Golf is Consistently Inconsistent – Learn to Deal With It!
Last week the PGA Tour had its first FedEx Cup Playoff event at Bethpage State Park. I grew up playing all of the courses there, and make it a point to play the famed Black course at least once or twice a year.
Rather than go to the course on the days the tournament was held, I decided to go on a Tuesday so I could get a close look at all of the top players practicing (and avoid the crowds).
There were a few things that struck me while watching the best players in the world prepare for the tournament.
First off, these guys are machines.
Ball after ball they strike perfectly crisp shots that don’t deviate 2-3 yards from their intended path (side note: almost all of them use alignment rods, and you should be too).
I got to see McIlroy, Day, Rose, Stenson, Scott, and pretty much every single big name you could think of hitting range balls.
I also got a chance to follow Jordan Spieth around the course for about 6-7 holes.
After the stars in my eyes faded, I started to realize something other than the fact that their ball striking is impeccable.
These guys are just like you and me. What??!! I know that sounds crazy, but here’s why…
They are all trying to tame the most difficult game in the world the only way they know how. They are trying to find consistency in an inconsistent game.
Why are they even here?
I got a chance to meet up with a friend from one of the golf companies on the range. He himself used to play professionally, and is well versed with life on tour. He’s out every week on the range with these guys so I was picking his brain about a few things.
After watching all of the pros hit perfect shots for a couple of hours (they literally don’t hit bad shots), I simply asked him in a joking tone, “why do they even bother? They’re not going to get any better right now?”
He agreed, and when I noted how empty the short game facilities were compared to the driving range he felt that a lot of these players should be focusing on their putting exclusively at this stage because that is where they stand to actually gain something.
(that’s a whole other can of worms though)
“You don’t come to a tournament and find something in your swing in my opinion. That’s what separated Jack and Tiger from the rest, they put all the work in beforehand and when it was the week of a tournament they simply were there to prepare on the course.”
As he was saying this, Adam Scott was 10 feet in front of me having his caddy take videos of his swing over and over again. What could possibly be wrong with that swing??!!!
My friend went on to say, “they do it because it’s routine. Hitting all of these balls and hanging out on the range makes them feel comfortable, and helps them deal with the pressure.”
Now I don’t want to make it seem like I am somehow criticizing these guys. They are the best golfers on the planet for a reason.
If they want to spend 2-3 hours on the range on a Tuesday pounding balls, and it puts them in a place mentally where they feel comfortable for the tournament…great!
We Are All Chasing the Same Unicorn
What struck me about the whole thing was that they are chasing the same thing that every other golfer on the planet is chasing. Consistency.
The thing about golf that is so hard to deal with is how inconsistent our results are from day to day.
Jimmy Walker was one of those guys on the range executing flawlessly with his perfect golf swing. He would go on to shoot a 74 in the first round, putting him way out of contention (he would miss the cut).
So what happened between Tuesday and Thursday? Well Jimmy had to perform under pressure on arguably the hardest golf course in the world.
In other words, golf got in the way.
I’m sure he was extremely disappointed, and coming off the momentum of winning his first major you would think his game would be in a much better place. But that’s not how golf works.
One day you can be on top of the world and your swing feels perfect, and then the next day it’s completely gone. It happens to me, I’m sure it’s happened to you, and it certainly happens to these guys.
It’s all relative of course. A top-ranked golfer “losing” their swing is not the same as a 20-handicap losing theirs. But it still feels the same to both of them. The disappointment and shock is always there.
And that’s really the crux of it all. We are all united in this crazy game. Every golfer on the planet is chasing consistency.
The problem for all of us is that we’re never going to catch it. No one is going to figure out the golf swing and be able to make that little white ball go exactly where they want it to every time.
I don’t believe that’s what golf is really all about.
Golf is mostly taming the inconsistency, and we can’t seem to wrap our heads around it.
When I’m sitting down and writing these articles I can certainly think very clearly about these concepts, but I’m no different than you when I get on the course and all of a sudden my swing gets out of sync.
I’m disappointed, confused, and doing my best to salvage my round despite the fact that 24 hours prior I couldn’t miss a shot on the range if I tried.
So What Do You Do?
Here’s what I know separates golfers who are successful and those who aren’t. I’ve been through this change myself, and I know it’s the difference between the old me, and the “newer” me.
You have to embrace the inconsistency. It’s the only way.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get disappointed or upset when you hit bad shots. But you have to find a way to move on, and deal with it.
If I’m telling you the best golfers on the planet have to deal with this, then you do too.
I’ve said this in other articles, but it’s worth mentioning again because it is such an important concept. Improving as a golfer and lowering your scores is more about finding ways to stop the bleeding when inconsistency rears its ugly face.
It’s about mental toughness, strategy, improving your swing through smart practice, and most certainly your short game. All things I love to talk about on this site! (and in my book)
You can’t do it without accepting the fact that things will not work out during a round at some point, and finding a way to dig a little deeper to make sure a bogey doesn’t turn into a double, triple, or even quadruple bogey. That’s certainly not a sexy concept because all of you want to figure out how to make more pars and birdies.
But it’s the truth.
So you can keep chasing the unicorn of consistency; there’s nothing wrong with that. Ultimately that’s how all of us improve. Just don’t think you’re ever going to catch it!
That’s really comforting to know, thanks 🙂 Do you think the pros also have a problem transitioning their swings from the range to the golf course, regardless of tournament pressure?
Absolutely! As I said these guys don’t miss on the range, and they will have days on the course where things don’t go according to plan with their swing. Now it’s all relative. A professional golfer can have a “terrible” day with their swing can still manage to shoot under par because of their superior short game. That being said, golf is an incredibly difficult game, and I don’t think anyone who plays it all the way through the professional ranks is immune to struggling. You just have to realize one golfers struggle might be completely different than another’s because of ability level etc.
Doug T says
Two things I do to deal with inconsistency. The first is several years ago I shifted my perspective on my golf game and realized “I” was going watch, not to play. I could put all the practise and breakdown all the nuances of my swing but when it came down to it, “I” (read my intellect) was not in charge or control of my actual golf swing per se and I would just go to see how I played that day and what I could learn from the experience. That helped a lot. I laugh a lot more now.
The 2nd was I evaluate my consistency on any given round and adjust my goals, targets, and club choice appropriately. For example, If my driver is tending to fade or slice I go down to my 3 wood or hybrids off the tee. If my driver is straight and true I will aim down the narrows with it and let it fly. If my wedge is wandering to the left most of the time I open the face a bit or do more bump and runs with an 8 iron when I can.
P.S. I do some sports psychology and starting to work more with golfers. I really enjoy your articles, very pragmatic and down to earth advice and perspectives!
I recently read an interview with Bubba Watson where he talked about squandering a fourth day lead refusing to accept that he was hooking it that day. These guys are so good on the range that it must come as an absolute shock when their bodies have different ideas once the day gets started. If Bubba had just ditched his stubborn insistence on trying to hit fade he probably would have walked away as the winner.
My golf is so inconsistent that I don’t ever feel like I’m getting a handle on how I’m playing until 4 or 5 holes in. By then I know which clubs I’m leaving in the bag, and whether I need to take more or less club in my approach shots. There’s been more than one occasion where my back nine could have been completed with one of those pencil bags.
Anyway, great content, so thanks. Always brightens my day to see a new article has been posted ?
I think it just shows that no one can truly tame this game. The pros are just infinitely better at it than everyone else! Thanks for your kind words about the site, and I promise to provide more good content in the future 🙂
This was just the article I needed to read after playing terribly in a doubles team comp today. As a 20 handicaper I played more like somebody in the 30’s. Slices, topped many balls, missed 3 foot puts etc etc. – I felt I was playing the golf I was playing years ago which left me a little demoralized from very much under performing. After reading this article though it has definitely given me the pick up I needed. Thank you so much for your wise and also accurate words.