There have been some ups and downs with the driver lately, to say the least. That stick has broken a lot of potentially decent rounds and managed to interfere with some great ones. Occasionally the big stick has treated me well and I’ve managed to get around a track with 7 or 8 fairways hit, but those rounds are way too few and I have been intensely focussed on ways to improve my driving statistics and limit the damage in my misses.
During this trip (especially after Orlando where I at least hit the ball pretty solid one day) those misses crescendoed into a splattering of lost balls. I have hit more golf balls OB over the last three rounds than I had in the rest of 2014 combined. It was straight up confusing as I couldn’t tell what I was doing wrong with each swing and I felt relaxed and confident, but was having horrible misses.
Yesterday I went out to play my final Hilton Head round of the trip and luckily I was joining a sports psychologist I met while here. We met up at Berkley Hall, which is an awesomely kept course with great facilities, and warmed up on the range. On range, as always, I was hitting my driver very well. I’d pick a target and let it rip, either hitting a nice draw or fade. I felt good and it was a beautiful day and we were both excited to play a fun 18.
On the first tee my mind was clear and I felt relaxed. I just wanted to hit the same driver that I could stripe on the range. But, I somehow managed to pull-hook it off the tee just a little past the red tees. I had to hit a 3-wood on the approach of this 340 yard par 4 just to get to the front of the green. On the second hole I basically shanked it again leaving me with yet again a 3-wood to reach another short par 4. The third hole was a par 3 then on the fourth hole I tried to really put a smooth swing on the ball and ended up losing it in the bushes about 100 yards from the tee.
I told him that this is what happens. I know that I could pull a 3-wood and hit the fairway, but I need to learn how to hit my driver and was honestly just confused at what was going wrong as I literally had no idea what I was doing. To me it felt like I was making the same turn as on the range and that was what I was thinking about.
On the fifth hole I hit a 3-wood over water on a par 5 to hit a fairway. Afterwords he asked me what I was thinking about when I hit that shot. I told him that I picked a target and then just try to pound the ball out to that spot. He asked if that was my thought when I hit my irons and I told him it basically was: I picked a target then made a good turn on it. A-ha, he said. And with the driver? What do you think then?
I told him that with the driver I was trying to….. and then….. and with the face…. my hands….. and then I realized that I was attempting to over-manipulate the club face and was thinking about my body and internal aspects of the swing instead of focussing on an external thought: the target.
He teed one up for me on that same water-carry par 5 and told me to pick a target. I picked a tree way off in the distance and he told me that was too big of a target and to pick something smaller. I then went down to a smaller tree and he said to get smaller. Eventually my target was an object about 3 feet across some 400 yards down the fairway. I could see it and he told me to focus on that target and to let it rip.
I stood there and thought only about hitting my golf ball at that target. I took a big turn and let it go and to my surprise the ball launched almost directly at my intended mark.
From that 5th hole until the 18th I didn’t lose a ball and my misses from driver to wedge were much closer to my intended line. With the driver I had somehow forgotten one of the tenants of solid golf: to focus externally instead of internally. When on the range it is appropriate to work on different feels but when in action on the course it helps to keep your attention on the intent of the shot’s destination.
We also talked a lot about priming performance which will be a subject of interest from here on out. It is amazing how much mental cues can either help or hinder performance. Here is a simplified version of Priming explained by two dapper individuals:
That concept can be beneficial for anything and is fascinating to me. I’ve been negatively priming my driver over the past and it’s no wonder why it has failed to instill confidence in my tee shots. It’s time to both prime myself for a successful attitude and to pick conservative targets while applying aggressive swings.
Hilton Head proved an important learning period for me. It’s been a great two weeks and I hope to return one day soon. For now it’s time to head back to Portland and sign up for some tournaments. Golf season has officially begun.