If we take a direct comparison between golf and some other sports, we can easily come up with some interesting distinctions.
Take football. A world-famous striker has two great chances to score in the first half but misses both; in the second half he scores a goal and his team wins 1-0. What would everybody remember? The goal or his mistakes?
A tennis player sends a serve out of court and what happens? She gets another go at the serve. A cricketer bowls five awful balls in an over but then takes a wicket with the sixth. What do people remember?
Yet, if Tommy Fleetwood is five-under-par after 14 holes during the first round of the Open Championship but he then manages to take a 10 on the 15th, what do you think people would remember?
Golf is a tough game because every shot we hit on the course has a direct consequence to the score. In fact, even if we miss the ball, it goes on the card! Yet, does that level of consequence get reflected in the way that we practise? Ball after ball fired into the blue yonder with little or no repercussions? Then we go out onto the course and play the ultimate game of consequence.
Sian Beilock, from the University of Chicago, wrote the wonderful book Choke and has spent the greater part of her academic life analysing why we don’t perform well under pressure. Beilock advises that we need to make sure a portion of the practice has the capability to ‘immunise’ us from pressure by simulating the effects of consequence.
How do we simulate consequence in golf? Simply by taking into consideration that we are all generally our own biggest critics – and none of us likes to do badly where a test is involved.
I firmly believe a notebook is one of the best golfing investments you can ever make. On every hole during a round, you have to take out of your back pocket a piece of card; and you have to write down how many times you have just hit the ball. Yet, in practice, we never take time to record what we have just done.
Get into the practice of recording your success during practice and you can recreate that all-important level of consequence. By having a score, we instantly create some pressure: maybe not as much as the real game, but enough to make practice more real to the brain, relative to the game itself.
Here are a couple of suggestions as to what type of games you should play, where you can add consequence via a scoring test. But in both, the principle is the key: play a game with one ball from a unique location and you keep the score.
Par 18 is simply one ball played from around the practice short game area. Pick nine different locations; each one represents a par-2 of a chip and a putt. So, you have a nine-hole, par-18 ‘course’. Make sure you play three easy, three medium and three difficult shots. Play the shot onto the green, hole out with your putter and then move on to the next ‘hole’. You play all nine and then add up the score.
This is my all-time favourite and a game that, since I invented it 10 or more years ago, I have introduced to many players. US Open Champion Graeme McDowell has been kind enough to say it has been one of the most important aspects to our work together over the past eight years.
If you are at an advanced level, you can make Par 18 more difficult: play the game with one ball and, if you shoot lower than 20, play again with two balls and take your worst score.
Play this on the putting green, again with one ball. Play three short putts from around 6ft, three medium putts from 6-20ft and three putts 20ft or longer. Strike the putts in a random order. Never play the short ones first and move onto the medium. Record your score. Remember, golf is a random game; and if we really want to make our practice count, we need to practice it as such.