Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mental Game Scorecard

Work and weather have conspired against me and my golf game: the rain here in central Pennsylvania just won't stop! I'm somewhat disheartened that I may not be able to play enough golf to reach my handicap goal (see this post), but at least it won't be from lack of trying. I've been able to get out and practice a little, including a couple practice rounds out on the course where I've actually been able to refine a piece of my initial goal statement: keeping a mental game scorecard.

I started out with the idea of scoring each shot that I took and recording it on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 was a terrible shot where I lacked all focus and composure and 5 was a shot where I was completely committed and the shot turned out just the way I wanted it to. The few pieces I've read about keeping a score like this would say things like "As your mental scores go up, you golf scores will go down." I tried that for a few practice rounds, but I found there was a sort of dissonance: I'm used to "good" scores being lower when I'm playing golf. So I tried reversing the scoring range, where 1 is the best mental state and outcome and 5 the worst. After a few rounds, I found that really worked for me. The way I see it, as my mental scores start to approach my "stroke" scores, the better those "stroke" scores will likely end up.

Ultimately, this is the scale I've come up with:

  1. I committed to the shot, picturing the shape of the ball's flight through my practice swings and setup, and I maintained that picture through impact in the swing. The picture I had matched what happened. I had good tempo. For putts, I saw the line, went through my routine, picked a "focus spot"* and held on to it through the putt. The putt did everything I wanted it to.

  2. I committed to the shot, picturing the shape of the ball's flight through my practice swings and setup, and I maintained that picture through impact in the swing; however, the picture I had didn't match what occurred due to something having to do with me (i.e. it wasn't just "luck" or course conditions or something like that). I had good tempo, and I maintained my composure and good attitude in spite of the result not being exactly what I wanted. For putts, I saw the line and went through my routine, but had a vague "focus spot" resulting in a putt that ended up doing something I didn't want.

  3. I committed to the shot, picturing the shot through my practice swings and setup, but something distracted me during my swing and I lost focus, resulting in a shot that didn't turn out the way I wanted. My tempo was probably off somehow (fast or slow . . . probably thinking about swing mechanics instead of the shot at hand). For putts, I tried to read the line, but I wasn't confident over my putt and likely rushed the routine, resulting in a poor putt.

  4. I initially pictured the shot, but rushed my routine or just "went through the motions" with my routine. I lacked focus, and ended up with a poor result. For putts, only vaguely read the line, skipped or rushed my routine. The likely result was poor.

  5. I wasn't thinking about the shot at all. I rushed through my routine (if I did it at all), took a half-hearted or nervous swing at the ball, and ended up with a terrible result. For putts, I just walked up to the ball and hit it with no preparation, likely exasperated or frustrated.

* Note about the term "focus spot": lately I've found that if I can find some unique feature of the cup when I'm putting (a unique cluster of grass blades around the edge, a discoloration on the inside of the cup, or something else like that), and if I can maintain the picture of that spot through my putting stroke, the results of my putt tend to be very good.

So with the above scale, after each shot, I honestly evaluate my mental state during the shot. It's interesting to see the results: usually, through the first few holes while I'm settling into the round, my scores tend to be threes or fours with a smattering of twos. As I settle in, I start having consistent ones and twos. What's interesting is that getting this feedback during the round helps me to recover when I notice that I'm starting to drift. During a recent round, I noticed that around the 14th hole I was going astray. I hit a tee shot that I would have rated a four (I was thinking "I'm really going to kill this ball" and started thinking mechanics rather than maintaining a good tempo and focusing on the shot), followed by a couple poor recovery shots I'd have given threes. When I got to the green, I was frustrated, and whacked a couple putts mindlessly. Through that hole, I neglected to write down my mental scores, but as I got to the next tee and was recording my strokes, I realized what had happened. I replayed the hole in my mind, evaluated my shots, and regained my focus. The next hold I had a series of "ones", and if the green had been in better shape, I likely would have birdied the hole. I was able to take that focus and finish the round successfully.

It's also interesting to see how in a couple recent practice rounds and a nine-hole round I was able to squeeze in where I didn't keep this kind of mental score, my game really suffered. I've found that I start thinking mechanics rather than shot, and not only do my scores deteriorate, so does my enjoyment of the round. I start getting frustrated with myself and with the game, but without that reminder, I tend to end up in a negative spiral.

So this is something I think I'll stick with: not only does it help me maintain a good mental state through my rounds, it seems that mental state is directly translating into some better scores . . . and probably more importantly, a more enjoyable time out on the course.

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