kurt the Knife says:
I hit my first intentionally shaped shot yesterday. set up a strong slicer to get around some trees i drove into the right rough. Lost sight of it as it took off around the trees 30' in front of me screening the green.
as we carted up to the green i was on the back about 12' pin high.
Swingem says:
At the first occurence of trouble, start talking to your playing partner about how you are considering a new- driver, irons, wedges, putter (whatever the offending club is). You must have this discussion within earshot of said implement and may be most effective while holding the club and addressing it directly. This is guaranteed to improve the quality of subsequent shots hit with that club, at least for the short term.
Kurt the Knife says:

the link was supposed to got to a wave file of Kevin from "The Office" exclaiming..
"Oh Awesome"

loses something when ya hafta type it.
Bryan K says:
@Kurt: lol...hilarious. It's a great feeling, though, when a shaped shot actually ends up the way you picture it in your head before you hit it, isn't it? I've been known to issue some interjectory exclamatives (to coin a phrase) when a shaped shot goes well simply because I'm not used to it. "Holy *@$$! Did you see that?"
Kurt the Knife says:
I read Christina Kim's book recently and there was a famous exclamation on a mis-hit approach of "Oh crap!, Oh crap!" as it arced and then," oh, never mind!" when a lucky bounce rolled it a foot away from the hole.
The rest of the tourney she was greeted with, "Ohcrapnevermind"
Bryan K says:
lol....that's a regular occurance for me. "Good miss" is an expression I'm familiar with:)
DoubleDingo says:
After I couldn't hit my Cobra driver without a hook, I removed it from the bag and put in the persimmon driver. That worked to get me back in or near the fairway. But I had to know what happened to cause the Cobra to become inconsistent. Turns out it was the way I held my arms at address with that club. Close to the body produced a hook because it closed the face, and the club head wasn't parallel to the ground. Arms in line with the shaft, and the ball flies straight and true. That's the only club I need to make that adjustment with. That helped me to improve, also learning and executing a variety of shots helped tremendously as well. Like I read somewhere in here, golf is a target game. Missing the target(s) equates to higher scores.
pvt4211 says:
Play the long Par 4's as Par 5's.
richard_hui says:
youngstructural says:
Speed speed speed .... when things start to go bad for me, I press, and swing faster and harder. Doesn't work. Slooow down, and the good shots will come.7/2/10

That is so correct for me...good advice.!
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