Just at the outset, it’s important to realize that not all strategies work for all players. Some players learn and improve and practice and play better doing one way, and some players do better another way. But there are principles that all players should try to incorporate into their games.
Just like I said in my post about Perfectionism, I have been going through The Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler for the second time. He touches on how important it is to mentally warm-up before playing, just like it’s important to warm-up physically. He talks in terms of poker, but the application to golf is obvious. If you aren’t warmed up physically you won’t be able to take advantage of your mental edge over other players. If you aren’t warmed up mentally you won’t be able to take advantage of your physical edge over other players. The two work together.
Just like the days and weeks between tournaments, your pre-round preparations need to be holistic. Not just physical, but also mental. You have to prepare your body to hit good golf shots, but you also have to prepare your mind to think good thoughts. Your mind is just like the muscles in your body. You don’t roll out of bed stretched, loose, and warm enough to pound a drive. And your mind doesn’t roll out of bed ready to think clearly, logically, and react positively to negative circumstances with acceptance. You have to wake it up (coffee doesn’t count). Stretch it out. Warm it up. Make it do some easy tasks. Then make it do some hard tasks. Then test it in performance.
Here’s a very important part of this: If you do nothing to prepare or warm up before the round, the round becomes your preparation and warm-up. It might take two or three holes or maybe even more before your mind is warmed up and functioning how you want it to. You’ll spend those early holes making simple mental mistakes and missing details that would normally be obvious to you. You can’t afford to take the first few holes off to get your act together. You have to be ready to compete and perform at your best from the gate.
If you do nothing to prepare or warm up before the round, the round becomes your preparation and warm-up.
Here are a few things that every player should cover with their pre-round mental game warm-up:
1. Remind yourself of your simple swing thought for the day and rehearse it for every shot of your warm-up.
- It’s so important that you go through your whole pre-shot routine on every shot of your warm-up. You may not realize it, but your pre-shot routine isn’t necessarily automatic. The physical elements of your routine might be fairly ingrained (make some practice swings, pick an intermediate target, take 4 steps into the ball, take one last look, etc.), but thinking the right thoughts and no more thoughts than you should is most likely not the most habitual thing for you. So deliberately going through your routine, both physically and mentally, will prepare you to play in a holistic way.
2. Remind yourself of how you will react to negative circumstances and rehearse that on the bad shots you hit during your pre-round warm-up.
- Just like warming up your pre-shot routine is important, warming up your post-shot routine should not go unnoticed. Because in a way, your post-shot routine is part of the pre-shot routine for your next shot. Every thought that you think contributes to how you hit your next shot, so practicing and rehearsing your thoughts is vital. During your post-shot routine for warm-up shots, chips, and putts, you need to be practicing acceptance on every shot, especially on the bad ones. Every warm-up, just like every round of golf has good shots and bad shots. How you react to these during your warm-up creates habit and carries over to your on-course game.
3. And just like the transition from a putt on hole 3 to a drive on hole 4 during the round, hit your last warm-up shot or putt and make your way to the 1st tee.
- There are obviously formalities on the 1st tee that give it a different feeling than a random hole in the middle of the round, but that’s up to you to interpret them that way. It’s your choice how you treat the 1st tee shot. Why not treat it like every tee shot in your warm-up and every tee shot you’ll hit throughout the round?
I think you can catch my drift here. Your warm-up needs to be a microcosm of your actual round. Everything you do needs to be deliberately preparing you for actually playing golf. So many players just go through the motions during their pre-round warm-up. They get to the range an hour before their tee time, rake and hit 40 balls, rake and hit some chips, drop three balls on the green and hit a putt, rake another one in, hit that one, rake another one in, and hit that one. This is nothing like your actual round. Do you go through a pre-shot routine before a shot on the course? Do that in your warm-up. Do you hit the exact same chip 8 times in a row, back to back to back, on the course? Of course you don’t. So don’t do that in your warm-up. Do you hit the same three identical putts in a row on the course? No! So don’t do that in your warm-up. Do you read putts on the course? Do you line your putts up with a line on your ball on the course? Do you make a few practice strokes and then hit the putt on the course? Then do that in your warm-up. It’s a simple concept but almost no one does it.
Your warm-up needs to be a microcosm of your actual round. Everything you do needs to be deliberately preparing you for actually playing golf.
You know the old saying. The longest walk in golf is from the practice tee to the first tee. But watch the people who say that. I’m willing to bet what they’re doing on the practice tee and what they do on the first tee are very different. So of course that transition is hard. So make it where there is no transition. Start your “round” an hour earlier than everyone else and the 1st hole will feel like the 4th hole.
Try this out. Experiment with this. I know it’s a big ask to get you to change your set-in-stone ritualistic pre-round warm-up routine. But maybe you’ve never really taken the time to question what you do before the round.
I will always push you to be intentional with what you’re doing. I feel like there’s no other way to do it.