This is the time of year in Florida for club championships. Some of you would like to do better than last year so here are some of my suggestions. They are broken up in 3 areas: 1. improving your physical game, 2. improving your mental game, and 3. improving your course management.
Improving Your Physical Game
It's not just luck when a golfer has a good round. If you look a little deeper you'll find that player prepared himself to win. By this I mean he worked on his mechanics until they became second nature or "ingrained." We all know that you can't play good golf with a lot of mechanical thoughts in our head. But, golfers who win their club championships plan to win. They do this by practicing their weaknesses not their strengths. If you have trouble making 12-footers under pressure, go out and practice that. If you three-putt a lot, I would suggest practicing your lag putts. If you hit the ball both ways under pressure, go take a ball flight lesson and ask the pro to help you learn how to play your misses. I mean, find a swing that will take one side of the fairway out of play. Develop a fade swing or a draw swing. This will allow you to be confident and know where your misses are going.
Objectively, look at your last five rounds and find out where you are losing your shots. I'll bet there is a pattern. Give extra practice to those things that have stopped you from becoming a scorer.
Improving Your Mental Game
I think this is the key to all great competitors. They just think differently than the average player. They expect to win. Here are some of my tips to improve your mental skills:
• Pre-plan your round in your head the night before. Hit every shot in your head and visualize a good result. Psychologists tell us if you can't see it ahead of time, you can't do it.
• Develop your confidence level by telling yourself that you can hit good shots under pressure. This kind of internal dialogue — self-talk, of course needs to be positive stating what you can do and how you can maneuver a shot, or what you can do, not what you can't do.
• Play the course and not your opponent.
• Stay in your pre-shot routine throughout your entire match. Don't let anything take you out of your routine especially on the green.
• Visualize your shot before you hit it. The more detail the better. If you can't visualize it talk to yourself and verbalize how you will hit it.
• Take deep breaths before you hit. This relaxes your muscles ad gets rid of tension.
• Stay focused and in the present. Don't think ahead. The shot you're hitting is the most important one to concentrate on. Think of the process and not your score.
• Stay patient. Club champions usually make fewer mistakes because they are patient and they have their emotional under control.
• Become mentally tough. Don't let a bad hole or a bad shot throw you.
• Don't have more than one swing thought. Focus on the target and not the swing.
• Expect to win when you tee it up.
Improving Your Course Management Skills
More club championships have been lost through poor course management than almost anything else. Suggestions on improvement are as follows:
• Tee off on the trouble side and hit away from trouble. This gives you a bigger fairway to hit to.
• Play the golf course not your opponent.
• Never short side yourself. Leave yourself an easy shot for your approach shot and try to keep the course in front of you.
• Go for the center of the green. Don't go at sucker pins.
• Leave yourself an easy putt, which would be uphill if possible.
• Use enough club. Most people don't use enough club on their approach shots, and over the green is bogey territory.
• Use the wind. Don't fight it.
• Don't try hero shots. The club championship is no time to be experimenting.
• Play your strong suit; if you're a fader, plan for a fade all the way around the course. Don't deviate.
• Be decisive with your decisions on the course. Your first impression is usually right.
I've always remembered the words of Raymond Floyd when talking about competition and winning. His words were, "Good competitors 'glance' at the ball, and 'stare' at the target, whereas poor competitors 'stare' at the ball and 'glance' at the target. Get into your target during your club championship.
Dr. Jim Suttie, the 2000 PGA Teacher of the Year, is director of instruction at The Club at TwinEagles in North Naples and at Cog Hill Golf Club in Lemont, Ill. His new book is "Your Perfect Swing" and is available at bookstores and at amazon.com. He also is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher and rated No. 15 by Golf Digest. Suttie coaches the FGCU men's golf team. E-mail him at email@example.com.