Most golfers crave quick fixes. They want to get rid of their slice overnight and lower their handicap by ten strokes immediately. The golf industry has been more than happy to sell equipment, training aids, and other kinds of products that promise these results.
The truth is that becoming a better golfer takes more time and patience. Like any other endeavor in life, success is a collection of small habits that build over time.
Recently, I finished reading one of the best books on the topic that I have come across. It's called Atomic Habits, by James Clear. For anyone who is looking to get rid of negative habits in their life, and build more positive ones, I highly recommend reading it.
The premise of the book is that small changes in habits (good or bad) build up to breakthroughs or setbacks down the road. It's the same principle behind compound interest, and why saving small amounts of money over a long period can build tremendous wealth.
It got me thinking about what positive habits golfers can start building that will lead to breakthroughs in their games over time. Here is a collection of small changes you can make starting today that I know will pay off. I'll also include links to further resources on this site to learn more about the topic.
Gratitude is as essential as it gets. Being grateful that you can even play golf can change your whole outlook on the game. When you take a step back and think about it, the fact that you can call yourself a golfer means things are going reasonably well for you. Having the disposable income for greens fees and equipment, the physical ability to swing a golf club, and time for a leisurely activity that can consume half of the day is not something many people in the world can relate to.
Without getting too philosophical, it is a privilege to play golf. I didn't always view the game that way, and for many years I took that basic notion for granted. But I can tell you from experience when you step on the course and are genuinely grateful that you are even there, it can put your mind in a place that will allow you to enjoy yourself more and play better.
Choosing Smarter Targets
The best way to lower your scores without doing anything to your swing is to become a smarter course manager. The foundation of strategy is picking targets and club selections that are optimal based on your skill level and the layout of each hole. This goes for tee shots, approach shots, and your short game.
The problem for most golfers is that they are never taught course management. Most instruction and coaching revolves around the swing. Smart strategic play takes a lot of discipline and analysis, but it is indeed one of the essential low-hanging fruit of becoming a better player.
I've written extensively about strategy on this site and have plenty of articles that can help.
If I had to put my finger on the common mistake that every golfer makes, it is that they have unrealistic expectations on the course. Golfers needlessly lose their tempers and get angry at themselves for shots that are quite reasonable for their skill levels. It ruins their day, and worse, prevents them from playing well. Approaching the course with reasonable expectations is one of the great ways to take your game to the next level.
Golf is a challenging game, and changing your mindset on these issues is easier said than done. But with the proper attitude (and guidance) it can lead to significant results down the road.
Practicing With Intent
Practice does not make perfect if you're not doing it correctly. Many golfers (myself included for a long time) think that merely showing up to the range and hitting balls entitles you to lower scores. It doesn't.
Poor practice habits are why you hear golfers say to their playing partners after a bad round, "but I was hitting it so well on the range."
Practicing smarter, challenging yourself, and staying engaged in your practice sessions can make you a better golfer. Many players don't have an endless supply of time to work on their games, but whatever time you do have you want to make it count. Making this fundamental change to your practice can narrow the gap between your performance on the practice range versus the course.
Having a Process
We are all capable of executing great golf shots. What we are not capable of is doing it all of the time when we have only one chance under pressure. What I have found through the years is that the more you automate your process before a shot, the better chance you have to allow your body to do what it is capable of.
Many call this a pre-shot routine, and it's something all golfers should have. It shouldn't be long like Jason Day's or some of the other players you see on tour. However, it should be something you can quickly repeat before each shot. Having a familiar process can provide comfort, reduce negative thoughts, and keep your nerves at bay.
Taking Pride In the Grind
One of the hardest things to do is stay engaged in a round that has started poorly. Our instinct is to give up for the day and declare it a bad day. Giving up is one the of worst habits you can form in your golf game.
Every round of golf has some form of adversity. How you react to an errant drive, missing a putt, or any other outcome that you are not satisfied with has a tremendous impact on your score for the day. The ability to dig in, stay engaged, and keep a positive attitude is a difficult habit to form, but easily one of the best. Here is a tweet that I have pinned to the top of my Twitter profile because I believe this is so important:
If you *really* want to lower your handicap, you have to find a way to stay engaged in rounds that aren't going well. I see golfers all the time waste 5-10 strokes when they give up on their rounds. Once you learn to take pride in the grind, it can become a good habit.
— Jon Sherman (@practicalgolf) September 26, 2018
Everything you need to know about your golf game is hiding in plain sight. I strongly encourage players to evaluate their rounds after they are finished to think about what went well that day, and what went poorly. There are clues everywhere on how you can improve. Were you struggling with awkward wedge distances? Did you feel uncomfortable with the green speeds? Was your temper getting in the way?
One of the best ways to do this is through statistics. Being able to keep track of your performance data is a great way to find out where you need to improve, track your progress, and set reasonable goals for your game. With shot tracking systems like GAME Golf, Shot Scope, and Arccos this is easier than ever.
Wrapping It Up: What Habits Will You Change?
If you want to become a better golfer, you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone. The best part is, you don't have to make monumental changes to see results. If you just take one of the habits from this list and make a real effort to make it part of your game, I can almost promise you that down the road you will see actual results.
It will take some patience on your part, and you won't necessarily see results in the short term, but they are all worthwhile investments in your game.