Last Saturday I birdied the one hole on the course I had already decided was the hardest to make par on. When I look back on the three shots that made up that birdie I realise that the only reason I had never made birdie before was that I had never really committed myself to the fact that it was possible.
I could call it luck, let's face it, the chances of a 16 handicap golfer putting three perfect shots together in a sequence is extremely remote and yet it all seemed so easy at the time.
The reason why it seemed so easy was that it actually was. I didn’t suddenly start channelling the late Arnold Palmer, in fact, the only thing I remember is how calm I felt over the shots I was about to make. I was calm because I had visualised the shot, got my distance, chosen exactly the right club, and switched off the one thing that could have ruined my chances of a birdie; my ego.
On the drive home that day I don’t remember thinking about changing gear, braking for corners, or checking my mirrors, but I’m pretty sure that I did all those things and got home without a scratch to car or driver.
In the same way that the drive home did not need me to concentrate throughout, the only thing I needed to do to birdie that hole was to relax and leave my calmed, unconscious mind to swing the club.
I’ve been playing golf for almost 40 years and in that time the number of bad shots that shocked me I can count on one hand. In almost every case, following a poorly executed shot I can guarantee that I knew, immediately, the reason why it happened.
Every golfer would agree that poor shots are almost always your own fault. Loss of concentration, not following your routine, rushing, not being comfortable with the club you chose, standing too close, standing too far away. Whatever the reason was, you knew that there was a pretty good chance that this was not going to be your best shot of the day.
I am no psychologist but my conscious mind, or ego, as the psychologist call it, is the worst caddy in the world.
“Go ahead! It’ll probably be fine, I’m sure you can alter your swing plane to compensate for the fact that you are standing too close to the ball and aiming in the wrong direction”
One of the hardest things for an amateur golfer to conquer is his fear that he’s holding everyone up. That the 5 seconds that it would take to walk away from the ball and recompose himself would send his playing partners apoplectic with rage and probably ruin the hole round.
I’ve even heard some people actually say “I knew I was going to do that” after hooking a ball out of bounds. As if they regularly carry on to work having realised that they had left the house that morning still wearing their pyjamas.
But stopping this happening is much simpler that you think and it is called having a routine. Most people’s morning routine are pretty similar; coffee, followed by shave, shower, tooth brushing, etc. The reason we have routines is that it stops us having to think about what needs doing and if we forget a part of a routine we almost always, immediately know.
Routines are easy to create and almost impossible to stick to. Taking the time to stand behind your ball and visualise your shot, or pacing the yardage to the green before a chip and reading the line your ball will take once it lands, are vital parts of your routine, made horribly uncomfortable by your conscious mind screaming “Get on with it! your holding everyone up”.
However, without a routine golfers leave themselves at their ego’s mercy; “Just hit the damn thing! You’d think after all these years you would know what to do”.
To master the game of golf you have to first master your own mind, that six inches between your ears that is the difference between a birdie and a triple.
Most people would agree that after 10 years driving a car we are far more proficient at getting from A to B than a golfer with the same experience is in getting his ball from the tee to the hole in the required number of shots. The reason for this is that after learning how to drive, a normal person would think nothing of internalised this learning and then leaving it up to their subconscious mind to make all the necessary actions to get where they want to go. But most golfers, or at least the ones that can’t put 3 good shots together in a row, are constantly battling with their conscious mind. Trying to relearn a process that they became proficient at years ago.
The average conscious mind is appalling at remembering things; where you left your keys, the names of people you just met, so why would you trust it to know how to correctly swing a golf club.
So, the next time you stand on the first tee, full of hope and anticipation, leave your ego in the locker room and put your trust in your own routine.
Author: Simon Hetherington has been a member at Pryors Hayes for 5 years and has been playing for almost 50, although you wouldn't guess it.