Getting yourself physically and mentally prepared for a round is one of those things you have complete control over. Having been coaching golfers for many years now, I’ve seen first hand the relationship between how a player approaches their pre-round time and how they ultimately perform.
What you’ll find in this lesson, are 5 essential pre-round rituals to set up for success no matter what level of player you are.
#1 Have Low Expectations
You might think this one sounds negative, but I’ve found that when players do this they lower performance anxiety by shifting their focus away from outcome. Setting low expectations doesn’t mean that you lower effort. You’re still going to give 100% of yourself to the process of hitting good shots, but you’re going to relinquish control over what you think the eventual outcome should be.
The opposite is setting high expectations e.g. “I’ve been playing really well recently, so I’m going to try and shoot a good score today”. So what happens if you get off to a bad start and bogey the first 3 holes? Have you let yourself down? By not meeting your expectations, it would probably affect your mood for the rest of the round.
Giving up control over the outcome will lower stress and improve performance.
All of my students know their “process goals” before teeing off. These are goals for the round that are completely within their control (unlike outcome) and give them the best chance of a good outcome.
Focusing on process vs outcome is a fundamental of the mental game of golf. Before each round, make sure you have these written down. Your only expectations should be to achieve these goals.
#2 Build a Mindset for success
Mindset basically means how you choose to “set” your mind, so let’s set our minds in the best possible way before going out to play. Here’s what I’d like you to think about. If you haven’t already read one of Carol Dweck’s books on mindset, I’d highly recommend it. She highlights the importance of making sure that in anything you do, you decide on having a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset”.
A growth mindset puts you in a position to learn and improve your talents and abilities (success is incremental over the long-term). Contrarily, a fixed mind-set has you believe that your success is about your results on that day (your abilities are fixed).
Following on from ritual #1, if you can shift your mind from thinking about the importance of playing well today, to simply, “what am I going to learn today?” this will help you. If this is your focus, you’re going to set yourself up for more success.
Whether you play well or not so well, you are going to learn plenty that will take your game forward in the long term.
#3 Focus on relaxing before a round
Many of us can feel overly stressed about going to play, especially if it’s an important round. From my experience, the best way to deal with this stress is breathing and meditation. I’d highly recommend meditation as a daily practice (I do 10-15 mins each morning).
Golf is a very demanding game mentally, and having a practice for being able to relax and refresh your mind is key. Not only will you gain more control of your thoughts and improve focus during play, but you’ll be able to improve your ability to stay present and prevent your mind from wandering onto things that ar going to cause you stress when you’re on the course.
Perhaps combine your meditation with some music that makes you feel good. Yoga is also a good low intensity way to warm up your muscles.
#4 Focus on Tempo and Tension during your warm-up
During your warm-up on the range, I’d like you to focus on these things in particular. Your swing mechanics are not going to change from round to round (over the long-term, yes). But what can change is tempo and tension (if you let it), which causes changes in your swing mechanics.
If you’ve done some good awareness practice of tempo during your practice sessions, you should know whether you’re swinging fast or slow, and whether there’s any tension in your body. Make sure you’re swinging at your optimal tempo and keep tension in your body low.
Being able to do a full body scan for tension should become an integral part of your warm-up.
Researchers have found that tension usually starts in the jaw, so look out for this and work on relaxing it. While you’re hitting balls, place your tongue right behind your front teeth and you’ll find it’s impossible to clench your jaw. Don’t chew gum as this increases tension in the jaw!
Working tempo and tension are for me the most important part of a driving range warm-up.
#5 Eating and drinking for high performance
What you put into your body before a round will undoubtedly make a difference in the way you feel and how sharp your mind is going to be.
If you’re going through the McDonalds drive-thru or grabbing a bacon butty with white bread on route to the course, you’re not going to feel as good during your round as with something more nutritious.
Golf is a mental and physical stamina game, so setting yourself up for that is key.