When a new student walks into the teaching area at Night Hawk Golf Center for a lesson with me, we generally start with some basic questions about their game. What do you shoot? What do you do well? What is a weakness? Do you have any physical limitations that will define how we progress? When I ask them what they want to get out of the lesson or series of lessons, the answer that I get the most is “consistency.” Many coaches in golf hear this answer and cringe, because in my mind at least, this answer doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter.
It certainly isn’t a bad goal to have, being consistent. But the problem is that consistency is a relative term based on your golfing ability and what you do on the golf course right now as a whole. For example, a Tour player who wants consistency might mean that they want to be able to hit a 5 yard draw on every tee shot when they want it. That’s how good and how detailed players at that level can be in their search for something. They have reached the pinnacle of golf and smaller, more detailed things can be the difference between making a big check or missing the cut. But for most of my students, the search for consistency is a murky existence at best. Why is it so tough?
First, most golfers simply generalize way too much. If you shoot 100 or more and say you want to be consistent, that doesn’t mean that after the lesson and a couple of times at the range you will shoot 80 the next time you play. This player may need to answer my question by expressing the desire to cut down on penalty strokes off of the tee. That is a great goal and a specific area of the game that we can focus on to gain consistency. If you are a mid-handicap player who shoots in the 80’s and wants to improve into the 70’s, you may need to consistently hit your short shots closer to the hole to raise your percentage of putts made and pars saved, thus lowering your scores. The whole point is to come into a lesson with a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses, and understand that improvement comes from focusing on the worst area, not taking a general approach to getting better.
Again, I’m not suggesting that consistency is a bad answer, but consistent in what area? I think that in many cases this general answer comes with a little bit of hope built in with it. The hope that a quick fix or swing tip will be the magic elixir that will change their game in one session. But golf, like life, isn’t that way. We see it every day on Golf Channel or in Golf Digest – quick tips that in many cases can do more harm than good to your golf game. As I tell my students, it’s not that television and golf magazines are bad, quite the contrary. But in most cases they are there for entertainment first, not improvement first. One of those tips may be right for someone, but it may not be right for you, even if you suffer from the same ball flight or short game issues. Focused practice with honest assessment of your weaknesses is the pathway to the level of consistency you want and better scores.
Just so we are clear, my definition of consistency is pretty simple. To me, consistency is being able to do something well on a regular basis and have it be repeatable. Note that I didn’t say it has to be perfect, because that is a dangerous word to chase in golf. But a consistent player is one that has predictable misses and is steady in their form and their game.
A great way for you to achieve your level of consistency is to establish a consistency ladder. Take a moment to write down your current handicap (or what you shoot) and what you do well and what you do poorly on the golf course. Then write down where you want to be in 6 months, keeping it realistic based on your ability to practice and play the game. Look at the difference between now and 6 months down the road and ask yourself what needs to change in your game to bridge that gap and get you to the next chosen level. Do you need to drive the ball better to eliminate those penalty strokes? Do you three-putt too often? How often do you hit a green in regulation? Prioritize those items as best you can, even if in many cases you will probably prioritize something higher than your coach may prioritize it. If you struggle with this kind of self assessment, involve your coach in this process too, or keep statistics when you play and work through them to find the patterns in your game.
Bring your list and goals to your next lesson. Now, if I ask you what you are looking to get out of your next lesson, don’t you have a much more specific answer than just “consistency?” You now have a detailed starting point for us both to work on together as a team to make real changes and see real improvement. No hoping, no guessing, no flopping from one swing thought to the next. We will establish a pathway to your goals and the level of consistency that you need to get there. So when I see you on the lesson tee this week, how will you answer the question?