Peak Performance as an athlete comes from excellent preparation and consistent routines that create the space for optimal focus and engagement. Here, Dr. Mac Powell shares a few “musts” to incorporate to your play:
#1. Warm Up Well: Take the time to start slow and build speed. This means hitting dozens of half-shots with wedges and mid-irons, working slowly up to a full-swing. Don’t push your body early and take the time to notice any tendencies in terms of shot-shape, trajectory, or swing mechanics. Work your way up to longer shots and finish with full swings with the driver. Take that last great swing with you to the first tee.
2. Game Speed: With a solid warm-up under your belt, evaluate your body and build-up to game speed as the round progresses. Don’t try to go out swinging 100%. Let the quality of shots and speed that you bring to the course build as the round develops (and save energy of fuel up to finish strong).
3. Breathe: There’s no greater indicator of how well you are regulating your emotions than your breathing. Relax between shots; take deep breaths in and let slow exhales out; and if you are feeling tight or anxious about a particular shot, reset your pre-shot routine, and take an extra few seconds to get the rhythm back in your breathing.
4. Hydrate: Athletes are much better about hydrating than they used to be, but almost every amateur I see is under-hydrating. There are just shy of 17 ounces in most commercial water bottles, and a good rule of thumb is to drink one of those every hour, minimum.
5. Fuel: Golf burns around 800 calories if you’re riding in a cart and 1400 calories if you’re carrying your bag. That requires fuel. Rather than grabbing a hot dog (150 calories) and a beer (150 calories) at the turn, come to the course having had a sensible meal – and eat (or snack) throughout the round. Fueling properly can limit the energetic ups-and-downs that can ruin rounds.
6. Stretch: When should you stretch? Before, after, and during play. Flexibility is critical to power, consistency, and limiting injuries. Pay attention to tightness in your quads, hamstrings, back, shoulders, and hips. Stay loose and don’t be afraid to take time between holes to stretch.
7. Making Good Decisions – Playing Within Yourself: Choosing shots that you are comfortable hitting can make a tremendous difference in your scores. If you’re not 100% confident you can pull off a shot, hit something else. Trying to be a hero can compound errors and ruin a scorecard.
8. Lower Expectations: This is, for most golfers, the most important skill to both improve performance and increase enjoyment. Don’t go out to the course expecting to break 70 or birdie all the par-fives. Go to the course with a learning mindset – try to do your best, to focus, and to learn from whatever happens. Being fixated on outcomes (which are almost always misaligned with an athlete’s ability and preparation) is unhelpful and ruinous. Lower your expectations and enjoy the process.
9. Improve or Enjoy: Dr. Mac Powell recommends making a conscious decision to either be engaged in dedicated practice (improvement) or play for fun (enjoyment). Separating these two can help you improve more during periods where you are intensely working on a skill (and evaluating the effects toward improvement) or get greater enjoyment out of going out and being social or enjoying an afternoon on the course. Trying to mix the two is incredibly difficult, if not impossible. Dedicated practice (improvement) is a mental and physical grind that works. Playing for fun and enjoyment is just as valuable, but for more emotional and spiritual reasons.
10. End Well: Take the time to put every round into context, and leave the course with something you have learned, something you did well, and something you’d like to improve through dedicated practice. If you have to spend extra time on the putting green or driving range at the end of the day, do it…as long as you leave the course fulfilled and with a sense of purpose and perspective. Golf can be a bit like a bad relationship if you’re careful…don’t go to bed (i.e. leave the course) angry or frustrated. It’s a game, and whether you’re there to just enjoy yourself or to show steady improvement, you need to leave each session with something that will bring you back.