Club Championships – a club golfer's major.

It’s Club Championship time at my club again and I always find it interesting to see how the club golfers deals with the extra pressure and chance to get their name up in lights.

Over the years I have noticed a funny phenomenon. It happens each year and I’m sure it will happen again this year. It is worth noting as this can help you understand human performance and a better way to play.

So here’s what happens…

There’s a group of afternoon players that always go in for a few beers and lunch before they play. Sometimes they have a few too many and literally stagger out to the tee. What I find interesting is that they will always play within a certain bracket. If they play well they’ll shoot below their handicap and if they play poorly they won’t embarrass themselves, managing to shoot a competitive score three or four shots away from their handicap. For the most part they are good golfers and play quite consistently.

Club Championships are a different story. The same guy that will go in for beer, wine and a big lunch most Saturdays decides that the ‘Clubbies’ are too important for such behaviour, and heads for the practice fairway instead. He spends that time working on his swing (only time all year!), practices his chipping and bunker play and finishes up with some putting before heading out.

This behaviour is admirable but rarely does it work. You see this golfer is out of his routine and is already thinking too much about his swing and technique. He is too pumped up! His standard routine of beer and food works for him and there is no need to do anything differently. But the extra pressure of a big event causes him to change what works and is doomed for failure.

So what happens?

Starting from the first tee his mind will be full of thoughts like, “OK…nice and easy, let’s get off to a good start”, “Slow backswing, I don’t want to swing too fast” or “finish my swing…I have to finish my swing…I don’t want to swing short and quickly”. You get the idea. This kind of thinking is different from what he usually experiences when he rushes out from the bar, his senses numbed from alcohol.

Invariably he will get off to a bad start. Then the thinking and analysis intensifies. By the fourth tee he has already blown his handicap. He is desperate to get is round back on track. He is confused because he thinks he has done the right thing by not having lunch. When he reaches the turn he has no chance of shooting a good score. He gives up, relaxes a little and then plays the kind of golf he is used to.

Frustrated, he signs for a big score and laments his poor front nine. “If only I had played better early on”, he thinks. “My back nine was great!”. If he had a better understanding of the learning process he would know what happened and how to fix it.

Poor scores are a part of golf. They will even come when you least want them. What the golfer did above though was not poor golf, it was poor knowledge and understanding. Some might call it choking! The solution to this situation is having the courage to do the same thing over and over no matter what the situation.

I see something similar in golf professionals. They play aggressively in practice and in social golf. They play well and can score some low numbers. When the same player gets to a tournament he plays conservatively, thinking he needs to ‘take it easy’ and protect his score. Rubbish I say! If he could only trust his natural game he would be fine and most likely find his way in the difficult golf professional world.

The amateur player from above should go in for lunch and have some beer if that is what he is used to doing. There’s also no need for him to warm up and work on his swing. It is too late for that. Practice or refinements prior to play is going to make any difference. You are stuck with what you have got!

Warming up is a fallacy. I was reading some scientific research out of Russia with power lifters. Those that spent time warming up did worse than those that didn’t. Golf professional, I believe, have taken things too far with drawn out and lengthy warm up routines. No wonder they work out so much. All of that extra effort requires so much energy!

I know this sounds a little controversial, but I believe that some gentle practice swings and few hits in a net is all you need. Trying to groove or find a swing prior to play is delusional. It’s is like trying to cram five minutes before an exam. Just doesn’t work!

My advice is to stick to your routine. Enjoy lunch and some wine before golf (even on the course) if that is your thing. If you understand your style and the automatic process you will beat those other golfers most of the time. Your golf will be more fun and you’ll have more energy after golf to celebrate your likely success.

Good golfing,

Cameron Strachan

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