A question I often hear from students is, “Why is it so difficult to take my range game to the course?”
One of the reasons why it’s challenging to perform at the same level on the golf course as on the practice range is that a shot doesn’t mean anything on the range. There is no attachment to the results. As a result, it’s likely that you’re functioning effortlessly.
Remember that any action you perform effortlessly (you could also say naturally) will take place with a greater level of skill than actions which require you to think about or to control your movements.
Consider a task that you do without any conscious thought such as tying your shoelaces. When you do this, you’re performing a familiar action without thinking. If your mind interferes and you tell yourself, “I’ll form a loop with the lace in my right hand and wrap the lace in my left hand underneath it,” these thoughts get in the way and confuse your fingers.
A player’s best golf swings don’t involve conscious thought. Timing, rhythm and the coordinated sequence of muscle activity to produce great golf shots seem to come from an effortless place. When you are free of conscious thought there is no interference. Your natural rhythm, timing and coordination become fluid.
Any conscious thinking needs to take place during your pre-shot routine and post-shot routine. When it’s time to address the ball, you should be ready to calmly access that fluid state.
Certain swing thoughts or swing triggers can act to quiet the mind before and during the swing to help you access what I refer to as a “pure-fluid state.” These triggers are non-technical and are designed to help you lose yourself on one thing: your golf swing for the shot at hand.
Make Your Practice Swing Fit the Shot in Mind
Visualizing the shot you want to hit and feeling that shot with your practice swing means that you’ve already felt the swing that you are about turn into a reality. If you’ve practiced a drill during your practice swing, you’ve wasted an opportunity to really connect with the shot and to make your real swing more fluid and natural.
Counting Into the Shot
As you walk toward the ball, start counting. This action occupies the area of the brain that might otherwise begin to worry. It replaces unnecessary “over-thinking.” Be sure not to start swinging on a specific number each time as that will simply create pressure: just go when it feels right. You’ll notice that you will be less hesitant than normal and your swing will be much more seamless.
Work on Your Scan Path
The scan path is the manner in which we look down the target line. Tour professionals keep their eyes relaxed and free of tension as they gaze at their target. The ones at the top of the leader board have a special stare — you’ve probably seen it. High-handicappers do not maintain a relaxed gaze as they scan the path they want their ball to travel on.
This one is important because tighter grip pressure affects the free flow of your swing. When you’re feeling pressure on the course, the grip usually gets tighter. Focusing on light grip pressure before you swing will keep your swing smooth. I’ve seen several tour pros who take the club away with the thumb of their right hand completely off the club: Brandt Snedeker and Jordan Spieth.
Balance can be a great swing thought. Your tempo is directly related to your balance. During the golf swing your weight moves between both feet and if you’re not well-balanced, you won’t make a good weight transition to maintain your tempo and rhythm.
Nick Price used to say that this was one of his key swing thoughts. Despite having one of the quickest tempos on the PGA tour, he always made sure the initial 12-inches of his swing were very smooth.