By default everyone who plays sport wishes to be better. Some are content with their current performance and take a lot of enjoyment from the game but often this contentment is attained through a lack of belief in their ability to improve. I think it would be fair to say that most are very keen to get better. To either lower their handicap, beat an arch rival or conquer a course that has become their nemesis – the prospect is enticing.
To create a road map for improvement more than a keen work ethic is required. Golf has boomed in recent years – driving ranges are full of enthusiastic players world wide. Yet, the average handicap has not lowered despite advances in technology.
The simple equation of improvement can be defined in three steps:
- where are you now
- where do you want to go
- what steps are required along the way
The common answer I receive when asking golfers what they want most is ‘consistency’. I think this stems from a desire to never repeat their worst shots. A blissful state of never having to worry about a disastrous shot is not possible. Golf makes you suffer like no other sport on a bad day. Even the best have their bad times: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rn80wIydH0c
The suffering comes in having to find your ball on such an expansive field – searching through mud or the undergrowth of nature are familiar only to golfers! The variance between our best and worst shots is so large- think of basketball, its either in or out! But it’s one of the reasons we love golf.
So if consistency is not our desired goal what must it be. Your goal must be specific and realistic. Lowering your handicap from 11 to 8 is a great goal. I like goals that account for your performance over the duration of a season. To understand how to make this improvement you need to understand your games current strength and weaknesses in the three most important aspects of the game; technical, physical and mental.
Before we go any further lets discuss the analysis. Where possible you must deal in facts and evidence. ‘Johnny says i’m a long hitter’ isnt good enough. Establishing your clubhead speed and distance through measurement on trackman and comparing it to average results for other similar handicaps is the best method. Your local professional would be delighted to assist in this.
Analysing your on-course shot pattern or psychological tendencies can be influenced by others input. Try and keep brief statistics to get a more exact picture. Rather than emotionally recalling the bad shot to the left that cost you the match on the last, the focus should be on the seven fairways you missed right as an example. Take a note of how often you swear in a round or lose your temper.
So lets begin the analysis of your technical, physical and mental game. The process is the same for all levels of golfers but the better the golfer the more detail is req uired.
By technical we mean your skill level at all areas of the game from driving to putting. A professionals analysis may focus on their average swing-path within 0.1 of a degree. A high-handicapper might simply focus on the number of lost balls or penalty shots. Being as specific as you need to be keeps the analysis in context with your overall performance and will provide a much clearer understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. Below is an ample mid-handicapper analysis of their technical game.
DRIVING: fairways hit 5/14 lost balls 1 penalty shots 2
average distance- 237 yards typical miss- low left
IRONS: greens hit from realistic attempts 7/15
typical miss- straight thin
SHORT GAME: within 5 feet 3/12 duffs 1
typical miss – low and too far
PUTTING: total 35 3 putts – 3 Inside 5 feet – 6/15
typical miss – weak and left
This brief analysis can be recorded quickly and is effective in that it contains facts and dominant habits. From this point of understanding a direct coaching plan can be put in place to tackle these weaknesses. Strengths are important to note for confidence levels and practice routines.
Self analysis is obviously critical here. Aside from a knowledge of your strength, flexibility and general health and fitness, a clear picture of your previous injuries is necessary. In all situations your first port of call should be to a physiotherapist with an understanding of golf. They can link the technical strengths and weaknesses of your swing to an understanding of how your body works.
The practical reasoning for this can be explained with a couple of examples. You may decide in conjunction with your PGA Professional that a longer backswing through greater shoulder turn will enable you to hit it further. A frustrating period of practice and lack of improvement may follow. It is deemed to be your fault for not applying the new technique correctly when in fact a simple visit to the physio may show that your body is not flexible or strong enough to make the new move! Another example may be that you read online about Rory Mcilroys gym routine leading to increased distance. You try and copy it but end up with an injury. Again a quick visit with a physio could’ve highlighted weak hamstrings that prevent you from deep squatting a barbell.
Golf is always a latecomer to ideas that have been utilised in other sports for a long time. Appreciate the speed and explosiveness in a golf swing and the body required to achieve improvement. Just as you would with your swing, seek out a professional for advice.
A great analogy for building a better game would be that of building a house. If solid foundations represent that of your body and the brickwork represents the visible technique, the mortar is your mental strength and weaknesses. A house will fall down with no foundations, it might look pretty with nice brickwork but that does not define the sturdiness of the house. And mortar, almost invisible when a house is viewed, remains essential to hold everything together and in place.
There are many golfers with great foundations and brickwork. Physically very capable, flexible and powerful looking golf swings that sometimes produce shots of outstanding quality. But their mortar, their mental game, is what ends up defining their performance. A scorecard for your mental game is a great way to assess yourself without the help of a professional. The scorecard may look like this:
Pre shot routine 2/5
Despite showing regular patience and focus a high level of anger and tension clearly affected the above golfer during his round. Why don’t you take a mental scorecard for your next game?
If you have made it this far through the article, you may be slightly distracted whilst reading as you conduct some introspective analysis. A few grey areas are worth further, detailed discussion. This will be done in other posts but a very important grey area when analysing your game is the reasoning for your worst shots. Most golfers are very quick to blame their concentration levels for any loose shot. Perhaps your technique contains a major compensation that simply doesn’t work in certain situations. You are unlikely to be aware of this. Other situations you may have succeeded in before – is it simply bad timing? How can this be improved? Is it natural talent?
Keep a sharp eye out for our next performance blog installment where these issues are debated. So let’s summarise this article succinctly. Always employ the three step analysis and goal setting procedure when deciding to improve. Seek external and professional help whenever possible. Your goal is to improve your worst habits or most destructive weakness. Patience and dedication are essential. Changing any habit, however innocuous, requires a certain period of conscious effort and a strategy for new habit construction. Best of luck on your journey.