My best round of Automatic Golf

Despite discussing Automatic Golf for over 14 years, I still get the feeling that some golfers think it’s some sort of magic trick. This is rubbish and not the case at all and it’s one of my biggest frustrations.

Automatic Golf is way more than a tip or quick-fix. It’s a way of thinking (and playing) that allows you to maximise your chances of peak performance. There’s no guarantee, but if you ask me it sure beats the alternative. Many golfers spend years going around in circles and not playing anywhere near their potential.

Below I’m going to walk you through perhaps my best round of golf I’ve played. It might not be the very best in terms of score, but it was definitely one of the most satisfying. Why?

Because I’ve retired from any sort of competitive golf and don’t play much these days. When I do play it’s always for fun and I’m not really bothered with the score I shoot. And I don’t expect to play that well, but when I do, it’s a nice surprise and feeling. And this round was certainly rewarding and proved to me how powerful the automatic process can be. Even for an old-bloke who doesn’t play much these days.

Here’s the rest of the story.

I received a very last minute invite to play in a local Pro Am. And still living by the motto that the worst day of golf is still better than the best day at work, I accepted the offer.

I’ve always enjoyed playing with the pros and thrive on the challenge of testing my game against theirs. Although I had no delusional thoughts I could actually beat them, I was looking forward to putting my automatic game to the test.

To be perfectly honest I’ve hardly played this year. I’ve had a few rounds but they’ve been spasmodic. I see this as an opportunity rather than a negative, because I know, my system knows how to grip a club, swing and hit the ball. The hard part is keeping out of my own way and letting my game flow. It’s very easy to get distracted and fall into the trap of poor thinking. I.e. “I haven’t played in ages so I can have a poor score” etc.

I took a few minutes to hit some shots on the practice fairway. This isn’t a time to find a swing or fix anything, the fairway is simply for warming up. And this is what I did. I pulled the wedge and let the swing go.

After a few shots I changed to a longer club and repeated. Let me be very clear here…

… I’m not thinking about my swing. I’m not controlling my swing. I’m not even worried about where the ball is going. And I’m certainly not concerned about results or trying to fix anything – I couldn’t give a stuff to be frank.

My goal is to move the body, to feel the swing and release any tension or stiff joints. And the warm up doesn’t need to take a long time. On this day I might have hit 20 shots in total. I finished with some 3 woods and was ready to play.

Important point: Most golfers would play far better if they could commit to a better warm up routine. I know that many golfers go to the range to “find a golf swing”. This thinking is foolhardy because we just don’t function this way. The searching and tweaking just doesn’t help. It’s a lost opportunity to get into a flow and trust your inbuilt learning system to hit the ball. You should practice like you play, never the other way around.

Now onto the course.

The first hole was a tough one. 201 metres into a strong wind. One of the pros was talking…

Golf pro #1: What a tough hole. Over 200 metres straight off the bat. I think I’m going to hit a 3 wood. I can’t remember the last time I needed a wood to reach a par 3 green. Why do we have to start on such a hard hole?

“You can’t hit a wood mate! That’s not a very good example”, I said, egging him on, reminding him that pros really shouldn’t be playing woods into par 3’s.

When you’re focused on playing golf and not worried about all the things golfers like to worry about, you notice how negative golfers are. Does all the negative stuff help you play better?

My approach was simple.

How far do I have to hit the ball?
What club do I need?

The above two questions give me no way out. I either have the guts to answer them or I don’t. If I want to get caught up in all the other type of bullshit I can, but usually the answers snap me back into the moment and keep me on track. They have served me well and allowed me to play consistent golf at a level I never thought I was capable of.

On this tough opener I selected a 3 iron and wanted to hit my favourite shot – a low left-to-right bullet.

I need to point out at that I’ve hit thousands of these shots. I own this shot. If someone put a gun to my head I’d be able to play a low draw shot. I could do it in my sleep. And anytime I’m playing golf and under pressure, this is the shot that I revert to.

When on the first tee (or anywhere) I know I can hit this shot. Instead of worrying about all the bad stuff, I just tell myself to “hit your bloody shot”.

If you haven’t yet learned to own a specific shot, what are you waiting for? What have you been doing all this time? Learning “your shot” is perhaps the greatest key for hitting the ball well. Yet, most golfers still play a form of golf that’s haphazard and lacks any sort of commitment or direction. They don’t have a stock shot and they suffer the consequences as a result.

Onward.

I picked a target to the edge of the green (because I was hoping to curve the ball back into the pin) and let rip. The shot was pure. No hesitation. No fear. Just a free flowing swing with a very clear objective.

When I looked up the ball started on my intended line and curved back. The ball didn’t curve as much as I’d liked, but it was a very nice shot and found the back of the green. Two-putts later and I was on my way.

The second hole was a downwind par 5. I was hoping to nail my tee shot and then have a chance for an easy birdie. My drive was good, but finished in the right rough. None of this was a biggie, I was still in reach of the green and played another decent shot. But I didn’t flush it and the ball came up a tad short. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, I really needed an extra club, but I wasn’t to know I was going to make only average contact. Shit happens.

I was left with a difficult chip, a rough lie, up a bank to a tight pin. And because my game felt a bit rusty, I didn’t feel the hero chip was the thing to do. This might sound negative, or even lacking any sort of courage, but I tend to play more conservatively these days. I opted for a safe shot, hitting the ball past the pin and hoping for a longer putt.

Note: Both pros had similar chips and didn’t do any better than me. Sometimes a conservative strategy is the play. It’s way less stressful and you don’t need to muck about so much. Get on with things and transition to the next shot.

We all missed our birdie putts and moved onto the 3rd.

Automatic Golf won’t guarantee you’ll play every shot pure. You’re going to hit some bad shots. You might even hit some awful ones…

… the 3rd was another par 5, and after another decent drive (I only just missed the fairway in the left rough) I thought I was good enough to have a crack at the green. I took my 3 wood and gave the ball a serious thump. But I missed the shot completely. I cold topped the ball and it ran along the fairway, only just missing a bunker. The better play would have been to lay up with a 6 or 7 iron, but I made a mental error. Such is life.

My 3rd was a beauty. Poor shots tend to knock me back into reality and get me to refocus. I needed a 3 iron to reach the green, picked my target and swung like I had already found the green. The ball landed on the front and then bundled up onto the same level as the pin. My putt was in, but only if I had hit it a bit harder – it sat annoyingly on the front lip. Another par but no damage done.

By the way. Learning to refocus like this is the absolute best way to forget about horrible shots. Years ago I would have been shaken by a smelly shot. I would have asked, “what did I do wrong?” or “how do I fix my swing?” or spent a few minutes doing drills and worrying about what had happened. It’s almost a certainty that I would have taken that poor shot around with me for the rest of the day/week/month/year.

I can’t emphasise the importance of having your very own shot. Something you can rely on time after time. And when you’re feeling nervous or doubtful you can simply go back and play your shot. It saves time and lots of energy. As I’ve told you already, my shot is a draw and on the 4th hole was screaming out for it.

This hole is a little beauty. It’s a shortish par 3 with water right and a bunker and swale to the left. You have to be accurate, otherwise you’ll find water, or have a difficult recovery.

I settled on a low hard draw with my 8 iron. My reasoning was to hit the ball low and hard into the strengthening wind. I don’t need to do anything differently, just choose a shot (and then club) and let my body do the rest. The ball came out low and to the left and then curved back to the right. It was a perfect shot – landing next to the pin – and then stopping quickly.

Both pros were impressed. It was obvious to them that this was exactly what I intended to do.

Pro #1 bailed out of his shot. I clear sign that he wasn’t settled on “his shot”. His swing lacked conviction and he was lucky to avoid the water.
Pro #2 took the wrong club. He came up short (hit the ball way too high) and watched his ball trickle down the swale at the front.

And here lies a lesson for us all. Both guys hit great recoveries and made par. This is why they are pros. You can’t play the game at any sort of level if you can’t get the ball up and down. You need to be able to pitch, chip and play decent bunker shots.

My ball finished 10 feet from the hole and I wasn’t about to go all funny and get scared. I was feeling good and was happy to keep playing and keep out of my own way. I waltzed into the ball and struck the putt without a care in the world. It rolled beautifully along the grass and into the hole. Nice.

I won’t bore you with every shot. This post is already getting lengthy so I’ll highlight the important stuff.

I bogeyed the 8th. It was annoying because it’s the easiest hole on the course. I had 87 metres to the pin and had just watch both pros hit excellent pitch shots. I really should have done better. And for the first time I got anxious. I didn’t commit and caught my wedge thin. It landed too far past the pin and rolled off the back. I made a good fist of getting up and down but missed a tricky 2 metre putt.

If I was starting my golf career again I’d certainly spend more time on the scoring shots. These are all those finesse shots from inside 100 metres. The pros all tend to be really good at them. I’ve been inconsistent at best. I struggle with them because I like to hit the ball hard. But you can’t hit them hard. I like bunker shots because I can smash the sand and hit the ball short distances. But I’ve never grasped the same level of confidence with the pitching shots as I have the longer ones. Maybe I should practice them more???

Another bogey on 9 followed. It was a bit unfair as I played a nice shot, but my ball landed a metre too far and rolled off the back. Anyway, those two bogeys brought me back down to earth. It was time to get back to playing golf.

Nothing too exciting to report over the next six holes. Automatic Golf can be like that. It’s not that sexy. Once you find what works for you the trick is to keep doing it over and over and over. Yep, it’s boring, but I do tell people you’ll get some sexy results.

Golfers tend to want the sexy (or exciting) tip to set them straight. They’ll easily try an new club or some fancy pants idea from Golf Digest. And they’ll try any new club or jump from tip to tip. They’re always searching. I call this the golf instruction merry-go-round. It’s not much fun and long-term it rarely leads to anything worth commenting on. The typical golfer keeps looking outward for the answers, when invariably, the answers are found within. This is the beauty of Automatic Golf.

While those six holes are hardly worth writing about. They were perfect. Not because of the scores (I had 5 pars and 1 birdie) but because I played them my way. I hit the shots that suited me and my game plan. I kept out of my way and truly played the game. The enjoyment this gives one is hard to describe. It’s what makes golf so much fun. It’s truly satisfying and rewarding.

Let’s keep going.

The 16th is the longest par 5 on the course and with my two best blows I thought I could get home. After a good drive I, once again, tried to jump on my 3 wood. I really am a slow learner. The right play for me, because a conservative approach really was a better option, would have been to lay up and go from there. Instead, I hit a terrible snap hook. It looked for certain that is was going to be deep in the trees. I was mad at myself for letting ego take over.

Luckily, the ball was on the edge of the jungle, I was able to pitch out to the front of the green, but left myself a lot of work to do to make a par.

Golf is a funny sport. It can be brutally unfair one minute, and then the opposite the next. You never know when something good (or bad) is going to come your way. The more I learn about golf performance the more I think we’re spectators. We can’t really plan for birdies and eagles, anymore than we can avoid the odd derailment. All we can do is work out what we’d like to happen and then step up and fire away.

Stressing and worry and wasting energy trying to predict the future is a waste of time and effort. Just doesn’t help that much. All we can do is play the game and write the scores on the card. We really can’t control what happens. Learning to accept this is a powerful step in the right direction.

I am standing at the front of the 16th green 20 metres from the pin. The green is long and narrow with a fair amount of break from right to left. The beauty of golf is there are so many options. Each shot can be played many ways, and you are free to explore all these options throughout your career. There really is no right and wrong, just options. And perhaps the hard part is choosing the right one most of the time.

I have said for years that the majority of golfers would do better if they putted from off the green. Again, it’s not a sexy shot, but it can be really effective. There’s less pressure and there’s certainly a reduced risk of stuffing things up. And this is a good thing if you don’t have the time or patience to spend hours each week hitting 60 degree lob wedges. My default position is to hit the putter, and on 16 this is what I did.

“Look and react” is also a catch-cry of mine. It’s almost like you’re throwing a ball to someone. Look where you want to go, and let your system react to the target. The ball took off on a good line and started to swing back to the left. At the halfway point I was pleased because it looked like the ball would settle close enough to the hole to secure a par. But it did better than that. It rolled gently into the hole, perfect pace and line. Birdie!

Learning to putt this way hardly guarantees you’ll make many of these putts. It only maximises your chances for doing so. But it is a great feeling when they go in!

On 17 I hit my best drive of the day. By now I was right into the game and loving every second of it. I completely cut loose here and crushed the ball. It actually finished too close to the green. I had 68 metres to a front pin. With the firm green and tailwind, there was no way to loft the ball and get it to finish close. I had just watched Pro #2, coming from the rough, land near the pin, only to see the ball skip to the very back.

I chose a different club, a PW, and wanted to hit a low running shot. This is not a shot I have played much, but I hit a beauty. The ball came off low, pitched about 15 metres short and run up to 12 feet past the flag. I could have stood there all day and not hit a better shot. Perhaps, of all the shots I hit that day, this one gave me the most pleasure. It was absolutely perfect.

Only just missed the putt and walked to the last tee happy.

18 is a great little par 4. It’s not too long and there’s water and fairway bunkers to negotiate. I chose my 3 wood, again aiming to hit my power draw. I flushed it, and thought for a moment it went a bit too far right and might not carry the trap. It did, giving me another sense of achievement. Now I had to finish off.

I was left with 86 metres to a tight pin. By now there was no hesitation. My goal was to feel my swing from start to finish and be aware of the sensation of impact. I achieved my goal and looked up to see the ball traveling straight at the pin. The ball landed on the flat part of the green and then bounced up to settle 7 feet from the pin.

Putting is certainly a black art and I think the biggest key for improved putting is to putt like you don’t care. This doesn’t mean you give up and play hockey, no way. But you need to learn to hit the putt like you’re not fussed if it misses. It’s easier said than done, but this is what I did with this putt. I didn’t dwell on it and try and find a way to miss. I had a quick look at the line, walked in and hit the best putt I could. I knew immediately it was in.

Nice. Another birdie.

This was a great way to finish an awesome day. And it certainly was one of the best rounds I have ever played. I wasn’t perfect. Far from it (left a handful of shots out there) but nothing bothered me and I played free from fear and self-doubt. And that is my priority these days.

I finished two under the card and my score was good enough to finish in the top 8 of the 50 or so pros and I even managed to win the handicap section. Winning is always a nice bonus but it’s not something that you can always count on. It happens as a result of doing everything else well – and even then you need some luck.

Automatic Golf is not a quick fix and it certainly goes deeper than most of those lessons you see in the golf mags. It offers a way to play golf that maximises your ability and level of dedication and keeps you free from the many distractions that abound. If you’d like to learn more about Automatic Golf and get the full story, I’d be delighted to show you with a personal golf lesson.

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1 Comment

  • Adam

    Reply Reply July 6, 2017

    I think that when we want to play well, we steer, we try too hard to hit every shot perfect. It’s scary to let go and play the game, because we’re afraid to lose a ball, or lose that match, and in general we’re afraid to do badly.

    Moe Norman is a perfect example of automatic golf; he looked, he hit. He said “Don’t be afraid of not doing well. What do I got to lose when I tee it up? A lousy golf ball. What else? If I lose it I go get another one and hit it.” This is a perfect example of automatic golf right there. Fear is the culprit of so many bad shots, and so many poor scores. Fear takes grown men to their knees in golf, and yet it really is just a stupid game. Go out and play.

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