Golf perfection is impossible and not needed to play good golf

Hawaii Golf CourseYou ever get mad when you don’t pull off a shot, that realistically you had no business trying?  Happens to me too.  Just because we hit that shot once in our life we think we should be able to do it on command.

Of course, that’s not even close to reality.  Perfect golf is impossible even for the players at the very top of their game who are the best in the world.

But you don’t need to play perfect to score well.  When I look back on my best scoring rounds, I wasn’t playing perfectly.  I was leaving myself with good opportunities to score and was able to cash in on enough of them to end up with a good score.

Aside from perfection in golf being unattainable, the main problem with trying to get it is that it puts pressure on every part of your game.  That is the quickest way to score badly.

What you want to do is find ways to take pressure off your game.  Play to your strengths.  If you’re a good wedge player, don’t go for the par 5s in two, leave yourself a good wedge that you know you can get close instead of an awkward 40 yard pitch shot over trouble.  If you’re a good putter, you don’t need to be close to the hole on every approach shot, just get on the green and two putt, and you’ll occasionally one putt for birdie.  In fact just trying to get on the green, might leave you closer to the pin then trying to get it in tight.

As I said, good scoring doesn’t require perfect ball striking.  Good scoring requires you to make smart decisions that will take the pressure off and leave the best chance for success.  To increase your golf IQ and make smarter decisions on the course, check out Game Sense.  Play smarter golf and lower your scores.  Bill S. lowered his scores using game sense on his first round with it.

Stuart Appleby shows us why right brain golf is better

PGAtour.com had a good article on Stuart Appleby.

“I’m trying to be a little more relaxed about things,” Appleby said. “I felt like I probably shut down my natural abilities, talents, whatever it is to play golf. I’m trying to play more natural golf and (use) the feel that I have.”

If we can, as many sports psychologists say, “Get out of our own way”, then we have a chance to tap into our natural abilities.

I read a book that has had a big impact on my life outside of golf recently.  It’s called “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future” by Daniel Pink.  The central theme of the book is that our culture has been dominated by left brained activities that require analysis, and a rigid process, but that the future will be ruled by those who take more creative approaches and use the whole brain.  It makes sense in golf too.

If you look at the way instruction has changed over the past 20 years it has become more and more technical and analytical.  But what you are starting to see now is a move away from that.  More and more players seem to be returning to feel golf.  Jim Furyk is a prime example.  I recently wrote about how he was interviewed by Michael Breed on the golf fix and how he couldn’t really describe his approach to the game other than to say that he is a feel player and let’s his dad worry about his swing.

Another good example of a feel player is Rickie Fowler.  You might expect that because he’s young he might have been trained technically.  But his teacher, who is the only teacher he has ever had, was a strictly feel based teacher.  And Rickie Fowler has proven himself to be a phenom.  Super talented, plays fast, and is very exciting to watch.

I often hear recreational players talk about how they get overwhelmed with all the technical bits of the swing.  They get confused and they try to do everything with their left brain.  The thing is, golf is more of a creative sport than that.  I like to picture myself as an artist, my canvas is the golf course and my brush is the golf ball.  I want visualize and feel shots, then make them happen.

When I successfully do that, I play my best golf.  When I’m working on technical details, I don’t play nearly as well.

For example, yesterday I had my first round with a new set of iron shafts.  Same club head different shafts.  For the first 9 holes I was trying to get used to them and I wasn’t being creative with it.  I wasn’t seeing my shots clearly, and I struggled.  On the back nine I changed my approach and decided to visualize every shots carefully and feel it.  My second nine was 7 shots better and only 3 over par.  Not bad for being out on the course with a new set of shafts.  BTW the shaft change was significant.  I went from Project X 5.0 to Dynamic Gold X100.  Once I changed my perspective the feel came back and the shots improved and my scoring really improved.  Like Stuart Appleby by focusing on the shaft change I “shut down my natural abilities”, but by focusing on creativity and feel, I engaged my natural ability and let it play.

Getting the most out of your golf GPS rangefinder

SkyCaddie SGX GPS rangefinder

GPS rangefinders are wonderful things.  They give you the distances you need to make smart decisions.  They give you the distances to hazards, to carry over the hazards.  They give you distances to fairway targets, and of course the front, center and back of the green.

This information is vital if you want to make good decisions on the course.  What they don’t give you is the strategy based on the conditions of the day, how you’re striking the ball, and the pin placements.  They also don’t take any pressure into account if you’re playing a Nassau, a match against a buddy, or a tournament.

Some of you are lucky enough to play with caddies and if you to have a good caddy, he or she, can save you many strokes.  But for those who don’t have our own caddies or get to play routinely with caddies we need some help making those decisions.  If I’m playing a par 5, and I have 245 yards to the pin, 230 to the front, and 260 to the back I will know the distances I need to reach the green, but the rangefinder can’t tell me if it’s a smart decision.

Whether it is a smart decision depends on a number of variables.  What’s the wind doing?  If I’m playing into a 15 mph wind can I get there?  How am I hitting it that day.  Am I striping my fairway woods or hybrids?  Am I fading or drawing the ball?  Are there hazards near the green?  Where is the pin, and is it near any hazards?  How’s my wedge game that day?  If it’s really on, it may be worthwhile to lay up to my favorite full wedge.

All of these factors need to be considered because my main objective is to leave myself in the best position for the next shot and to take a high number out of the equation.

What the GPS rangefinder does, is that it gives you the numbers you need to make decisions about where your target should be.  Great course management combined with the data from the rangefinder will provide you with the best chance to shoot low scores.  Simply using the rangefinder without the course management won’t necessarily help you make good decisions.  And good decisions lead to low scores.  When you can consistently make good decisions you can play well anywhere and on any course.

Mickelson setting course management back for the average golfer


Phil Mickelson’s miracle shot on 13 on Sunday will go down as one of the great shots of Masters history.  It will also be a big setback for the average golfer.

There is no doubt that Phil Mickelson has an overload of talent.  He has shown that over years pulling off incredible shots.  But he has taken risks that have cost him tournaments, most notably the US Open at Winged Foot.

The problem isn’t that Phil tries those shots and sometimes pulls them off.  The problem is that he influences golfers and they begin to think they can do the same.  We’d all love to be able to strike the ball like Phil but even most golfers in the field at Augusta on Sunday would have laid up.  With Phil’s talent he would have scored a birdie 80% of the time laying up, and he in fact scored a birdie.

Was it a heroic shot?  Absolutely.  Was it smart?  Probably not.  The par 5 13th had been giving up lots of birdies.  Phil’s mistake is that he brought bogey into play.  Luckily for him it didn’t turn out that way, but pine straw is not easy to hit out off.  He could easily have ended up in the creek, pitching onto the green for an un-guaranteed par.  The conservative route wouldn’t have brought bogey into play unless something disastrous had happened.

If we take a look at the risk vs the reward, it wasn’t a smart play.

Now to the average golfer.  The average already has a hard enough time making smart decisions on the course.  Most golfers I play with are constantly making decisions that bring double bogey or worse routinely into play.  They could not only score much better, but take many headaches out of their rounds if they knew how to make better decisions, but they don’t know.  When faced with a choice like Phil’s, many golfers would try the hero shot because if they can just pull it off, they’ll get a nice ego boost.  More than likely though, they’ll end up with a big number and wonder why the can’t break 100, 90 or 80.  This is where Game Sense comes in.  It teaches you how to make the best decisions on the course.   Get that understanding and you can expertly avoid trouble and give yourself stress free pars.

Have you ever had a stress free round of golf?

Do you rush to the first tee?

What are your rounds of golf like?  Do you rush to the tee without much of warmup, maybe passing by the practice putting green to take a couple of putts?

Do you then wonder if the number of balls you have in your golf bag are going to last the whole round or whether you’ll need to reload at the turn?

Do you know that you can expect a numer of double bogeys and worse along with a few three putts and feel he inevitable coming?

Stress Free Golf

I want to offer you an alternative.  I want you to imagine  stress free round.  What would it look like for you?

For me, a stress free round means no scores worse than bogey.  It means at least a par putt on every hole with a few putts for birdie thrown into the mix.  It means that my misses end up somewhere near the green where I have an easy chip or pitch onto the green for my par putt.  And it means no three putts.

Does this sound like a sweet dream to you? I want to tell you that it is possible.

What it takes

I had a round like this a few days ago.  What did it take?  It took making good decisions.

A good decision on the golf course is one where if you pull your intended shot off you are in a good position to score, and if you don’t pull the shot off you are still in a good position to score because the area where you missed your shot has not brought a high number into play.

Sounds easy but most golfers don’t know how to do this and it is not their fault.  The golf industry glamorizes distance instead of good decision making. And it’s understandable. Distance sells equipment.  Good decision making does not.

The other reason most golfers don’t know about it is their teachers don’t suggest it.  Golfers generally take lessons to fix their swing not to learn how to score and there is a big difference.

That stress free round showed me how fun and easy golf can really be.  My goal is to play stress free golf.  I encourage you to try it, you can learn the strategies here.

The risks of forcing shots

What can we learn from the professional golfers we love to watch?  We can learn a lot.

On this weeks episode of “Being John Daly” we saw Daly’s meltdown in the last round of the tournament in Mayakoba, Mexico.  By his own admission, he was going for too much.  He made some bad decisions and he compounded the errors by trying to hit it farther, or draw it more, or going after too many pins.  He was forcing it and he paid the price.

He knew that he didn’t need to hit driver, that it was a perfect 3 wood golf course for him.  But when things started to go south, the driver came out to play.

Instead of taking his medicine and getting back to the strategies that got him there, he took unnecessary risks, and he felt he had to do that because the tournament was getting away from him.  But that is precisely the time that he needed to play within himself.

I’m certainly guilty of doing this.  I know that sometimes when a round isn’t going well I’ll try to make up for lost shots with some hero shots and end up getting in more trouble.

Golf is a game of patience, and part of being patient is being in control of your emotions.  I think Daly let his emotions get out of hand on Sunday because he really wanted to be in the top 10 to get that exemption into the Waste Management Open with a top ten finish at Mayakoba.  When he saw that slipping away, he fought harder, but in fighting harder he brought more mistakes into play.  If he had hit 3 wood and off the tees instead of driver, he might have kept himself in the tournament.  But it’s hard to come back from 5 bogeys, multiple double bogeys and a triple.  Daly paid the price for trying to get too much out of each shot.  And it’s a lesson well worth learning from.

See also “Bad Decisions are Worse than Bad Swings“.

Bad decisions are worse than bad swings

I've had my share of Barkley's.According to the National Golf Foundation more than half of all golfers shoot 100 or more, and only 1 in 4 can break 90 consistently.

Only 5% of golfers can shoot lower than 80.

With all of the advances in technology and the the improvements in the quality of the golf courses as well as the availability of access to golf professional and teachers you would expect this number to have improved over the last 20 years but it really has not.  So what is going on?  Why are golfers not getting better?  And how can you use this information to become a golfer who does improve?

I think the number one reason golfers don’t score is they make bad decisions that costs them more shots than they should take.

Bad decisions are very costly.  They compound mistakes and they add many unneeded strokes.

So what makes a decision bad:

1) You are unlikely to pull the shot off.

2) If you don’t pull the shot off it brings a high number into play.

3) There are higher percentage plays that you can make but instead you take the low percentage play.

4) You don’t factor in all the information needed to make a sound decision.

5) You over estimate your abilities.

6) You don’t practice this shot so you really don’t know how to play it.

Not all of these are involved in every bad decision, but if you look at your bad decisions you will see that many of them are.

Now I want to differentiate a bad decision from a bad shot.  Since we are all human, and therefore imperfect, we will make bad swings.   That’s just the way it goes.  You may have made the right decision, but put a bad swing on it.  That happens.  Most scoring problems however, really happen when bad decisions and bad swings come together.

The difference between golfers who score well and golfers who don’t, is that golfers who don’t score well, consistently throw away shots.  Golfers who score well, make decisions that makes it difficult to throw away shots.

I’ve been taught to play defensive aggressive .  Play to a defensive part of the course (in other words away from trouble and away from your weaknesses) but put an aggressive swing on the ball.  In other words you play the high percentage shot that will leave you with a bogey at worst and takes double bogey or worse out of the equation.  It sounds like you’re hoping for bogey but that’s not what this does at all.  Playing this way actually enables you to make many more pars and even birdies while limiting the effect of mistakes.  Try it and let me know how your scores change. See also: Use your natural autopilot to play your best golf.

How to warm up properly to play your best golf

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Do you ever show up to golf course only minutes before your tee time, dash to give yourself a quick stretch, take 2 swings, and then hit your first tee shot deep into the woods, OB or in the rough?  Does this happen all the time?

How can we give ourselves the best opportunity to play well?  How can you expect to play well without giving yourself an adequate warm up?

I want to offer a different way to warm up for your round of golf.  It’s going to be designed to help you quickly get into the groove so that you can play your best.

First, let’s talk about what the purpose of the warm up is.

Certainly part of the warm-up should be designed to get your body moving.  Golf after all is an athletic activity.  It requires coordination, flexibility and strength (to varying degrees).  Any tightness in your muscles will affect how you play.

The other part of the warm up is to prepare you for the round you are about to play.  You want to see what your swing is doing that day, and you want to give your self the best opportunities to play well without having to think about mechanics on the golf course.  Any sports psychologist or mental game coach will tell you that thinking about mechanics while you’re doing the activity will lead to decreased performance.  So how do we give ourselves the best opportunity to play well.

I’m going to share a routine that works well for me.  But I want you to understand what I’m trying to accomplish with it.  I want to eliminate 2 variables from the warm up so that we can get off to a great start.  I also want to make sure that we engage the imagination and feel parts of our brain.  This will help us on the golf course.

Eliminate the variables

The first variable I want to eliminate in the warm-up is club length.

Why would I want to do that?

The average golfer does not practice nearly enough to have a consistent swing.  This is a big reason their handicaps have not improved in the last 20 years.  If you are constantly changing the length of the club, than you are going to need to constantly adjust.  When you don’t practice enough, it becomes difficult to make those adjustments quickly.  By warming up with the same club, a 6 or 7 iron only for the first part of it, you have a consistent ball position, a consistent bottom of the arc, and a consistent length of the club.  By not having to adjust to changing those variables you can more easily get a true sense for what your swing is doing that day.  You can also groove consistency.

The next variable I want to eliminate is loft.

Again by warming up with the same club you can groove consistency.  You can get some rhythm.  And you can prepare to play great golf.

Engaging Feel and Imagination

So I’ve taken away two variables.  But what I do want to do is really get your feel and imagination warmed up and ready for play on the golf course.  When you watch the best players in the world, you will find that each shot is unique.  They are normally not playing the same stock shot every shot.  Each shot has a unique trajectory, curve and target.

I’m not going to expect the average golfer to practice unique trajectory, curve and target but I do want to engage feel and imagination.  So here is what to do.

With your 6 or 7 iron you are going to hit to different distances, straight out in front of you.

Take a few balls and hit between 3 and 5 to each distance below.

15 yds

30 yds

50 yds

80 yds

100 yds

120 yds

150 yds

By starting with short chips and moving to longer shots you began to engage feel and imagination.  You need to try and feel the length of the shot. Your imagination becomes engaged in the process.  Starting with shorter shots also builds your consistency.  As you strike short shots accurately your confidence goes up.  If after moving to the next distance you see shorts start to go off line, take a few balls and hit some short ones again, get that feeling solid and return to hitting the longer shots but with that solid feel in mind.

After doing this first part of the warm up, you should be ready to hit some longer clubs including driver.  Maintain the feeling you had when you were hitting crisp shots with your 6 or 7 iron and you should see improved ball striking on the course. For more on practicing see managing your expectations on the golf course or using your natural auto pilot to play your best golf.

What you can learn from the groove change

As we know the USGA has adopted a new groove rule that went into effect this month for the PGA Tour.  These new “v” grooves are not as sharp and have 40% less volume than box grooves.  While this change does not affect the vast majority of amateur golfers we can all learn by how PGA Tour players are adapting to the change.

Amateur players should watch how the pros approach shots from the rough especially close to the green.  Because these new grooves don’t have the same kind of bite, tour players have adapted by playing the shots differently.

How this helps amateurs

Amateur golfer typically do not have the swing speed or technique to generate the kind of spin the pros do.  The example the pros have set the past few years typically does not translate well to amateurs.  Although those shots (high spinning, stop on a dime shots) are beautiful to look at, most amateurs just aren’t going to pull them off very often.  But now we have an opportunity to watch shot making return to the game.

The new grooves are forcing the professionals to hit higher softer shots and rely less on spin.  What I saw at the Sony Open in Hawaii was a lot of shots landing short of the green and rolling on the green.  You also saw pros punished a bit more when they short sided themselves.  So what you are also seeing is that the pros are being encouraged to have their misses leave plenty of green to work with.  This is something amateur players should really pay attention to.

How the pros are adjusting:

  1. Hitting higher softer shots to stop the ball.
  2. Playing for fliers and the lower spin out of the rough by bouncing balls onto the green.
  3. Making sure their misses leave plenty of green to work with

Do these things and you should see your scores drop as you eliminate big numbers.

Use your natural autopilot to play your best golf

golfer

“Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course…the space between your ears.”

Bobby Jones

Ah, the mental game of golf.  Have you ever noticed that some of your best rounds occur when you can just get out of your own way?

When you look at the literature surrounding the mental game, whether it’s Dr. Bob Rotella, Dr. Joseph Parent, or any of the other excellent sports psychologists and mental game coaches, one of the recurring themes is getting out of our own way,

They all have their own approaches to achieving this but it is certainly not easy.  Especially not when something is riding on the line (your club championship, your best round, your first time breaking 100, 90 or 80).

One of the reasons that I kept the word Zen in this website is that I have come to believe that the Zen philosophy is completely applicable to golf.  My view of Zen is that optimal performance occurs when the thinking mind is silent, when we allow the body to do what it has learned, to simply react to the shot and situation.  But how often does that happen?

The truth is that we enter an autopilot like state nearly everyday.  If you drive a car, you do it instinctively.  Have you ever had the experience of driving, and during the drive you “zone out” for a few minutes, and you look around and recognize that you are still driving perfectly well, miles down the road?  That’s the autopilot taking over.

That can be used in golf.

However the main obstacle that gets in the way is thinking about technique.  Often when we hit a poor shot, we automatically go into diagnosis mode and technique mode.  We try to figure out what went wrong.  Did my elbow stick out?  Was my backswing too long?  Did I take the club back too far inside?

I think the first response should be “Did I pick out a good target?”  or something along those lines.  Once you are on the golf course it is too difficult to change technique.  Many of the bad shots that we do have don’t come from bad swings, but they come from bad decisions.

A bad decision can happen when we don’t inspect the lie carefully.  It can happen when we don’t take the slope or the wind into consideration.  It can happen when we don’t know our distances very well and under club.   I would imagine that the average golfer can shave 5 strokes off their game by making better decisions.

Ray Floyd in his excellent book “The Elements of Scoring” says that if he was playing against you, and he had the same physical game as you, he could beat you every time because he would make better decisions.

That’s something to think about.  Those decisions are not related to swing technique (although your options are constrained by your skill level).  They are related to your game plan and what information you take into account.

Elements to a successful mental game

  1. Carefully evaluate the situation
  2. Plan your shot
  3. Visualize the shot vividly
  4. Fully Commit to the shot
  5. Execute

The steps above can help to keep you away from entering a technique mindset.  Focusing on the target, visualizing the ball flight, and trusting your swing will usually produce excellent results.  Focusing on technique brings your conscious mind into play.  Your conscious mind is not the best swinger of the club.  Your unconscious or subconscious mind that runs your body does a far better job.  Keep your conscious mind occupied on strategy, visualization and trust and you can allow your subconscious to produce the swing you need.

Do your best to keep technique-related thoughts out of your mind while playing a round.  Changing your mental game will take practice and discipline but it should pay dividends.