In The Zone

Some golfers have good concentration. Others are practically impenetrable, especially under the gun.

Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods all had the ability to block out distractions and focus on the golf shot at hand. It's a big reason they claimed 41 major titles (and counting) between them.

Unless you hope to play at the highest level, you don't need that kind of concentration on the course. But if you want to compete in tournaments, or merely improve from round to round, getting into your own personal “zone” can increase your odds of success.

Here are a few tips for boosting your focus:

  • Stick with your process: One reason a steady pre-shot routine is so vital -- it gives you something to think about besides the potential outcome of a shot. Develop a system of steps – the simpler the better – and follow them on every single shot. That means on the range, too.
  • Let go between shots: No one can keep laser-like intensity for an entire 18 holes. Try and you'll be mentally drained by the turn. Once you've played a shot and processed the result, unclench your brain until you approach the next one. Take in the beauty of the course, make small talk with your partner or competitor… The idea is to relax the brain in order to refresh it.
  • Think ahead, not backward: Bad shots are inevitable. When you hit one, analyze what went wrong and how to prevent it next time, then move on. Take the emotion out of it and one bad shot won't lead to another.

How to Get into the Zone and Stay in It

How to Get into the Zone and Stay in It

If you are a golfer, you are probably also a fan of professional golf. Watching the best in the world compete on incredibly difficult courses is a thrill for a number of reasons. It is exciting to see the players battle down the stretch of an important tournament with so much on the line. It is also fun to see the amazing shots they can create – and you know how difficult those shots are because you have tried them yourself out on the links. Non-golfers have a hard time seeing golf on TV as anything but boring, however you know better.

During the broadcast of a golf tournament, you may hear an announcer say that a particular player is 'in the zone'. This is an expression which means that a player has performed well on a recent stretch of holes. In the professional golf world, that would usually mean something like making four birdies in a row, or making five birdies over a span of six or seven holes. For an amateur golfer to be in the zone, the bar would be set a little lower. Depending on your skill level, you might feel like you have reached the zone when you make a few pars in a row, or when you play a stretch of five or six holes in one under. Whatever the case, all golfers love to be in the zone.

The obvious question, then, is this – how do you get into the zone? And what can you do to stay in the zone for as long as possible? It is not easy to get into the zone, of course. If it were easy, professional golfers would live there and they would regularly shoot scores in the low-60s or even high-50s. Playing golf in the zone is always going to be a rare treat, but that doesn't mean you can't strive to achieve this level as often as possible.

In this article, we are going to discuss a variety of ways in which you can try to find your way into the zone. Also, we will look at steps you can take to stay on a roll of solid performance once you get going. By working hard to get yourself to this high level as frequently as possible, you should raise your overall level of play nicely. Even when you fall short of what would qualify as the zone, you should still be playing nicely thanks to your focus and attention to detail.

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.

Ways to Enter the Zone

Ways to Enter the Zone

Golf is a slow game. Everything happens slowly on the golf course, as you only hit one shot every few minutes (with the exception of your putts). Therefore, it isn't always easy to notice when you are in the zone – you may only notice after your level of play has gone back down. This is different than other sports. If you were a basketball player, for example, you could quickly find yourself in the zone after making three shots in a row over the course of a minute. You don't get to rack up achievements that quickly in golf. If you do manage to play several holes in a row at a high level, that accomplishment is going to take at least an hour to play out, if not more.

To help you notice when your level of play is starting to pick up, we have identified a few ways in which you can enter the zone while playing golf.

  • Hitting several good shots in a row. This might be the most obvious example of getting into the zone. If you hit a great drive, a beautiful iron shot, and then a perfect putt, you will have played the hole at hand about as well as possible. Then, if you repeat those feats on the next hole, you can safely consider yourself to be in the zone. You are playing well in all different categories of the game when this happens, and you are probably feeling rather confident as a result. By continuing this streak of great shots for as long as possible, you are going to be able to write down some impressive numbers of your scorecard.
  • Playing several straight holes at par-or-better. This would not be anything notable for a professional golfer, but it is a nice accomplishment for an amateur. If you are able to work your way through a stretch of at least a few holes without making a bogey, you can probably say that you are in the zone. That is true even if you have made one or two bad swings along the way during that stretch. You don't necessarily have to be playing perfect golf to say you are in the zone, as long as you are managing to get through each hole with a quality score.
  • Lighting it up with one specific club. In some cases, being in the zone doesn't mean that your entire game is locked in and working properly. Often, it will be that you are feeling great just in one area of the game – such as putting. If you have made several great putts in a row – or you have made several putts over the first nine holes – you will feel like you are in the zone with your putter. While perhaps not as powerful as being in the zone across the board, you can still use this momentum to your advantage. For example, when your putter is on fire, you can consider playing to safer targets in order to make sure you have as many putts for birdie as possible. Knowing you are putting well, it would be worth it to aim a bit farther from the hole to play it safe and keep your ball out of trouble. Or, in a situation where you are in the zone with your iron shots, you could decide to play more aggressively as a result of your confidence. Doing so may set up a number of short birdie looks, allowing your putter to get going at the same time.

Being in the zone can come in many shapes and sizes in golf. Of course, there is no formal definition for this term, so it will be up to you to decide whether or not you are in the zone at any given time. Watch for the signs highlighted in the list above to note when you are in the zone, and then alter your game plan to make use of whatever parts of your game seem strong at the moment.

Finding the Zone More Often

Finding the Zone More Often

It won't do you any good to notice the signs of being in the zone if you never manage to get into the zone in the first place. Unfortunately, we don't have any magical secret to offer in terms of a guaranteed way to enter the zone round after round. If we did have such information, we could sell it to some of the world's top golfers for a considerable sum. However, while we can't tell you exactly how to get into the zone, we can help you make it more likely that you will find your way there during upcoming rounds. Use the tips outlined below to give yourself a better chance of finding an elevated level of play.

  • Warm up properly. This is a pretty basic tip, but it is one that most amateur golfers take for granted. The average amateur player 'warms up' by talking to their playing partners, casually hitting a few putts, and maybe getting something to eat at the snack bar. Needless to say, this kind of routine really isn't going to do anything for you out on the course. Instead, you should prepare yourself both physically and mentally to play well right from the start. Arrive early enough to hit a few balls, spend plenty of time on the practice green learning the speed of the surfaces, and take a minute or two to think quietly about your game plan. Not only will proper preparation help you to get into the zone at some point, it will simply make you more likely to play a good round overall.
  • Play to your strengths. It will be almost impossible to get into the zone if you are constantly trying to play shots which go against your strengths. For example, if you are a player who prefers a draw off the tee, stick with that draw on most holes. You might need to go against it from time to time, but you shouldn't be playing a fade from the tee on the majority of your tee shots when a draw is your better flight. Look for as many ways as possible to use your favorite shots on the course and you will be more likely to fall into a nice rhythm. Even if you are getting by while using some 'other' shots, it will be very unlikely that you will really get locked in. Stick with what you do best and let those confident shots lead the way.
  • Focus at the right times. It is hard to focus for an entire round of golf. This game usually takes more than four hours to play from start to finish, and that doesn't even include the time you spent warming up. However, you do need to focus on your shots if you are going to play well. Therefore, the best thing to do is focus on the task at hand while playing your shots, and let your mind wander otherwise. When you are strolling up the fairway, for example, feel free to think about something other than golf. When you arrive at your ball, return your mind to golf and figure out how you are going to play a quality shot. As you gain experience, you will get more and more comfortable with this kind of back-and-forth pattern. Taking this approach will help you to stay mentally fresh late in a round while still using all the focus you need on each individual swing.

There is nothing that you can do to guarantee you will find the zone during any given round. In fact, it is completely possible that you will go several rounds in-between finding a great rhythm with your game. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't be striving for excellence. Use the tips we have offered above to put yourself in a position to succeed and then wait for that much-anticipated zone to come along.

Doing Your Best to Stay There

Doing Your Best to Stay There

You will probably be excited when you realize that you have gotten into the zone. You will be hitting some great shots, and your scorecard will reflect how well you have been playing. With that said, nothing is guaranteed for the next shot. Even if you have been in the zone for several holes, things could still go wrong on the following swing. After all, if it were easy to make the zone last forever, everyone would do it.

So, again in this section, we are going to offer you points of advice which will give you a better chance of success, even though they are no guarantee. If you put the tips below to use, you should be able to hang on to the zone for a little bit longer each time you find it.

  • Shift into a conservative mode. One big mistake made by the average golfer when he or she finds the zone is to suddenly start to play more aggressively. The thinking is, of course, that with your game firing on all cylinders, you can afford to take chances. That is actually the wrong way to go for most people. Instead, think about playing more conservatively when things are going well. This will limit the chances of making a big mistake, and it will help you to stay in the zone longer. Nothing will knock you out of the zone quite as quickly as hitting your ball into a water hazard or out of bounds. Play it safe while on a roll, be patient, and let the good holes rack up one after the next.
  • Tighten your focus. Earlier we talked about how you can shift in and out of focus during a round of golf. That will work most of the time, but when you are in the zone, it is a good idea to stay focused as tightly as possible, even in-between shots. If you let your mind wander, you might wind up getting out of the mindset that had been serving you so well. During this time, do your best to limit conversation with other players and just stay dialed in on what you are doing. Since you are playing well, it shouldn't be too hard to convince yourself to take this approach – there is nothing quite as motivating as playing great golf for an extended period of time.
  • Raise your expectations. There is no reason to settle while you are in the zone. Sure, it has been fun to make a few pars in a row, but why not take it farther? Be greedy in this situation and expect to stretch your great play out all the way to the end of the round. It is a good idea to play conservative in terms of game plan, but that doesn't mean you can't think aggressively in terms of how long this zone will last. There is no reason to settle for the status quo at this point – be proud of what you have already done to get into the zone, and dig deep to produce even more quality play going forward.
  • Don't do the math. This is a common amateur golfer mistake – and one which actually catches up with a few pros from time to time as well. When you are playing well, it is easy to let yourself do some math while you have a few moments to stand around and wait. For example, let's imagine that your current personal best score is an 81. You would love to break that record by a single stroke, and you would really love to get into the 70s. Through 12 holes, you are only three-over-par thanks to an extended stretch in the zone. If you do the math, you will realize that you simply need to play the last six holes in four-over-par to post a 79 (assuming a par of 72). Doing this math could cause you to feel pressure, and it could pull you out of the zone. You might start focusing only on getting through the last six holes in four over, instead of just playing them as well as you can.

The zone isn't going to last forever. No golfer plays his or her best on every single hole, so don't get too down on yourself if your high level of play only lasts a few holes. It is inevitable that your level of play is going to go up and down from round to round – your job as a golfer is to work hard to keep that level of play elevated for as long as you can. We hope the tips listed above will help you to do just that.

The Putting Zone

The Putting Zone

We mentioned earlier that it is possible to get into the zone specifically with your putter. This can be fun, of course, because nothing lowers your score quite like pouring in putt after putt for an extended run of holes. Your playing partners are sure to be jealous as you keep knocking them in one after the next.

While the putting zone isn't completely different from the overall 'golf zone', there are some tips you can use to better your odds of finding a groove with your flat stick. Consider the following ideas.

  • Use confident speed. You aren't going to get into a zone with your putter if you are constantly leaving the ball short of the hole. To make at least a few putts in a row, you need to use enough pace to reach the cup time after time. You don't have to run the ball way by the hole, but you do want to plan on using enough speed to send the ball a foot or two past if it happens to miss. When you manage to blend confident speed with good reads, great things are possible.
  • Play plenty of break. It is common for amateur golfers to miss their putts on the low side of the hole. When getting a read, make sure to give yourself plenty of room for the ball to break into the cup as it rolls. As a good rule of thumb, play an extra inch or two of break than what you think you see. If you stick with this rule, your low side misses should be few and far between – meaning all of your putts will at least have a chance to fall in.
  • Picture success. Before you hit any given putt, take a moment to stand behind the ball and visualize it rolling directly into the center of the cup. This kind of positive reinforcement is a great way to build up your confidence before making the stroke. Too many golfers expect to miss putts, and then they have those expectations confirmed. Don't put yourself in that category. Plan on making your putts, visualize them going in, and then make it happen.

The zone is a great place to be when on the golf course. Sure, you aren't going to be in the zone very often – this is a hard game, after all – but it is quite exciting when you do get on a roll. We hope the advice provided throughout this article will help you to play at a high level as frequently as possible. Good luck!