When playing golf, an area which can drastically lower your score is course management. During any given round there are 100’s of decisions to be made which contain multiple factors which need to be considered and adapted depending on the type of course, the conditions and how you are feeling on the day. The more decisions that you have already made prior to playing, the better chance you have of shooting a low score as you can put your focus on the task, the shot immediately in front of you. I will separate this into two sections, the preparation and on course, to give you a few ideas to think about and consider implementing into your game.
Physical Training – A fitness professional can create a conditioning program to help prepare your body for the hours of demanding stresses and strains caused by the miles of walking and 100’s of swings. A golf specific training program can help massively with endurance, strength, conditioning, stability, and flexibility which improves the bodies range of motion. Everyone wants to swing like the tour players but not everyone has the range of motion required to do so. This can be a big step to improving your golf swing. The golf coach and fitness instructor should work together to devise a weekly program for the players needs based off the players availability and goals.
Mental Training – The mental side of the game does not get the attention it should as all actions and behaviours are controlled by the way we think. The fastest way to improve on the course is a change of attitude. There are many techniques which can be used on and off the course which not only improves the players thinking but the skills and attributes are transferrable to everyday life. Mental strength is a massive part of a tour professionals training with some having their own sports psychologist and is something everyone should incorporate into their training. One of the most used techniques by all top professionals in every sport is visualisation.
Golf Bag – Check that you have no more than 14 clubs, tees, a ball marker, pitch-mark repairer, pencil, pencil sharpener, sharpie, same compression golf balls, a glove and spares, 2 towels, range finder and/or Gps, preferably a waterproof bag but depends on where you are playing, umbrella, rain gloves, winter mitts, hand warmers, any medication you might need, drinks, food/snacks, rain gear, cap/hat, sunglasses, a trolley (make sure the battery is charged), any luck items and anything else that you would specifically include as everyone is individual. The most important piece of clothing are your golf shoes as you can be wearing them for 4-7 hours each day so spare no expense for these. Be prepared for all conditions with everything ready the night before.
Know the course – This involves knowing the type of course you are going to play which includes a series of questions such as is it parkland, links or a mix, hard or soft conditions? Are the fairways cut tight and hard or long grass and soft? Is the rough thick or thin, short, or long? Is the course open to the elements or protected by tree cover? What is the course altitude and weather conditions? Are there large elevation changes or is it flat? Where is the carpark, clubhouse, changing rooms and sign in area? How far is the practice area from the clubhouse and first tee?
All these questions can influence how good a warmup you can have based on your arrival time, for example if you have good timings factored in from arrival to tee off you can be very prepared for the game ahead. Equipment choices can also be affected. On a windy links with hard fairways, a 2 iron would be a better choice than a 5 wood and vice versa if it is a soft treelined parkland course. Your selection of wedges can be the difference between a good or great score with low bounce wedges preferred for links courses with hard fairways and greens over the high bounce option for parkland soft fairways and greens. The chipping/pitching technique may need to be adjusted based on the ground conditions. The ball also travels further at higher elevation with club yardages needing to be adjusted. The ball itself might spin too much if conditions are soft or not spin enough, so knowing the ball characteristics and how they will react is vital for shooting low.
Course analysis – This begins weeks/months before the competition and includes a shot-by-shot breakdown plan to identify specific yardage approach shots which you can practice, where to land the ball on each hole, the location of the high value trouble and strategies to maximise your chances of shooting the lowest score. An aerial image of the course can reveal safe areas to aim for and ones to avoid which helps with club selection from tee to green. Do you need to be able to work the ball, hit high and low shots, create a lot of spin, or allow for the ball to release on the greens? This can identify specialised shots which you currently might not be able to play with confidence but can learn in the time before the competition. You might find that you have multiple holes which require the same approach yardage. This gives you focused attention and an advantage as you can perfect the shot weeks or months prior to the competition and have confidence on the holes which require that exact distance.
Know your game – To give yourself the best chance of shooting the lowest score you need to know your game. Be honest with yourself when it comes to what your carry distances are and what the dispersion patterns are with each club? This is vital to playing to your strengths and giving yourself the best possible miss should you not have your A game on the day. You form your strategy based off your strengths which could be as simple as: regardless of the pin position, aim for the middle of the green or hitting your 3 wood off the tee when the hole demands a straight shot.
Start your day with a good breakfast which will provide energy for the next 3-4 hours. As everyone is different, this can take a lot of trial and error to see what combination of foods provides the desired result. (consulting a nutritionist is highly recommended). You are looking for a slow sustained release of energy that covers both the physical and mental to keep the body strong, blood pressure at a maintained level and clarity of mind. Know how long it takes to drive to the course and any alternative routes should there be a diversion in place on the day. Aim to arrive 1.5 hours before the tee time as this allows plenty of time for talking, catching up, signing in, stretching and your warmup. This ensures you are prepared to go from the first tee and takes the stress and doubt out of the game caused by rushing.
Getting ready :
The warmup – The warmup is hugely important to prepare the body for the hours ahead while reducing the chance of injury. The golf swing puts a lot of torque on the body and can pull, strain, tear and rip if not properly warmed up. Have a routine which targets all the muscles used in the golf swing to be carried out prior to going to the range. A fitness instructor or golf specific fitness coach would be able to give you a bespoke warm up plan for your body type and usually does not require a lot of time. Ensure it contains, stability, flexibility, separation, myofascial tissue stretching, twists, turns, push, and pulls.
On the Range – its time to start dialling in your rhythm and tempo to see how you are performing on the day. Every day is different and is vitally important to see how you are moving and what shot type and shape you are producing on the day. Start with the shots that first develop touch and feel then the shots you had identified and practiced prior to the competition day that you would be using during the round. Chip around the green to ensure you have the correct wedges in the bag and short and long putts to get a feel for the green speed on the day. Finish with the club that you will be using off the first tee to instil confidence off the first as you have just hit the shot a few minutes before. Devise a routine warm up that is timed so you know exactly how long you should spend at the range and on each section of the game.
Green reading maps – Where possible, it is advantageous to get a green map book. This gives all the green information with slopes, yardages, green tilt, and distances to carry or to reach any bunkers, water, or run offs. This allows you to pick your approach shot based on your strengths, pin distances and the contours of the green. This gives you a huge advantage when putting as the slope percentages are shown every few feet and when used with a green reading system like Aimpoint, you can greatly increase your chances of making putts.
Where all the preparation and hard work is put to the test. Playing to a game plan requires discipline, knowing your habits, thought processes, and controlling your emotions. Many seem to forget that it is a game, and the challenge should be enjoyed but many get lost in the frustration of trying to shoot low or caught up with the technical aspects of the swing.
On the course – On the day, check how the course has been set up, the condition and how it is playing. Check the weather forecast for the next 6 hours, then select one of the game plans that you have prepared. You may know the people you are playing alongside, but the challenge is to not get distracted when playing, stick to your pre-shot routine and focus on the shot immediately in front of you. From time to time, you may come across people that will offer you advise, if you have put the work in during the course analysis, you will be prepared for the hole that you are playing so stick to your game plan as it was created at a time when there was no pressure or external influences with your strengths at the forefront.
Pace of play is particularly important but do not rush your pre-shot routine, time can be made up by walking to the ball quickly. It can help if you split the course up into 3hole segments. Focus on the best score you can make for the segment you are in, forgetting what holes are in front and behind you. Allow for any handicap adjustments based on the hole index. Find ways to distract yourself between shots or if you are waiting for extended periods of time due to slow play. Remember to keep the body loose and watch the self-talk if you do find yourself standing around.
Fuelling yourself – When you begin playing, you will need to sustain your energy levels from the breakfast, again this is trial and error as everyone is different, but you want to avoid the peeks and troughs which is caused when sugar is the source of energy. Find out if there is a food hut after 9 holes and what type of food they have. A chicken salad is perfect to get you through the final 9 holes (but burgers might suit you 😊!!). A hand full of almonds and water every 2-3 holes can be enough to keep you feeling full and energised throughout the round.
Self-management – the most important skill in golf is knowing how to manage yourself. Being aware of how you react under stress and pressure can be the difference of having a good round or a great round. When you are aware, you can manage your reactions, nerves, emotions and stay focused under the pressures of an interclub competition or the final day of a professional competition. Like the golf swing, this takes practice and a lot of effort, but this has the added benefit of being transferable into your everyday life. A sports psychologist can create an environment for you to experience pressure, your reactions, and the techniques which can be used to manage your reactions and gain control of emotions. Golfers should be putting as much time into their psychology as they do into the swing as both are intertwined. The day you play where you have a new personal record for 9 holes, you should review how you were thinking, what tension was present, what was your self-talk like, how quickly did you make decisions, how you reacted to miss hit shots etc. This is the mindset you should strive to be in every time you play, the challenge is how to “get in the zone” more often which starts with self-awareness.
Course strategy – Golf at all levels, can benefit greatly from the implementation of one or more strategies to help manage the ball around the course. Your local golf coach will be able to give you a few to try out to see which works best for you. On a short and tight course, a strategy can be as simple as not hitting driver or you are going to play a club short off the tee so you cannot make the fairway traps. There are many for all aspects of the game which can greatly improve your chances of shooting the lowest score possible.
Stretching – After the round it is important to prepare the body for recovery. A short post round stretching routine will keep the body from becoming stiff and can set you up for the following day if you are playing a multiple day competition. There are different levels of flexibility from normal day task range of motion, sport specific range of motion and end range of motion. The more flexible and supple you are the less likely you will suffer from injury. Routines from Yoga can help both the body and mind to relax after hours on the course. A good night sleep and rest enhances the body’s ability to repair quickly.
Recovery fuel – The body needs Energy to recover so a good post game balanced meal is essential to replace the lost nutrients (proteins, Carbohydrates, and fats). A sports nutritionist would be able to provide a few tailored sports specific options to maximise your recovery in the shortest space of time. Hydration plays a massive part as our bodies are mainly water and post round intake can vary greatly depending on the climate you are playing in and how much you drank during play.
Post-game analysis – One of the most important aspects of improvement is feedback. A self-review of how you played and what you noticed is key to improving and altering game plans and strategies to improve your score the next time you play. A good review will look at self-talk, shot decisions, discipline to stick to the chosen game plan or if the game plan needed adjusting on the day and why, commitment to each decision, identifying any doubt or negative speak and what caused it, confidence level for each shot, diligence in carrying out the pre-shot routine on every shot, How accurate your yardages were compared to rehearsal, were you distracted by playing partners and if so, why? how were your energy levels? Clarity of mind and any other aspect you feel you can benefit from.
Improvement at all levels can begin with an analysis of how many shots you played which were both in play and out of trouble in the areas of driving, approach shots, lay ups, pitching, chipping, bunkers and putting. If you review and aim to improve an area by just one shot each time you go out, you will become proficient in all areas and can focus your rehearsal games on bringing the area with the most room for improvement to that which is your strongest. Always remember to enjoy the game, people tend to get caught up in all the analytics and bad shots, but it is a game of recovery so challenge yourself to make the best recovery possible and above all else have fun.