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Become A Master of Variability

Just like everyday life, when we play a round of golf, there is a lot of unpredictability. There are endless possibilities for what could happen, that we don’t have control over. But what we can control (and our success depends on it) is how well we can manage our response to what happens, so we get the best out of ourselves in every round. 

This is why expectations don’t serve any purpose in golf. You can’t expect anything to happen. If you do, it will only lead to frustration. What you can expect is variability, so you may as well prepare for it and embrace it. 

The variability we get in golf is a good thing. In fact, it’s part of what keeps us coming back. If every round was 100% predictable, the game would be nowhere near as fun.

Top players have learned how to be adaptable and become Masters of Variability. For this reason, they feel fully prepared for anything that could happen and they are more confident as a result. 

That said, you don’t want to spend time worrying about what could happen. It’s better to allocate time to thinking about the possible variables and how you will manage them (and practice them), so you can be fully present during each phase of the round. Predicting variability and developing your plan to manage it should be an ongoing part of your “process”. 

The following exercise is one I do with my 1:1 students. Let’s establish the variables for your upcoming round and how you will deal with them. 

Types of Variables in Golf

  • Physical Variables
  • Mental/Emotional Variables
  • Technical Variables

Physical Variables

Playing a Different Golf Course

What different types of shots will the course you are about to play require of you? How do you intend to play each hole? What will you do if you are out of position? How will the ball react from different lies/grasses around the green and what adjustments will you make to factor that in? Where are the best places to miss and where can you not miss? What adjustments might you have to make to your warm up for that particular facility? 

Different Lies and Conditions

What adjustments do you need to make to different lies you could/will have and weather (rain, temperature changes, wind, etc.). E.g. what will you do if the ball is slightly above your feet and you are on a downhill lie? What changes in your setup will you make and the club you pick? How will you play those “in between” wedge distances? These situations should be part of your “Variable Practice for Golf”. 

Dealing with Playing Partners 

In tournaments, this is another “uncontrollable”. Some players are chatty and fun, others quieter and more serious. Some are calm and others are more emotional and express them throughout the round. Some are fast and some are slow. Knowing how you are going to deal with these different types of players, so they don’t affect you negatively, will help you manage this variable. 

Mental Variables

What mental challenges do you foresee? What will you do if you get off to a poor start? What will you do if you hit a shot out of bounds or you lose a ball? How will your strategy change if you have your C or D game? What will you do if you are in contention, and you have a chance to win or you have a lead with a few holes to play? What will you do if you feel nervous? 

These are all possible challenges in your round that you’ll need to prepare for. 

Technical Variables

What causes you to hit certain “misses”? If a pattern in your shots arises with contact or curvature, do you have technical adjustments you can make? If you know your misses and know your game, you can make the necessary adjustments on the way round. 

Spend the time doing this exercise, listing out the Physical, Mental and Technical variables you foresee and how you’ll manage them, and you’ll play more confidently as a result. 

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David MacKenzie

is a mental golf coach and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind, a teaching program designed to help golfers condition their minds to overcome fear and play with confidence.

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