Making a series of small improvements in your golf game is something that everybody can do and can add up to large reductions in your handicap.
In this blog I will outline the top 10 areas of marginal gains that I have achieved in my golf game during 2018. Whilst everybody has different strengths and weaknesses, I hope that some of my personal strategies can be of assistance in your own improvement goals.
Balance, Tempo, Tension
I believe that optimal performance, often referred to as ‘the zone’ or ‘flow’ is best achieved with only very simple technical thoughts during the swing. Great balance, optimal tempo and lack of tension are three such thoughts and indeed some of the keys to great golf.
For me, a focus on relaxed grip pressure and posture throughout the set-up and swing naturally helps me to achieve perfect balance and tempo. If my tension gets too tight, it will lead my tempo to get too quick and disrupt my balance.
Concentrating on keeping my tension loose has also given me better performance under pressure. For a more in-depth analysis of BTT, refer to Be A Player by Lynn Marriott & Pia Nilsson.
Experiment with your golf ball
The last couple of years has seen an explosion of high quality premium golf balls enter the market. All of these products offer slightly different feels and reactions to individual swing tendencies.
During practice rounds, make sure to experiment with different options. Finding the optimum ball for your game can make a significant gain to confidence and performance.
My current favourite is the Callaway Chrome Soft X, but I will be sure to try new options over the coming months to see if any marginal gains can be achieved.
Smile and enjoy every moment
It can be easy to blame shoddy technique after a poor shot. Of course the misdirected ball was indeed caused by faulty technical skills, but the root cause of the faults can often be the golfers attitude – frustration, tension or anxiety can all ruin swing technique.
Take a leaf from LPGA superstar Ariya Jutanugarn who makes sure to smile as part of her pre-shot routine before every shot. Not only will you hit more good shots, but you will enjoy the game more as well.
Focus on Clubface alignment
The excellent book, The Practice Manual by Adam Young, describes in detail the reasons why the alignment of the clubface at impact is the most crucial influence on the direction of ball flight.
It makes sense, therefore to place great care when setting this alignment at address. For me, this means taking time during my pre-shot routine for full-shots to set my hands correctly around a square clubface. I find that aiming the clubface with my feet together is easiest and helps me to achieve perfect body alignment once the club is aimed correctly.
In putting, using a line on the ball to match up with the alignment line on the putter can be a great ‘cheat’ to achieve perfect clubface alignment.
As the wonderful teacher Harvey Penick said ‘Take Dead Aim’.
Custom your stretching programme
My 2017 golfing season was interupted at various points by niggling injuries. For me, it was my hips and lower back that were causing discomfort.
The introduction of a custom stretching routine 2/3 times a week at home and as part of my pre-round warm-up has allowed me to compete injury free throughout 2018. The full routine takes no more than 15 minutes and is focused around my personal areas of weakness.
You can get help from a personal trainer to develop a short programme or there are a number of books available on the subject. I use Fit For Golf by Gary Player.
Practice on the Golf Course
I have always enjoyed spending time at the Driving Range or the practice green. This year, however (partly to avoid aggravating a niggling wrist injury) I have found the benefits of playing late afternoon golf on my own around the course.
Golf is unique among sports in that you generally do not practice on the actual playing surface. What could be better to prepare you for an important round of golf than a round of golf?
I will spend more time on the range over the winter, but during the playing season I have found gains in practicing on the course.
Prep your Golf Bag
This year I have gained confidence by making sure that my golf bag is fully prepped the night before a round. Some more unusual elements that I have found helped:
- Nuts rather than chocolate for nutrition
- Spare batteries for my rangefinder/GPS.
- A lucky (poker chip) ball marker
- At least 4 spare gloves if the weather forecast is really hot or rain.
Focus on the ball during your putting stroke
My putting consistency has been helped enormously this year by focusing on a spot that I have drawn on the golf ball throughout the stroke.
I have found in the past that it is easy for my mind to wander during the stroke, or for nerves to cause me to ‘look-up’ as I hit the ball and destroy my technique. By focusing my attention on a spot on the ball, it keeps my mind on the task at hand and seems to prevent harmful or negative thoughts entering my mind.
Do not assume Driver for every long hole
When I have reflected on my very best rounds, a common ingredient is that I have managed my game well. If my brain has got lazy I tend to just reach for the Driver for every par 4 or 5. The better approach that I have found is to think carefully about the Club that will give me the best margin for error.
This slightly conservative strategy from the tee helps me in particular as it plays to my strengths. Strokes Gained Analysis statistics show me that my approach shots from 100-200 yards are the strongest aspect of my game and so being in the fairway gives me a chance to utilise this strength.
Consider your own game and use a course management strategy that plays to your own strengths. For more information on Strokes Gained Statistics, read Every Shot Counts by Mark Broadie.
Practice Wedge Distances
Improving the skill to judge distance accurately from 30-100 yards will bring quick gains to anybodies game.
Whilst I still have plenty of room for improvement here, spending more of my practice time on these shots has shown gains to my score. I think that it is important to implement a ‘system’ for these shots and to practice that system. Dave Pelz, in his best-selling book The Short Game Bible’, covers this area in great detail and is recommended.
Have fun finding your own marginal gains!