Truth about a consistent golf game

Over the last few years I’ve been quizzing readers what their biggest golf frustration is. And the thing that keeps coming up time and time again is consistency.

Of the hundreds of people surveyed, over 80% say they’re frustrated at their inability to play with any sort of consistency. 80% is a big number in any language so I thought it was time I put my thoughts down. When I started writing I realised I had a lot to say – so this turned out to be a longer than usual post. (words: 2700+).

I’m fairly certain that most of you aren’t looking for course records and below par scores each time your venture out. No way, that’s not what you’re after. Your version of consistent golf is to tap into a game that gets you somewhere in the ball park most times you play. Unfortunately, golf has this terrible habit of giving you total extremes. One minute you flush a shot down the middle, while the next you struggle to even get the ball off the ground. It’s chalk and cheese.

It’s these extremes that make golf so frustrating and it’s my goal here to shed some light on why any resemblance of consistency has eluded you. It’s time to set the record straight.

The Truth About Unlocking Your Consistent Golf Game

One of the biggest breakthroughs I made was when I learned that our subconscious only knows one way of performing motor skills. Can’t remember when and where I first read about this but it certainly changed the way I thought about the improvement process.

If you’re able to keep out of your way so to speak, your subconscious will keep delivering you reliable results. And it doesn’t matter;

– if you’re feeling nervous
– playing in a big event
– on the last hole and the pressure is mounting

It doesn’t matter. Your subconscious doesn’t care about the situation. It’s job is to perform the motor skill and this is what it will do. Come hell or high water you’ll get your own “perfect” swing shining through time after time. But it gets better.

Once we can perform a skill somewhat reliably it’s almost impossible for us to “unlearn” it. And it’s this inbuilt function of being human that gives us a distinct advantage in our golf game. Think about this for a minute…

Imagine if we woke up one morning and decided it would be a good idea to start walking in a different way. And I’m not talking about some radical new step, just something a little different from what you’ve been doing for your entire life. Would this be easy to do or would it be hard?

It’s actually bordering on impossible. We have an inbuilt safety mechanism that makes it close to impossible to change these automatic skills. The energy required to learn a new action jeopardises our way of life, so commonsense kicks in and the old-way is returned.

When you think about it, this all makes sense because humans probably wouldn’t have evolved into such a dominant species if we started strolling around and all of a sudden we decided we’d like to change a natural skill. It would cause all sorts of problems.

– eat up a tonne of energy (automatic skills happen, well, automatically and require the bare minimum of energy)
– waste time having to learn something new
– become a constant distraction
– lose focus on what’s important to us because we’d be so focused on all of these new skills.
– increase the chance of injury or death

So once we learn something to a proficient level, we forget about it and take advantage of automatic.

And all this was a revelation to me. The trick here is to learn something to a natural level and then get out of the way.

And before you think that you don’t have an automatic golf game think again.

How long have you been playing? Have you ever played a great round or been in the “zone”?

Most of us crazy golfers have been playing for years and it’s simply not possible to do something for “years” and not be good at it. At least that’s my theory and this belief is backed up by the occasional awesome round where things all fall into place. I’m willing to bet that you’ve hit lots of successful shots and played really good golf.

I look at these “great” rounds not as magic or luck, but simply as you playing to your potential. Another way of saying this is you’ve played free from all the distractions – you’re playing automatically, you’ve triggered your subconscious to hit the ball for you. And this is exactly how we’re designed to function.

Conscious controlling of our swing just gets in the way. When we think we’re able to manipulate the club with left brained thinking all we’re doing is fighting Mother Nature. And when we do this you’re more likely to get haphazard results.

But isn’t this how most of us play? We hit a poor shot and we instantly try and figure what we did wrong;

– I swung too fast
– I lifted my head
– My swing was too quick
– I was off plane
– I didn’t rotate my forearms correctly
– (insert problem here)

The list could go on and on. So although this seems like the right approach, the thinking and analysing just disrupts our natural process for successfully hitting that little white ball. Sadly, the technical approach is firmly ingrained in the modern golf world – it’s unlikely you can ever hit a poor shot and not get advice on what went wrong.

And the instruction can come from either internal sources (your Pesky mind) or a playing partner or swing coach. This training is so normal that almost nobody has questioned it. Golfers are stuck with adult thinking and the belief they can beat nature – but they can’t and all of the analysis is causing inconsistency.

The problem gets intensified because the more inconsistent you become, the more information your feed your system. It becomes a nasty cycle of poor scores and then an overload of information. What’s needed isn’t more information but an understanding of what’s happening here.

Letting the magic flow

If we’re able to perform many tasks day to day with ease and proficiency, skills that we’re highly consistent at, then why can’t we do the same with our golf game? This question lies at the heart of a wider coaching problem.

I’m willing to bet you’ve never woken up in the morning, jumped out of bed and then said to yourself, “hey, my ability to walk has been so consistent this week”. It’s unlikely you’ve never done it. And you probably never will.

It’s also incredibly unlikely that you’ll ever take a lesson on how to walk, even if you’ve had the odd stumble. A poor attempt will be met with a laugh and a shrug of the shoulders and you’ll get back to whatever you were doing. Chances are you’ll have completely forgotten the mistake by the end of the hour.

Walking, talking, typing, throwing and driving are the kind of skills I’m talking about. At one stage in our development you couldn’t do these things. You struggled, you looked awkward and you made a mess of things. I call this the “uncomfortable stage of learning” and there’s no getting away from this. We have to go through this stage and it’s part of the process.

But somewhere along the way things get easier. One day you’ll be performing the skill and realise that you’re doing it and it’s happening without a lot of thought. In fact, it’s happening without any conscious thought. This is the unconscious competence level of performance and is the holy grail of skill acquisition.

This is where mastery lives and it’s a nice, warm and safe place to be. And don’t think mastery equals world-class performance where you can take on the very best. Mastery is unique for each individual and your level of success depends on your talent, dedication and care factor.

At the risk of repeating myself (because this is important) your golf game is anything but consistent because you’re not allowing the performance to reach the level of automatic. Your conscious mind is attempting to get in the way and control the motion. But this simply doesn’t work.’

You need to install a sense of childlikeness. You need to think less about the skill and focus more on playing the game.

Here’s the bottom line when it comes to playing golf with more consistency:

Get out of your way and swing freely and you’ll be way closer than you’ve ever been.

Your routine

There’s more to automatic golf then just swinging freely and without fear. A huge part of it is your routine. When many think of the routine they’re going to be thinking about the physical part.

How many practice swings to take
Whether to waggle or not
How often to look at the target
How fast to walk
etc

This is all good stuff but it’s not as important as your mental routine. What you think about rules your golfing performancee. And if you know how to think and how to use your brain during the preparation of your golf stroke you’re going to be in very good shape. You’re going to maximize your chances of allowing that consistent swing to show up.

But what do you think about prior to hitting the ball?

Many of us can’t resist and revert back to all of the bad stuff that could happen

Don’t hit it in the trees
Don’t swing too quick
Don’t embarrass yourself
I hope nobody is watching
Please don’t stuff is shot up

And this is stinking thinking. It’s no good and there’s a much better way.

Don’t for a minute think you can’t work out where all the trouble is – you certainly must take the time to look at the target and spot the trouble. This little step helps your planning and shot selection. Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say the hole is cut back right on your opening hole. The green is hard and fast and just off the back edge is a steep bunker. You know from experience that going in that bunker is huge trouble and getting out is close to mission impossible.

You know YOU must avoid that back trap. This is a no go zone and so you plan accordingly. In this example you’d aim for the middle left portion of the green. You’re not getting suckered into trying to hit the ball close (unless you don’t care about the consequences and score isn’t overly important to you. A friend of mine plays purely for fun and goes for every shot. He rarely will lay-up and/or play safe. I admire him for his “fun” approach but many can’t do it. Score is too important)

The point here is this. Work out what you don’t what to do first. Look for the trouble spots (if there are any. Some shots may be straightforward and you don’t need to go into great detail) and make a note of them.

Once you have noted the bad spots, now is the time to go to work. You need to focus on what you do want. You need to express this in the positive.

I want to hit the front of the green.
I’m aiming for the left edge of the fairway
I want my drive to start left and fade back to the right side of the fairway

You get the idea.

Note: this step doesn’t need to be overly precise. General targets are fine. You’ll see above that I talk about the left side/edge but it’s not exact. Trying to hit the ball at really precise targets sounds like a good idea (and many encourage it) but for me it causes you to tense up. And tension isn’t going to help you play consistently.

Once you have a positive target selected, choose a club and go for it. It’s now time to turn over the role of hitting the ball to your subconscious. It really is like playing on autopilot.

And from this point on I’m not too concerned HOW you walk to the ball, or if you choose to have a practice swing behind the ball (note I said “behind the ball”) or how many waggles you choose.

If you’re clear with your intention then the physical stuff will happen. And it’s likely to change from shot to shot. Some may require a few practice swings (like a strange shot you’ve never had before) and on others you may feel so good about the shot that you walk in quickly without any fuss. The choice is yours. Many of those who talk mostly about the physical routine want golfers to do the exact same thing each time. Here’s my take on that:

While you’ll certainly look the same or very similar to an observer, each shot physically will have some differences. And this is fine. It’s hard work to do EXACTLY the same thing and you’ll burn extra energy trying to replicate. So don’t bother. Let the physical stuff flow from your mental objective and accept that there will be minor differences.

The mental part of your routine is not negotiable. If you get lazy or forget to plan your shot you’ll pay the penalty. If you’re not clear on what it is you’re trying to do then you’ll resemble a rudderless boat. You’ll start doing circle work and be totally lost.

Here’s a quick summary of the mental routine.

1. Work out the main problem spot first up (any place that your MUST avoid)
2. Decide on what it is you want to achieve. Declare this in the positive.
3. Choose a club and make the best free flowing swing you can
3b. Let the physical part of the routine happen. Don’t stress too much about it.
4. Repeat

The repeat is a key consideration here. When golfers start playing well they invariably go searching for better ways to play. This defeats the purpose of what you’re doing. The ideal here is to keep doing the same stuff over and over. You need to be consistent in your approach and not go off on strange tangents in the hope of finding something better. The “search” kills consistency.

Final thought

Consistent golf avoids many golfers because they disrupt their learning system. They feed too much info in and then try and consciously control the motion from start to finish. This produces ugly and inconsistent golfers. These type of golfers have no chance. So you’ve got to learn to let go – this lets your subconscious take over and this is the part of the brain responsible for skill.

When it comes to playing golf and learning to get your way around the course without falling over, you need a routine. The mental part of the routine is most important here – all else is a distant second in importance.

Consistent golf is sort of boring because there’s a monotonous vibe to it. It takes discipline and a commitment to not waver. The traditional way of playing is certainly more sexy. You get try new swing thoughts, work on your swing and even fluff about with new equipment. It can be fun because you get the odd bright spark – a great shot, a nice result or something that feels good to you. But the moment is fleeting and you’re forced to look for the next “sexy” thing that might work.

Traditional golf can be fun to implement but it gives you terrible consistency. You’re all over the place and you miss out on unlocking your true potential and certainly you’ll miss out on getting the most from the game.

Consistent golf is far less exciting in terms of implementation. There’s nothing that’s going to be earth shattering in terms of your approach and for many it’s too boring. But the side-effect of all this mundane stuff is you get a consistent game. You get a sexy result. You’ll play far more consistently and this will give you the most enjoyment possible. You’re mission is to avoid all of those distractions and learn to do the “boring” things well (relax, focus on what you want and swing freely) and you’ll be rewarded with a much more consistent golf game.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

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6 Comments

  • Steady

    Reply Reply May 8, 2013

    Some great pearls of wisdom here.
    Magic really happens when you find
    your game. Problem is golfers must
    Take the first step in finding their game.
    Great post.
    Steady

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply May 8, 2013

      Yes sir. You’ve gotta get off the couch. You can’t read, watch or listen your way to a better game. You’ve got to do something.

  • Scott Barrow

    Reply Reply May 8, 2013

    I might have missed it in your post Cam, but not only do we need to get out of our own way to play consistent golf, but we also need to challenge the notion and our expectations of consistent golf. How consistent can any of us expect to be? The best players in the world I’m sure are still some where on the inconsistent-consistent continuum.

    What I’m trying to say is how realistic is the expectation of playing, or achieving, consistent golf play? We can aspire to it, but there will always be a degree of inconsistency. We are humans.

    A good exercise would be to define/quantify what “Consistent Golf” would look like – across a hole, a round, a month, a season, a year, a decade, a lifetime……

    Cheers,

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply May 9, 2013

      SB: the post needs further insight that’s for sure. I need to come back to this…

  • Robert Johansson

    Reply Reply May 9, 2013

    sound mechanics.
    good tempo
    good decision strategy.
    play within strengths.
    patience.
    make putts.

  • holdini

    Reply Reply May 9, 2013

    In reply to Scotts post, I think that consistent golf should not necessarily be defined by what it looks like. Thats too much results thinking. I think it should be defined by what it feels like. Did my swings feel similar? Did I feel the same during my preshot routine? Were my emotions even during the round? I think this stuff helps when you hit a crap shot, to just let it go.

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