‘IT’S a battle with yourself’ - it’s a phrase even my inexperienced golfing ears have heard over and over. Yet, if golf is such a psychological minefield, causing brilliant rounds one day and devastating ones the next, what do we actually do as golfers to address this?
The answer for most club players is ‘nothing’. And the frustration just grows and grows, but if we were to follow the professionals, and seek some help in addressing the mental side of the game, how good would we become? Could it lead to us breaking free of our mind’s shackles and finally dropping handicaps after we think we’ve reached our golfing plateau?
With these thoughts in mind, I went, with a little trepidation, along to Stoke by Nayland Golf Club last Wednesday night to watch a seminar given by Yorkshire-born Karl Morris - widely regarded as Europe’s leading golf mind coach.
And I was far from alone. More than 150 other players, including pros, also ditched watching Arsenal come from the dead to beat Barcelona to acquire the knowledge to begin conquering a feat of similar magnitude for ourselves: lower our golf by five shots without altering our swing.
Of course, I have yet to take my driving range-harnessed shots on to the golf course (that will finally happen tomorrow) in my personal quest to take up the game, but I learnt plenty I am sure will help me become a better player than if I had ignored such an important element of the game.
One of the many things Karl made us realise is just how pointless the way we currently practice golf is. On a golf course every shot has a consequence, he explained. In football, a striker may miss two golden opportunities to score a goal, but a second-half winning strike has him hailed as a hero. In tennis, a player gets their serve completely wrong...and gets a second serve. Win the point and no-one remembers the mistake. But in golf, you are in a unique situation - muck up a shot and your hole, and whole round, is on the verge of collapse - every shot has consequence.
Yet when we practice, we have virtually no consequence to deal with - so, it brings up the question: ‘are we actually practising, or just wasting our time’?
In fact, Karl told us of the only consequence we all know only too well on the driving range - ‘the 50th ball syndrome’. It is the last ball you have paid for that is the only one you drive any paramount importance to, but just like every shot on the golf course. Mishit that last ball and how many of us have stooped over out of our hitting bay, after looking left then right, to pick up one more ball to finish on a high? I know I have, and I’ve sure seen others do it.
To remedy this, Karl advises people to introduce a short-game practice, ‘par 18,’ he promises it is a game that will improve any golfer’s round and was one used religiously by Graham McDowell, who Karl worked closely with among a number of other stars such as Lee Westwood, to rocket his standing in the golfing world.
It works by replicating the pressure situation you feel on the golf course and giving you the only thing that makes us humans have the belief to continue doing something - evidence that it works. It involves chipping a ball from nine different positions on the edge of a green and attempting to take as little shots as possible to put it, with each position having a par of two. But you must not cheat and start again, as you can’t do that on the golf course - to do this, Karl suggests having a small notebook in your backpocket and recording every game. Then watch as your score and golf improves.
My notebook is now at the ready, and I’m about to find out if I can indeed conquer my mind on the golf course...