When it comes to determining what separates the best golfers from the rest, everyone has their own ideas on how to go about it or the factors that actually count.
The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer; professional coaches and sports psychologists have been debating and researching the topic of expertise in sports for years.
Seminal books like The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, The Road to Excellence, and Expert Performance in Sports are fantastic resources and provide invaluable information; the trouble is you need a Ph.D. to follow along.
In my experience spending nearly twenty years working with professional athletes, one thing is clear; there is no “universal” characteristic that separates the best from the rest. However, regardless of the sport, there are a number of factors and characteristics that the greatest athletes have in common.
Successful people have consistently used finding a mentor or imitating those at the highest levels for millennia; as the old saying goes, “imitation is the greatest form of flattery.” By simply studying and watching elite athletes’ habits and strategies, you can significantly improve your own performance.
This article will lay out the characteristics these athletes have in common, using clear and simple language. Ultimately, my goal is for you, the reader, to take the information and strategies outlined below and implement them into your game.
I believe by doing so; you will take your physical, mental, and tactical game to the next level.
These strategies serve as the bridge you need, taking your game from middle-of-the-road handicapper to a single-digit or scratch player.
Common Characteristics of the Best Golfers
By default, many amateur golfers and people, in general, tend to surround themselves or play with others who either have the same level of play or are slightly weaker. But is this strategy really the best way to improve your golf?
I would say unequivocally no. The best athletes and the most successful entrepreneurs not only surround themselves with people of a higher level, but they actively seek out the best in their field or sport to learn from them.
By being around successful people, you can learn a significant amount, and in no time, you’ll be well on your way to following in their footsteps.
Let’s take a deeper look at some strategies and characteristics that many of the best golfers in the world have in common.
A Pre-Shot Routine Is A Must
You’re on the 18th green standing over a three-footer for par and a chance at the club championships; your hands are shaking, and you can’t stop thinking about holding the trophy above your head; you step up, pull the trigger, and lip it out. This is a perfect example of where a solid pre-shot routine would’ve given you the best chance of making the putt.
Whether it be a serve in tennis, a free throw in basketball, or in this case, a 3-foot putt, the importance of having a pre-shot routine cannot be underestimated.
In my opinion, this is one of the most, if not the most critical characteristic that separates the very best tour pros from the average. The beauty of having a consistent pre-shot routine is that it can kill 3 or 4 birds with one stone, and even better, it doesn’t matter what course you’re playing or what country you’re in; your pre-shot routine never changes.
One of the primary reasons a pre-shot routine works is that it helps you get into a rhythm.
Many top players will tell you that rhythm and tempo in golf are everything, and having a consistent failproof routine helps them stay calm and swing with rhythm.
A pre-shot routine also gets you focused on the task at hand and takes your focus away from the overwhelming pressure you probably feel; it acts as a kind of safety blanket. Like pro tennis players who towel off after each rally, the extra time allows them to gather their thoughts before starting the next point.
As a coach, getting aspiring pros to understand the importance of a pre-shot routine is one of the most critical lessons a coach can give. Pre-shot routines help hold you accountable and act as a reminder for key technical aspects of your swing you need to focus on.
Finally, the best part of having a pre-shot routine is that there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. Find whatever works for you, and stick to it religiously; it could be three deep breathes before each putt or performing a number of practice swings before you tee off; whatever it is, it doesn’t matter, and as long it’s repeatable, you’ll be on your way to sinking more putts and finding more fairways.
The Importance Of Dialing In Your Yardages
A caddy has several important jobs, including carrying the bags, giving advice, and providing a calming influence when the pressure is on, but one of the most critical parts of a caddie’s job is knowing his player’s yardages.
Great golfers and their caddies know the precise yardage of every club down to the exact meter. Whether it’s a 7-iron with a full swing yardage of 217 yards or a half swing yardage of 170, great players know their distances down to a tee; pun not intended.
Players and caddies spend hours and hours on the practice range, continually “dialing in” their distances, and by doing so, they take the guesswork away while playing.
A range of different factors can affect your distance and yardage, so the greatest golfers are continually dialing it in. Golf balls, for example, vary significantly in materials from brand to brand; you might be hitting a 7 iron 200 yards with one particular brand but change brands, and suddenly you’re maxing out at 190 yards.
Beginners to the game frequently make this mistake because most of their practice is done with “range balls” that travel 15% to 20% less through the air than regular golf balls.
Launch monitors and golf simulators are excellent ways to track your distances, as is the old-school way of “stepping it out.” Great golfers go into incredible detail when they’re working on their distances.
Pros have two or even three different swings with each club; full swings, half swings, and quarter swings. Together, the player and caddy will track distances on each club from tournament to tournament.
When it comes to calculating your yardages, there’s no “one” rule for everybody to follow. Most players and caddies will have their own way of tracking yardages that provides accurate distances they can rely on. Other factors like wind and air pressure also play a critical role in determining your distances.
Cold air is much denser than warmer air and thus has a substantial “drag effect” on the ball resulting in a significant loss of distance. The effect of wind is obviously self-explanatory; still, the wind is the primary factor you need to consider when working out your yardage.
Forget The Score, It’s Only A Number
In my twenty years of coaching professional athletes, I would say this is the one aspect that is the most critical component of achieving victory, yet by far the most challenging.
The greatest golfers in the world have developed the ability to block out their scores from their minds entirely. While other players are panicking and looking at the leader board, the best players are fully focused on swing tempo, keywords, yardages, and, most importantly, staying level-headed.
Ask any player if they want to lose; how many do you think would say yes?
Every player wants to win; that’s a given, but the greatest players understand that it’s not about winning; it’s about “how to win.”.
The great players are completely focused on the game plan they put into place. Whether focusing on hitting fairways, staying calm, or having fun, the world’s best golfers have the mental toughness to block out distractions, including the score, enabling them to get the job done.
If you’re looking to take your golf game to the next level, developing mental toughness and laser-like focus is the most useful way to succeed.
Remember, every player wants to win, but what separates the best from the rest is they focus on the “how to win,” not the “I want to win.”
Task Focus And Intrinsic Motivation
Now I know I said I would use language that is easy to follow, and in this section, I’m going to try my best. What is intrinsic motivation, you’re asking?
It refers to a golfer performing a particular task purely for the satisfaction and enjoyment derived from the activity. Typically, intrinsically motivated players have a love for the game and have an even deeper passion and desire for continual improvement. An intrinsically motivated player is “task-focused” as opposed to being an “ego-orientated” player.
As we’ve seen above, great players have the ability to block out the score and stay focused; the reason behind this is relatively straightforward. Intrinsically motivated players’ primary goal is to display progress and continuous improvement. In simple terms, as long as they are improving their game, their score and result are irrelevant to them.
Success is not about winning; now, that’s not to say they don’t want to win; they do; it’s just that winning is not their number one priority.
Success for these great players is achieved once improvement has been demonstrated. Winning is viewed as a “bonus” rather than the main prize.
In a sport like golf, which requires hard work and sacrifice over many years, getting juniors and aspiring pros to understand that “hard work” results in success is paramount. Once they understand this conviction, they are much more likely to maintain persistence in the face of adversity.
However, on occasion, even intrinsically motivated players will toil. When this happens, and players struggle to find motivation, the coach and caddy play valuable roles in delivering a message that helps lead to a successful outcome.
Intrinsic Motivated players display the following characteristics:
- They are task-involved, and their only concern is performing to the best of their ability
- They demonstrate self-determination and the ability to control their own behaviors.
- Their main priority is self-improvement and making the game enjoyable for other players around them.
- Their less stressed and anxious than their “ego-oriented” counterparts, and finally,
- They have supreme confidence in their physical and mental ability and tend to “bounce-back” faster than other players.
Keywords And Tinkering With Your Swing
The great players never tinker with their swing during a round of golf, and if you’re guilty of it, it’s probably been the reason for many a bad round.
Tinkering with your swing during competition inevitably leads to disaster; with the pressure and anxiety already sky-high, additional stress like refiguring your swing only adds fuel to the fire.
When you’re having an off day, the easiest way to stay on track is by going back to the basics. Try writing down some keywords and taping them to your bag.
I’ve personally known pro golfers who tape keywords to the shaft of their clubs as reminders. Each club will have a different word; E.g., on the wedge, it might say “wrists firm,” while on the putter, it might say “tempo.”
Taking the time to create some keywords will do wonders for your game, and it’s a strategy the world’s best players have been using for years. Remember, “imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” so implement this strategy starting with your next round.
Honesty Over All Else
When people think of honesty, they generally think it’s referring to being honest with other people, which truly great golfers are, but great golfers also possess the ability to self-appraise.
Being brutally honest with your game is not easy, but ask any great golfer, and they’ll tell you it’s necessary. Honest self-appraisal helps you identify strengths and weaknesses in your game and allows you to hone in on areas that need the greatest improvements. Having a coach you can trust will also help identify areas that need work.
Whether it’s hours on the putting green working on your rhythm or hitting hundreds of additional long irons a week, being honest with yourself is a sure way to a lower handicap.