There's nothing wrong with playing golf for its many small pleasures: the beautiful surroundings, the relaxing exercise, or socializing with friends. But if you care at all about how you play against opponents or just yourself then improvement begins with setting goals.
The most common golf goals involve shooting lower scores/reducing one's handicap. But it's not enough to say, 'I plan to drop my handicap from 18 to 15.' You need a clear course of action and a time frame for achieving your objective.
Here's a simple way to approach setting and reaching your goals:
- Set a realistic target and timeline: The higher your handicap, the easier (and quicker) improvement will come. But don't go for the whole shooting match in one fell swoop. If you'd like to go from a 25 to a 15, start with a timeline for dropping those first three strokes based on how much time you can devote to practice and play.
- Determine where you can improve the most: Keep track of your stats Jack's and Tiger's Mental Approach to Golf for five rounds, then analyze your findings. You'll likely find an area, like driving accuracy or putting, that's consistently costing you strokes.
- Attack your main weakness: Based on your findings, gear your practice time toward your biggest problem area. Better yet, enlist the help of your local teaching pro.
How and Why - Set Your Golf Goals
Goals are important in golf, just as they are important in life. In many ways, goals form a roadmap for you to follow on your way to success. If you would like to accomplish various things as you go through life, you need to have a plan for how you are going to get there. For instance, it doesn't do much good to decide that you 'want to be rich' - rather, you need a step-by-step plan for what you can accomplish along the way in order to reach your desired destination of wealth in the end.
The story is the same in golf. Sure, you probably would love to shoot scores in the low 70's, or even better, but you aren't going to get there without hitting a bunch of smaller goals along the way. In the content below, we are going to look at how you can set golf goals in order to put yourself on a path toward improvement. The best kinds of goals in golf easily measured, clearly defined, and achievable. That last point is important, as you don't want to set goals that are impossible to reach, or you will quickly give up. For example, if you are in your 40's and have a full time job, it probably isn't realistic to say that you want to become the number one player in the world. Keep your goals within reason and you will be far more likely to work hard toward achieving them.
Every golfer can benefit from setting goals, from the total beginner on up to the seasoned professional. One of the great things about golf, and one of the things that keeps people coming back to the course time after time, is the fact that no one has ever mastered the game - and no one ever will. There is simply always room to get better at golf, so you can look forward to a lifetime of setting new goals as you check off your old ones. As long as you are dedicated to your game and you remain focused on your short term goals during each round and practice sessions, better golf will always be waiting just around the corner.
To make your goals a bit more 'formal', consider finding somewhere to write them down (either physically or digitally). With your goals recorded in a specific spot, you can return to them periodically to check on your progress, write down new ones, and cross off those that you have accomplished. There is something about putting your goals down on paper, or on a screen, that will make you feel more accountable to the process. Pick out a spot for your golf goals and regularly refer back to them as you move forward with your game.
The Long and Short of It
When thinking about setting golf goals, you need to have both the short term and long term in mind. It is important to have both halves of this equation covered, because short term and long term goals each serve very different purposes. With short term goals, you are trying to keep yourself motivated and moving in the right direction. These are goals that are immediately actionable, and that you could potentially check off within maybe a week, or a month. These are not goals that are going to take years to bring to fruition, and they are certainly not your 'ultimate destination'. Think of the short term goals that you set as being the path along which you will walk as you improve at this game. By picking off one short term goal after the next, you will eventually get where you would like to go.
On the other hand, long term goals are the destinations that you have in mind for your game. These may be rather grand, or they could be somewhat modest, depending on the current state of your game and your expectations for the future. Long term goals need to be framed within the context of how much golf you actually get to play. Are you someone who hits the links several times a week, or are you lucky to play once a month? Obviously, the amount of golf that you play is going to dictate how much (and how quickly) you are able to improve. So, as you create your long term goals, be realistic about the amount of time you are going to have on the driving range and on the course to bring these goals to life.
To help you get started with your goal setting, the list below contains some common examples of both short and long term goals. Obviously, you will need to customize these goals to meet with your own personal situation, but this is a good framework to get you started.
- Short term - Add five yards of distance to your drives. It is common for golfers to want to add distance to their drives, and why not - longer drives mean shorter approach shots, which should mean shorter birdie putts on average. Of course, it would be great if you could add 30 yards to your drives overnight, but that just isn't going to happen. Instead, take a step-by-step approach and aim to add just five yards to your average tee shot. This goal can be accomplished a number of ways, from working on your fitness to improving your swing technique and more.
- Long term - Lower your handicap by five strokes. This is another common goal, but it is one that is going to take significantly longer to achieve. Even if you are able to make improvements in the skills you use to get around the course, it is still going to take time before you can lower your scores in a significant manner. If you decide that one of your goals is going to be lowering your handicap by five shots (or a similar amount), you likely need to plan at least a year, if not longer, for this pursuit. Of course, there should be signs of improvement along the way which will be encouraging, but don't expect to get to your final goal all at once.
- Short term - Practice more frequently. This is a great goal because it is relatively easy to accomplish, and will help you in a number of ways. Set a target number of practice sessions that you would like to complete per period of time - a month is a good duration for this kind of goal. Your practice sessions don't always have to include hitting balls on the range either, as time spent putting and chipping is extremely valuable to your improvement. If possible, look into a membership to a local driving range, as having a membership (or even a loyalty card) will encourage you to get out more frequently to work on your game.
- Long term - Compete in a tournament. There are golf tournaments available for players of all skill levels, so you don't have to be a scratch golfer to enter yourself in a competition. Look for a tournament in your area that you think would be a good fit and set a goal to play in that event at some point down the line. Pick out a tournament that will include players who are slightly better than yourself so you will have something to strive for as you practice. Playing in a competition might make you somewhat uncomfortable at first, but pushing your limits is a great way to take your game to a new level.
- Short term - Have more fun! You might think that this is a 'silly' goal, but it is actually important both to your enjoyment of the game as well as your performance. The whole point of playing golf in the first place is to have fun, so you are making a serious mistake if you are not enjoying yourself as you make your way around the course. Also, players who are having fun are more likely to play well, so your scores can benefit from a good attitude as well. Remember that you are playing a game, have fun along the way, and golf will remain a positive part of your life for many years to come.
The list above contains just five goals, but they are great examples of the kinds of things that you should be thinking about when setting your own list. When you have a moment or two to yourself, sit down and think about the kinds of goals that you would like to work towards in your game. They may be somewhat easy to achieve, or they could be rather ambitious on your part. Ultimately, the goals you select are up to you - however, you need to be sure that you are truly dedicated to accomplishing them one at a time if you are going to be successful in the end.
Self-Centered Goal Setting
One of the easiest traps to fall into when it comes to goal setting is basing your goals on the performances of other golfers. For instance, if you are playing in the club championship tournament at your home course, you might decide that one of your goals is to finish in the top ten. That's fine, except for the fact that you don't actually control that outcome. Sure, you can try to play your best, but what if everyone else plays well also? Or, on the other hand, you could play poorly but still finish in the top ten because others struggled as well. Would that be a satisfactory outcome, or would you still be disappointed in your performance?
The goals that you set for your game should be as much within your control as possible. Nothing is completely within your control, of course, but make these goals as much about you and as little about others as you can. Scoring goals are more controllable than something like where you finish in a tournament, so those are usually a better way to go. However, even in that case, something like the wind coming up can affect your ability to hit the mark that you have set in advance.
You also need to be sure that you are setting your goals within the framework of your own personal desires and aspirations, as opposed to those of others. Don't set goals because you think reaching that point in the game will impress your friends or others at the golf club – working for the compliments of others is a poor way to go about any pursuit. Rather, it should be all about what you want to accomplish and what you feel like will satisfy your own personal pursuit of improvement. It doesn't matter if the goals you set are relatively easy for other golfers to accomplish, as this exercise isn't about anyone else. It is all about you, so keep that fact in mind and set goals that are designed for nothing other than personal satisfaction.
Most likely, you won't need to think too hard about what it is that you want to accomplish in golf. In fact, many golfers have an automatic response when they are asked what it is that they would like to achieve. Some players work for years to break 90, or 80, while others want to make their first birdie. Again, it doesn't matter specifically what it is that you are trying to achieve, as long as you are driven to make it a reality.
Making It Happen
Once your goals are in place, the focus of your attention should then shift to how you can actually achieve them one by one. This is where it gets tough. It really isn't very hard to set a few goals, both for the short term and the long term, but working toward them is another story entirely. Golf is a very difficult game, as you know, and reaching your goals is going to require focus, dedication, patience, and more.
To give yourself the best possible chance to reach your various golf goals, consider using the tips below –
- Seek help. One of the best things you can do for your game from a technical stand point is to work with a qualified golf instructor. A good teacher can help you work out any mechanical flaws you make have in your technique at this point. Also, a teacher will be able to help you with putting and chipping mechanics, as well as the mental game. Simply put, a good golf pro should be able to help you sharpen up every part of your game from tee to green. Reaching your goals is likely going to require a well-rounded approach to golf, so consider working with a local teaching pro to speed up your path toward success.
- Be consistent. It is hard to improve at this game if you are only going to the practice range from time to time, or you only get out to play once a month or less. While it probably isn't realistic for you to be able to practice every single day, you should work on building a schedule that gets you out to the course on a regular basis so you can build on the progress that you are making. It is great to have a productive practice sessions where you improve on some of your mechanics, but those improvements can quickly be lost if you don't keep coming back for more work. Your golf swing is just like anything else in life – if you don't use it, you will lose it.
- Use the right equipment. You don't want to try to 'buy your way' to accomplishing your goals, but getting the right gear can certainly help you perform at a higher level. For instance, if you are hoping to add a few yards to your drives, picking up a driver that is well-suited to your swing is a nice start. With the right equipment on your side, the game will not be easy, but it will be a bit easier. Also, by knowing that you are using the right equipment, you can play your shots with added confidence when you are out on the course.
- Play a variety of courses. This is an interesting tip that can have a surprising effect on your game. If one of your goals is to lower your handicap over the months and years ahead, it is a good idea to play as many different courses as possible. Playing the same course over and over again may cause you to get into a 'rut' from a golf perspective. You will constantly be playing the same shots round after round, meaning your game will become rather one-dimensional. Avoid that fate by mixing up the locations of your upcoming rounds in order to demand more from your game.
The tips above should help you work toward your goals, and they should be considered an addition to the obvious points of hard work, patience, focus, and determination that are going to be needed in order to find success. Always keep in mind the sheer difficulty of this game as you work on your own skills – it's not easy, and it's not supposed to be easy. Only those who are willing to put in the time and effort to improve are going to hit their goals in the end.
Remember the Short Game
It is easy to set the majority of your goals around the long game, as that is where most amateur golfers spend most of their practice time. You are probably thinking about setting goals related to distance, fairways hit, greens hit, and more. And those goals are find – there is nothing at all wrong with working toward a better ball striking future. However, it would be a major mistake to forget about the short game while setting your goals. The short game is really where your score is going to be decided, so leaving this part of the equation to the side will certainly come back to hurt you on the scorecard in the long run.
However, setting short game goals that are measured on the course is going to be difficult. For one thing, there are too many variables in place when out on the course to really get a good idea for how your short game performed on a given day. For instance, total putts in a round is a commonly kept statistic, but that can be extremely misleading. If you hit every green and have long birdie putts all day, you are certainly going to take more total putts than if you are chipping on every hole – even if your putting stroke is exactly the same in both cases. Counting putts can be mildly helpful when tracking performance, but only when it is viewed in context with the rest of your game.
For a better goal setting platform, look to your practice sessions. You have total control over the structure of your practice sessions, so this is a great place to work on setting and meeting some goals. Establish set practice routines that you can complete again and again each time you go through a practice session. For instance, you could decide that you are going to end each practice session by hitting 25 putts from five feet away from the hole. At first, you may only make 10 or 15 of these putts. So, one goal could be to improve on your total each time you do the drill. Eventually, you should be able to make 20 or more out of the 25. You can keep this drill the same each time, so it is the perfect place to set a goal.
Setting goals is how you get things done. It is all too easy to wander around the course with no direction in mind – and you will receive disappointing results when you settle for that 'plan'. Instead, set some goals and work hard toward them in the weeks, months, and years ahead. Once you have your goals laid out, the path toward a better golf future will be clear – good luck!