There is a curious place called the zone. Pitchers in baseball get there. Serving in tennis require it. Golfers especially need it. Just being slightly out of sync can mean the difference between hitting fairways and green or scrambling out of deep rough and bunkers. Would you like to enjoy a great round much more every time? Get in the zone more and more often?

Lots of golfers do not play their best or nearly their best every time. After a lot of work on my head I have managed to eliminate this. For some time I have been getting 30 points or more and no longer using the words “shocker” or “terrible” to describe a round.

I am working on a book about this but this is the shortened version. 

The key to golf is to pick out your target and focus solely on that. I learned this when breaking roof tiles with my hands in karate about 35 years ago. Any fear or indecision and you can break your hand. Any thoughts during your swing and you raise the chance of a miss hit.

I have read quite a few books about how to keep it together on the course. I have watched a few tournaments and seen how pros go about their rounds. I have caddied a bit for pros as well so have had soe great first hand learning about how they go about things.  I also like discussing this sort of thing with people so this is an amalgamation of all my learning I guess. I started getting into this mental skill thing in my teens because of tennis. I read a book called “Use Your Head In Tennis by Bob Harman when I was about 13. I started using his ideas in golf was on a 7 -9 handicap when I was about that age so I can hardly every remember shooting 90 anything. 87 is about as bad as I can remember ever.

Preparation has a lot to do with it. With some better preparation you can get “in the Zone” or close to the zone more quickly and stay there. The zone is fun.

Have a basic knowledge of the course and if possible a game plan for every hole. If you have played the course before try to remember some of the best shots you hit and write them down. Most courses have a map on the internet and there is usually an app which will show you the design of each hole. If you have time have a look on You Tube for an introduction video or review of the course. Even if you just skip through the playing of the holes and just watch the tee shots it will be really helpful.

Try to hit some balls at a range or in a field 2 or 3 days before you play. If you hit too many the day before you can leave your body stiff for the round. Try to warm up and warm down before practicing. 

Get to the course at least 45 minutes before your tee time. Hit a few balls, have a stretch. Hit some bunker shots to get used to the sand and hit as many long putts as you can. 

Hit off last in your group if you can. Get a feel for the first shot. How many times have you seen people blow rounds with bad tee shots in the first half a dozen holes? Lose a ball or go out of bounds? You cannot win a round of golf in the first hour but you can often lose one. 

So I strongly recommend playing conservatively for the first few holes. Not necessarily defensively but simply within yourself. You may kill your chances of birdies but you can also prevent the double or triple bogeys. Hit a shot you know you can make and hit into the wide parts of the fairway. Aim to get the ball on the green rather than always aiming at the flag. Make a goal to get say 12 stablefords in the first 6 holes. Do that and you are well on the way to having a solid day. 

The lower the loft you play with the more the ball is likely to go left or right. Is it really necessary to hit a driver into a narrow fairway? For example if it is not necessary to stop the ball quickly on the green then maybe you can get away with hitting a 3 hybrid or a 3 wood off the tee. Maybe you can then get a 7 iron into a safe part of the green. You do not need to be approaching with a 9 iron or a wedge. Are you hitting say 5 drivers out of 10 into good positions but 9 3 woods out of ten into reasonable positions? Making par 8 times out of 10 with the 3 wood from the tee and bogeying the other 2?  But making one birdie and only 4 pars with the driver?And losing the odd ball or going out of bounds and making a double or a triple bogey? 42 shots for the safe player and say 47 shots for the more adventurous one?  I see a lot of golfers on handicaps between 8 and 15  getting results a bit like this. Sometimes you simply need to hit the driver to get round a corner or even to reach a green in 2. Some players can hit a straight driver all day along. 

What I am mainly saying is do some thinking about percentages. It could save you up to half a dozen shots a round even before you get on the greens. 

After 6 holes you will be well in touch with the wind, the speed of the greens and be feeling good about your game. Then you can attack for the next 9 holes. If you are scoring well after them then maybe it is good to revert to shots you know you can make in the last 3. 

Keeping a decent score together is a lot about putting. Putt without fear or worry by preparing better. It really helps if you can have a good idea of the general slope of a green before you approach it. Try if possible to leave yourselves flat or uphill putts. Most 3 putts are made from misjudging the length from above the hole. Keep a record of your putts and review your 3 putts. How could you have avoided it? In many cases your strategy could have been better. 

Even with the best mental attitude you can always get bad bounces or sometimes even hit the ball to well and too far. Take your medicine. Think worst scenario and accept a bogey when behind trees or when you are playing down hill out of a bunker or are short sided.

Sing. When I walk the fairways I like to have a song that I keep for the whole round. I sing the same song to myself when I walk up to and stand over putts as well.

Aim at a leaf. Picking a leaf or a cloud or some marker will help remove “swing thoughts” or bad memories or anxiety when you address and hit the ball. The smaller the object the better. Rather than a tree or a branch pick a leaf. Rather than aim at the hole when putting pick a scratch on the hole and aim at that.

Do not stand over the ball too long. This is hugely important. I am a tennis player and in tennis aside from serving you play naturally and rely every time of your training and you just hit it!

Tee shot routine, fairway, bunker and putting routines can be different but put the emphasis on speed and get very clear about the. Use the routines every time you practice. They will become automatic to you. If your routine is interrupted start again. In tennis when you serve you also need a routine. Stand in the same place, hold the ball the same way, bounce the ball the same number of times, think of the spot the ball will land. Watch the top of the net things like this.

My tee off routine involves standing behind the tee and deciding what club to hit and what side to hit from. I test the wind by throwing up a leaf or some grass and by watching the clouds. I think about where the ball will land and I think about other great shots that I have hit on this hole or with the club I will use. I then pick a spot and make sure the footing is good then put down my tee and ball. I then go back behind the tee and pick my leaf or cloud to aim at and from then on that is all I think about. I sing to myself and think about watching the ball and about keeping my left leg really strong. These are the two swing thoughts I allow myself. If you watch the ball super closely and keep your left leg locked and solid there is a really high chance that you will hit the ball pretty straight 9 out of ten times or even more. Leaf, left leg, watch the ball. Till you settle. When you put the club behind the ball and then take it back think only of the leaf. Take the club back as soon as you put it behind the ball. Then it becomes impossible for you to invite nasty thoughts into your head.

Then you have to simply let your natural sporting ability take over. Trust your swing.

Fairway routine is pretty much the same but I start thinking about what club I will use and the flight of the ball I will create about 30 metres before I get to the ball. You cannot stay in the zone for all 4 and a half hours of your round. It would be exhausting. But once you get within 30 metres of the ball you need to be entering the zone for the next 3 minutes. What are you going to hit? Where will the ball land and what leaf will you aim at? If there is a slope take a couple of practice swings and feel your weight on your feet.

Have another practice swing from 2 metres behind the ball. Think leaf, watch the ball and left leg strong. Sing then start thinking only leaf then hit the ball.

Bunkers are real technique shots and scare a lot of golfers. I am lucky enough to find them really easy. I walk on to the green and decide where I want to land the ball. Be safe. Pick a spot that is comfortable and within your skills. The big thing is to be putting next. I then go behind the bunker and start my routine by having a couple of practice swings. I get my feet well into the sand so I can feel how soft or hard it is. I pick a speck of sand behind the ball and start thinking hard about that. Usually for say an average 10 metre bunker shot I want to take a dollar bill divot so a few centimetres behind and in front of the ball. With wedges and bunker shots keeping my left leg strong and head still is extra important. Sing. Think of the speck of sand you want to het and hit your shot. I see a lot of guys taking way too long over bunker shots. Thinking all kinds of dark thoughts.

Putting routine is a bit different. It is really important to walk all the way around the hole in a circle if at all possible. Nearly every time I misjudge a put it is because I do not do this. Do not put too much emphasis on how your playing partners putt behaves unless they are on an identical line. Pick a scratch on the cup that your ball will hit. Even for long putts. You can miss the scratch and the ball can still go in. Place the ball and pick up your marker. Go 2 metres behind the ball and have one practice swing. Sing to yourself. Think of the scratch mark. Think of nothing else. Walk up to ball and hit in the hole right against that scratch mark. Quickly if possible. You will hit a great putt. Congratulate yourself whether it goes in or not. Walk on and sing.

Wiping out bad memories is essential. Bringing up past failures either from earlier in the round or from previous rounds will never serve you in any way. . Think in the present when you are on the course. If you do want to resort to a memory of a club or a shot or a hole make the memory a good one. Never say to yourself ” Do not do this or do not hit it left or do not leave it short. If possible only think of your score if deciding strategy for a particular hole and once your have decided forget your score. Sing. Focus on the leaf, the cloud, the speck of sand or the scratch on the hole. Real and enjoy being outside in a beautiful place.

Never let a bad hole cause a bad round. You will have bad holes. Everybody does. Tiger Woods made a 10 on a par 3 at the Masters last year. Shit happens. How successful you are at erasing the memory of a mistake will go a long way to determining how much you enjoy your round. And how well you score.

You cannot change the past but you can use it to help you. I recommend writing down your best few shots after every round and reading the descriptions regularly. “3rd hole I hit a great 6 iron to the front left of the green and it ran up to the hole.” 5th hole hit a bunker shot from the right back bunker and it stopped dead just past the pin. ” “8th hole hot a 4 hybrid from the left fairway bunker just short of the green and it ran to the middle of the green. Made the 8 foot uphill putt.” This kid of thing.

The zone is a wonderful place. I have had a few times when playing partners have said after a game. “Wow it was windy out there” or “I am soaking wet” or “I am really hot I was baking all the back nine”. I have played in a state where I did not even notice any of those things. I was singing and thinking about my next shot. Quite often I do not even know my score. There is time enough for counting afterwards.