An average golf shot takes less than a minute. This means that if your average score is 80 and your round takes 4 hours, you’re only in the process of hitting shots for no more than a third of the time that you’re on the course. The rest of the time is “in between shots”.
Are you aware of what you are focusing on during the “in between shot time” and how it can affect your performance? Most golfers don’t really have a plan for this time, they just go with the flow which can often affect confidence and focus during shots. Do you let your mind wander and begin thinking about things that are going to cause doubt and anxiety about what’s ahead? Or do you have solid mental strategies to maintain confidence and increase your chances of success?
In this article we’ll take a look at 10 ways that top players master the time in between shots. I’m not suggesting you use all 10 of these techniques, but experiment and find out which of them help you most.
10 Ways To Master The Time In Between Shots
1. Choose to be confident
The time in between shots is a great opportunity to build and maintain confidence. Unfortunately many golfers spend it beating themselves up, worrying about what might happen next, or what the outcome of the hole or round will be. A key thing to remember is that confidence is a choice – it doesn’t have to be conditional upon how you are playing or how you hit the last shot. You can decide to focus on the positives and use your self-talk to create optimism and belief in your ability.
2. Quiet the mind and stay present
4 hours is a fairly long time to be doing any activity. To access your best game, you need to be able to put as much focus on your tee shot on the 1st as you do your final putt on the 18th. To achieve this and keep yourself fresh for each shot, it’s important that you conserve mental energy in between shots. To do this, you’ll need to do a good job of “switching off your golf brain” and being more present (not thinking about the past or trying to predict the future). Try to practice something called “meta-awareness” where you notice everything around you (by paying attention to your senses), without judging it or thinking about it. Notice how the ground feels beneath your feet, the wind on your face, look at the trees etc. If you can do more of this, you’ll notice that your focus will be improved later in the round.
3. Focus on Your Breathing
Good breathing techniques for golf serve two important purposes. First, they will help you lower your heart rate and performance anxiety if you’re feeling nervous, and second, focusing on your breathing can help keep you in the present moment, where your mind will be at its quietest. Many of my students think of the time in between shots as “Walking Meditation”.
4. Notice your Body language and facial expressions
Studies show that body language can affect your mood and confidence levels. Adopting a weak posture (looking down, shoulders slumped, dragging your feet etc.) can make you feel weak. On the contrary, powerful, confident postures (looking up, chest out, shoulders back etc.) can make you feel confident and powerful. Facial expressions work in the same way – simply smiling can make you feel happier!
5. Talking with your playing partners
“To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.”– P.G. Wodehouse
One of the great things about golf is the people you meet and the relationships you can build. Talking with playing partners in between shots is not only a good way to get to know someone, but it can also help keep you in the present and pass the time.
Doing a quick evaluation of what happened during a shot (without dwelling on it) can help you increase your process focus during your round. Whatever the outcome of a shot, did you follow your process? Did you fully commit? How was your tempo? Alignment? Spending a minute or so thinking about this can help you further increase focus on the things that are going to help you most, and also help explain shots you weren’t happy with, so you can get back into the present moment quickly.
If you find yourself getting absorbed by score and other things that can increase performance anxiety, try distracting yourself by taking yourself to places in your mind which can put (or keep) you in a good mood. This could be thinking about happy memories such as vacation spots or times with family and friends.
8. Control your pace
We all have an optimal pace, whether slow or fast, but usually players unknowingly increase their pace when nervous. Walking too fast and rushing to get to your ball can can carry through into your shot routines and swing tempo. Notice how fast or slow you are walking and make sure it’s how it should be.
9. Be grateful
Whatever level of player you are, golf is a gift. There are many other things you could be doing or positions you could be in that are far less enjoyable than playing this great game. Always try to put the game in perspective and do your best to appreciate every moment that you’ve been afforded.
10. Hydrate and re-energize
This one is often overlooked but can make the difference of a few shots (at least) during each round. When you are thirsty or hungry, your mood, focus and physical energy levels will be affected. Use the time in between shots to stay hydrated and put good, healthy snacks into your body.
As you can see, there are many ways you can maximize the time in between shots to improve your performance. Becoming more aware of how you are spending this time will give you a great opportunity to ultimately lower your scores. Remember that developing the mental skills for golf is no different from developing your technical skills. No matter what your score in your next round, make improving your mental skills (by using techniques such as we’ve looked at in this article) a goal and you’ll become a better player for it in the long-run.
Photo courtesy of Steven L. Shepard, Presidio of Monterey Public Affairs.