Where were you 10 years ago? How was your golf game? 10 years ago I was preparing to embark on my university journey. A 17 year old with a seriously dodgy haircut who only really knew how to play golf, about to move to the deep south of America having never left home before…I had a lot to learn. 10 years on, I am so grateful for these years, and very proud of what I have achieved. But if I had a superpower, it would definitely be to turn back time and give myself the following bits of advice. I will elaborate further on some of these points later on down the line, but here they are in short hand in no particular order:
- What are you worrying about? Ask yourself this question, a lot! Relax, ensure you have planned correctly, made a smart decision on each shot and now it’s out of your hands. Commit to the shot, be determined and brave and if you need to, hope for the best! Watch where it ends up, chase after it and repeat…hopefully no more than 75 times.
- You do you – An obvious one but an important one to keep reminding yourself. Golf is the most individual game there is, no rights, no wrongs, just a big problem solving puzzle. The way you approach the puzzle has got to suit you and no one else. Use this advice when it comes to the decisions you make, your swing, equipment etc. Take pieces of advice from a wide range of sources by all means, but translate them to something that you can make work. Yes, this means not all youtube videos are going to help you! The ‘you do you’ phrase also refers to not caring about what people think. You may have seen in the shop at Worplesdon this particular hat, made by GFore, it may be gimmicky but so true. It teaches you to only worry about yourself, be a bit selfish when it comes to your game and ultimately, don’t worry if you shot a bad score, nobody will care the following day! Unless absolutely necessary, never NR, don’t be embarrassed we all have bad days. ‘Nobody likes a quitter’.
- Go play! Since finishing university, this has been one of the biggest changes I have made to my routine, and something I learnt in America. My teammates hated to practice and I loved it. I was an absolute range rat, hitting hundreds of balls every day and looking back I wasted a lot of time for the sake of hitting balls. We are all guilty of it, just remember, unless you are working on aspects of your swing, performance work (aiming/alignment/shot shaping) or testing yourself, then go and play. Even if you only have time for a few holes, it will be a much better use of your time than having no plan for your practice session. Differing lies, hitting off grass, more specific targets, hazards, varying conditions…there are many reasons why getting on the course in practice is much more beneficial. Play golf not golf swing.
- Quality over quantity – With the time constraints we all have in modern life, this is a really important one. Do not practice if you are not going to give it your all, period. Tired, distracted, mind elsewhere, in a rush, hungry…don’t bother. You’d be better off using your time at home stretching, planning, reading etc. The second aspect to this point is the amount of practice you do, you know whats coming…one basket of balls is plenty! I like to limit practice sessions to 45 minutes max as this is about the limit of quality human concentration. That doesn’t mean you can’t do multiple 45min sessions, just make sure you have a break between them. Try and rehearse each shot in practice like you are on the course, use your routine often and give each shot your fullest attention.
- Get out of your comfort zone – Possibly the best piece of advice I have been given over the last 10 years and one that has repercussions for all areas of life. I’m not going to go into crazy detail here as I could be talking all day but you will all be able to think of examples of where this is applicable to your game. My main focal point for this point is the following: you will not start properly learning and seeing progress until you get out of your comfort zone. Being well away from your comfort zone is when you start to properly test yourself. We can all hit good shots on the range/course when there is no pressure or consequence when we are comfortable, but can you do it when you aren’t? Whenever we are pushed out of this zone, we are highly distracted, nervous, worrying about other things and suddenly all we are left with is our natural instinct. That new swing you’ve got suddenly goes awol, we revert back to our old putting grip and all of a sudden we start moving backwards. Therefore, we have got to move the goalposts, we have got to expand our comfort zone. Keep putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, go and play with better players, go and play off tees further back, keep putting yourself under stress and pressure, because then when it does come around you will cope much better. Doing this in practice also really highlights your weaknesses. We’ve all gone and had an amazing lesson and then suddenly played terribly right after, it happens because the new skills are not cemented and not happening sub-consciously when they are tested. As the football analogy goes, ‘Can you do it on a cold, wet, windy night in Stoke?’ Keep saying yes, take every opportunity however scary, keep pushing the limits and if it starts feeling easy you need to stretch things further.
- Be a sponge – Take everything in and learn, learn, learn. We are all students of the game and one of golfs greatest attributes is that it can never be completed, we can always be better. Learn from the good rounds and learn a lot from the bad ones, learn from watching others, professionals, books, the internet. Get as many ideas from as many sources as possible but you must digest, filter and interpret the information. Decide what is useful, figure out what might help you and never believe everything you read. Social media has bought this issue to fruition in recent years. We have access to too much information if anything, which is great, but not all of it will be relevant to you. Always remember there are no two ways to swing a golf club or play the game. If you want to try a new drill, new club, new approach please do, but please do your research and ask for my help and thoughts, it’s what i’m here for. Hopefully I will save you time, money and a whole bunch of shots that you could have cost yourself.
- Document everything – I’m a big advocate of a notepad, even though I have the worst handwriting in the world. Going back to the previous point, there is only so much our sponge can hold. We hit thousands of shots, have loads of swing thoughts, many lessons, watch far too many Youtube videos and all of a sudden our sponge starts leaking. We forget things. Keep notes on as much as you can, they will always be there to refer back to. Swing thoughts, focuses, song’s that were in your head, write notes on what was good when it was good, aka when you were playing well. What did it feel like? What did it look like? Why did you play well? During a rough spell this could be your get out of jail card and so worth the minutes it took to do. You can be as detailed with this process as you like. A personal favourite of mine is to document practice sessions, you quickly see where you spend most of your time and what needs more attention! P.S. It doesn’t have to just be notes, pictures are also great. Memories of great rounds, images and videos of great swings, times when you’ve loved you’re golf. Keep them, they may come in handy one day.
- Practice makes permanent, not perfect – What you practice will stick, don’t practice badly! This rule also helps to understand why it can be hard to make swing changes. Your swing is a result of repeating the same or similar actions hundreds and thousands of times. When we disrupt this pattern and make a change it becomes very easy to get back to old habits, especially when we are struggling. Practicing the new motion or swing change correctly, with the help of many practice swings, is vital. Let’s say you’ve recently changed your grip and used the new grip for 100 shots (having used your old grip for 50,000 shots) what happens when we switch off on the range and don’t concentrate for the session? I think we all know which grip is going to come out to play! We are creatures of habit, create the habit, embed it (dry reps & practice swings between each ball) and it’ll soon happen naturally. Not practicing is more beneficial than practicing badly.
- When things are good off the course, they’ll be good on the course – Look no further than the number of PGA Tour players who win tournaments right after having a baby or getting married. When life is good, golf is usually good too. Use this advice to manage expectations, especially when things aren’t going your way, the last thing you need is to worry about / hate your golf too. This advice should hopefully teach you the importance of a healthy life balance, lots of sleep, socialising, exercising, organisation etc. But if you are having a rough time, prepare for sub-optimal performance on the course. Accept the situation and ultimately make the most of your time out on there, enjoy it, especially the socialising and exercise. As mentioned previously, you can learn from every shot you hit, so even if you are having a terrible round you can still learn and get better. Be patient, good times are round the corner and good scores will come. Just don’t beat yourself up for a bad score when the dog’s at the vets, your kids are ill and you’ve got 145 unread work emails buzzing away in your pocket!
- Leave no stone unturned – The complexity of golf scares a lot of people and fascinates many. It gives us great opportunity and variety in the approach to ‘getting better’. As a professional, we are always looking for another 1%, a subtle increase in performance in a particular aspect of our golf to shave off one or two strokes per round. PGA Tour players have been saying recently that even flying privately between events saves them time, which equals more rest, which equals better play and better results, resulting in extra earnings that pay for the extortionate costs… it goes full circle. What i’m getting at is you need to take a holistic view of golf, look at the big picture. Analyse everything (in as much detail as you’d like) and keep stats where you can. How do you know you are getting better? How do you know what is holding you back? Why are you hitting thousands of balls on the range to go and have 40 putts every week? My job often involves uncovering the smallest and simplest of things that are costing you shots without you even realising. If you really want to get better, leave no stone unturned.
It’s easy to look back and regret or wish we knew these things years ago. Try and turn this into a positive thing, the quicker you implement them the quicker you will make up for lost time. Don’t forget, learning is infinite, you could repeat this process every 10 years for the rest of your life and never talk about the same things. Have a go at doing this yourself, you may want to include some of the points I made but you may also have a lot of your own. Trust your instinct.