January 7, 2024

Define Your Relationship With The Game of Golf!

Define Your Relationship with the Game of Golf!

One thing I’ve learned in my 3+ years of playing golf (recreationally to be sure) 2-3x per week is that if you don’t control your relationship with the game, it will control you. The absolute worst case scenario is if you let lack of progress and frustration drive you away from the game.

I’ve played with hundreds of golfers over the years on the public circuit and most people aren’t very good. Everyone is capable of a good round here and there but most amateur golfers, particularly those who picked up the sport as an adult, are rather inconsistent. They may shoot an 88 one day, struggle to break 100 the next day, and stop keeping score on a legitimately challenging course the following day. I think the most frustrating part of golf is when you start getting a taste of posting a few good rounds, you expect to play at that level all the time.

Everyone Wants to Get Better

Most people are motivated to get better. That chase of your low score is what keeps us invested in practicing and playing as much as we do. We always think with just a little more work we’ll get to a consistent place with our game. But in reality, we all struggle to produce the results we want. One day we’re driving the ball well, putting okay, and irons are misfiring. The next day you can’t find your driver, but your iron play is saving you, but putts aren’t falling.

The one universal truth about golf is that there are no shortcuts. That “aha” feel you have one day is fleeting the next. It no longer works. Typically because some other variable got thrown off somewhere along the way and makes something about your overall swing even more inefficient. And you’ve got to understand that golf isn’t all about significant breakthroughs and rather is about small incremental changes that build over time.

Golf is an incredibly difficult skill to acquire, especially as an adult. But it absolutely is capable of being acquired. I’ve seen friends make incredible progress in their game in the matter of a few years, who are currently better than friends who’ve taken lessons for 10+ years. What gives!?

Will AI Improve Your Golf Game?

There’s no shortage of golf instruction available online and offline. We’re at a point when we collectively know more about the golf swing than ever. Just ask ChatGPT “how do I get better at golf”:

What I can unequivocally tell you is that watching Tiger Woods slow mo iron swing YouTube videos is not going to help your game. It’s akin to watching a video of Usain Bolt breaking the 100M dash WR and trying to copy his form to compete with him. Sounds ridiculous right?  

As I’ve been researching and interviewing people in our community to learn more about their relationship with the game, one conversation in particular stood out. When asked to describe their relationship with the game, they broke down their idea of the golfer journey in 3 phases.

The first phase is “I play golf”. This is the phase a lot of beginners find themselves in for the first 3-5 years of their golf “career”. Assuming you’ve quickly covered the basics of the rules of the game, club selection, setup & alignment, grip, posture, etc., this phase is primarily geared towards R&D and learning to create good contact. The goal here is to understand the basics of driving, pitching, chipping, putting, course management, and to develop a core set of skills to build on so that you can get to the next phase as quickly as possible. I would argue that keeping a handicap at this stage isn’t necessary.

The opportunity in this phase is you can learn so much about the game just from reading, watching and getting feedback yourself via video recording, at the range/ simulator, from a friend, or from a qualified instructor. A good goal to have would be to work through and advance out of this phase in a handful of years, but most people never do make it out of this phase.

The second phase is “I golf”. You’re no longer someone who just plays golf, but you actually golf. You really do this, or at least you think you do. You’ve got the confidence every time you tee off that this is going to be your best round ever. That you’re going to beat all your buddies in the game of choice that day, whether it's skins, wolf or scotch. What’s difficult about being comfortable in this stage of your game is the steep learning curve of concepts you’ll absolutely need to know and be able to apply - such as face to path relationships, club face control, distance control, impact laws, ball flight laws, proper club release, weight distribution, compression, spin and so on.

Improvement of understanding and application of all of these concepts is necessary and you’ve got to have a constant feedback loop and develop the ability to self diagnose and course correct when something is off about your game. You must practice with intent and work on small pieces of your game over long periods of time to develop a repeatable and trustworthy swing.

Consistency is Key to Lower Scores

The goal is to use this phase to legitimately improve your consistency and frequency of lower scores. I believe someone in this phase consistently shoots in the 80’s at your average course. They are comfortable working most parts of a golf course, can get out of any bunker on the first try, and know how to navigate different lies and from different types & lengths of rough.

If you end up here, that’s honestly an ambitious goal for most recreational golfers. But you have to be honest with yourself and understand the amount of work it takes to get here and stay here. You can’t just expect to do that after you’ve been playing for a number of years.

The last and final phase is “I’m a golfer.” If you ever make it here, you’ll be very aware of how good you are. You’re really him. No course is intimidating and you rarely have disaster days. Maybe you’re not quite a scratch golfer but you’re a single digit handicap. This is where the stats matter. You understand concepts such as strokes gained, shot shaping & visualization, course reading, proper release mechanics, smash factor/ spin rates and other impact stats, etc., all leading to becoming a very consistent ball striker.

You’re also creative and efficient with recovery shots and can rely on experiences you’ve racked up over the years. Also, being mentally sharp and physically fit are prerequisites most of the time to get to this level. To me, getting to this point is probably the ceiling for any golfer that took the sport up as an adult. But you’re still better than 99.9% of golfers out there.

The Transition from "I Play Golf" to "I Golf"

Most people unfortunately never transition from “I play golf” to “I golf” despite how much they practice and play. Those are table stakes, but many don’t have a relationship with golf based on any sort of strategy or intent to improve. Their work is random and not measured. Easier said than done, no doubt, but if you don’t take the right steps towards your goals it could drive you away from the game. As they say, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

And I’ve found the real key to success begins with being honest about where you are in your own journey. Every person I’ve seen make that successful jump were terrible when they began. But they used this as fuel and motivation to learn the foundation and apply the basics. They were honest about their expectations in relation to their abilities, didn’t take any shortcuts and as a result, didn’t end up plateauing somewhere along the way.

These golfers tend to be the most fun girls and guys to play with because they are proud of the work they put into their game and their confidence shows. Golf has a magical way of humbling those that didn’t take this approach, and the results tend to compound - either negative or positive - and the only way to start trending in the right direction is getting comfortable with where your game is actually at and putting together a roadmap with goals attached. But this is difficult, not to mention expensive, to do. So most people will never elevate their understanding of the game and their play. It Blows my mind when I see a friend get pissed on the course when they put the right work in. Why would you expect not to suck?

You Should Enjoy Golf's Highs and Lows

Progress begins with this alignment between where you are, where you want to go, and how you plan to get there. I believe the actual goal of playing golf is to enjoy playing every time you do play, and to play as long in life as you possibly can. And if there are gaps between these points, you’re not going to have a healthy relationship with the sport. The highs are high and the lows are low.

I know the feeling all too well - when I have a good round, I literally feel like I can succeed in anything in life. When I play bad, I question every move I’ve ever made in life. Not the most healthy relationship but I’m working on firmly getting to the “I golf” camp.

And not everyone who plays golf regularly will look at the sport with this lens. Which is also okay. Some people just want to have a good time and they’re comfortable with sucking. They know how hard golf is and tend to be much easier on themselves and as a result, have a healthy relationship with golf and will always enjoy it for what it is.

Golf is the Ultimate Game to Play

Golf is such a beautiful game as it provides an opportunity to spend time with friends/ family over really long periods of time doing the same thing.

You just need to be comfortable with your relationship with the game in order to enjoy the sport. If you simply play golf, which there’s nothing wrong with, you can’t expect to play like you’re a golfer.

P.S. - Image AI (Dall-E) generated “angry man breaking golf club on his leg”