break out of your comfort zone part 1 image 1

The “comfort zone.” Sounds like a nice place to be, right?

It is, if you're content to play golf at your current level in perpetuity. If you want to shoot lower scores and fulfill your potential, however, you'll have to break free from your comfort zone.

The comfort zone concept isn't unique to golf. You see its effects in how we approach everyday situations. For example, maybe you'd really like to strike up a chat with the attractive guy or gal who lives across the hall, but can't bring yourself to do it. You're stuck in your comfort zone.

In golf, our comfort zone is determined by the range of scores we typically shoot – let's say between 82 and 87. Whenever we head out to play, we want to score lower, but we expect a result in our usual range. Inevitably, we'll have rounds where we flirt with territory outside the comfort zone; perhaps we reach the turn at 2-over par, recognizing that a comparable back nine will give us a score in the mid- to high-70s.

Then what happens? We get nervous. We start playing defensively, trying to “protect” our low round. Next thing you know, we've ballooned to plus-10 and kissed that career round goodbye.

In other words, we reverted to our comfort zone.

The comfort zone works the other way, too. How often have you endured a stretch of poor play early, then rallied late to finish with an acceptable score? It's the same thing in reverse. The comfort zone has other subtle effects. Think about times when your game was clicking from tee to green, but you couldn't hole a putt to save your life. When your putting came around, your driver went AWOL. All the while, your scores remained in the expected range.

If you've worked and worked on your game with little or no improvement in scores, your problem may have nothing to do with your swing or stroke. More than likely, you're just stuck in the comfort zone.

So how do you break out? Read the next entry for help escaping your comfort zone.

How and Why Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

How and Why Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you are anything like most other golfers in the world, you probably have one course where you play the majority of your rounds. Maybe you are a member at a private club, or maybe you just play the closest public course to your home over and over again. You feel comfortable at your home course, you have made some friends along the way, and you know exactly what club to hit on each tee. Everyone likes to feel comfortable, and playing the same course on a consistent basis is sure to lead to enjoyment.

While there is nothing wrong with feeling comfortable, having too much comfort with your golf game can be a bad thing. After all, if you are interested in continuing to move forward with your performance in the weeks and months ahead, you are going to need to step out of that comfort zone in order to challenge yourself. Sure, you can play well on your home course, but how do you do when you make a tee time somewhere else? If your game always suffers when you play a new track, there is a good chance that you have allowed yourself to get too comfortable on the links.

Comfort in golf doesn't have to relate only to the courses you play. It can also have to do with the equipment you use, the people you play with, and even the time of day when you tee it up. It is easy to fall into patterns in golf, just like it is easy to do so in the rest of your life. By making a conscious effort to break up those patterns from time to time, you will give yourself a chance to grow and expand. You might not always feel as comfortable as you would have felt within those patterns, but that should be seen as a good thing. True growth and development can occur when you test your limits and push your boundaries.

In this article, we are going to talk about different ways you can break out of your comfort zone. We will focus on the 'how, because the 'why' is pretty obvious – you want to break out of your comfort zone in order to become a better player. Also, getting out and experimenting with new things in the game can lead you to great experiences. It will take a little bit of effort to go out of your way to try new things in golf, but you will almost certainly be happy you did. Don't limit yourself to what is comfortable and familiar on the golf course for the rest of your time in this game. Be willing to go outside of those usual boundaries and look for things that test, excite, and challenge you on a continuous basis.

All of the content below is 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.

Finding New Courses

Finding New Courses

One of the first, and easiest things to do when trying to step out of your golf comfort zone is to play new courses. It is fun to get out and experience new courses, and your game will be tested in ways that it is not tested on your home course. If you are a public course golfer, you can simply look around your area and make a tee time somewhere you have never played. If you are a member at a private club, you can either visit some of the local public courses or you can ask about any 'reciprocal' arrangements that your club has with other private courses in the region. Once you get out to explore a few new courses, you might find that one of your favorite things about golf is playing new layouts that you have not previously experienced.

To make sure that you have a positive experience when you head to a course for the first time, consider the following tips.

  • Play a reasonable set of tees. One of the biggest mistakes that amateur golfers make in general is picking a set of tees which is too long for their skill set. For instance, if you hit your driver around 225 yards on average, don't step back to the Black Tees for a 7,000+ yard challenge. Sure, you might look cool walking back to 'the tips', but you are going to have a miserable day of not being able to reach the greens in regulation. Stick with tees that match up with your individual skills, even if that means playing different tees than the rest of the players in your group. When visiting a new course for the first time, it might be helpful to ask in the pro shop for advice on which tees to pick. Just let the pro know what your handicap is and how far you hit your driver and he or she will be happy to help. You can't always base your decision on yardage alone, as some courses play longer or shorter than the scorecard would indicate. With the local knowledge of the pro on your side, you can be set up for an enjoyable day.
  • Do your homework in advance. The internet is a wonderful resource for the modern golfer. No matter what course you are going to go try for the first time, there is a good chance that someone has written a review about it somewhere on the web. Before you head off to play a round, take a moment to read any reviews you can find about the course. What do other golfers have to say? After reading a few reviews, you should get a good idea for the type of course you will be facing. For instance, you might read many comments about narrow fairways, fast greens, or challenging bunkers. With this knowledge in the back of your mind, you will know what to watch out for prior to arriving at the course. It is never easy to play a course for the first time, but picking up some tips in advance can take away a bit of the difficulty.
  • Make the right choice between walking and riding. Walking the golf course is great – but some courses are simply not designed to be friendly to walkers. If you usually walk the course, be sure to ask in the pro shop about the prospect of walking the course you are playing for the day. Are the holes relatively close together? Is there any significant elevation change within the course? You don't want to get out onto the course only to find that the walk is punishing you right from the start. When in doubt, take a cart and save your energy for the shots you need to hit.
  • Take some friends. If at all possible, plan your round at a new course for a time when some friends can come along for the round. It will be more fun to explore a new course if you have your golfing buddies alongside, and you won't have to worry about playing with total strangers (if that bothers you). It probably won't be possible to take friends along every single time you play a new course, but do so as often as possible to add to your enjoyment.

Once you get out to explore new courses, you may wonder why you ever limited yourself to the one or two courses close to your home. Of course, this does not mean that you need to totally abandon your current home course – you can certainly continue to play there on a regular basis. This is just about breaking out of your comfort zone and trying to some courses which will test your shot making ability in a new way.

Hitting New Shots

Hitting New Shots

In addition to falling into a rut playing the same course over and over again, you can also get into a rut by hitting the same kinds of shots hole after hole. If you are an experienced golfer, you probably have a well-established ball flight which you use most of the time. There is nothing wrong with that, of course – it makes sense to play to your strengths. However, that ball flight is not going to be able to handle every situation you face on the course, so learning how to hit new shots is something that every golfer should have on his or her to-do list.

So what kind of shots should you consider adding to your repertoire? Well, that depends, of course, on what kind of shots you are already able to hit. However, the list below will highlight some of the common shots that most amateur golfers could benefit from learning.

  • A punch shot. This is a shot which every golfer should have in the bag, and it is relatively easy to learn. To 'punch' the ball toward the target, you are simply going to choke down on the grip, move the ball back in your stance, and make an abbreviated swing. That's it. Spend some time working on your punch shot on the range and you should soon have the confidence to try it out on the course. When is this shot effective? There are a number of occasions for it to be used, including shots into the wind, short approach shots where you want to limit spin, and more.
  • A reverse curve. If you normally hit a fade with your full swing, a 'reverse curve' would be a draw in your case. Or, if you usually hit a draw, producing a fade would be reversing your usual course of action. You should stick with your natural curve for most shots, but it will be helpful to have the opposite shot available from time to time. You never know what kind of course design features you are going to encounter, so expanding your 'toolbox' will make you a better player overall.
  • A flop shot. Not only can a flop shot help you to improve your short game, it is simply a fun shot to learn. During your next trip to the practice area, find a safe place to experiment with a few flop shots. You are going to lay the face of your lob wedge open and make a big swing to hit this shot high into the air. It is easy to hit this shot thin, so make sure there is nothing on the other side of your target that could be damaged by a golf ball (such as cars, or other golfers).

Think about the game you currently play and see if you can find places where it would make sense to add a new shot. The idea here is to fill in the gaps within your game. You will be a better golfer if you have more shots at your disposal, and you will probably have more fun on the course as well. The game can get a little stale if you only hit the same shots over and over, so be creative and find new ways to get from one point to another.

Playing in Competitions

Playing in Competitions

Most amateur golfers never play in a tournament, and that is a shame. Competing in golf tournaments is great fun, even if you aren't a particularly skilled player. Thanks to the handicap system in golf, players of all skill levels can compete against one another on the same course. Nearly every golf course holds at least a few tournaments throughout the year, and there are also local and regional golf associations which have events. Once you know where to look for golf competitions in your area, you might be surprised at just how many opportunities there are to get out and play.

If you are going to test yourself in competition during the golf season ahead, the first thing you will need to do is establish an official handicap. You are almost certainly going to need a handicap to play in any tournament, so ask at your local course about joining their men's or women's club. For a small fee – often between $50 - $100 for the year – you can establish your handicap and become a member of the club. That membership typically entitles you to entry in some club tournaments, and you will be able to enter competitions outside of your club now that you have an official handicap.

Of course, just signing up is not going to be the end of the story. Once you have a handicap established, you need to 'post' your scores to that handicap each time you play. Every time you finish a round, head into the pro shop or club house to ask for the handicap computer. There you can punch in your score for the day and update your handicap. It is important to accurately post all of your scores as doing so will lead to a true reflection of your ability.

You will learn a lot about yourself and your golf game when you play in a few tournaments. Below is a partial list of the things you can learn by playing in formal golf competitions.

  • Where you have holes in your game. If you have any specific weaknesses in your game, tournament golf is sure to expose them in a hurry. For instance, if you struggle with short putts, you are going to find that your three footers are extremely hard to knock in under pressure. Even if you don't plan on playing in a lot of tournaments moving forward, playing in just one or two from time to time is a great way to spot trouble within your game. While it might be frustrating to come up short during tournaments due to these weaknesses, you will be better for it in the long run.
  • How you respond to adversity. What is your reaction when you make a mistake during a tournament round? Do you want to give up, or do you try even harder for the rest of the day? This response will tell you a lot about your attitude on the course. If you find that you are tempted to pack it in after a bad hole or two, work on changing your attitude to make sure you get the most out of every round. Not only will such an attitude adjustment help you play better golf, but it will help you to have more fun as well.
  • How much you like to compete. Some people love to compete, while others would rather just have fun on the course without any pressure. There is no right or wrong category to fall into on this topic, but playing a few competitive rounds is the best way to determine just how much competitive juice you have flowing through you. If you find that you love the feeling of competition, it would make sense to play even more tournaments in the future. If not, you can move on from tournaments and keep your schedule clear for casual rounds of golf.

In reality, tournament golf is not for everyone. It isn't a matter of skill level, as the handicap system takes care of that. Rather, it is a matter of interest and personal desire. Some people want to play in tournaments to test their skills, and others don't. Again, neither side is right, but you need to figure out which category you belong in so you can plan your golf schedule accordingly.

Finding New Playing Partners

Finding New Playing Partners

The option we are going to look at for breaking out of your comfort zone on the course is to play with new people. Even if you enjoy the group of people you play with currently, or even if you like playing alone, there is something to be said for meeting new people on the links. It is common for total strangers to become friends after spending several hours together on the golf course.

So how do you go about finding new people to golf with? Well, for one thing, you could play in a few tournaments as suggested in the previous section. When you play in a tournament, you are almost certain to wind up playing with other serious golfers. And, by the nature of golf tournaments, you will be mixed in among the field and may play with several different people over the course of the event. As an added bonus, golf tournament fields are usually sorted by skill level, so you should be playing with others in your same general handicap range.

If you don't want to enter any tournaments right now, another option is simply to ask at your local course if you could be paired up with another group when you make your next tee time. When playing as a single, most courses will try to pair you up with a group of two or three others in order to even out the pace of play. As long as you make it clear that you are open to being paired up with others, this should be no problem at all – especially on a busy weekend day. Also, you can let the pro shop know that you are interested in meeting other golfers, so they can connect you with others who may come into the pro shop to say the same thing.

Stepping outside of your comfort zone is never an easy thing to do in life. It is important, however, because it can help you to become a better person overall. As it relates to golf specifically, getting outside of your comfort zone can allow you to meet new people, explore new courses, and improve your game. We hope the advice provided in this article will help you expand your golf horizons in the months and years ahead. This is a great game, but it is up to you to make the most of your time on the links. Good luck and have fun!