My very talented high school golf team had a setback the other day in a state district tournament. After playing very well all season, we shot our highest score of the season at the worst time.
What is it about golf that makes it so hard to play well with the pressure is on?
No one is trying to tackle you or disrupt your swing. No one is calling you names or trying to get you upset. Yet, anyone who has played golf at a high level will tell you is that their nothing harder in sport than to play golf well when it counts. The good thing for my team is that we did finish second and still have a shot at the state regional. In Florida, the top two or three teams advance from a district championship to the state regional. The top two teams from the state regional advance to the state finals. Each time, the slate is wiped clean, so you have to regroup and find a way to play well.
Let me give you an overview of my team. I am not using names, and I have to tell you that I have really good players.
The reality is that other than my one best player, my other four players are 75-shooters. Now, they are all 1 to +1 handicaps at their home courses, they have all shot under par in events, but on my team, playing tough golf courses under tough conditions, they average right under 75.
My best player is ranked in the top five in his class and is averaging three under par. He is a very good player and is a +4 handicap at his home course with numerous college scholarship offers.
All season long, we work on our games, we talk about expectations, we focus on one shot at a time. We track our stats, we all know we all play better when we hit more fairways and greens, and we get our putters to have a nice pace. We all understand that golf is hard, and sometimes our games just don’t feel right. It is the true test of champion players to be able to understand this and be able to accept when the golf game just is not right and still be able to play to our average or better. Not play great, play well, go low, think that if we just try harder we can turn the game around, just hit driver over the corner, just go for the par-5s in two, or just attack the flag. Even though we know that our game is off, what we should be doing is getting it in play, hitting to the middle of the green, making par and letting our short game do the work.
This is exactly what happened to four of my players this week – they went the wrong way. They just could not help themselves.
Now, these are 17-year-old young men, not mature, not grown up, still forgetful and disorganized, so we have to give them a little bit of slack, but if they really want to be great, this is what they have to do. First, they have to let go of the last event and focus on the next event. Get back on the range, work on the short game, get the swing feeling good. Second, they have to think about their misses from the last event and how they are going to improve their scores by playing golf smarter, not harder. They have to understand that every day on the golf course is different, every day is a new challenge, and that expecting something great is just setting them up for failure.
Third, they have to prepare for the next championship with the same game plan that they have used all year: 10 fairways, 10 greens, keep your putts in the low 30s, and see what happens. Start slowly, level, nothing hard. Hit the driver down the middle, hit the iron to the middle of the green, roll the putt next to the hole at the right pace. Then do it again, and again and again.
If a putt goes in, great, don’t get too excited. If you hit an iron close to the hole, great, don’t expect the putt to go in; just give it a good roll. Miss a green, no problem. Chip it close, make the putt. Driver not working? Go to the 3-wood. Three-wood not working? Go to a hybrid. Nothing working? Then tighten up the swing, hit low running shots, and just get around.
We play all kinds of training games in practice: no greens allowed, three clubs only, no flag sticks. Every player on my team can break 80 with three clubs. Every player on my team can shoot 75 with no greens.
So, why can they not shoot 75 in a big event with all their clubs?
Because they think they are better then they really are! They think that they are going to play the best round of their lives that day. They all have expectations that are just too high. Expectations kill great golf!
Now, anyone reading this post needs to understand that I am talking about very highly skilled players. Just young, just not ready to play golf with the maturity that the game requires. But they will.
I hope that they listen, stay calm, stay confident, and play with low expectations. It is amazing what happens when a few putts roll in and bogeys turn into pars and pars turn into birdies – championships!
Master Teaching Professional Arlen Bento Jr. is a golf coach, golf sales business owner, golf product developer and golf writer living in Jensen Beach, Florida. He is a former professional tournament player and is a national award-winning head golf professional at the PGA Country Club at PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, FL. He can be reached via Facebook at www.facebook.com/arlenbentojr or on his blog http://arlenbentojr.blogspot.com or on his business website www.abjgolfsales.com
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