Is this really the easiest way to play golf?

If you knew everything there was to know about golf that would be a shame. At least, it would be a problem if you wanted to play your best golf. Let me explain.

If you knew everything then you’d know too much. You would,

– hold back and be too scared to swing the club
– complicate things to the point of paralysis
– over analyse your swing/game/round to the point of being a pain in the arse
– only experience great golf once in a while. You’d then interrupt this good golf so it would disappear quickly and not return
– burn so much energy trying to figure things out that golf would not be fun
– miss out on true enjoyment and satisfaction

What you need is a more simplistic approach. You need less information not more. What you need is a basic objective that allows you to get the ball to the target with the minimum of fuss. Check this out.

Last week my round got off to a shaky start. While I was hitting the ball good enough, my putting was letting me down. I was “trying” hard to putt correctly. Picking spots, trying to read the green with the right amount of break and generally stuffing about. I was also feeling nervous on the green – there was a lot of anxiety and internal pressure to sink the putts. It was all wasted effort.

Had a shocker of a miss on 2 (three putts)
Didn’t hit the hole from six feet on 5.
Left a simple putt short on 7.
Missed the hole from 3 feet on the 9th.

It was all very ugly and disappointing at the same time. With better putting I could have been scoring really well. These days I tend to stop the rot more quickly and walking to the tenth 10 I made a commitment to putt more freely – to “just hit the putt”. No analysis, no fear. My goal was to hit each putt like it was already in the hole.

Instantly this little mental trick gave me a shot of confidence. My system relaxed and I felt better about my game – almost like a weight lifted from my shoulders.

On 10 I made a free flowing stroke and watched the ball curve across the green and find the hole.

On 11 my long birdie putt shaved the hole. I then stepped up and made a pure stroke for par. The ball hit the hole and popped out. Arrgh! It was annoying but I didn’t do anything wrong – I hit the putt without fear.

I then proceeded to make a series of long putts.

15 footer on 3 – birdie
10 footer on 5 – birdie
40 footer on 7 – birdie
35 footer on 8 – eagle

Wow! It was one of the best streaks of golf I’ve ever had and it all came down to putting more and thinking less. It was fun and a bit scary at the same time (what happens if I knock the ball off the green?). But the bad stuff didn’t happen. It was all good.

The most pleasing putt was for par on 18. The 8 footer smashed into the back of the hole. It was pure and there was no internal conflict or self-doubt. “Just hit the putt!” was my objective and my subconscious did the rest. This is automatic golf in it’s finest form and something I wish all golfers could experience more of the time. You’re not guaranteed to always shoot unbelievable scores, but you’re maximising the chances. You’re also reducing the chances of having those horrible rounds where nothing goes right and you walk from the course feeling like a hacker.

I didn’t give my round too much thought until I receive the following email from Grayden.

I’ve finally realized that golf is about “hit ball to spot” (period) of course I go and get new clubs, start worrying about my swing again and find myself playing some of the worst golf of my life in yesterday’s comp, all the while obsessing over “what I’m doing”. I was about to say “how feeble our brains are” – but you know what? I won’t. Because the fact that I can even SEE what I’m doing means I’m OK 🙂

Here’s the thing: I come over the top a little, its how I play. Its good enough for Craig Parry so its going to be good enough for me! But when I truly play “hit to spot” none of that seems to get in the way. I seem to be able to put the ball roughly where I want despite those things. How? Don’t know actually. There must be a whole lot of compensations going on I guess. All I know is that as soon as I take my focus off “hit to spot” those compensations obviously stop happening. The body is obviously just a LOT smarter than I realize (and I thought I realized!) “Hit to spot” – your body finds a way. How? Don’t know.

There’s some good stuff in there. You may want to read it a few times to fully grasp what he’s saying. “Hit ball to spot” is Grayden’s way of playing the game. It’s not complicated and it certainly allows him to be the best player he can be. How simple is this? Could he make the game any easier? It’s brilliant.

After years of researching automatic learning (and falling off the wagon lots of times) he has realised the talent is inside him. All he needs to do is hit the ball without any interference and he’ll do just fine. Most of the left brain analysis just gets in the way and inhibits scoring and enjoyment.

Here’s a follow-up email.

If someone took a wheelie bin out to the middle of the fairway and called out to me and my mate on the tee “first bloke to hit it gets the contents and its full of cash” I guarantee we’d be getting pretty close to it REAL QUICK. I can also guarantee there wouldn’t be ANY wild slices or hooks into the rough either side of the fairway! “Hit to spot” is the beginning and end of it. But you have to SERIOUSLY have a spot and DECIDE that that ball is going there by WHATEVER MEANS IT TAKES. You wouldn’t give a toss about what your mechanics are doing or what you look like or anything like that. You would be more than happy to swing ugly if that’s what it takes to hit that bin. THAT’S why I reckon “hit the spot” actually works.

I like this a lot. It takes a level of courage to step up to the ball and whack it without any concern. It takes serious commitment to keep doing it shot after shot. Your commitment is tested not when you’re playing well. True commitment comes when you’ll invariably hit a few strays. You’ll master your golf game when you don’t let the odd miss distract you from your mission.

Finally, I was reminded how profound this “simplistic” approach is while watching one of the young guns from my club.

Junior is a good player but he over complicates the game. He has more talent than most but sometimes this is a hindrance rather than a help.

– He chips when he should putt
– Hits driver when a 3 wood will do
– Goes for the pin when safety is the order of the day
– Tries for birdie when par is a great score
– Blames the course/weather/playing partners when he makes a mistake

He’s got it all wrong. He’s not playing the game and he’s too stubborn to listen and see the errors of his ways. Reminds me of myself when I was the same age. He needs to step back and make the game as simple as he can. He has gotta take control by easing up and not trying so damn hard. When he learns to do this he’ll take the massive jump from good to great.

Filling our minds with lots of information seems like the right thing to do. But if you really want to play golf in a way that gives you full enjoyment and satisfaction, then you’d better start to think less and play more. It really is the best way.

How are you going to play the next time you venture out?

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20 Comments

  • Lukey

    Reply Reply July 15, 2012

    Great post Cam because here yesterday I played in a stableford and missed something like five putts from around the three foot mark (all pulled left) and honestly I thought I was playing in auto but I realise I was quite simply trying too hard.Off the tee I was generally ok but when it came to second shots and chipping I wasn’t worth a crumpet (feel like my short game is weak)so perhaps once again I was trying too hard.Have to try and work out a way to simplify big time because I really am becoming frustrated with things and am starting to question whether I am doing the right thing or not. I would be interested in your thoughts.
    Cheers Lukey

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply July 15, 2012

      Lukey: It seems your short game has some issues. Automatic golf can only get you so far – sometimes you need to do some practise and work on the areas causing you grief.

      I didn’t play that well today. To be honest, I played quite poorly. I’m not about to hit the panic button just yet, but if I was to keep playing like this and it pissed me off I’d do something about it.

      1. play more
      2. practise those shots letting me down
      3. work on my strategy

      Hope this helps.

  • Grayden Provis

    Reply Reply July 15, 2012

    “Is this the easiest way to play golf?”

    One thing I’ve decided for sure: its definitely the most ENJOYABLE way to play golf! I had a pretty ordinary round score-wise the other day but played “hit to spot” all day and walked off saying to my mate “I haven’t enjoyed a round so much for a long time”. I remember being surprised at what was coming out of my mouth because I knew my score was poor and I couldn’t figure out why I should still be feeling good! But I couldn’t deny I did. I felt very relaxed and strangely refreshed. The next week I hit basically the same score but played “swing” all the way round and came off feeling tired, frustrated and wondering why I’d bothered!

    You’re right though Cam – it definitely takes commitment to stick at it throughout the round. During the enjoyable round I remember backing away from my tee shot on one hole when I found myself standing over the ball thinking about swing mechanics again. Rather than go through with the shot I backed away and started again. This time I fought hard and didn’t allow my thoughts to be on anything but the spot on the fairway that I had selected as the target – and I hit my 3 wood straight to it. It was a powerful demonstration to me of the effectiveness of this approach.

    I was interested in your comments about your recent putting experience and how things improved when you just started “whacking” them. When I take “hit to spot” to the putting green and refuse to think about stroke mechanics I notice that my putting stroke becomes more of a “rap” than a “swing”. When I think about it its how I always used to putt as a kid before I knew “better” (!) It seems to be my natural stroke if I get out of my own way so I’ll be watching with interest to see where that goes. Ben Hogan said that he never played a round of golf in his life where he didn’t learn something. What a great game.

  • hans

    Reply Reply July 16, 2012

    great stuff, im 50 now and compete for half my way, meaning im a part time pro, hahaha. anyway, im having fun now that the kids are grown and i dont take my +3 handicap so seriously and have stopped dreaming of walking down the 18th. goals are good to have, but sometimes you forget to look at whats right in front of you. it is just about the next shot. what a great game if you just play the game, faster that is.

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply July 16, 2012

      Hi Hans, thanks for posting. Keep up the good work.

  • Gregor

    Reply Reply July 16, 2012

    I hadn’t hit a ball for about a month until Saturday there. The weather has been so bad and I’ve found other things to do, so I was looking forward to finally getting out there. The 1st was a bit shaky, but opened with a bogey. No big deal. Then I just enjoyed my round. Stuffed up a hole because I couldn’t get out a bunker. So what. Had a great time. Hit some big drives, sank some putts, played some great shots and some bad. Hit the ball, find it, hit it again. Works wonders.

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply July 17, 2012

      Gregor: Love it. How much more enjoyable is it to turn up and be able to play half decently after a layoff? You probably didn’t set any records but the satisfaction was there – you probably learned something positive too. Good stuff and thanks for sharing.

  • Cam280

    Reply Reply July 16, 2012

    John Deer classic play-off; must make double bogey too stay in it!, huh?. That play-off highlights how crazy the game is, sometimes you write your fate before you even walk to the tee. Who’s pulling your strings?. Fame and fortune, or Jesus Christ?. Because Zac Johnson thanked J.C. and the U.S Open winner thanked J.C. Bubba Watson, Masters Champ thanked J.C. The Bible talks about being invoked by the Holy Spirit, sounds like the ultimate Caddie, coach and friend in need.
    I know when ever I go trophy hunting my results usually are poor, but the times I win are when i’m loving the process of the game and not the result, being in the moment!.
    Recently read ‘Zen Golf’ good read most interesting the point about being in sync mind and body. Body always in the present but mind can wander from present to future to past in an instant. This is a big problem for golfers looking to improve, and the thoughts of future results creating out of sync mind and body!. Then there’s the bigger picture, so who’s pulling your strings?.

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply July 17, 2012

      Cam280: my opinion – if you think there’s outside influences affecting your ability to play then you’ll always be missing something. I think you’ve got to take full responsibility and control of your game.

  • Lukey

    Reply Reply July 16, 2012

    Cam
    Thanks for your reply and I will take on board what you said and see if that helps the process.I to will approach things similar to Grayden and Gregor and pick a target hit the ball to it (not worry if it gets there or not)walk up and hit it again.
    Cheers Lukey

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply July 17, 2012

      Lukey: I agree with Grayden’s call here. It seems you’re slightly off the mark with the process. Your focus should be on playing the game – thoughts about the score, good versus bad etc shouldn’t enter your mind. If you truly play the game then your score will be the best it can be for the day. In my opinion this is “positive thinking” at it’s simplest level and will have the biggest impact on your enjoyment. From here the score is taken care of.

      If you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over then you can follow the advice I mentioned earlier.

  • Grayden Provis

    Reply Reply July 16, 2012

    Lukey, NO. You don’t say “pick a target, hit the ball to and not worry if it goes there or not….”. You say “pick a target and hit the ball to it”.

  • Timbo

    Reply Reply July 17, 2012

    Cam,
    This is another great post and definitely hits home for me. The reason I say this is that I used to be stuck in the same mindset of thinking, analyzing and trying really hard. It made sense to me that this was the only way I would be able to play the game to the best of my ability. It would have been ignorant of me to think in any other way beacuse we a taught that to get the best out ourselves (no matter what it is) we have to try harder and think more. To me, the real reason we do this is because then we are able to justify poor performances in our minds. If we try really hard and take our time to think about what we are doing, then we are able to find comfort in our poor performances because “we have done all that we possibly can to be our best.”

    With that being said, I have come full circle from this mindset. For others who read this post, I have been working with Cam for a few years now and can honestly say that I am starting to truly understand what he is talking about (and it is showing on the course).

    I have been competing in amateur tournaments for a few years now and I can clearly remember the days of pure misery on the course. The bigger the event, the more I tried and the more I looked for any extra little thing that I could do to help increase my chances of success (I would question everything, from the clothes I was wearing to the food I ate, anything to boost my chances at the BIG events). Not only did this take a lot of time and energy, but IT NEVER WORKED! THE MORE I TRIED the MORE I FAILED. I couldnt understand this in the moment, it was so counterintuitive. Why was i being punished when i wanted it the most?

    This brings me to my final point. Cam has showed me the best way to play this wonderful game. My social games would always be excellent but i could not take this to the course in tournaments and it was because I had a completely different approach. Cam has taught me to THINK LESS, TRY LESS, FORGET CONSEQUENCES AND JUST PLAY THE GAME.

    As cliche as it may sound, I now play my best when it counts the most. Golf is a game and it should be played!!

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply July 17, 2012

      Timbo,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      The “trying really hard” mindset is very Western. We’re brought up to believe in this philosophy and nobody questions it. Poor performances are usually followed up with harder work. It becomes a nasty cycle that can wear people out.

      I have three good mates who worked really hard at their game for many years. These guys were super dedicated and did everything their coaches asked. I also believe they had the necessary talent to “make it” – wasn’t like they couldn’t hit the ball. In my opinion the system beat them rather than lack of effort.

      Mate #1: Walked away from the game for over 10 years. He had such a hate for the game that he never ever mentioned to me that he used to play. One day, when in my coaching studio, he picked up a club and started swinging. I couldn’t believe my eyes – he could really hit the ball. I gave him an impromptu lesson and my ideas resonated with him. I also got an inside look at the misery he went through – not good. He now plays regularly (for fun) and can shoot better scores than he used to.

      Mate #2: Tried harder than any person I know. He ate perfectly, exercised daily and practised up to 12 hours per day. He went from a 14 year old prodigy to a 20 something hack. He couldn’t hit the ball by the time he was 25 and the game brought him to tears. He was so convinced of the “work harder” mindset that he never listened to me or my ideas. The good news is #2 is back on track. He is starting to play the game and has realised the errors of his ways. He’s still young enough to play great golf and is thinking about making a comeback. He is all over natural learning and automatic golf – he loves it and wished he had listened earlier. This guy’s story would make an awesome book/post/lesson – something for another day perhaps.

      Mate #3: Spent most of his 20’s looking for the perfect golf swing. Never found it and his golf was never overly consistent. While he could have the odd good score he never performed well in important events. He too has backed off and given up on trying for perfection. Played with him the other day, his first hit in months, and he shot a 68. This was his best ever score – better than all those rounds where he was trying for perfection.

      These sorts of stories are everywhere in the golfing world. But they’re not talked about much as the “work hard” mindset rules the way.

      Timbo, you’re on the right path. When you can go outside and play how you want, there’s nothing more you can do. Your recent performances should inspire you to keep going and avoid the distractions.

      Good things.

      Cameron

  • Grayden Provis

    Reply Reply July 17, 2012

    “The practice tee is overrated. My advice is to play more and practice less”

    Billy Casper

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply July 18, 2012

      Like it. A lot. Playing the game is a form of practice that is lost on most.

  • Steady

    Reply Reply July 19, 2012

    Hi Strachs,
    played nine holes today with a mate. Rather strange as we didn’t mention golf swing or anything remotely about mechanics. Shot 2 over with a birdie. My point is that we were so wrapped up in what we were talking about ( education and govt spending ) our games were free flowing and very enjoyable. As you said the score will take care of itself just go and play.
    Ta Steady

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply July 19, 2012

      Steady: If I spent nine holes talking about education and government spending I’d probably fall asleep but I’m glad you found something that worked for you 🙂

  • Steady

    Reply Reply July 19, 2012

    Strachs
    It just reaffirmed in my mind that I’m leaving the education game. While I was playing the game of golf. Yes It would send most to sleep but it put me in the subconcios zone. LOL
    Ta Steady

  • Adam

    Reply Reply October 14, 2013

    hey Cameron. just curious how I can know if my swing it automatic and how I may know if its not. and if its not by my own analysis what should I do to make it automatic? thank you

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