The start of every golf season is always exciting. But I want to make sure all of you have a successful start! Golfers tend to fall into similar traps, and it can hinder their performance, but more importantly, their enjoyment of the game. Here are four ways to get yourself ready...
Get Your Expectations In Line
One of the hardest things to do after a long layoff is to keep your expectations in check. Golfers spend their offseason doing all kinds of different things. Some put their bags away and don't think about the game or even swing a club for several months. Others are practicing at home or hitting balls at the range weekly. Lastly, some take that time to consume tons of information in the form of YouTube videos, books, or even articles on this site :)
Whatever the case may be, you have to throw out all expectations if you haven't played for quite a while. Certain golfers will come out and have a great round, only to be disappointed by follow-up outings. I call those early successes "fools-gold golf." Your game might be in shambles from the get-go. Either way, it doesn't matter (as hard as it is to think that way).
As I stated in this article, if you have not been on a golf course playing that much, it is tough to maintain or improve your level of play from the prior season. Reading all of the golf books in the world won't change that scenario. The best thing you can do is to go out with almost zero expectations. Understand that plenty (or all) parts of your game are going to be rusty.
Establish Your Feels
In my experience, long layoffs are most detrimental to "feel" shots in your short game. Your full swing might not be in total hibernation, but your ability to control your wedges or putting speed might be atrocious.
For most of you, I think it makes sense to spend a little more time practicing with your wedges or on the practice green. Your body and mind need to go through a calibration process of sorts.
For example, despite hitting balls all winter long in my net, I went outside this weekend for the first time to hit short wedge shots in my backyard. As usual, it took a while to start seeing and feeling what a 5, 10, or 15-yard pitch shot felt like despite seeing those numbers on my launch monitor during the winter. This part of the game requires a little more patience and time compared to your full swing for a majority of golfers.
Setting Goals (But Really Changing Habits)
When it comes to goals, most golfers usually say, "I want to drop my handicap from 12 to an 8 this season!"
Great! But what does that even entail?
Last year I read a book called Atomic Habits that changed my thinking on setting goals. The author, James Clear, has a very clever way of getting people to stop thinking about tangible results. Instead, he gives readers an alternative suggestion. To achieve whatever goals you want in any endeavor, it's more about changing your identity and habits. The results tend to follow.
So rather than saying you want to drop your handicap several strokes, think more about what kinds of habits you can change in your game. Can you commit to making smarter strategic decisions on the golf course? Will you be more analytical about what parts of your game need help and focus more effectively during practice to fix them?
Also, give thought to what kind of golfer you want to become. Let's say you have a temper issue on the course. Can you become the guy or gal that keeps a level head no matter what happens?
I find it's far more productive to break your game down into smaller pieces like these rather than giving yourself blanket goals that revolve around your score. Here is an article that explores what kinds of productive habits golfers can adopt.
Perhaps the most important thing you should do is the simplest. Just have fun and enjoy being back on the course.
For those of us who go through winters and being stuck inside, it can damper our moods a bit. Getting outside in the sunshine is one of the great gifts golf gives us, and it would be a shame to lose sight of that while you play.