Golf is hard, but we’re all guilty of making it harder than it needs to be.
When we consider golf asks us to get a 1.68in ball into a 4.25in hole some 400 yards away – and casually suggests we should need no more than four shots to do it – we can surely all agree that this game is, officially, difficult.
There is no harm in accepting it as so; indeed, the game’s challenge is one of its biggest draws. However, there are times when we golfers overplay the concept. This can be quite damaging to performance, because when we are presented with something that feels almost too hard, our inevitable response is for our muscles to tighten up and our confidence to waver.
Think of a stream of traffic entering a contraflow from a wide open motorway; as the lanes get narrower and other vehicles closer, we grip the steering wheel harder and feel less comfortable.
Neither makes us drive better. Returning to golf, there are several situations where you might well be perceiving the task in front of you as harder than it is.
Reassess your approach to these five common situations:
1. Picking a target
The psychologists will tell you to make your target as small as possible – even a branch on a distant tree.
The idea here is that if you aim at the bullseye you’ll hit the board – and as a concept, it works for many golfers. But for some, picking out a super-small target makes the task feel over-tough and adds pressure. If this sounds like you, consider that instead of a tiny target you are simply going to send the ball through a channel.
Picture two sticks 10ft apart, 15ft in front of you, and fire the ball through there. This can make your brain more comfortable with the task it’s being handed and in that more confident state of mind you’ll find a state of flow more readily.
2. Putting lines
On the greens, a similar concept sees golfers draw a line on their ball and try to get it rolling end-over-end along a target path no wider than a chalk line.
Again, a tough remit and one that can increase tension. Instead, consider that given the correct pace, the hole is wide enough to receive three balls. You simply do not need the pinpoint accuracy so often depicted.
Think of the line to the hole as a three-ballwide channel – I like to call it a ‘gutter’ – and the task of holing the putt becomes a little less intimidating.
Related: The A-to-Z of Putting
3. The railway-line effect
Like railway lines, golf holes appear to narrow as they stretch off into the distance. This is an effect used by good course designers to make holes look tighter than they are.
Shatter the illusion by picturing the hole from the green back to the tee, almost as if you were a TV cameraman. On TV the green and approach always look so much roomier than they would from the golfer’s eye.
Keep this picture in your mind and you will see the green area for the size it truly is… and that makes your approach shot feel less demanding.
4. The pin illusion
Flags grab our attention. But pins are typically cut into the corners of greens, over bunkers or close to water. That can lull us into thinking an approach is harder than it needs to be.
If instead you make the centre of the green your target, the challenge instantly loses a lot of its bite. Most greens are pretty wide.
5. The ‘perfect golf swing’ delusion
Many of us have grown up with the notion that only a perfect technique can hit consistently sound golf shots. That creates its own problems.
A great example is the takeaway. We are told of the chain reaction nature of the golf swing, and that if you start wrong it is almost impossible to recover. That puts a lot of pressure on the first move away, often creating the very tension that sabotages it.
But you only have to look at the different takeaways among elite golfers – some are inside, some are outside, some break the wrists early, some late – to appreciate the lie in the need for ‘perfection’. The same goes for the rest of the swing.
Ultimately, the brain only needs to organise delivery into impact; trying to be perfect earlier in the swing halts the flow that allows it to do to that. Don’t fall into that trap.