Having a game plan is a key area of the game that doesn’t always get taught by instructors and is rarely thought out by most amateurs. A solid game plan when playing a course can be your “safety net” that can lead to better scores and less apprehension. It’s critical for every player to go through a few key steps when playing a round of golf to get the most out of their game.
First, be honest with yourself. What happens when you don’t have your “A” game? Are you willing to adjust your game plan and get the score you want by grinding it out and playing more conservatively? It’s a question that many players don’t want to answer honestly, but that can have a huge impact on your game. Learn to adjust your game plan based on your game that day; if you just can’t get rid of that slice then line up on the right side of the tee box and go with it, or use a 3 wood to get in the fairway. Don’t let your ego get in the way of making a better score.
Additionally, a good pre-shot routine is a must. Dr. Bob Rotella, noted sports psychologist on the PGA Tour, advocates a sound pre-shot routine as a way to calm yourself and get into a focused mindset before hitting a shot. It eliminates anxiety because it feels familiar, thus allowing you to focus on the target and not anything else. I couldn’t agree more with this, and try to work with my students to find a way that is comfortable, repeatable, and at the right pace to set up to a golf shot. I love to get them to look back and forth between the ball and the target for a few moments, really focusing their eyes on the shot to come. Then, go right into their set up with no hesitation, get comfortable, look, and go. I want them to never get away from it, and never adjust; if they don’t feel good over the ball then step away and start over with visualizing the target again.
This is not to advocate a particular pre-shot routine as the one for you. It’s to show that everyone has a routine that works for them and they have to find it. I would say that most players have a tendency to take too long and stare at the ball too long. Good players do 3 main things in a pre-shot routine: they stick to it, they stay fluid, and the stare at the target and not the ball. This allows them to swing freely and execute their game plan without hesitation. Most amateurs change from shot to shot, get very stationary, and stare at the ball. Then they are forced to swing in conscious mode rather than subconscious mode as Dr. Rotella recommends.
So the next time you go to the range to work on your game, work on some actual “game time” shots where you work on your pre-shot routine. Then, when you go play, honestly assess your game. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work to get the ball in the hole. Tell yourself you are going to trust your routine, have fun, and stick to your plan no matter what. If a change needs to be made due to what the conditions are giving you then do it, knowing that you made an educated and necessary change and it was thought out. Then just make a swing, let it go and play the game.