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Prepare like a pro

Like most of the world not a lot has happened in my world in the last month except eating too much and for some reason finding it acceptable to have gin in the afternoon so I thought I would explore why we try and copy professionals in so much of golf but miss the easy things that they do. Some are difficult like copying their golf swings, maintaining their diets and hitting the gym for a couple of hours a day but others are much easier such as planning our round strategy. 

Whenever I caddy for a professional the first thing we do is plan how to play each hole. The idea is to get the ball in the hole in the fewest number of shots. Therefore each shot’s purpose is to make the next one easier. We tend to work back from the green as that will give a different perspective to the hole. Course designers are clever and make holes look visually intimidating from the tee but when you reverse it they can look a lot simpler. Landing areas tend to be bigger than they appear from the tees. Greens have more surface area than you think from the fairway. This also allows you to see where you ideally want to play your approach from and often you might not need to hit driver to find that spot. It also allows you to see where you don’t want to play from. 

The key here is that you are identifying these spots before the round starts. I have spoken before about the brain failing to recognise the ‘don't’ in ‘don’t go left’. All the brain hears is left and that is usually the result. 

Doing the planning before playing allows you to identify with certainty the good spots you want to hit from, and that becomes your only focus when you get to that tee shot. The no go areas are not in your thinking as this was all done yesterday during your preparation. 

This applies just the same if not more around the greens. There will be no go areas where up and down becomes almost impossible, so in your plan, you have identified an area of the green which takes these areas out of play. This is not a defensive strategy it’s a clever one. The result is a clear plan which makes every shot an individual event as you are trying to achieve a specific result, and this is key for your brain. This gives you, what the psychologists call ‘attentional control where your focus is solely on the task in hand. 

I have found the best way to do this is with a yardage chart or course planner. I highlight the areas we are targeting. Don’t highlight the no go areas as this only draws attention to them. You only want to see your desired outcome. Identify the club you are hitting to find the area from the tee so the only thing to factor in is any weather influence and don’t get lazy and stop taking the book out. Seeing the task from a different perspective really reinforces it.

I know some of you will think I don’t need to do this because I know my course so well as I have played it for years. The pros have played most of their courses for years and would not dream of playing without a strategy. In fact, all the prior knowledge and experience just gives them more information to set out the strategy. It also misses the key point which is to give the brain the purpose and detail it needs to create, visualise and execute each shot. This can really sharpen up your practice rounds as well. Play out your strategy or even change it on holes and will reduce the chance of you just going through the motions.

Now I am going to throw a few caveats in.

  1. Be realistic in your strategy. If you carry it 200 don’t plan to go over bunkers at 220 as beyond that is the best place to play your approach from.

  2. It’s your game you are developing a strategy for no one else’s. If an area you could be better at is the half wedges, then don’t plan to leave yourself any until you have improved.

  3. Finally, you also might need to adapt on any given day. If your usual 250 yd bullet becomes “a weak pensioners fade” (Mick Dugdale day 5 Turkey) that you can still identify the ball from the tee, then create a new strategy. Don’t fight with yourself for 4 hours creating an unnecessary conflict. The key is each shot must have a distinct desired outcome. 

Create your strategy and then adapt it to what suits the day and the circumstances. Often it is the simple act of asking yourself the right questions that enables you to find the answers. Being a bit smarter both on and before you reach the course can be a real asset. Give it a go…..

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