How to play golf

Play golf.

I’ve been banging on about playing golf for a while now. When you’re truly playing the game you are doing everything in your power to get the results you want. But most golfers aren’t really playing the game. They’re missing out.

It occurred to me that I haven’t given a meaningful definition of what it is to play the game.

I sat down a few weeks ago to nut out a worthy definition. I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t. A bit like writing down the definition of life. I got stuck and scrapped the idea and went and did something else. But it has been bugging me because I’m certain if you “get” what I’m going on about you’ll gain something positive. While many of your golfing buddies are busy thinking their golf swing stinks or wondering where their next good score is coming from, you’ll take away something much more. Let’s explore this play thing in more detail.

Golfers play.

Of that I’m sure. A true golfer will take the opportunity to walk the course over the practice fairway anytime (And notice I said walk? Carts are not part of a real golfer’s kit). The practice fairway is full of delusional golfers hiding from their fear. Why don’t they play? What are they scared of? I see lots of golfers hitting the ball on the practice tee but they’re not players – they’re not really playing golf.

The golf course is the arena where it matters. You can’t hide from your performance. If you start double bogey, double bogey you know about it. You need to pick yourself up, dust off and then get on with it. This kinda thing is useful for learning and the pain will be enough to NOT do it next time. The practice fairway offers no such tough love. It’s a safe haven, so while you’re unlikely to fall that hard, you’re not going to learn anything meaningful.

Golfers practice like they play and never the other way around.

Golfers care about the score without becoming obsessed by it. There’s a great young player in my club and I reckon he’s on the path to greatness. He hits the ball a mile (almost literally) and has got a spunky short-game. He’s also got a strong mind, some people would say an old head on young shoulders. He’s a great kid, cocky without being arrogant and certainly has got some perspective.

He lost some matches this year he could have won. He was non-flustered. The same couldn’t be said about members of the club.

“he can’t play matchplay!”
“he doesn’t know how to win”
“he’s not as good as he thinks”
blah blah blah

I haven’t heard so much crap in a while. Would be a bit like Einstein’s teacher giving up on him because he didn’t win the grade 5 science competition. A tad short-sighted if you ask me.

The future star realises that the score today is only part of the journey. It doesn’t define him. And the same thing goes for when he plays well – he doesn’t get carried away thinking he is better than he is. It’s a special quality in someone not yet 21 and why I think he’ll “make it”. It’s something I wish I learned at that age.

Golfers learn. They’re not stuck in first gear. They’re inventive and not worried about trying something new. If you’re not learning then you’re not playing the game. When was the last time you tried something new? Your 14 clubs offer so many possibilities – many more than you’ll ever know – so don’t be scared to try something. Try anything. But always be learning.

Golfers ignore. They don’t let others thinking affect them. They play their game and make no apologies for it.

Golfers make mistakes. These errors don’t phase them. They realise that a mistake or two isn’t the end. Mistakes are good because it helps them learn.

Golfers play their game. They listen and learn but they also walk their own path. A real golfer isn’t afraid to break the status quo and do what feels good to him.

Golfers teach. They help others. They understand that the more they help others the more their own game will benefit.

Golfers are aware. They notice their feelings and emotions. They also realise that it’s into the wind when others don’t. They smell the roses and they certainly can feel their swing. Awareness is simply noticing the present moment but many golfers are too distracted to notice. You can’t be aware when you’re too busy worried about your score, playing partners or the out of bounds stake.

Golfers have a clear intention. They draw a line in the sand and declare, “I’m hitting the ball to the front of the green”. They have a defined goal (target) with every shot they hit. There’s no slap happy hockey with them – they know what they want to do.

Golfers are accepting. You can’t hit a round full of perfect shots. It’s not possible. So while you need to be clear with your intention, you need to be accepting of the result. Learn but move on.

Golfers play fast. They don’t stuff about because they’re not trying to remember 23 rules each time they hit the ball. They think. They choose. They do. That’s it. Slow play is a problem and real golfers aren’t adding to the problem. Don’t mistake “fast” with “rush”. A poor golfer will rush when the pressure mounts. This is choking and not something a player will do.

Golfers work the short game. There’s no hiding from the importance of the short shots. If you don’t realise this then you’re definitely not a player. Putting, chipping, bunkers and pitching are the scoring shots – ignore them and you’ll suffer.

Golfers have fun. Fun is also hard to describe and not as easy as saying, “go have fun” or “enjoy yourself”. I think a real definition of fun can only be realised by someone who is playing the game.

Hitting the ball is fun
Learning is fun.
Competing is fun.
Playing in the moment is fun.

It’s your definition. And you’ll only find your definition of fun when you get outside and play the game.

Take dead aim.
The secret is in the dirt.
Do your best.
Have fun.

If you ask me they’re all saying the same thing.

Go and play.

And one other thing. You don’t have to go and play golf. You get to play.

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  • Gregor

    Reply Reply May 25, 2012

    I like your closing statement. I used to be obsessed with getting to the course. I had to play. Now I play a lot less than I used to and hardly ever think about golf in between. Sometimes I chip a few balls down the hall carpet in the house or once in a while get to the short game area at the course.
    When I do get to the course I just don’t worry any more if I get off to a bad start. It’s not worth it. More often than not things get better as the round progresses anyway once I get back into my rhythm. I watch some of my playing partners with curiousity now. Why are they beating themselves up so much.
    As for playing the game, I’m finally learning. What’s easiest to get on the green and away from trouble. It’s taken a long time, but it’s starting to sink in. Folk are amused at chip shots played with a 5 wood or utility club but I just find them more consistent at getting a bit nearer the flag.
    I’ve started inventing shots as well. I used to do that when I first started playing. If I miss a fairway or put the ball in a bunker it’s not a big deal. It happens all the time to the pro’s so why should I worry.
    A meaninful definition is – hit the ball with whatever club you want and in any way you want with the purpose of getting the ball in the hole in as few shots as it takes.

  • Steady

    Reply Reply May 27, 2012

    I often ask the realy low handicap golfers at our club, How do they play? There answer …
    Stay away from trouble, make your misses minimal and enjoy hitting shots that give you the most pleasure.
    Not shots that boost your ego but that gives you enjoyment.
    I think all too often golfers forget to have fun instead of… man I have to get up and down here to save par or if i miss thiss putt it’s a double bogey?
    Any way great post Cam.
    Ta Steady

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply May 28, 2012

      Steady: I have found that attitude to be rare. Most really good amateur players tend to have the same issues as everyone else. These guys would be awesome role models to learn from.

  • Luke

    Reply Reply May 29, 2012

    Hi Cameron. Not really related to your post this time, but a question for you. I’ve been playing really hot the last few weeks and my long game in particular has been awesome. I’ve literally been stepping on to the tee, not been bothering with a practice swing and just tanking the driver! Anyway, jump to Friday night and I figure I’ll get 9 holes practice in before the weekend. I got out there and I just stunk. I just put it down to a bad round, put it out of my mind and told myself that I’ll be back on form for the weekend competition. Anyway, I get to the competition and I’m even worse. I’m all for not giving up and saving a bad day with a good short game etc etc but I just couldn’t keep it on the golf course. Was either a 30 yard pull or a huge slice – a huge two way miss basically and nothing like the easy game ive been playing the last few weeks. I wish I could put it down to nervousness or too much expectation but I really can’t – I was relaxed and just ready to play golf and treat it like any other day.

    So, what is your advice to someone who suddenly loses their swing like this from playing really well? This has happened to me a bit too often over the years and while I’m trying to remain philosophical, it can frustrating. I’m all for a good mental game, automatic golf etc and I have no desire to get mired in the world of swing mechanics and ill informed pros again, but would you say this is something I need to work out on the dreaded range? Or do you think it’s something that can be addresses mentally.

    Really, the only issue I can think of with my recent mental approach is that I kept thinking the recent upturn in form had me playing above my level and that I expected to fall back down to earth soon, no matter how much I tried to tell myself that I’m just this good. Do you think such a subtle thought like that could have become a self fulfilling prophecy? I know the negative mind can be very suggestive. If so, how do I get back to where I was and how do I stay there?!

    Thanks for your great blog Cam…

  • Steady

    Reply Reply June 1, 2012

    Hi Strachs,
    those low handicappers are the ones who were coaching our pennant side last year. They took us around Howlong and showed us spots on the course where to put the ball, where you don’t want be and if you are how to minimise the damage. But most of all let golf be fun in the heat of competition.
    Ta Steady

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply June 1, 2012

      Steady: that is why these guys would be awesome to learn from. This kind of coaching is becoming rare – most are stuck on the practice fairway trying to fix your swing plane or grip.



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