Process For Golf

What’s Your Performance Plan For Your Next Round?

If you’ve been around golf for any length of time, you will have probably heard about the importance of “focusing on your process”. But why is this a better way to play and what do we mean by a “process for golf”?

The dictionary definition of “a process” is:

a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.

The time taken to play a round of golf can be 6+ hours, including your pre-round warm up time and travel. Without a “process”, it can be easy to lose focus on the steps needed to maximize your chances of success.

The value of a process for golf lies in the fact that the human brain is always seeking certainty. Certainty initiates a reward response from the brain, whereas uncertainty initiates the threat response.

Hence, the greater certainty we can create, with “a process” the calmer we will feel and the more readily we can access the skills we have. In this article, we’ll take a look at:

  • How a process for golf increases your focus on what’s most important
  • How to create certainty for every shot
  • How to create certainty for every round
  • How to create certainty for your responses to desirable and undesirable outcomes
  • How to master unpredictability
  • How to measure your success by your process

Let’s figure out the A,B,C and D’s to your best game…

Using Certainty To Increase Success

Let’s take the example of public speaking, which a lot of people seem to fear – and how a process can help create certainty and lower stress.

Fear exists because there is uncertainty about the outcome. The brain starts playing a movie in your mind about the worst outcome – what you would look like if you forget or stumble over your words or appear really nervous. That image will immediately trigger the stress (fight or flight) response.

If you were to walk into the room, without any preparation, you would probably act like a deer caught in the headlights, as you have no plan. However, if you really know your stuff by spending time preparing adequately, rehearsing (the content, your body language, facial expressions, etc.), and you have a plan for any “uncertainties”, then you will feel a lot more comfortable and increase your chances of doing well.

Focusing on a process for golf is focusing on certainty

A process is a plan. It’s you knowing what you need to do to give yourself the best chance of success and having a plan for the unforeseen events that can come up. It’s about being proactive, not reactive. Executing your performance process for golf is a measure of how well you controlled all the things that you could control. That is a far more effective goal to strive for than a good score. Trying to shoot a good score will have your mind struggle with the uncertainty of it (the what ifs) and it’s response will be to make you feel stressed to try to get you out of it. There’s nothing uncertain about process goals.

Process goals are focal cues

Process goals are focal cues during each round, which if your attention is brought to them over and over again, they will become habits and behaviors. Confidence comes not only from being prepared, but keeping promises to yourself. If you are able to stick to your plan, you increase trust in yourself i.e. confidence.

The result will never be certain or 100% within your control, but the process for golf always is – so this is where your focus needs to be. This is I recommend to my students that they measure the success of their rounds by “the process” and not the result. In other words, did they do all they could to influence the outcome?

Building a performance process

So where do we start in putting together a performance process for golf, which you will attempt to execute during each round.

First, let’s look at the phases of golf. In each of the phases, we have to have clear intention for what the process is, and what uncertainties can arise and how to deal with them.

Pre-round Process

What are the steps that you will take no matter what? Examples of this are: particular music you listen to, mental imagery, finding a good rhythm, noticing balance, grip pressure, rehearsing your pre shot routine and playing some of the shots you will be faced with on the course.

Pre-shot Routine

What do you do in your pre shot routine? Examples of pre shot process goals could be: Confident posture, Clear target, visualization, commitment and tempo.

Focus during the shot

Do you have somewhere for your focus during the shot? Examples of this are the tempo of the swing, staying in balance, a single dimple on the ball, etc.

Post Shot Routine

How do you respond to any outcome? Do you have a cue to finish the shot, accept it and move on? What is the difference between how you respond to a desirable outcome and an undesirable outcome?

In between shots

What are your options in between shots to keep you in the present and having a positive perspective? Examples here are: deep breathing, paying attention to your surroundings, how the ground feels beneath your feet, being grateful, etc.

Reflection after a round

Do you follow a post round review process? All my students do and share them it with me, along with a practice plan for the following week. Without the reflection, it’s hard to know what about your process for golf is working, and what you will need to refine and set as goals for your practice for the following week.

Practice Process

Your practice should follow a process (practice plan) depending on what you are working on. Every practice session should have a clear purpose and a measure of success regardless of your performance.

Preparing For Uncertainties

“It doesn’t matter what is happening. What matters is how we respond. How we respond is what determines our happiness and peace of mind.”

One of the reasons why golf has such appeal is because it’s unpredictable. If you were guaranteed to shoot the same score every time you went out (even a good one), it would quickly get boring. There are many things that can happen in a round (all of which are out of our control), but if we have a planned response, we can manage it better.

One of the exercises I do with my students is to have them list all the possible variables or uncertain outcomes in a round of golf that could possibly happen, and we find a response for each of them. The goal is not to put negative images of bad outcomes into their heads, but to accept that there will always be events which happen (even at the highest level of the game), which are out of our control – but with a plan, we can respond instead of react. Examples of these are:

  • A 3 putt or a double bogey
  • The weather turning bad
  • Slow playing partners
  • Having my C game
  • Feeling really nervous on the first tee

Finding solutions to these uncertainties/unpredictables will not only give you the tools to deal with them, but it’s going to make you feel like you can handle any situation. A good mental game of golf is about being proactive, instead of reactive. Along with your plan for all the things you know you are going to have to do e.g. prepare for the round, prepare for the shots, spend time in between shots, dealing with desirable and undesirable outcomes – your performance process to guide you through any round and maximize your chances of success.

If you’d like help finding out what needs to go into your performance process for all the phases of golf, please check out the Golf State of Mind Training Program. You can then track it with my Mental Game Scorecard, which you can download by signing up below.

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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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