Play Golf Like A Kid

Photo courtesy of Pinehurst

We can all relate to sitting around the 19th hole after a round and going back and forth with our playing partners about how you played and what would have happened if you made the 3-footer, not hit it in the hazard, hit the errant tee shot, chunked the pitch, etc. It happens far too often, we focus on the negative aspects of our rounds. We rarely hear adults talk about the good shots, the lip-ins, lucky breaks, or just plain good swings. The focus after the round is routinely “what if”, not “when”. This teaches us to look back on our rounds and pick apart the negative aspects rather than focusing on the positive moments that can help us gain momentum and learn to become a better player.

A Different Way of Thinking

I want you to think about how you approach a difficult tee shot, tucked pin, or delicate shot around the green. For adults who have conditioned themselves to play defensively; we see trees, hazards, heavy rough, bunkers, tight fairways, small greens. I could keep going. I bring this to light because as seasoned golfers, our goal is to avoid rather than attack, to hope rather than execute, or to focus on everything but the intended target. From the moment we reach in our bag for a club, we are thinking about the “what ifs” and “don’ts”, or looking everywhere but the middle of the fairway and a the flagstick.

Junior Golfers

The best way to overcome fear on the course is to look to our future generation of golfers and juniors who are taking up the game. As a young PGA Professional teaching rising juniors, I would point out the importance of being aware of what stood between the tee box and the hole, and to map out a plan of how to get there. During one particular lesson, I had instructed my student to look at the approach shot and determine where he could not miss it. He looked at me and said, “But I am aiming at the flagstick, why would I look there”? It’s very rare that I do not have an answer or comeback, but I couldn’t tell him why. It was something I had fallen into myself. As we played a few extra holes, I would ask about his aiming point or what he was thinking. The two most common answers were fairway and flagstick. When he was short sided with a difficult pitch, I tried to drive my point home about being aware of the trouble, and he said, “I know it’s out there, but that’s not where I am looking, why would you look there if you are trying to hit it at the flag?  I will deal with it if it happens”.  It’s this tunnel vision that kids and adults can learn from. The focus has become on failure instead of goals, leading to a decrease in confidence.

Take A Closer Look

Part of my job was to fill in as a fourth for some of our members who had standing tee times. On the practice tee warming up, I would see very controlled and rhythmic swings, like a well written symphony. What’s there to fear on the range? On the range there’s very little trouble and lots of flagsticks and targets. On the course, I started to listen closely and take a better mental inventory about how a shot or situation affect their metal state, to get a feel for what they were seeing during their strategy for a particular shot or hole.  I was amazed how much negative energy is generated just before and after the ball is struck.  I heard things like, “I don’t like that pin, just as I thought, and I knew I would hit it there, or I don’t have that shot”. I also noticed that when these shots arise, swings would change to try and avoid the trouble or negative results. If you add in a little pressure for the friendly competition, chaos can ensue leaving maintenance workers scattering.

Leave The Fear At The Clubhouse

The more we tell ourselves we cannot do something, the easier it is to believe it. Junior players have straight forward goals on the course and are confident in their ability to pull off a particular shot because they believe it; “fairways and flagsticks”. They haven’t reached the point of doubt and they haven’t been exposed to the negative atmosphere that surround 18 holes. I think we can all take a lesson from “playing like a kid”, and try to leave the negative emotions and fear at the clubhouse. When we remove the negativity, fear will follow, and the tension will melt away. Think about being on the tee box, driver in hand, looking down a tight tree lined fairway having the ability to accelerate through impact, release the club, and post up to a full finish. How about trying to bring a good round home, and being able to remain tension free and still attack until the final putt. This is where we start to swing the club and “play” rather than hit and hope.

Conquer The Fear

To help start this process, I would attack it with a two pronged approach. First, I would consider taking a good hard look at your preshot routine. Become aware of the sequence of events that take place right before you pull off the swing.

It should look like an equation to pull the club you can swing with confidence: Yardage + Lie + Wind + Elevation = Adjusted Yardage = Club Selection

Now that you have the correct club, feel your grip pressure loosen as you take a few practice swings. On the last one or two, feel the release and swing up to a full finish with all of your weight on your left side (for a right-handed golfer). During the last one, visualize the golf ball doing exactly what you want it to. As you stand at address, feel the tension relax from the back of your shoulders to the end of your fingertips. Take one or two last looks at the target, and fire the swing up to the finish, just as you rehearsed. Don’t stand at address too long, you want the image of the target (fairway/flagstick) to be the last mental thought you have.

3 Tips for a Tension Free Swing (Like the Fearless Junior Golfer)

  1. Always keep the hands relaxed. This promotes less tension, a more powerful release, and increased speed.
  2. On the downswing, accelerate from your right pocket up to a balanced finish with your weight on your left side (for right handed golfers) and hold your finish until the ball stops rolling.
  3. Control your swing, not the ball. Make the swing from start to finish, and accept the outcome if you have made your best possible swing.

How To Take It To The Course

As you practice this technique of eliminating the negative thoughts or tendencies from you routine, it will be beneficial to slowly incorporate it into your on-course game. The best way to start this process is a quick 9 holes by yourself. During this session, work on you routine. Begin by accessing the shot, going through the formula to determine club selection, and swing to the finish. Notice that accessing the shot is the beginning of the routine and the balanced finish is the end. As you start your 9 holes, pay close attention NOT to let your eyes wander. Only look at the landing point in the fairway and the flagstick. It’s very important to train your mind to look at intended targets and not potential trouble.

The ball will go where the swing takes it.  After a poor result, try to envision where the swing broke down, take one or two more practice swings to try and end on a positive note, and proceed to the next shot starting over with your route. This will help you begin to PLAY golf rather than just slapping a ball around the course. After all, is there anything better than swing aggressively up to a balanced finish and posing as the ball is traveling dead at the target, just as you envisioned it would?

Learn more about golf instructions from our PGA Professionals like How to Hit the Stinger from the Tee, 3 Tips to Hitting Further Drives, and Secrets to Uneven Lies.

Do you have questions? Contact the PGA Professionals at GlobalGolf!

Michael Loftin

Michael Loftin has been a Class “A” member of the PGA of America since 2007, and holds a PGA Certifications in Golf Operations. He has competed as an NCAA Division I golfer at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and graduated from Coastal Carolina University with a Masters in Business Administration. He has a deep understanding of private golf facilities, where he provided extensive instruction, tournament operations, club fittings, and on course strategy. Michael’s instructional philosophy is not only teaching the students how to swing, but teaching students how to play.