Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Great Golfers Think, Ch. 4 - Goals

Chapter four in How Great Golfers Think is a very good overview of good goal-setting techniques couched in a nice discussion that makes it easy to follow and easy to implement. And here the workbook provides great support to the book, walking you through all the steps outlined in the chapter and providing some good techniques to make sure you're setting good goals.

I won't walk through my entire process; really, it's pretty in-depth. Instead, I'll pick up part way through my process, at the point where I've brainstormed some ideas and am playing with a long-term goal of reaching a +3 handicap. To get there from my current 8.5 (it's gone up slightly since the beginning of the season) isn't realistic to do in the current season given the current level of my game. It's a good goal to have, but I need to set myself something more intermediate, something achievable by the end of this season (which I'm setting at October 31st).

So, initially, I was thinking getting from an 8.5 to a 6 might be do-able. So I wrote my goal like this: by October 31st (setting the timeframe), I will have reduced my handicap from 8.5 to 6 (specific and measurable). As I started researching what I'd really need to do to accomplish that, I started having second thoughts. Realistically, I have probably ten more rounds I can play before my target date (possibly more, but I'll be conservative). The differentials that currently count towards my handicap are (oldest to most recent): 6.2, 10.7, 9.8, 7.9, 10.7, 6.9, 11.7, 11.7, 9.7, 4.1. The first four of those will roll off if I play ten rounds. With the rest of the scores, if I were to shoot a 6 differential half of the time I went out (five times), I'd get my handicap down to a 6.9. If I could shoot a 6 differential six times, I'd get it down below a 6.5. At the course where I play most often, that means I'd have to shoot a 75 or better from the whites or a 77 or better from the blues. I've only done that three times in the last year.

Three times means I know I can do it. It also means that I haven't done it regularly, and it makes me a bit nervous thinking about it. So I'll try the "ladder game" from the chapter . . . basically, picking a target number then going one lower and seeing how you feel, then one lower and see how you feel, then back up, until you find one that feels "right". I'm currently an 8.5; getting to a 7 feels like an extremely difficult challenge given my target date; getting to a 6 makes me feel like I just couldn't do it in this short time, especially in light of the above math. So I go back up . . . 7 still seems a little too hard (again for the timeframe). What about 8 even? An 8 handicap doesn't seem like I'd have accomplished much. So back down a bit . . . what about "into the 7's"?

To get to a 7.8 handicap, I'd have to shoot at least a 7 differential four of my next ten times out. That means shooting at least a 76 from the whites (6.9, technically) where I normally play. Somehow, that feels do-able. It gives me a reasonably difficult score to shoot for (considering I've only done it a couple times recently), but it gives me enough leeway to have some bad days. And if I find that I'm shooting better and better, then I can always revise it. But it gives me a start.

So my goal is this: By October 31st, 2011, I'm going to lower my handicap from an 8.5 to at least a 7.9.

The next step is to think about some positive steps I can take in the short-term to achieve that goal. So what tends to blow up my scores? Generally, it's one of two things: hitting a bad shot, then tensing up and worrying about it the next shot and the next and the next. Or it's not keeping my mind in the game, not focusing, or focusing on the wrong things or at the wrong times (e.g too much thinking in between shots). In both of these cases, I'll end up doing something stupid like duffing a tee shot, rushing from embarrassment, and hitting a number of bad shots to end up with that "blow up" hole. Or a number of them in a row. Or I'll end up getting nonchalant about my putts, not line up an "easy" three-footer and miss it for a bogey. Then I'm frustrated on the next tee, leading me to hit a poor tee shot . . . which leads to another blow up hole. That sort of thing. Most of the time I just need to relax my body and focus over the shot, then let it go, relaxing my brain in between shots.

So for my short-term actions to accomplish my goal, I'm going to research relaxation techniques I can use on the course to maintain or regain my focus. And I'm going to keep a "mental" scorecard to rate myself on how "in the game" my mind is on each shot.

So finally, my goal statement ends up looking like this:

I'm going to lower my handicap from 8.5 to 7.9 or lower by October 31st, 2011. Since what often increases my scores is lack of focus over a shot due to tension or embarrassment, I'm going to research relaxation techniques I can use on the course to maintain or regain my focus. To measure my focus, I'm going to keep a "mental game" scorecard to rate myself on how "in the game" my mind is on each shot.

Now that gives me something to shoot for and some steps I can take to get there! I'm already feeling better about the rest of the season :).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why do I play golf?

It's been a while since I've written here, so I thought I'd start up again by answering the "advanced preparation" question from between chapter three and chapter four: why do I play golf?

Here are my top 10 reasons, in no particular order:

  • Golf challenges me. There's always some aspect of my game to improve, always some part that I need to work on.

  • It's an activity that combines the mental and physical. Both are necessary to play well, and I love to do just about anything that combines both.

  • It's a physical activity that I don't have to be a super athlete to do well. While being fit helps, I don't need to be the fastest, strongest, or most aggressive to do well.

  • I like to walk. It's good exercise, but I don't feel like I'm killing myself.

  • Playing by myself in the late evening is one of the most peaceful things I can think of. I love that.

  • Golf is a nice blend of skill, equipment/technology, and luck. I like to do just about anything that involves all three.

  • I've met some interesting people, and some people I'd now consider friends through golf. I'm sure I'll meet more. It also gives me a good way to relate to others (extended family, neighbors, etc) that I had a hard time relating to before.

  • It gets me out of the house for a few hours at a time. I work from home, so if I don't make time to play golf (or do other things, I suppose), then I sometimes go for a few days without getting out.

  • I like activities that are a nice balance of open-endedness and precision. Golf is both . . . there are many ways to the same score, but ultimately, you have to get the ball in that tiny little hole in as few strokes as possible.

  • This may too negative, but I've invested enough time and resources into getting better at golf, and I've improved enough, that it'd be a shame NOT to play at this point :). Not that I'd keep going if I really didn't enjoy it, but there's enough investment that when I'm feeling down or frustrated about my game, a reason like this is enough to pull me through the chaos and into a new place in my golf experience.