When we begin to compete in golf, what can we learn from the professionals to help us play at our best?
Essential for competition is putting in time and effort on the driving range and putting green. This insures not only the proper execution of your golf skills, but also the confidence that you have prepared for the competition.
The last thing you want to do is enter a tournament having to work on your swing mechanics during important rounds. The mind needs to be free to focus on targets and a plan to play the course in as few strokes as possible.
Become Familiar With the Course
All of us are familiar with the home field/court advantage in almost all sports. The same holds true in golf.
The more you feel at home and like you've been there before, the more you feel secure and at ease. If you haven't played the course before, get there ahead of time to become familiar and comfortable with it. Find out where the pro shop is, the snack bar, the driving range and putting green. If you can't play the course ahead of time, then at least know how the course plays -- the length, the trouble spots, the speed and slope of the greens.
Get Into a Routine
Part of the home court advantage is the establishment of a regular consistent familiar routine. This applies to a pre-course, a pre-round and a pre-shot routine.
Pack and load up your golf gear the night before. On the morning of the tournament, get up early and eat a healthy breakfast. Give yourself some time to sit down, relax and mentally practice successfully executing all the clubs in your bag. Then picture yourself successfully handling all the potential problem golf situations for the day. End up by bringing back in your mind's eye an earlier round in which you played unusually well.
Drive leisurely to the golf course listening to relaxing, laid back music. Ensure that you arrive at the course 45 minutes to an hour prior to tee time.
Use this time to gently stretch your golfing muscles and to warm up your swing for the day. Remember this is not a time to practice on the driving range, but simply a time to loosen up and establish a rhythm and a swing tempo for your various clubs. On the putting green, establish a feel for the speed and direction of your putts.
Pre-Shot. Establish a regular, consistent routine prior to the striking of each ball, including the putts. During this time, allow only rational, positive swing thoughts which will aid you for the upcoming shot.
Have a Plan
A plan, any plan, is better than no plan. The plan gives structure to your thinking and prevents you from having to over-think every shot eventuality.
You may plan on being very aggressive and fly every ball for precise targets. Or you may be just the opposite and decide to hit only safe, high-percentage targets. And then again you may be more intermediate and swing in general to safe targets, but get very aggressive within 100 yards of the pin.
Remember there will be a strong tendency to abandon your plan after either getting down or up in the score. When you're down, you will find yourself wanting to make it up all at once and become excessively aggressive. When you are up in your score or playing from the front, the opposite occurs. You will tend to play not to lose as opposed to play to win and become exceedingly cautious.
What is your normal reaction to a stress event, such as missing a two-foot birdie putt? How would you rate it on a scale ranging from 1 to 10, where 1 is extremely calm and 10 is extremely hyper? Let's say, it is an 8. On tournament day, try to dampen everything so that you respond only to, say, a 5 level. This will help neutralize the natural tendency for the body and mind to become overly reactive during competition.
With further practice, you may become even more bland and begin to respond at a more desirable 2 or 3 level.
Expect the Unexpected
No matter how you prepared for the competition or how well you are playing, expect that something will go wrong. You may have forgotten to bring your sand wedge. You may find your almost perfect drive hitting a hidden impediment on the fairway and bouncing out of bounds. Or, you may even find another golfer playing your ball. If you are ready for any of these probable eventualities, you won't get caught off guard and will have a plan to deal with them. But, if you expect everything to be perfect, you are likely to get frustrated and lose control when the first thing goes wrong.
Expect to Play Well
At the same time though, expect to play well. Why not? You've prepared yourself and done everything necessary for success. Now it's necessary to begin to believe and develop the ideal mental pictures and self-talk to support this success.
Remember you don't have to put unnecessary pressure on yourself by saying such things as, "I have to, got to, or must play well." You don't have to do anything. It would be desirable to play up to your capabilities though, and there is no reason why you shouldn't. Expect it!
It can't be emphasized enough the importance of choosing to enjoy your golf round. Golf is supposed to be sport and/or recreation to be enjoyed. Psychology tells us very clearly that anything we do that is followed by a positive consequence, we tend to repeat. So if you want to make golf a game for a lifetime, you better keep it fun.
And, if you plan on playing in the ideal mind zone that top pros talk about, then you better include fun into the mix.
Research and experience tells that fun is one of the necessary ingredients in achieving this zone.
If you can incorporate the above recommendations on a consistent basis, you are bound to play more relaxed and confident, drop strokes from your score, and enjoy better the game of golf!