Concentrate on the fundamentals
The four key fundamentals are the grip, aim, stance and posture. These should be at the top of any amateur golfer’s checklist.
Professionals take their grip very seriously and never underestimate how important it is in binding the swing together, whereas most amateurs go wrong by not placing enough attention on their grip.
The aim is another fundamental which is overlooked more by amateurs than professionals. If you watch professionals in any major tournaments, they attach great importance to their aim. They approach the ball from behind and get a vision for where they will point the club face, whereas some amateurs can be careless with their aim.
Stance is very important, too. You should make sure your stance is parallel and square to your club face. It should be pointing slightly to the left of your target, because you’re standing to the side of the ball.
Arguably the most critical fundamental is your posture. You must make sure you stand the correct distance from the ball, as the posture controls the playing of the swing.
You’ll see most professionals working on these fundamentals all the time at the practice ground, and that’s why they play at such a high level.
Have the same pre-shot routine
A pre-shot routine that you’ve practiced over and over is the most important aspect in overcoming nerves. Every professional has a pre-shot routine. It could be having one practice swing to loosen up, or keeping your head steady, or checking your grip. Whatever the routine is, it’s something you have to repeat so that you can convince yourself that you’re ready to go and can perform under pressure. You need to use this routine to go over the fundamentals I’ve already mentioned.
Another piece of advice I would give is, don’t overthink your routine and don’t try to cover too much ground, as this could confuse you and impact on your performance. Gary Player used to call this ‘paralysis by analysis’!
Breathing exercises are a simple and effective leveller in terms of dispelling pre-shot nerves. Most golfers go through breathing exercises two or three times before taking a shot. Breathing through the nose, filling your lungs as much as you can and then exhaling through your mouth four or five times really does help you relax. It’s a secret ingredient as far as golf psychology is concerned.
Know your limitations
This tip is quite simple – don’t try and hit shots that you’re not capable of and use your yardage to your advantage.
When you practise, find out how far you can hit different shots. For instance, how far a pitching wedge goes full out, how far a five-iron goes full-out. You can calculate this by using a GPS watch or range finder.
As for when you’re on the course, just don’t overextend yourself. You might think that you can get to the green in two if you hit a good drive, but if you use your range finder you’ll probably find that the hole is 260 yards away and you don’t hit 3 woods that far. Therefore, why not lay up and just make sure you’re in a good position for your third shot?
That is called good course management. Good course management is all about knowing your limitations and playing to your strengths. Even professionals make big mistakes in this area by over or underestimating shots and venturing away from their comfort zones, so it’s something that all golfers need to work on.
Think one shot at a time
I think many professionals are guilty of not thinking about the next shot in hand.
When I played my best golf, I only ever thought about the next shot – I never looked too far ahead. When my concentration was poor, I’d play a shot and then I’d be thinking ‘I’ve got a very tough drive in three holes’ time’ and ‘Should I take a driver or a 3 wood?’. When you get ahead of yourself and these thoughts start creeping into your head, you’re in trouble.
This is a psychological obstacle which comes up time and again on the back nine at Augusta. The water is what gets into people’s heads – water attracts trouble, as a few Masters runners-up could confirm!
Sawgrass is another course which presents a huge psychological test for golfers – there isn’t a player alive who’s not thinking about the 17th hole at Sawgrass, known as the Island Green. It’s only 137 yards long and most golfers would hit that hole with their eyes shut in a practice round, but when it comes to a competitive tournament, they’ll be thinking about the 17th when they’re on the 15th and 16th holes. You’re thinking about the crowd around the tee and the shot you’ve got to make.
As difficult as it sounds, you’ve got to play the shot in hand and not worry about what difficult shots you’ve got coming up. Take it one shot at a time and see where you end up.
The short game always wins
The likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have brilliant short games, and this isn’t by accident.
When they were young, they would’ve practised and practised their short game and subsequently they’ve been able to develop a lot of feel. Tiger’s short game was a major element of his Masters victory and this is what’s kept him going over the years.
By contrast, Jordan Spieth’s short game has declined in recent years. When he started winning Majors in 2015, he was the number one player in the world on the green and from 100 yards in. Nowadays, he’s well down the list for putting and his position in the World Rankings has suffered as a result.
I would say the reason most amateur golfers’ short game isn’t as good as it should be is that they don’t practise it enough. It really is that simple. When we go to a driving range, we’re infatuated by trying to hit the ball as far as we can.
Instead of using a driver and just smashing the ball, they should build up to a driver by starting with a pitching wedge or a mid-iron. The advice I’ve always given young players is, whatever practise you put into your long game, put more practice into your short game. For instance, if you work on your long game for an hour, make sure you practise your short game for more than an hour.