Everybody has bad habits on the golf course.
Even the best players in the game struggle with something. Golf is the endless pursuit of perfection.
Shoring up shortcomings can be the least enjoyable part of the game, or the motivation that drives you. Martin Hall is here to help. Hall, host of Golf Channel's School of Golf, has put together an 18-part series on GolfPass called "Breaking Bad Habits" where he goes in-depth how to fix the biggest issues in your game.
Although the Golf Advisor editorial staff plays plenty of golf, often at nice places, we still could use all the help we can get. In this story, we strip our games to the core, laying bare our sins for the world to see. Maybe by sharing our biggest faults, we can inspire you to take a harder look at your game to figure out where you're losing shots. Once you identify a problem or two, turn to Hall for the best advice on how to address them.
Current Index: 6.4
As much as I love golf and would jump at the chance to be able to play it all day, everyday, I marvel at touring pros' ability to have laser focus for four competitive (and typically slow) rounds, not to mention a couple practice rounds early in the week.
Losing focus for a hole, or even a shot or two, can be the difference in making a cut or even keeping your card.
My worst habit is in my head: I can't put 18 holes together. I get off to bad starts a lot. Worse, if I get off to a good start, my mind wanders to the possibilities of my final score which leads to imminent doom and a return to the "comfort zone" which for me is in the low to mid-80s. I've known about Bob Rotella's "Stay in the present" mindset since the 1990s. Why can't I achieve it?
Former PGA Tour pro Richard Zokol launched the MindTrak app this summer. The goal is to get the golfer more concerned with their shot preparation than their score. His app wants you to score each shot you take by how you prepared for it.
"The problem is how we perceive success, which is score." said Zokol. With MindTrak, golfers score each shot's assessment and execution. By taking your mind off what you actually shot per hole or round, and instead focus on these two metrics, a golfer will focus on what will really on the most meaningful thing.
Zokol isn't the only instructor with a platform that wants to track your "mental" score. Scott Fawcett's DECADE system asks golfers to assign a 1 or 0 value to the preparation of each shot taken based on Dr. Lardon's Mental Scorecard. In order to be "committed", a golfer must commit to the distance and shape of the shot and pull the trigger totally committed. Based on Fawcett's data, 1/4-1/3 of a stroke can be lost per poor mental event.
The trick with each scoring system is you have to be honest with yourself. That's not always a delusional duffer's strong suit. But whether you use MindTrak or DECADE or your own system, keeping tallies of your mental preparation and commitment to each shot can at the very least keep your mind off your true score, which in itself may prove dividends.
Being more mindful of my mental approach and commitment earlier this year did lead me to have a few rounds that were better than my "comfort zone" and was able to drop my handicap by a couple shots. But bad habits tend to creep back in once you stop being aware of them. I've also found there is a fine line between being focused and getting stiff. A relaxed, committed state is the promised land.
Short game woes
Current Index: 7.1
With so many physical issues, all stemming from two broken vertebrae in my lower back as a teenager, I've resigned myself to the fact that I'll never have a fluid, athletic-looking swing. I'm a self-taught golfer who relies more on my short game than ball-striking to shoot good scores. That said, my short game has deserted me the past few years.
At a Nike golf school in 2015 at Sea Island's famed Golf Performance Center, I tested out as a 3 handicap inside 100 yards, but after a bout with some chipping yips in recent years, I've lost some confidence. I've tried to focus on strategy and comfort level when it comes to breaking my bad habit of screwing up relatively easy chips and pitches. If my ball's on a tight lie near the green, I've narrowed my options to the ground game instead of the riskier aerial route: 1, putting it or 2, using a less lofted club like an 8 or 9 iron to chip, the preferred method taught by Dave Pelz. Both take the chunked or skulled wedge shot out of the equation.
I've also found that with such inconsistent full swing mechanics, I'm better at short-yardage feel shots, half- and three-quarter wedges and 9 irons. For example, my 9 iron is typically my 125- to 130-yard club, but it's really become a weapon at 115 yards instead of trying to muscle a wedge that distance. I'm back in single digits, at my lowest index ever, because I've dialed in my short game and eliminated the stupid errors that used to plague my scorecards.
Inconsistent tempo off the tee
Current Index: +2.1
Competition has always been inseparable from my perception and love of golf. It was hard for my 7-year old brain to fully appreciate Tiger Woods' dominating Masters victory in 1997; Justin Leonard's 1999 Ryder Cup heroics were crystal-clear, though: the joy and passion of competition hooked me to that side of the game, and I've never gone more than a few months between organized tournaments of one sort or another - junior golf, high school, college, local and regional amateur events - ever since.
What's been interesting to track over time is the fact that the strengths and weaknesses of my game have evolved. I swear I never missed a fairway in high school, but I also left just about every putt short and when I missed greens in regulation, I was a step behind my peers. Flash forward 15 years and it's almost the opposite: now I can chip and putt pretty well (my most recent tournament round: a 74 with just 5 greens in regulation and 25 putts), but my ball-striking is less consistent than it used to be, especially my driving. Other players I compete against seem to have set-it-and-forget-it swings with the big stick, and I envy them.
Tempo is key for me. My natural swing cadence has always been quick, but when I get tense it gets out-of-control, causing a two-way miss off the tee that has cost me several strokes recently. I have an Orange Whip in the trunk of my and its super-flexible shaft is great for both loosening up when I get to the course and ingraining the "one-two" rhythm I know I need. I've never been good at practicing with a purpose, but maybe if I start using it habitually, it'll start to straighten me out.
I also think my current driver's shaft might not be the best fit for me. It's a bit on the heavy side, which I thought would be helpful when I bought it a couple summers ago. But compared to the shafts in my fairway woods, which are about 10 grams lighter, I think it's creating a bit of a muddle in terms of the way my woods feel relative to one another. A more cohesive bag setup might be in order.
What bad habits are you attempting to break? Let us know in the comments below and click here to learn more about Martin Hall's new GolfPass series, "Breaking Bad Habits."