Do you expect to get better while playing golf? Why? What do you do to make sure you are working on the weaknesses of your game? Are there strategies that make getting better possible while playing? Or is there a time to perform and a time to practice? Should our mindset be different for each? Let’s tee it up!
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A good friend asked a great question the other day. He had been down in Southern Utah and played some golf over the weekend. They had played 36 holes a day in mid-50-degree weather, which sounds excellent in the middle of winter. And for those of us who live up in northern Utah where it’s covered in snow, so we don’t have the opportunity to play, we can get a bit jealous.
How To Play Better Golf?
His question was, “how in the world can I play 36 holes a day and not get any better?” And it’s a great question. The simple answer is that if we are not taking deliberate steps to get better when we’re playing golf, we won’t get better. In fact, for some who don’t take steps to get better, they may very well be getting worse. There may be certain aspects of your game, like putting and chipping, where just playing may help you get better in the short term, just because you have developed some feel, but this isn’t long-term change that will take you to the next skill level.
So, if you are one of those that assumes by playing more you are going to automatically or eventually get “better,” I have some awful news for you. And here’s why. First off, I don’t necessarily believe that when you’re playing your mindset is always in the best place to learn. There are practice rounds where we go out, and we’re trying to take the things that we’re working on the range out to the course and then try to implement them on the golf course. And that’s definitely a process. In the case of my buddy, they were out there keeping score, they were being competitive, and when you’re in that type of situation, learning anything is just not a good way to go, as learning golf can become a very conscious process.
Let me explain, when you are out there to perform, the whole idea of getting better should just go out the window. It’s an entirely different mindset. We are all about performance, and when it is about performance playing golf, it is all about keeping the conscious mind out of our way, so we can just let it happen. Our very best golf is played at what we can a subconscious place.
I’ll use an example here. A few years ago, I stepped off a curb in the dark, landed in a pothole and wrenched my knee. I went and got an x-ray just to make sure there wasn’t anything severely wrong. Fortunately, there was nothing structurally unsound, and I was cleared to do whatever I wanted if I could handle the pain. And it hurt, but it was unbearable when my weight went to the outside of my right leg.
When I went out and played on it for the first time, on the very first drive, my weight got a little too of the outside of my back foot, and my knee screamed. I went all Kevin Na and couldn’t pull the trigger for a few minutes. From that point forward, I could only worry about protecting my knee. My conscious mind was so wrapped up in keeping my knee safe I couldn’t think about anything else. And you all know what happened, I played amazingly good golf. I went 12 rounds in a row in the sixties, it was the best I had ever played for an extended period. The joke naturally became that when my knee started to heal, I should take a ball peen hammer to it to make sure was able to continue to play pretty good golf.
At the time it really didn’t register to me what was allowing me to play good golf, I just thought to myself that the secret to good golf for me was to keep my weight off the back edge of my foot. Well, as everybody listening to this knows what happened, my knee healed, and my golf returned to average again. It didn’t matter how hard I tried to get it back, or if I focused on keeping my weight on the inside of my back foot, I went right back to where I was and was disappointed.
All of us have been caught in this nightmare one time or another, and for some of us, it happens repeatedly. For example, we may read in Golf Digest, or hear a tip from Golf Channel on TV, or get a video in our email inbox, whatever it is, we have listened to a suggestion from a buddy, then we have taken it to the range to try it out. We hit it well there, so we take it to the course, we play a couple of rounds really well, and we say to ourselves, “I’ve got it, the game is mine!” We think our golf game is cured and that’s, unfortunately, total garbage.
It is not the way it golf works. The only reason I performed well when my knee hurt and the only reason you played well when you found a magic tip is because our conscious minds were so taken up with this new tip or taken up with protecting my knee, that is all we could focus on. We just took the conscious mind out of it, and we played subconsciously, and we played beautifully. That is all happened. We just got out of our own way, and that’s how to play our best golf. So, when we go out to play, and we’re looking to score, we are going to do everything we possibly can do to avoid using the conscious mind to play golf.
There are a million ways to do that. We can focus on the shine on the ball or picturing a target so clearly in our mind that nothing else can come in, on our balance, whatever. All of that needs to happen when we are worried about performance. However, if things aren’t working out well on the course, and we aren’t performing as well as we think we should be, we might have a problem with our golf swing. If we want to identify the problem, we need to use the conscious mind now to be super interested in how we are swinging the golf club, we want to take it all in so we can reproduce it later on the range. After we get done with the round, we can head over to the driving range, fire up a piece of technology and figure out what is going on with real feedback and real data. Then we can work on it on while on the range and improve. With technology, we can see what the real problem is, not some made up interpretation of what we think was going on while we were on the golf course. Technology gives us accurate feedback, so we work in a realm of reality, not the typical fairy tale.
There is one other thing to keep in mind when we are taking what we have been learning on the range to the course. All we have to do is make some practice swings until we feel one that has adequately replicated what we have been working on, then address the ball and hit it. But here is the key, we never ever want to consciously “make” ourselves to anything in our golf swing. We don’t want to “make” ourselves do what we have been doing on the range. Instead, we just want to let the swing happen, then we want to compare the swing on the ball with the practice swing we liked and see if we can come up with anything that felt different between the two swings. These differences we can take back to the range and correctly identify with technology. Recognizing these differences and looking at them through accurate feedback is where real, long-lasting game improvement can happen. This is deliberate practice, this kind of practice changes behavior, and gets us improving in a way that will stick long-term, this is real change.
The guys who play for a living understand this, they get into the weeds on the range and consciously work on their games, then let things happen when they are out to perform.
Using Technology & Instant Feedback For Better Golf Game
That all being said, when you start using technology and get through the unbelief stage, you start to then come to grips with what your natural tendencies are, your core, these are what I term your real feels. These feels are the same every day you place. For example, for me to take the club back on the target line, it always feels outside to me. Always. But, without technology and feedback, I would have never known that. I have played golf for decades, and I have always felt my take away was right down the target line. I have thousands of videos of my swinging a golf club, and I never ever picked up that I was always taking the club inside. After the technology pointed it out to me, I was able to see a slight inside move.
At first, I didn’t believe the feedback, you probably won’t either, but after using 5 different Swingbytes and having them all confirm the same thing, I bought in that I do actually take it back inside. So, I now know that is just how it is for me and I can trust it. But from where my club is parallel to the ground going up to the top and back down to the ball, all those feels can change daily. When I get to the top of my backswing and start coming back down, I can go inside or outside or whatever and all those feels are all over the place. Also, with my grip. I have to continually check my grip at the top of the backswing to make sure the back of my lead hand and the leading edge of the club matchup. How my grip feels day to day can change, yours will too. In fact, how our grips change over time probably is an excellent example of how swing feels can change over time also. It is just the way it is if the only process and technique that connects us to the golf club can change so frequently, so can everything else. Accurate and instant feedback can help us keep all that evolution in check.
The point is that when we have instant feedback, we can learn real feels and the variable feels and use technology to keep the feelings that change in a consistent place, even though it may feel weird some days. And we all have experienced how this feels. It is like when our coach has us make an alignment adjustment or changes our ball position, or maybe our grip, it feels crazy weird at first, but we trust them and know it must be right, and we see improvement. Now picture that same experience for your entire golf swing. This idea that your swing can feel different on a daily basis when you know you are swinging it the very same shouldn’t seem as odd now. It has always been that way, we have just experienced it on a smaller scale.
And once we get our head around this reality, getting better at golf becomes a joy. Your improvement becomes more predictable and more trackable. You can start learning how you work, and then make better on course adjustments because you know what your real feels are and how to make best these adjustments based on your ball shape. That is when your scoring will make a marked move downward.
So when you go out to perform, take the conscious mind out of it by focusing on something that preoccupies it, and then let your golf swing happen. And if you find out your performance is lacking, then let’s use your conscious mind to be super interested in your swing and record all the movements and feel you can, so you can reproduce it later on the range. And as you practice, you need to leverage some form of technology to figure out what really was going on, and make whatever that was part of our practice. In the initial phases for sure, and even as we get better at it, we need to stop trying to diagnose what is happening and try to “fix” anything on the course, that can engrain some bad moves we will just have to remove later. Our interpretation of things doesn’t matter, very few of us are experts even in our own golf swings, we have never had enough feedback to develop expertise. So, to start, we just want the data, the true stuff, what’s really going on, and then we can work on those “real” things.
And that’s how we can really “learn” our golf swing. Please just prepare yourself because your first introduction to technology and videotaping your swing, might very well freak you out a bit, I completely freaked. It is totally normal because chances are what you thought was going on and what was really going on just don’t match. Just accept it, for now, you will be glad you did. Once you kind of get through the rough patch of acceptance, then you will get into the facts of your golf swing, the real feels will make themselves known, as will the fake feels, and your life as a golfer finally living, in reality, will commence.