The game of golf entails much more than hitting a little white ball around and spending countless hours on the putting green and practice range trying to perfect your swing mechanics.
Golf, more than anything, is a game of the mind, and it challenges you in ways that most other sports don’t or can’t.
One characteristic that many of the greatest players have in common is their ability to create and commit to developing good habits, both on and off the course.
To play good golf requires perseverance, but unfortunately, far too many golfers are looking for a quick fix. Habits align perfectly with golf because they help you stay on track. Golfers without any habits are like a boat with no rudder, and while they might eventually arrive at their destination, it’ll take blind luck getting there.
This article will delve into some of the best habits successful golfers and athletes integrate into their routine and exactly how you can implement them too.
But first, what are habits?
What Are Habits And How They Help Your Game
- 1 What Are Habits And How They Help Your Game
- 2 Purposeful Practice
- 3 The Importance Of Warming Up
- 4 Get A Pre-Shot Routine Now
- 5 The Power Of Controlling Your Emotions
- 6 The Importance Of Evaluating Your Round
- 7 Bonus Habits You Might Not Think Of
Everyone has heard of habits, and I’m guessing most people know what habits are; but do we really know the “ins and outs” of how and why creating good habits is critical for success? Having coached professional athletes for 20 years, I can tell you that developing good habits separate the best from the rest.
Mirriam Webster dictionary describes habits as being “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance.”
Ok, that was a little hard to comprehend, so let’s go with this definition from the Cambridge dictionary, which is much simpler; habit- “something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it.”
One area where good habits help is allowing your brain to run on autopilot, which is especially helpful in pressure situations. Many sports psychologists disagree on the effectiveness of running on autopilot.
Some believe it takes away from continuous improvement, while others say it plays a significant role in staying calm under pressure; either way, it’s a valid discussion for another time.
Regardless, there’s no denying that habits play a significant role in dictating the outcomes of our behavior, whether positive or negative.
So you’re thinking, ok, I know developing good habits in my everyday life is valuable, but how will good habits improve my golf? In a day and age where everyone wants the “quick fix,” habits help you stay committed to a course of action over a long period; this is how genuine improvements happen, slowly over months and years, not days and weeks.
Let’s look at some good habits the world’s best golfers use to transform their games and how you can utilize them to transform yours.
This habit is probably the one habit that stands above all the rest. When it comes to improving your golf game, developing the habit of practicing with purpose is the single most crucial aspect of making continued improvements.
Most club golfers head to the practice range with no plan whatsoever, and they wonder why they never seem to improve. It’s not through lack of trying; they hit hundreds, maybe thousands of balls, but fail to see the importance of having specific goals and targets.
Next time you head to the range or practice green, make sure you have specific goals that you want to achieve in the session. Having clear goals keeps you focused and stops your brain from wandering during practice, which is easy to do.
You’ll also want to have some drills you can work on, and I don’t mean replicating drills others on the range are working on; I’m talking about individualized drills designed to help you improve.
You’ll be amazed at the rapid improvements you can make by utilizing the power of practicing with intent. The most successful people in any field never waste a second of their day; they get the most out of every session; they are task-focused and thrive on the discipline provided by purposeful practice.
If you’re honest with yourself, you probably hit clubs and play shots you’re confident with while practicing; this is a common occurrence I see on the range but one that’s detrimental. Great golfers practice with intent allowing them to focus on all areas of their game, particularly weaknesses; you should too.
The Importance Of Warming Up
Failure to warm up correctly is another common aspect of the game I see club golfers neglecting. Most golfers might perform a few stretches before warming up; a couple of hamstring and shoulder stretches, and they think they’re ready to go; well, have I got news for them.
There aren’t many non-negotiables in the game of golf or sport in general, but performing a correct warm-up is one of them. Still, you’d be amazed to discover that most golfers completely skip the warm-up altogether.
A good warm-up should include:
- Some form of movement must be included in your warm-up; whether it be a light jog on the treadmill or 10 minutes on the spin bike, it’s a non-negotiable.
- Dynamic stretching should also be included after you’ve completed your cardio. Good examples of dynamic stretching are lunges with twists, high-kicks, knees to chest, and jump squats.
Once you’ve completed your cardio and dynamic stretching, you’re good to go, right? Not quite.
Another common mistake I see amateurs making is jumping straight into hitting their long irons or driver. It’s absolutely essential that you start with your short irons and slowly work through your bag, hitting a few balls with each club.
Not only does this help the body to further warm-up, but it plays a critical role in preventing injury and gives you a feel for the club and ball before starting your practice session.
Get A Pre-Shot Routine Now
The best players in any sport, particularly golf and tennis, have consistent, repeatable pre-shot routines. Before the serve, tennis players bounce the ball, while in golf, players perform practice strokes before putting.
A pre-shot routine is simply a set of actions or thoughts that you perform before each shot. You can have different routines for different shots; that’s fine; the most important thing is to make sure you stick to it.
Pre-shot routines help you stay focused on the task at hand and do an excellent job taking your attention away from the pressure of the situation. Effectively they create a “clear headspace” for you to focus and concentrate on what’s required to complete the shot successfully.
I’m sure you’ve seen pro golfers on tv going through their pre-shot routines, some of which are quite unique, to say the least, but again, that being said, as long it’s repeatable, it doesn’t matter.
Elements of a good pre-shot routine might include
- Keywords that act as reminders for your swing
- Visualizing the shot
- Picking targets for ball flight and landing
- Practicing swings that mimic the shot you envision
- A quick check of your grip and
- Checking wind direction
It’s important to remember that the above are just ideas and the beauty of a pre-shot routine is that you can tailor it to suit your personality and style of play. The most critical element is that it’s comfortable, straightforward, and repeatable; I can’t stress this enough; a good pre-shot routine must be repeatable; it’s another one of my non-negotiables.
So next time you head to practice, take the time to develop a pre-shot routine; it will keep you focused and give you clear headspace to execute the shot correctly. A solid, consistent pre-shot routine will pay big dividends in the long run, especially on your scorecard.
The Power Of Controlling Your Emotions
For all of its beauty and blessings, golf might be one the most frustrating games of all time.
One of the habits that great golfers have developed over time is consistently staying in control of their emotions. When we talk about emotions, people generally tend to think of negative feelings like anger and frustration, and while these gloomy emotions can wreak havoc with your game, so can positive ones.
I’ve seen it time and time again, exceptionally talented professionals who never reach their full potential because they lack emotional control. I’m sure you’ve seen some players with horrible swing mechanics and think, how are they even on tour? The answer lies partly in their ability to control their emotions; this is where they gain a substantial advantage over their more talented counterparts.
Learning how to control your emotions might be one of the most important, if not the most important, habits to develop if you want to play better golf.
Controlling your emotions will:
- Keep you focused on the task at hand
- Block unwanted stress and pressure
- Keep you relaxed to make a solid swing
- Keep you calm
- Reinforce judgment and decision making
Excess emotion clouds your judgment and decision-making, which are critical elements for being a great golfer. I know it’s easier said than done, but there’s no use dwelling on the past or factors out of your control, like the weather or your playing partners. Once it’s done, it’s done; you can’t change it, but you can learn from it.
Understand this; even the greatest golfers get incredibly angry and frustrated with themselves; the difference is they’ve developed strategies that allow them to identify and control each emotion. You, too, will become frustrated; it’s not an “if”, it’s a “when.”
The good thing is now you understand the importance of keeping your emotions in check.
The Importance Of Evaluating Your Round
We’re all guilty of it, sinking the final putt on the 18th green and heading straight back to the clubhouse for a beer and a club sandwich. We’ve given no thought whatsoever to what just took place or why we shot 15 over our course-rated handicap.
Setting aside some time to evaluate your round is critical to becoming a better golfer. Quite frankly, you basically just wasted four hours by skipping this step, even if you shot a good score.
Analyzing and evaluating your round will highlight the areas of your game you’re struggling in and areas you’re performing well. Evaluating your round is crucial because it forms the basis for your upcoming practice sessions. For example, if you haven’t hit your short irons well, you’ll need to rectify that by putting in the work during the week.
Tracking data and metrics has never been easier, and with so many free apps online to help you, there’s really no excuses. Still, even if you’re not up on the “tech,” an old-school notebook will suffice. To be honest, I prefer “writing down” aspects of my game I need to work on; it seems to stick with me better.
Bonus Habits You Might Not Think Of
All of the habits I’ve mentioned above are invaluable for improving your all-around game. Below you’ll find three other fantastic habits that will also go a long way in improving your game.
You’ll be amazed at just how many golfers forget to apply sunscreen before they head out to play.
An excellent habit to develop is applying sunscreen before each round and reapplying during the round. Keeping a spare bottle of suncream in your bag also makes sense and means you’ll never go without it.
Remember, even if it’s overcast outside, you still need to apply sunscreen to protect yourself from harmful UV and wind damage, which can leave your skin looking dry and wrinkled and potentially lead to skin cancer.
Keep Your Clubs Clean
I can honestly say I’m not guilty of this bad habit, but I know plenty who are, including my father.
Failing to clean your clubs not only makes them look unsightly, but more importantly, it allows dirt and grime to accumulate in the grooves. An accumulation of dirt can reduce spin by nearly 50%, and when you consider spin is the foremost characteristic in ball control, it pays to clean them out.
Take two towels on your next round, one wet and the other dry; this helps the cleaning process, which, let’s be honest, takes all of about 10 seconds. Cleaning out your grooves is as simple as using a tee.
Use A Buggy Or Electric Cart
This is an excellent habit to get into, especially for senior golfers who might struggle to walk the entire 18 holes.
Using either a hand-held electric buggy or a motorized golf cart helps prevent unwanted injury and does a great job of staving off fatigue. Carrying your bags places excessive stress on your body, particularly your back, and when you consider you’ll be swinging at least 70 times during the round, a buggy starts to make total sense.
I enjoy walking the course from time to time and even carrying my bags, but there’s no better feeling than playing 18 holes with friends all piled into the golf cart.