Do you typically begin an 18-hole round with a solid front nine, only to fall apart coming down the stretch? You're certainly not alone. If you've watched a professional golf event lately – or ever – you know even the best sometimes suffer from the same affliction.
Of course, it's understandable when pros melt under the intense pressure of tournament golf. What's your excuse? First of all, you're not a pro. You don't spend hours every day preparing your mind and body for golf's demands. Pressure or not, you simply aren't conditioned for the rigors of a long day on the course.
That doesn't mean you have to commit yourself 100 percent to golf in order to play well for 18 holes. If you stay in shape with regular off-course exercise, you're already ahead of the game.
Here are some tips to boost your start-to-finish performance, even if you play and practice sparingly.
- Keep the fuel tank full: It's important to eat a healthy meal of protein and “good” carbs (whole grains, fruit) before you play, and to snack on similar foods during a round. It's critical to stay hydrated, too, so drink plenty of water as the day wears on. You'll have more energy – physical and mental -- when those final holes roll around.
- Concentrate on shot process, not outcome: If you reach the decisive stretch with a good score, you'll naturally get a little nervous about the possibilities. It's important to stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand – the next shot – rather than thinking ahead to what could be. In these situations, the “process vs. outcome” approach is your best friend.
Keep an even keel: Nothing will sap your mental energy quicker than a temper tantrum, though a celebratory high isn't much better. Amped-up emotions can cause us to lose focus, too, which is why amateurs often follow triumph with tragedy. Go ahead and smile or pump your fist after a birdie. By all means, scowl at that missed 3-footer. Then let it go. The energy you save will come in handy later on.
How to Finish a Round Strong
Golf is not a fast game. When playing an 18-hole round, you can usually expect to spend around four hours on the course – if not longer. While many people love the fact that they get to spend several hours on the course during a round, the lengthy nature of the game does present some challenges. Specifically, it can be hard to finish your round strong after you have already been out there for more than three hours. If you would like to shoot low scores on a consistent basis, you need to learn how to finish your rounds properly. In this article, we are going to explain how you can do just that.
Countless amateur players – and even many pros – have seen their good rounds fall apart in the last few holes. It is not uncommon to run into trouble near the end of a round for one reason or another. When this happens, it is extremely frustrating. The quality scorecard you have put together over the first 13 or 14 holes can be destroyed with just a few poor swings over a period of 10 or 15 minutes. Rounds of golf can go wrong in a hurry, even for good players. To prevent this from being the case during your next good round, you need to have a plan in place for how you are going to finish up the final few holes.
One of the important things you can do to get on the right track with regard to this topic is to be honest with yourself. Many golfers, when faced with poor performance at the end of a round, will just chalk it up to bad luck. They will blame their poor shots on the wind, the course conditions, or other factors. Some players will blame the group in front of them for playing so slowly. Whatever your chosen excuse may be, it is not going to help you successfully overcome this problem. Take control of your own actions, own up to your mistakes, and look for ways to prevent those mistakes from happening again.
If you are able to overcome this problem, you will draw great confidence from knowing that you can perform well in the late stages of a round. When you get off to a good start, you will feel good about closing the deal and posting one of your lowest scores. Also, when you have a less-than-ideal start, you can be optimistic that things will turn around before the day is over. With the expectation of a solid finish looming in the back of your head, you can play the early holes with added confidence and excitement.
All of the instruction in this article has been written from the perspective of a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
You can face a variety of different challenges when trying to finish out a round successfully. Before you will be able to solve this problem in your own game, you need to understand why it is that you may be struggling to finish well. These struggles can seemingly come out of nowhere, as you will be going along playing a nice round of golf right up until the point where things go sideways. With a clear understanding of the obstacles standing between you and the 'finish line', you can be better prepared to make it cleanly through all 18 holes.
The following list includes some of the leading causes of late-round struggles.
- Pressure. This is the biggest issue you are going to have to contend with if you would like to close out your rounds properly. Pressure can come from many places on the golf course, but usually, it comes from within. If you know you are playing a good round of golf – your best ever, perhaps – you will naturally put more and more pressure on yourself as the round goes on. Any golfer would love to post a new all-time low score, but that can't be done without playing well over the final few holes. You don't need to be playing in a tournament to feel pressure late in a round, as you always want to do your best no matter the stakes. To consistently close out your rounds with solid shots you are going to have to learn how to properly deal with pressure.
- Fatigue. Believe it or not, fatigue is a big part of poor performance on the final few holes of a round. While you might not think of golf as the most physically demanding sport in the world – and it isn't – you still need to be fit enough at the end of the day to continue making good swings. If your legs are tired, for instance, from walking up and down hills for four hours, you will struggle to get through your shots as the day wears on. You don't have to be as fit as a marathon runner to play good golf for all 18-holes, but you still need to pay attention to your physical condition as part of this equation.
- Difficult holes. An often-overlooked piece of this puzzle is the design of the golf course itself. Many courses are intentionally designed with challenges holes to finish out the round, in order to make things interesting in tournaments and other competitions. Specifically, it is common for the 18th hole to be rather difficult, especially if it is a par four. Obviously, there is nothing you can do to change the design of the course, but you can be aware of this issue and adjust your course management decisions as necessary to finish out the round without a major mistake.
- Loss of focus. Even when you are playing well, it is still possible to lose your focus late in a round. As mentioned above, a full round of golf can easily take more than four hours, which is a long time to focus on any one thing. If you find your mind wandering to other topics late in the day, you are not alone – this is a common issue for pros and amateurs alike. Unfortunately, it only takes a momentary lapse in focus to cause significant damage to your scorecard. To finish off your rounds properly time after time, you are going to need to learn how to be fully focused when it matters most.
- Frustration. The final point on our list has to do with your emotional state by this point in the round. If you have been playing a good round, you would think that you would be happy and relatively satisfied with your play. However, that is not always the case. Often, golfers who are playing well will still be in a frustrated state of mind, feeling that they should be doing even better. After all, even good rounds include a few putts that barely missed, or a couple of approach shots which were off-target. If you allow this frustration to eat at you hole after hole, it may eventually lead to a decline in your performance. You need to be positive and confident while playing golf, as frustration is only going to harm your play in the end.
The list of challenges that you face when closing a round of golf is long. It can be difficult to address this entire list because the most-pressing issue will change from round to round. You might feel tremendous pressure at the end of one round, while feeling mostly frustration at the end of the next. Only when you have the right 'tools' in your bag to deal with all of these potential challenges will you be the kind of golfer who is able to finish strong on nearly every occasion.
Many golfers never manage to overcome the pressure that they feel late in a good round of golf. It is their inability to get past this pressure that causes those players to consistently fall short of their potential on the course. If this sounds like you, working on the way you handle late round pressure should be one of your top priorities in golf.
The first key to handling your nerves successfully is to take your round one shot at a time. Yes, that is a cliché, but it has been repeated over and over again because it is true. It's easy to get ahead of yourself on the golf course, but doing so can lead to terrible results. Usually, you will get ahead of yourself by adding up your score while you are still on the course. If you start to do some math, you may figure that you need to play the last few holes in a certain score in order to set a new personal best. The pressure that comes with that math is likely to be too much to overcome. Do yourself a favor – save the math for the end of the round, and use all of your focus on each and every shot that you face.
In addition to trying to ignore your score, another way to handle pressure is to put the game of golf in its proper context. Is your score important? Sure – it is important to you to do your best each time you play. Is your score going to have a lasting impact on your 'real world' life? No, it's not. This is just a game, after all, and it is supposed to be fun and relaxing. Placing too much pressure on yourself will not only make it harder to play well, but it will also strip some of the fun out of the experience. By keeping the game in perspective, you can continue to hit solid shots all the way through the final hole.
Many golfers, in an attempt to handle the pressure they are feeling, pretend that they don't feel any pressure at all. It is common to attempt to just ignore the nerves – but this is a strategy that is destined to fail. There is no point in denying the pressure you feel, as it is real and it needs to be dealt with properly. Rather than running away from the nerves, embrace them, accept them as part of the challenge, and do your best to play well despite their presence. Professional golfers who win big tournaments certainly feel plenty of pressure – they just do a great job of dealing with it in order to keep playing at a high level.
Playing well under pressure is a gradual progression for most golfers, so you are unlikely to have a 'light bulb' moment where you suddenly handle pressure well in all circumstances. Consistently work on the way you perform while nervous while putting yourself in such a situation as often as possible. As is the case with anything else in golf, experience is going to help you significantly on this point. Over time, you should gradually become better and better at executing your shots even when the pressure is on.
Conquering a Difficult Closing Stretch
It is easy to be intimidated when you approach a challenging closing stretch of holes. You may already be a bit nervous about finishing out your round, and now you have the added difficulty of trying to play some tough holes before you can get to the clubhouse. So how do you overcome the challenge of a tough closing stretch in order to secure a low score? The following tips should be of some assistance.
- Play it safe. The first thing you should do on these tough closing holes is to put a priority on finding the fairway. Too many golfers get aggressive at the ends of their rounds, swinging away with the driver in the hopes of blasting a perfect tee shot. While it would be great to hit a long drive down the middle, that strategy also includes a great deal of inherent risk. A poor swing with your driver could lead to a penalty stroke, or at least a second shot played from a tough spot. By playing it safe off the tee, you will give yourself a far better shot to avoid serious damage. Use a shorter club for control, place the ball in the short grass, and move on.
- Don't play to the scorecard. It is common for golfers to add up their score prior to the last couple holes in order to figure out what they need to do in order to shoot a new low score (or achieve another goal). This habit might seem innocent enough, but it can lead to some poor decision making. If for instance, you figure out that you need to birdie the last hole to shoot a new low score, you may be far more aggressive than you should be given the difficulty of the hole. You should be basing your decisions on the layout of the hole in front of you, not on the score you would like to achieve. Playing smart might not always be the most exciting strategy, but it is the strategy which is most likely to lead to success.
- Trust your short game. There are a lot of ways to make a par, so you don't necessarily have to hit two good full-swing shots to get the job done. If you do hit a poor drive, for instance, don't force your second shot in an all-out attempt to find the putting surface. It is okay to miss the green – as long as you miss in a spot that leaves a realistic up and down chance. Think strategically about what kinds of shots will give you the best chance to walk off of the hole with a par, even if that does mean hitting the fairway and green before two-putting. As the saying goes, there are no pictures on the scorecard – you just need to get the ball in the hole.
- Accept the challenge. Some golf holes offer you no easy way out. There are certain shots in golf that you can't use course management to 'get around' – you just have to hit the shot. For example, imagine that the course you are playing includes a par three design on the 17th hole. This par three features water all the way from the tee to the green, meaning you have no option to play it safe. You are going to have to hit the ball over the water to reach the green, so you need to accept that challenge and prepare to hit a great shot. Golf is a hard game, and good scores are not given out for free. You need to play well in order to finish off a nice round, so take on the challenge of some tough holes at the end and you will be even more proud of your accomplishment when you finish up the right way.
Playing a course with a difficult closing stretch does not mean you have to be resigned to a poor finish. It is possible to get through some tough finishing holes without making a big mistake, but you have to be ready for the challenge. Use the tips above to approach those holes properly and you will hopefully be able to walk off the 18th green with your head held high.
Addressing the Other Points
The two sections above have dealt with two of the five challenges we highlighted early in the article – pressure, and difficult closing holes. In this last section, we are going to touch on the other three challenges you may face – fatigue, a loss of focus, and frustration. Each of these three has the potential to ruin the end of your round of golf, yet each can be overcome. Use the information below to make sure you aren't tripped up by one of these pesky issues.
- Plan your day to avoid fatigue. It should go without saying that improving your overall level of physical fitness should help with fatigue problems. If you are in good physical condition, you will likely be able to make it through an 18-hole round with very little trouble. Beyond fitness, however, strong planning can also help you on this point. Specifically, you need to plan out your food and drink for the day to make sure you don't run low on energy when you need it most. By eating small snacks throughout your round, and by regularly drinking water, you can keep your energy reserves up until the round is complete.
- Use a pre-shot routine to avoid loss of focus. There are many reasons to use a pre-shot routine, and this is one of the most important. When you have an established routine that you use prior to each swing, that routine will trigger something in your mind that tells you it is now time to pay attention. This is crucial if you like to chat with your playing partners during the round. There is nothing wrong with making conversation, but once the pre-shot routine begins, you block out everything else and make a great swing.
- Frustration. All golfers get frustrated – this is a difficult game, and poor shots come with the territory. There is no crime in being frustrated from time to time, but you need to prevent that frustration from having an effect on your play. Use the time between holes to 'reset' your mind and focus on the task at hand. As you head from one green to the next tee, calm yourself down and set aside any frustrations that have been building. If you can do this successfully, you should soon come to see each hole as its own unique challenge.
It is never easy to finish your round out strong, but it is possible when you utilize the advice above. Think about the information that has been provided in this article and use the pieces that seem to apply most directly to your own game. Good luck and here's to a great finish!