1. Golf is a game of Skill, NOT SWINGS.
Don’t model your Swing on a Tour Pro’s. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player Won multiple Major Championships with unorthodox Swings. The emphasis should be on playing good Golf, not having a perfect Swing.
Seek Coaches who teach Skills, not positions. All other sports are skill based. If you watch a typical session of Football (Soccer) practice, you’ll see Coaches teaching their players how to pass with both feet, tackle efficiently, head the ball in a defensive situation etc. Only a tiny percentage of the time is spent on the mechanics of kicking or heading the ball. Too many Golf lessons are spent diagnosing and fixing Swing positions.
When push comes to shove, there are 2 Fundamental Skills to Master to lower your scores:
Ball Control: being able to control distance, direction, trajectory, curvature and minimise undesired variability.
Self Control: decision making, managing your emotions, controlling your attention etc.
Seek out Coaches that will asses and educate you in both of these Skills, not simply look at your Swing mechanics and match them against a pre-established Technical Model.
2. Skills are not Created Equally.
All Skills are not created equal. If you’re mentally tough but are three putting every green, improve your putting. The hard fact is that Golf is essentially about Ball Control. Specifically; driving the ball in play, hitting as many greens inside 15 feet in regulation as possible, chipping and pitching it close to the hole (scrambling) and holing lots of putts.
Stop working on what you enjoy, reinforce the Skills you’re good at and develop the ones that cost you the most shots.
Have your Coach conduct a thorough Skills Assessment of your game (ideally including Statistics and Tournament observation). A good Coach should be able to look at your overall game and give you a complete Assessment of the Skills you do well and the ones that need improvement. Ask them to give you a relative Handicap for each of your Skills compared to your overall Handicap e.g. If you’re an 18 Handicapper, it’s possible your driving Skills are as good as a 12 Handicap, but your putting may be a 20 Handicap. Improve the Skills that are above your overall Handicap and reinforce the ones that are below.
3. The 4 Stages to Mastery
Stage 1: Understand your Brand - Determine the Skills that make you great and the ones that are costing you shots i.e. your ‘Brand’ of Golf. Reinforce the Skills that form the foundation of your great Performances and identify those you need to develop.
Stage 2: Deliberate Training - Engagement + Repetition + Feedback. Golf is a Motor Skill so engagement and repetition are key to forming effective habits. Deliberate Training involves focussed repetition of the Skill you want to develop coupled with authentic feedback provided by your Coach, Task or Technology (like TrackMan).
Stage 3: Authentic Training (Simulate Golf) - Expose yourself to conditions that simulate the ones that you’d experience on the Golf Course during competition. Training this way is vital to efficiently develop effective Skills to where they will reliably show up on the Golf Course under pressure.
Stage 4: Play - Playing with your Skills while keeping score on the Course. This involves decision making (knowing where to land the ball while playing a chip shot, deciding on the club your going to use etc) and Self Control (keeping your attention on your intension/playing focus). Skills aren’t completely learned until they can be successfully utilised on the Course under competition.
Don’t think that just because you understand what you need to do to develop doesn’t mean you can head directly to the Course and execute.
Ask your Coach for Deliberate Training and on-course Authentic Training Sessions. If you can’t afford multiple sessions, ask your Coach to provide you with drills, tasks/exercises/challenges (to do on the Course and Practice Ground) that will develop your Skills when you are practicing on your own. Create a Plan, execute it and adapt it as required.
Understand you’re not going to learn Skills overnight. It takes time to develop a draw or a flop shot. Just because you’re not seeing results right away doesn’t mean that what you’re working on is wrong. Instead, it’s likely that you haven't Mastered the Skill, that you haven’t learned it yet. Keep your expectations real, plan for the long term, and enjoy the Journey to Mastery.
4. Persistence is the Key to Mastery.
You must stick to something long enough to Master it: PERSEVERE!
Understand that building Skill takes time - more than you think. This harsh reality doesn’t make it less true. Stop trying to find a short cut; give yourself time to improve.
Stop tinkering with different Swing Methodologies. Find a Coach that you like and stick with them; don’t abandon them just because the results aren’t happening fast enough. Many greats of the game demonstrated perseverance with their Coaches - Arnold Palmer with his Father, Jack Nicklaus with Jack Grout, and Annika Sorenstam with Henri Reis, Lynn Marriott & Pia Nilsson. Sticking to an approach is often more important than the approach itself.
Make sure to get Custom Fitted for your Equipment and, as is the case with your Coach, stick with your Clubs long enough to become accustomed to their length, lie, shaft flex, swing weight, etc. Avoid the temptation to go shopping for a game.
5. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!
Understand that in order to improve your Skills (i.e. hit more fairways, make more putts) you have to Practice. You can’t just grasp the information from your Coach/what you read in a magazine article/watched on YouTube and expect it to show up on the Course.
Recognise that trying the tip you received a couple of days earlier on the range (potentially from someone worse than you 😉) just before teeing off isn’t Practice. During warm-up, simply do that - WARM UP! Identify what your Ball Flight tendency is for that day and use it. If you don’t like the Ball Flight you have, set aside time after the round or on another day to train/practice.
Schedule your Practice. The more you Practice (as long as it’s exact and efficient), the faster you will improve and reach your Goals. Why get Coaching if you’re not going to take the time to Practice? That’s like receiving a prescription form your Doctor and not taking the Medication.
After meeting with your Coach, ask them to show you what to Practice - and HOW! Collaborate with them to create a “Training Prescription” (aka a Plan) for you to follow until your next Session, just as your Doctor would.
6.Where Lessons don’t work, Coaching does.
Knowledge of cause and effect isn’t enough. You need to understand how to apply!
Hire a Coach, not a Lesson giver. A Coach will guide you through all the Stages necessary to build your Skills, not abandon you as soon as the Lesson is over. Coaches provide on-going feedback and help facilitate the transfer the Skill onto the Course. They’ll show you how to Play the Game, not just how to Swing a Club.
Recognise that there’s a cost to getting better - advancing your education, improving your business, upgrading your phone - all these improvements cost money. Take a detour away from relying solely on the cheap route (i.e. YouTube, Self-Teaching etc) and invest some time & money in Coaching.
Suggest alternatives to the Status Quo. If you have a Teacher, ask them to become your Coach. Suggest a different payment Plan - possibly a monthly retainer for a defined number of hours of Coaching. How about a bonus payment when your Handicap reaches a certain level? Create a cost effective arrangement which means you can spend more time with your Coach (e.g. practicing in groups with Friends).
7. Fitness sets the Ceiling for your Potential.
Let’s stop pretending Golf isn’t a Physical Sport. While it’s certainly not Rugby, it’s not Chess either. Ask yourself: “Is my Physical ability inhibiting me from Practicing or Playing to my Potential?”
If you think your undesired Ball Flight Variability might be caused by a Physical Characteristic, and your Coach acknowledges that he or she is not trained to Assess this, ask them to refer you to a trained Fitness Specialist (or visit MyTPI.com to search who’s in your area).
If you don’t currently have a Coach, seek one out that’s been trained in Fitness and how important, mobility, stability, flexibility, power, strength and endurance are to your Golf game. Each year, more and more golf Coaches are pursuing Golf Fitness Training and Certification (again visit MyTPI.com to find out who’s in your area).
To ensure that you’re prepared for the Physical demands of the game, take time to stretch before, during and following each round you play.
Here’s a few examples of the potential influence Physical Characteristics might have:
8. Practice like you Play.
Whenever possible, take your Training to the Course. Recognise that Skills often have to progress through the Authentic Training Stage (see Commandment 3) to be Mastered and what better place to do this than on the Course! Ask your Coach for Playing Sessions designed specifically to Transfer the Skills you’ve been developing on the Practice Ground. Work with your Coach to create games, drills, and conditions that Simulate the conditions you face on the Golf Course.
When Practicing on the range or on short game area, vary your targets and lies. Don’t always hit the same shot to the same target. For example: On the range, try hitting a shot to the left half of the green, then the next shot to the right half, then one to the front half and then to the back half. By varying the target and distance demands of your Shots, you’re increasing the likelihood of your Skill Transferring to the Course - even though it might not feel like it at the time.
Integrate Mental demands (distractions, pressure, decision making) into your Practice Sessions. This again helps to facilitate the Transfer of your Skills. Spend more time practicing in challenging, simulated on Course conditions.
9. The Weakest Link Breaks Under Pressure.
NEVER call yourself a ‘choker’. Don’t assume that competitive errors are due to a lack of Mental toughness. The average recreational Golfer under the pressure of a Club Championship environment is going to experience a breakdown in certain Skills. An increase in pressure will often expose the ‘Weakest Link’ of your game (the aspect of your Performance that is most detrimental).
If you’ve just started working on a new Skill, give yourself a break. Assume that under pressure it may break down because you haven’t had the time to Master it. Instead, look at pressure situations as an opportunity to expose the Skill to Authentic Training conditions, thus training it further.
Once you’ve started to experience success with a particular Skill under comfortable conditions, begin exposing it to increasing levels of pressure (e.g. windy conditions, more difficult golf courses, challenging playing partners, money matches). Initially, the Skill may break down under pressure, however, over time you should begin to see the Skill becoming more reliable - you are on the road to Mastery!
10. During Competition, we revert to the Familiar.
Rather than blame your Coach when your newly learned Ball Flight/Shot doesn’t initially hold up during Competition, recognise that it’s normal to revert to your familiar tendency for a while. Until you’ve put the time in to Master the new Skill, it’s not going to be reliable under pressure.
When a score really matters, play your most familiar Ball Flight/Shot. If you Slice the ball, accommodate for the flight. Don’t spend the entire round trying to fix it!
Develop a ‘Go-To’ Shot for Competition, one you’re familiar with and you can repeat under pressure. Spend some time during Practice to identify and Master your pressure proof Go-To Shot.
Ask your Coach for playing session during which they can show you how to play the Course using your most familiar Ball Flight and expected errors. Don’t spend this session working on your Swing Mechanics on the Course; instead learn to play the Course with what you’ve got.
11. You’ll Play Average or Better only 50% of the Time.
Stop explaining your Poor Scores. The fact is that you’re going to play at or below your Average 50% of the time. Accept this, but don’t accept your average has to stay the same. You can get better.
Recognise that the Scores you post will naturally fluctuate around your Median Score. This expected variability (within + or - 5 of your Median Score) is normal. Rather than striving to be more “Consistent” strive to lower your Median Score by pursuing Coaching and progressing your Skills through the 4 Stages of Mastery (see 3rd Commandment). An example:
As you can see, this Players Median Score is 82 - eight rounds fell above 82, four below 82 and four exactly on 82. The reality is that this Player is just as likely to shoot an 86 as they are to shoot a 78 (+/- 4 shots of the Median). For them to expect to shoot in the 70’s because they have a 6.4 handicap would be a mistake. As you can see from the Bell Curve, only 5 (25%) of this person’s scores are in the 70’s.
Stop using your Handicap as a means to set your expectation of what you should shoot. Better yet, play each round without a scoring expectation - simply give each and every shot your full Attention.
Accept that there’s many factors in Golf that are outside your control that influence your Scores (weather, green conditions, luck). Control what you can (your decisions, your focus, your preparation) and don’t let those unfortunate, uncontrollable factors affect you.
12. Play Smart!
Recognise that you’ll not hit every Shot where you’d like. You’re going to miss; the key is to keep your misses playable.
In preparing to hit a Shot, accommodate for your miss. If your tendency is to Fade the Ball, and the Pin is tucked up against a Bunker on the right of the Green, don’t go shooting at the Flag. Give yourself margin for error and aim 10-15 yards left of it, so the Ball can Fade toward the middle of the Green.
Consider the consequences; Make sure to aim where a miss doesn’t cost you an immediate shot or two (e.g. out of bounds, water hazard, unplayable lies). The key to shooting low Scores is eliminating double and triple bogeys caused by misses that don’t give you a chance to recover.
To reflect; hire a COACH, get Custom Fitted, reinforce the Skills you’re good at and develop the ones you’re not, stick with one approach and guide your Skills through the 4 Stages of Mastery!
I hope this has been insightful and provided useful perspective? If you’re interested in me helping with your game, whether it be through Practice Design via our Connected Coaching Programme or for some in-person sessions with me at The Archerfield Performance Centre please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Thanks for reading!
Oliver C. Morton
The Leading Edge Golf Company