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Tiger’s secret to staying locked in? Prepare to turn the TV on.
Congrats, you got much better at golf in 2021! But now it’s time to take your game one step further this offseason. That’s right, we’re talking about targeting that magical number most golfers set their sights on: a score in the 70s. Here, in our handy guide to breaking 80, we’ll speak to experts, pros and more to create the perfect plan for you to take your game to the next level.
Step 1: How you’re ruining your round before you tee off
Step 2: How to stop wasting your range warm-up
Step 3: How to play the right tees for you
Step 4: Time to fix your equipment
Step 5: How to hit more fairways
Step 6: 5 secrets to finally make more putts
In this edition of GOLF’s guide to breaking 80, we commit ourselves to getting you past the longest distance in golf: the six inches between your ears. And to do so, we’ve enlisted the help of three golf legends: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Annika Sorenstam. Below, find their advice on everything from blocking out the noise to pushing your limits. Up first, Tiger!
It would be impossible to distill the entirety of Tiger Woods’ mental greatness into only a single tip. From his childhood, Woods was primed to become a pressure performer — surviving heckling from his father and an unfathomable sum of pressure from the outside world. His transformation into the greatest golfer in a generation was both preordained and virtually unrepeatable.
But that is not to say there’s nothing you can learn from Tiger Woods’ mental greatness. Sure, you might not have the added benefit of prodigious ability or a lifetime of training, but there is always room for improvement, especially when that improvement comes from the GOAT.
Back in June, Harold Varner III joined GOLF’s Subpar podcast to discuss, among other things, the mental lesson he picked up from his years around Woods.
“Yes, so I’ll never forget. I asked him, ‘Hey man, what do you do to focus?’” Varner said. “My dad always talked to me about I need to focus. And [Tiger’s] like, ‘Actually, I hear everything.’ I was like, ‘What?’ And I’m thinking, ‘Well, we only got like 20 more feet to walk before everyone is going to be around you.’ He goes, ‘Playing golf is like reading a book with the TV on.’”
Tiger’s point: the key isn’t to try to avoid the noise — it’s to grow comfortable in it. To hear everything, but pay it no mind. In some ways, that’s easier said than done, but Varner said he practiced Tiger’s tip by doing exactly what he said: reading with the TV on.
For your game, practice the same. Learn to be comfortable in a distracting environment without losing sight of your goal.
Every golfer is going to have bad days. They’re inevitable, and in one of the delightful ironies of the sport, they have a nasty habit of showing up in the precise moment we need them least (like, for example, a club tournament or round at a bucket list course). Bad shots, in that very same vein, are nothing more than a fact of life as a golfer.
But reacting to bad shots and bad days? Now, that’s where the truly great golfers set themselves apart, at least, in the mind of Annika Sorenstam.
Before her start at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open in June, Sorenstam reflected upon her lessons from a lifetime as one of the highest-profile players in the sport. Looking back on the last 20 years, Sorenstam said one of her biggest lessons is to learn how to forget the bad — or at least learn to live with it.
“That’s one of the things I’ve learned — or maybe just matured, I guess, maybe is the right word — is learn how to forget bad shots and move on,” she said. “It’s not the end of the day. I’d be upset for about 10 seconds and then I’d move on to the next tee and something else pops in my mind. Before it would linger a little bit. We would sit there and try and figure out what can I do, and nowadays I don’t really do that anymore because life is precious and it’s not about my score so much anymore. Go out there, do my best. I’m still a fighter, still a competitor, and we’ll see what happens.”
Annika says let those bad shots go!
It is perhaps the biggest mental hurdle faced by amateur golfers: they’re capable of focusing, they’re not capable of keeping focused. Sure, four or five holes of focus is good and 12 or 13 is better, but then what? Ultimately, isn’t the goal for every golfer to be locked in for 18 straight holes? And if it is, how does one get there?
The answer, it seems, is the same as if you were a distance runner working toward a marathon: train for it. At least, that’s the answer according to six-time major champion Phil Mickelson.
In the aftermath of his historic victory at the PGA Championship in May, Mickelson shared that he’d been playing insane amounts of golf in the lead-up to the tournament, all with the goal of “elongating” his focus. Here’s what he said:
“I’m just making more and more progress just by trying to elongate my focus. I might try to play 36, 45 holes in a day and try to focus on each shot so that when I go out and play 18, it doesn’t feel like it’s that much. I’m trying to use my mind like a muscle and just expand it. As I’ve gotten older, it’s been more difficult for me to maintain a sharp focus, a good visualization and see the shot.”
If you’re struggling with maintaining focus over the full round of golf, perhaps your best best is to play plenty more than 18 holes in a day. Learn how to feel comfortable in discomfort, and eventually, you’ll find your mental stamina is much more than it once was.
Hey – it worked for the oldest major champion in golf history, maybe it can work for you, too.
James Colgan is an assistant editor at GOLF, contributing stories for the website and magazine on a broad range of topics. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, and utilizes his broadcast experience across the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 graduate of Syracuse University, James — and evidently, his golf game — is still defrosting from four years in the snow, during which time he cut his teeth at NFL Films, CBS News and Fox Sports. Prior to joining GOLF, James was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from.
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