Golf may not be the most physically taxing of sports, especially when you ride in a cart, but spending 4-5 hours engaged in any outdoor activity is bound to take a toll. Does your play often go downhill over a round's latter stages? If so, it's important to recognize when you're getting tired, what swing problems are caused by fatigue, and how to effectively neutralize them.
First, keep track of your scorecards for a few rounds. Even if you don't feel tired, your scores may say otherwise. Compare your average scores for the first six holes, the middle six and final six. All things being equal (i.e. hole difficulty, weather conditions), you should be fairly consistent over each segment. If your scores are markedly higher over the last stretch, fatigue is likely the culprit.
A few things tend to happen to the worn-down golfer. 1) The legs become less active in the swing, leading to shorter shots that stray right or left. 2) Our focus is dulled; this may be reflected in missed short putts or uncharacteristic mishits. 3) It's harder to mentally fight through a rough patch, so one or two bad holes become three, four or five.
The first course of action is to eat properly before and during the round; snack on fruit, nuts and whole grains to supply your body with protein and carbohydrates. And by all means stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. (This goes double if you enjoy an adult beverage or two while playing.)
Next, pay attention to your body and mind, and take these steps if signs of fatigue set in:
- Make an extra effort to get those legs involved in the swing, because it won't happen naturally.
- Save your mental energy for the period just before and during each shot. Between shots, engage with a playing partner or let your mind wander to off-course matters. When you reach your ball, snap back to the moment, but don't overanalyze. Pick the simplest shot option and execute.
Don't give in after a lousy hole or two. You may think all is lost if you've watched a good score go south, but fight until the end. There's no better feeling than walking off the course after a strong finish – especially if you've fought a winning battle with your inner quitter.
Don't Let Late Round Fatigue Ruin Your Score
Golf is not an endurance sport. There is no running required to play golf, and you can play while driving around in a cart from shot to shot if you so choose. You shouldn't end up out of breath while making your way around the course, and if the weather is cool, you might not even break a sweat. All of these things mean that golf is a game that can be played without extreme physical exertion – but don't let that fool you. It is still possible to get tired on the golf course, and that fatigue can directly impact your score.
Even if it doesn't have the same physical requirements as games like basketball and football, golf is still a sport. There is still effort required to hit shots and navigate the course over a period of four hours or more. Any golfer who has walked a full 18 hole round on a hot summer day can attest to the level of fatigue that can be reached on the course. In order to enjoy your rounds of golf, and to play your best, you need to learn how to properly manage your energy levels throughout the day.
If you are anything like most other golfers, fatigue is probably something you haven't thought about much in reference to improving your golf game. The average golfer focuses on things like swing mechanics, putting technique, equipment, and more – but not fatigue. While all of those elements certainly play a role in your scores, you don't want to overlook the importance of keeping your body and mind fresh from the first hole to the last.
Have you ever had a great round going through 12 or 13 holes only to 'blow up' on the last few holes of the day? While you might have chalked up those lost strokes to nerves, they may have actually had more to do with fatigue than anything else. Getting tired on the golf course isn't like getting tired while running a marathon. In a marathon, if you run out of energy, you may cramp up and have to stop running completely. Fatigue in golf is more subtle. You shouldn't end up on the ground with cramps (hopefully), but your legs may reach the point where they are unable to fire through the swing like they were doing early in the round. Also, physical fatigue can lead to mental fatigue, which can cause you to make poor decisions. If you are going to reach the top of your game and shoot your best-ever scores, avoiding late round fatigue is going to be a key part of the equation.
Preparing for Success
Avoiding fatigue on the golf course starts well before you hit your first shot. There are a number of steps that you can take in advance of your round which will pay off as the day wears on.
- Get a good night's sleep. The first thing you can do to improve your chances of having plenty of energy throughout the round is to simply sleep well the night before you play. This is especially important if you have an early morning tee time, as going to bed late and getting up early is never a recipe for success. Get to bed early enough the night before to allow for a restful sleep that will have you energized and ready to go when you arrive at the course.
- Have a meal. The perfect time to eat prior to a round of golf will vary from player to player, but having a meal two hours before your tee time is a good rule of thumb for most people. Obviously you don't want to eat so much that you can barely swing a club, but you also don't want to head to the first tee hungry. Have a healthy meal that will sit well on your stomach for the rest of the day. If you are teeing off early, try to eat as soon as you wake up so you can immediately provide your body with some energy for the round ahead. If you forget about eating prior to starting your round, you may have a hard time 'catching up' on your energy even if you eat as you are playing.
- Don't hit too many range balls. This is a classic mistake made by countless amateur golfers all over the world. When you arrive at the course, it is tempting to buy the biggest bucket of range balls that they offer so you can fully prepare by hitting shots with every club in the bag. Golfers who take this approach mean well, but they are doing more harm than good. The idea behind warming up is simply to get your body ready to play while establishing a little bit of rhythm for the round. You shouldn't be going through a full-on practice session – those are saved for days when you aren't going to be hitting the course. Prior to starting a round, try to limit yourself to 20-30 shots on the range so you can save your energy for the round ahead.
- Avoid the sun. If you are playing on a hot and sunny day, make an effort to avoid the direct sun as much as possible before you tee off. While it might be inevitable to be in the sun for a while when you are warming up on the range, quickly retreat to the clubhouse for a break before finishing your preparation. The sun can take energy out of your body without you even noticing, so this is an important point to watch. During the time you are under the sun prior to starting your round, be sure to wear a hat to protect your head and apply sunscreen as needed.
- Drink throughout your warmup. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, so make sure you are staying ahead of the game as far as taking in fluids is concerned. Remember, alcoholic drinks aren't going to help you stay hydrated, so have a bottle of water handy and sip on it throughout your warmup session. It is very difficult to recover mid-round if you become dehydrated, so start drinking water early on to avoid problems later in the day.
The five tips above should go a long way toward helping you remain full of energy on the golf course. Fatigue in golf can lead to poor scores and decreased enjoyment of the game, but you can take a big step toward avoiding that situation simply by making good choices before the round even begins.
Packing Your Bag
Do you pay attention to what you put in your golf bag before you head out for a round? You should, because the items you take with you could help you avoid fatigue as the round moves along. A well-stocked golf bag is one of the best defenses you have against getting tired before your round is completed. You don't have to weigh your bag down with a bunch of heavy items – even just a few small provisions can make all the difference in the world.
So what should you make a spot for you in your bag? Consider the following possibilities.
- Bottle of water. This one is almost a requirement. Before you head out for a round of golf, make sure you have some form of hydration available in your bag. While water should do the trick just fine, you could choose to pack a sports drink instead if you prefer. You should be hydrating both before and during your round, so make sure you don't run out of water quickly after getting onto the course. On hot days, consider freezing your bottle of water before the round. By starting the round with a frozen bottle, you should be able to enjoy a cold drink throughout the day as the contents of the bottle gradually melt.
- Small snacks. The best way to eat during a round of golf is in small increments. If you don't eat at all on the front nine, only to stop for a hot dog and a bag of chips at the turn, your energy level will spike up and down. Instead, try to eat small amounts at several points along the way. Nuts and pieces of fruit make for good snacks, but you can obviously tailor your selection to your specific tastes. Try to avoid items like candy bars which are high in sugar and can cause you to speed up your tempo when you get that sudden rush of energy moving through your body. The idea is to keep your body at the same energy level throughout the round, and snacking lightly during the day is the best way to make that happen.
- Fresh socks. Believe it or not, a change of socks halfway through your round can make a big difference to the way you feel. If you are sweating quite a bit during the round, consider quickly changing your socks before you begin the back nine. The fresh socks will feel good on your feet, and you just might get a little boost of energy from the clean feeling they provide. On especially hot days, you could even pack an extra golf shirt to use for the same purpose.
- Extra towel. It is always a good idea to have an extra golf towel in your bag. For one thing, you could lose your first towel somewhere along the way, so it is smart to have a backup available. Also, having a clean towel is nice when you want to wipe your face down to dry up the sweat. When battling hot conditions, find some water that you can use to wet the towel before scrubbing down your head and arms. A quick towel wash while you are waiting to hit your next shot can give you an invigorated feeling.
- Athletic tape. Fatigue will set in faster if you feel like you are fighting off an injury or some form of discomfort during the round. For minor issues like blisters, carry a roll of athletic tape that you can use to protect affected areas. Should you start to notice that you develop an issue in the same area round after round, try protecting that spot before you even hit the first shot of the day. For example, many golfers have a specific spot on one of their hands that always seems to develop a blister. Once you have identified that spot, cover it up prior to getting started. This might seem like a minor point, but protecting against even minor injuries will leave one less thing to use up your available energy.
If you are walking the golf course, be sure not to load up your bag with too much stuff – the heavy load could quickly contribute to the fatigue you are trying to avoid. However, carrying the items on the list above shouldn't add much in the way of weight to your golf bag, and each of them can be very valuable at one point or another. Of course, if you are going to be riding in a cart during the round, you can feel free to load up your bag with as many supplies as you would like.
Managing Yourself on the Course
Outside of the preventative measure and supplies that have been listed above, the most important thing you can do to avoid fatigue late in the round is manage the way you move around the course. Wasting energy on actions that aren't going to take your closer to your goal of shooting good scores is only going to serve to fatigue you further. Be smart about the way you play the game so you can have plenty left in the tank when the 18th rolls around.
The first thing you want to do is minimize your walking whenever possible. There is obviously a lot of walking associated with playing a round of golf, but don't add to the total number of steps required by wandering around unnecessarily. Walk directly to your ball when you can, and only head over to the other side of the hole if one of your playing partners needs help finding their ball. It might be tempting to take the 'scenic route' to explore the golf course, but walking a direct path from shot to shot is your best bet to avoid late round fatigue.
Another important step in this process is to keep your emotions under control. If you allow your temper to get the best of you, energy will be lost in the process of throwing a fit. It is okay to be competitive on the course, but you need to channel those competitive juices in a way that will be productive for your game. When you get mad about hitting a bad shot, simply use that frustration as focus for the next swing. If you have played golf long enough, you have certainly come across the player who will throw their clubs and stomp around the course when things aren't going their way. Not only is that person not much fun to play with, but they are also wasting energy that could have been used to hit better shots. Learning to manage your emotions on the course is a big part of becoming a better overall player.
One other way you can manage yourself in order to conserve energy is to only focus on the shot that is in front of you. Many golfers have a habit of looking ahead on the scorecard, which is simply a waste of mental energy. You can only hit one shot at a time, so what is the point in getting ahead of yourself? By staying in the moment, you will improve your performance as well as conserve energy that can be used later on.
This last point is a little bit easier said than done. Since the scorecard lists all 18 holes right there for you to see, it is tempting to look through the coming holes to find out what you will be up against. To resist that temptation while you are on the course, it is a good idea to review the scorecard prior to every starting the round. Take a moment during your warm up session to preview the scorecard and get a feeling for the patterns of the course. Are there a bunch of long par threes to deal with? Will you be able to get to any of the par fives in two shots? Once you have a basic understanding of the course you are facing, put down the card and shift into 'one shot at a time' mode.
Dealing with Fatigue
Hopefully, all of the information above will help you avoid fatigue on the golf course as much as possible. Of course, even if you take all of the right steps, you still might find yourself feeling tired with a few holes to play.
When that happens, you will need to have a strategy for how you are going to deal with feeling fatigued while still trying to play good golf. Following are three tips that should help you continue to play well even as you run out of steam toward the end of the day.
- Take an extra moment to think. One of the first things that will happen as you get tired is you will start to make poor decisions. Knowing that is a possibility, take an extra moment before each decision you have to make to confirm it is the right one. The natural tendency is to rush when you start to get tired, and rushed decisions are usually poor ones. Slow yourself down slightly to provide your brain with enough time to pick the proper shot for the situation.
- Use an extra club. Fatigue usually set in first in your legs – and when your legs are tired, you won't be able to hit the golf ball your full distance. Instead, take an extra club for most of your shots and focus on simply making solid contact with the ball at impact. If you would typically hit a seven iron for a given approach shot into the green, pull the six iron from your bag and make a smooth swing. It doesn't matter what club you use to get to the target, as long as you get there. Taking an extra club when tired is a simple tip, but it is one that you can use to help your scores as well even after your legs have become fatigued.
- Simplify your reads. On the putting green, the key is to keep everything simple when you get tired. If you try to overanalyze your putts by reading them from every possible angle, you will only wind up confusing yourself and creating doubt in your mind. Get a read from both behind the ball and behind the hole, and then make a confident stroke. You certainly don't want to rush, but you don't want to overload your brain with too much information at this point either. Putting becomes even more difficult when you are fatigued, so keep the process simple for your best chance at a successful outcome.
Playing golf might not be the same as running a marathon, but it's not walk in the park, either. It is very easy to become fatigued near the end of a round of golf, both from the physical exertion and the mental focus that the game demands. If it is your goal to reach new personal best levels of performance, you would be smart to pay careful attention to what your body is telling you on the course. Playing the last few holes while feeling fatigued is never going to be a good thing for your score, so use some of the tips above to avoid that scenario. By keeping your body and mind feeling strong and healthy all the way through the final putt, you will be putting yourself in a position for a strong finish – and a great overall score.