The dreaded slump. It happens to the best of us. One bad shot turns into a series of poor swings, which carries into the next round, then the round after that.
You can't find the fairway, your irons are off target and your chipping and putting fail to bail you out.
What's a golfer to do?
As with any sport, there are three general approaches to breaking out of a slump. None is fool-proof, of course, and you may have to try two if not all three methods before turning things around. The good thing is, it often takes just one solid swing or stroke to restore your confidence and put the slump in your rearview mirror.
Here's a look at three tactics for getting your game back on track.
1. Back to basics: Also called the “KISS” approach, short for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Slumps are often made worse when we overanalyze things and get caught up in mechanics.
If you've got a mind full of swing keys, do's and don'ts, commit to focusing on the fundamentals: Grip, stance, posture, alignment, tempo. Forget about the length of your backswing, your swing plane or releasing the club through impact. Get yourself into a correct address position, then revert to the simplest thought of all: See ball, hit ball.
You may just KISS your slump goodbye.
2. Go deep: Sometimes, there's a genuine flaw at the root of a slump. Finding and fixing it requires analysis, practice and patience. The upside: You could see significant long-term improvement.
Start by identifying the No. 1 problem area – your driving accuracy or short game, for instance. Determine if there's a pattern, like slicing shots to the right. Then utilize the resources at your disposal, including the search function here at Golf-Info-Guide.com or your club's teaching pro, to figure out what's causing this specific issue.
Next it's on to the practice range, where you should use drills designed to cure what ails you. If your flaw has become ingrained, it may take several practice sessions to iron it out. In the long run, though, it will be time well spent.
3. Take a break: When all else fails, bench yourself. Shove the clubs into the closet for a few weeks. When you come back, your anxiety will be gone and your expectations lowered. You may have lost the bad habit that was causing your trouble, too.
One final suggestion: If you've got regular playing partners whose advice you trust, solicit their opinions. They'll have an outside perspective and could offer an easy solution you haven't even considered.
How to Break Out of a Slump
When you are playing well, it is easy to have fun on the golf course. Most of your shots head in the direction of your target, and you make your fair share of pars and birdies along the way. It is easy to get excited to head to the course when you know you have been playing well, as it feels like anything is possible. A good run of golf can have you thinking about shooting a new personal best, or even entering a couple of local tournaments to test your skills under pressure. The good stretches of golf that you experience are the pay-off for all of the time and money that you have invested in this great game.
Of course, those good stretches don't last forever. Slumps are inevitable in golf, just like in any other sport. In between your runs of great play you are likely to have periods where you struggle, when it seems like just getting the ball into the fairway or onto the green is a major accomplishment. Nothing comes easy on the course when you are in a slump, and suddenly the game isn't quite as fun as it was when you were playing well. Enjoying your time on the course should be about more than the numbers on the scorecard, but it sure is easier to enjoy a round of golf when you are playing up to your ability level.
One of the challenges that you will face when you find your game in a slump is maintaining the right attitude in order to get your game back on track. It is easy to get frustrated and lose your confidence when you start to struggle on the course, which will only make it harder for you to recover your game. Having the right mental approach to golf is almost as important as your physical skills, and there is no reason that your mental game ever should go into a slump. While your physical swing may falter from time to time, you can always remain focused in keeping the right attitude in order to play well. The best golfers are the ones who believe they are going to have a good round each and every time they walk to the first tee.
Unfortunately, you can't pick and choose when your game is going to go into a slump. It would be great if you could get the slump out of the way during a quiet time in the golf year, but it is just as likely to happen right before your club championship or some other big event. Therefore, it is important that you understand how to correct the problems in your game as quickly as possible. Slumps are inevitable, but there is no reason that they should last for very long - as soon as you notice your game start to take a downward turn, use the advice and instruction below to get it turned around in a hurry.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Slump Warning Signs
The best way to get yourself out of a slump quickly is to avoid letting yourself get into a bad slump in the first place. If you can 'catch' your slump before your performance really drops off, you may be able to take action in time to get your game back on track right away. Of course, the leading sign of a slump is higher-than-normal scores, but there are other signs that you can watch for as well. Even if only one or two of the points on the list below is currently appearing in your game, you might want to think about taking action in the form or physical or mental practice.
- Missed short putts. Often, missing short putts on a regular basis will be one of the signs that your game is on a downward trend. When you miss short putts, your confidence can easily be rattled, and that loss of confidence can quickly be translated to the rest of your game. A missed short putt may be followed by a poor drive on the next hole, and suddenly your game is spiraling out of control. While all golfers will miss a short putt or two from time to time, you should start to think about the possibility of a slump if you are missing a handful of short putts in each and every round.
- Blow-up holes. Another bad sign for your game is making large numbers on individual holes on a regular basis. It isn't all that rare to make an 8 or 9 if you hit a ball out of bounds or find the water hazard, but these kinds of scores should not become normal. If most of your rounds include at least one or two 'blow-up holes', you need to take a step back and figure out what is going wrong. Is there an underlying physical problem that is leading to these big scores, or are you simply making bad decisions on the course? Blow-up holes are another thing that can easily eat away at your confidence, so taking action to stop this pattern is critical.
- Indecision. Believe it or not, being indecisive on the course is a common sign that you are working your way into a slump. When you feel good about your game, you have no trouble picking clubs and choosing targets – you simply look down the hole, and it happens naturally. However, when you begin to have second thoughts, you may find yourself standing next to your bag for an extended period of time as you try to decide what to do. Confidence is a huge part of playing good golf, and being decisive on the course is a great sign that you are confident in yourself.
- Not taking advantage of opportunities. Every golfer knows the frustrating feeling of putting their ball in good position to make a par or birdie, only to walk away with bogey or worse. These kinds of missed opportunities are bound to happen occasionally, but they should be the exception rather than the rule. If you find you are leaving a long trail of missed chances behind you on the course, there is a good chance you are heading into a slump with your overall game.
- Losing your temper. Has your temper been getting the best of you lately on the golf course? If so, you may be either on your way toward a slump, or already in one. When your game is off, you are more likely to get frustrated after making even small mistakes. During times when you are playing well, those same small mistakes likely won't bother you because you will feel confident in your ability to recover the lost strokes on the holes ahead. Each mistake seems like a big deal when you are slumping, and you are more likely to lose your temper as a result.
Most likely, you will realize you are in a slump after you have posted several consecutive scores that are higher than your usual level of performance. However, if you can watch for some of the five points on the list above, you might be able to correct your declining play before you get all the way into a deep slump. While some of these points might seem innocent enough, they can be a warning sign that a run of poor golf is just around the corner.
Getting Back to Basics
As has been pointed out above, the cause of a golf slump can be physical or mental (or a combination of the two). However, before you address your mental game, you should first make sure that the physical elements of your swing are still under control. It won't do you any good to correct your mental game issues if your swing is a mess, so get the basics of your swing fundamentals in order before dealing with any confidence or strategy issues that may be leading to trouble.
To work on the physical side of your game, head to the driving range with the intention of working on the basic mechanics of the swing. Those mechanics include your stance, grip, takeaway, balance, transition, and more. You don't want to work on any complicated swing theories or techniques that this point – instead, you should be trying to simplify everything you do in order to make sure there are no major flaws present in your motion. It might be helpful to record some swings on video so you can watch them back and look for any problems that have come up in recent rounds. While your swing might feel the same from round to round, it is constantly changing and evolving, a little bit at a time. Over the course of months or even years, your swing mechanics can change rather significantly without you knowing it. A periodic video review is a great way to take not of any big changes so you can make the necessary adjustments.
Another important step in the rehab of the physical side of your game is to step away from the course for at least a week or two. If you can take some time away from playing actual rounds of golf, you can clear your head of complicated swing thoughts and really get back to basics on the range. Work on only one thing at a time during your range sessions, and make sure everything you do is basic and fundamental in nature. After you have had time to put in a few practice sessions on the range, you should be ready to go back to the course with a clearer picture of your swing in mind.
This is also a good time to slow down your swing slightly and take away the urge to hit the ball as hard as you can. Over time, it is natural to continue swinging harder and harder, trying to maximize your distance on the course. While it is fun to hit long, high drives down the middle of the fairway, the constant desire for more distance can eventually ruin the rhythm and timing of your golf swing. During your range sessions, consciously work on hitting short shots with your full swing in an effort to get your rhythm back in place. Once you return to the course you will likely start to swing a bit harder again, but do your best to carry over that great tempo you had established on the range.
When trying to get out of a slump, there should be one single word running through your head over and over again on the practice range – simplify. Anything you can do to simplify your game will be a good thing when it comes to getting back to performing your best. Golf is a complicated game, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to make it as simple as possible. Simplicity will free up your mind to focus on the task at hand on the course, which is always the basic goal of putting the ball as close to the hole as you can. It is very likely that too much thinking is what got you into trouble in the first place, so stripping the game back down to the basics stands a great chance of fixing the problem.
Taking Baby Steps
One of the major problems that many golfers face when they are trying to put their game back together is trying to do everything all at once. While your slump may have come on quickly, it will likely take some time and effort in order to work your way out. That means that you shouldn't expect to shoot a great score during the first round you play after working on your game – you should instead expect your game to come back a little bit at a time. As long as you are moving in the right direction, you should be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
As an example, let's say that your normal score for an 18-hole round is somewhere in the mid-80's. On a good day you will shoot in the low 80's or maybe even high 70's, and on a poor day you will land in the high 80's with the occasional 90. This is a profile that is commonly seem among active amateur golfers. If this is your scoring pattern, what would a slump look like? Most likely, a slump for this kind of player would include a lot of scores in the mid 90's, and very few in the 80's at all. A particularly bad slump for this golfer might even see them posting a score or two above 100.
So, under this scenario, you shouldn't expect to jump back from shooing in the 90's to down in the mid or low 80's. Instead, it is going to take time to work your scores back down to where you would like to see them. At first, you may want to focus on just breaking 90 again, as seeing a score that starts with an '8' on your scorecard should boost your confidence for your next round. Obviously you aren't going to be satisfied with just shooting 89's for the rest of your golfing career, but view it as a first step in the right direction. Once you have broken back into the 90's, you can move on from there until you reach your previous levels of play (and hopefully beyond).
To make these baby steps on your scorecard successfully, consider taking a more conservative game plan out with you during your next few rounds. Using a conservative plan will make it easier for you to avoid big numbers, and it should also help you keep your confidence up throughout the day. Use less club off the tee when possible, pick safe targets, and lag your long putts instead of trying to knock them into the back of the hole. By playing it safe, you should be able to work your way around the course without running into any major trouble, which just might leave you with a score that is lower than what you have been finding during your slump. As your confidence slowly returns and your game gets back to form, you can gradually get more and more aggressive in your style of play.
Winning the Mind Games
Once your physical game is back on track, the last thing you will need to do is get your mind in a good place to perform on the course. Hitting good shots on the driving range is mostly a physical exercise, but doing the same thing on the golf course requires both the physical and mental side to be working properly. Simply improving your technique on the range should help your mental game as your confidence will start to come back, but that confidence could quickly fade if you don't have success during the first few holes of your next round. Your goal should be to put together your mental game in a way that allows you to maintain a positive frame of mind even when things do go exactly according to plan.
To create a mental game that consistently provides you with feelings of confidence and optimism, the best approach is to take each round one shot at a time. While that advice might be a little bit cliché, it really is the best way to play the game. Each time you step up to your ball, no matter where you are on the course, you should be focused on hitting the best shot possible. Most golfers understand this piece of advice, but very few actually put it into use. Often, golfers who are having a bad round, or even just a bad hole, will 'check out' mentally and simply go through the motions. Taking that route is an easy way to put yourself into a slump on the course. Resist that temptation and maintain your focus and effort level from the first tee to the last green. Will there be some bad shots along the way? Of course. Hopefully there will be more good than bad during the course of the round, and you will be happy with your score at the end of the day.
Consistent effort is one key to improving your mental game, and having a clear game plan is another. Most golfers lack a game plan when they start their round, instead just thinking about hitting the ball as far as they can off the first tee. You should have a style of play in mind for the day, and that style should dictate many of the decisions that you make. The style that you use is up to you, based on your personality and the types of shots that you are capable of producing. If you are a powerful player and you like to take chances, and aggressive game plan is probably your best bet. On the other hand, a short hitter who likes to be careful and calculated will benefit from a conservative approach to the game. Also, you can tailor your game plan on a specific day to the course and weather conditions that you are facing. No matter what kind of style you choose to play, commit yourself to it and carry it out over the course of 18 holes.
It isn't fun to be stuck in a slump with your golf game, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel if you are willing to work hard. By taking steps to correct both your physical and mental game, better golf could be just around the corner. Remember, it is critical that you don't expect to get your entire game back all at one time – be happy with baby steps and gradually work your way down into scores that match up with your ability level.