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The annual Christmas / New Year holidays are just around the corner, and with them a bit of welcome time to relax and perhaps catch up on some golf. The weather is warm, the days are long and the greens beckon.
But this is also a chance to take some time to hone your game and make some noticeable improvements in your form without it feeling like work. In fact, it's great to have that clear headspace and 'focus' to practice a little more effectively.
First off, 'practice with purpose'. I am not asking you to hit thousands of golf balls, nor am I asking you to completely revamp your golf swings.
But I think where most golfers go wrong when practicing is they try to hit the golf ball as far as they do on the golf course. Practicing should serve to train the swing as well as training the mind and preparing for the round ahead.
Practicing before a round of golf
Start off with five 20-metre sand wedge pitch shots just to take the tension out of your body and try to build some synchronicity between your arms, club and body.
There's no need to focus on 'technical' aspects of any of these swings. Relax, hit each shot as easily as possible and get the idea of what an easy swing feels like.
Then move onto five 9 iron shots, and again try to hit them as easy as possible. You'll be surprised how much distance you start generating through the tension free swings: remember that a lack of tension helps generate natural speed through the hands, wrists and forearms.
Try to maintain a pre-shot routine when practicing, as it is very easy to lose focus and just start hitting shots, followed by raking another ball and not really thinking about why the last shot was good or not.
Switch to the 5 iron, and another five balls, while really focusing on tension levels and start getting the feeling that the combination of the length and loft of the club are contributing to the distance generated.
It's essential to try and understand as well as feel why some of the shots are going well and others not, because you can refer back to these feelings during the round to bounce back from bad shots or continue hitting those good shots.
Hybrids or woods are next – again, with five balls – and now you should really start thinking about the first few holes you'll be playing and how you are going to approach them.
(Remember, you don't have to hit a driver off the first tee or at any hole for that matter, so these hybrids or woods can come in really handy – but if the driver feels right in your hands and on the range, go with it.)
During these practice sessions, use the entire range as a target. Pick out specific targets and give yourself areas on the course where you cannot afford to hit it, plus zones where you absolutely have to land it. This puts a little pressure on you but also allows you to visualise your shots a bit better.
Finish with five drivers. By now, all your efforts should be on preparing for your first tee shot and releasing all tension from your body.
That’s only 25 shots and should stand you in really good stead for a round of golf!
Playing a round of stress-free golf
Unfortunately for most golfers, there is no luxury of getting out on the golf course during the week and hitting a couple of balls on each hole without really thinking about the consequences.
Instead, it's more like playing that round with a scorecard in hand and aiming to post a good score in the club competition.
But if you can, try get out there and play those few holes with very little care, so to speak. Don’t get too hung up about your score. This will get you in the right headspace for a round of golf whether it be in a competition or a round against friends.
Before you get on the first tee set yourself a goal either physically, mentally or both. That goal should be a simple swing thought or a physical feeling.
Here are a couple of examples:
- Today I am only going to swing the club at 60% throughout the entire round
- Easy swings, all day long
- Rotate back with the left shoulder, accelerate through with the right arm
- Smooth, smooth, smooth
- Swing from in to out
- Be the ball!
As you can see, there are all sorts of phrases or mantras you can use. Adopt what is most relevant to you and use it throughout the entire round without wavering. Even if you hit the worst shot of your life, stay with it as it will keep you coming back to the moment.
Visualise your shots and where you want to hit them – block out all the hazards or obstacles that line the fairway – and focus on where you want the ball to finish. This will allow you to commit to your shots and erase any negative thoughts.
Again, the clearer your mind is, the less tension the rest of your body will carry.
Finally, the most important part of a stress free round is to brush off those bad shots. There are 18 holes to contend with, filled with par 3s, 4s and 5s – but at the end of the day it comes down to playing just one shot at a time. A good shot helps, but a bad shot shouldn’t hurt.