When every part of your game is working, like it was for Justin Rose this week at the Zurich Classic, it's not hard to get "in the zone." What's harder is staying there.
In shooting rounds of 66-65-66 -- which included 66 consecutive holes without a bogey -- Rose's concern was trying to continue to keep doing what had been working so well for him at TPC Louisiana. He trusted his game, stayed in control of his emotions and played mistake-free golf -- something all of us aspire to do, even just once.
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But many amateurs have a great round going, only to hit a bad shot, get a bad break, or just suddenly lose the feeling of being "in the zone." And that's all it takes sometimes to snowball into the round "that got away." You load the clubs in the car and can remember exactly when it went wrong, but not necessarily why.
It could be as simple as physical response to an emotional situation, according to PGA Professional Ted Eleftheriou, Director of Golf Program Development for the PGA of America in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. In other words: tension.
"Often times, when people are in contention to win -- or even shoot their best round ever -- they will grip their club a little tighter to try to control the shot," Eleftheriou said. "And the next thing you know, it all changes and suddenly a double-bogey pops up."
We've all been told to grip the club with a minimum amount of pressure. But when you're trying to hit a tiny green way on the other side of a water hazard, or even trying to sink that tricky downhill six-footer to save par, it's hard not to involuntarily add tension, particularly in your upper body.
The best way to avoid that, Eleftheriou said, is to consciously add "tension control" as part of your pre-shot routine. Don't just take practice swings as a matter of habit, but use that time to not only prepare for the shot at hand in essence to relax your body -- and mind -- so you're focused on the task ahead.
"Focus on the tension in your body by taking good practice swings," Eleftheriou said. "Especially the tension in your arms, shoulders and chest."
If you've practiced specific shots on the range beforehand, Eleftheriou said you should have the confidence in your own ability to replicate them on the course. So that takes care of the physical side.
As far as the mental side goes, don't focus so much on the result, whether that's winning the Zurich Classic, your club championship or even breaking 100 for the first time. Instead, concentrate on the process -- make the best shot you can in the situation provided.
"What it all comes down to is that the shot is just a shot," Eleftheriou said. "It's just another golf shot. A good pre-shot routine helps you to settle down and stay in your groove and your game plan."
And what if your great game suddenly goes awry? Eleftheriou said don't make the situation worse by losing your cool or your concentration. For every amazing shot Bubba Watson or Rory McIlroy can manufacture in a tight spot, chances are they've spent hours and hours on the range hitting that very same shot, just so they're prepared for any situation.
"General rule of thumb -- even when my own students get into trouble on the golf course, or even for myself -- a lot of times we'll try to go for the shot that's almost impossible to pull off," he said. "More often than not, the best shot is the one that gets you back into the fairway the quickest, using the shot that you're most familiar with. It's about staying within yourself and acknowledging that."
In order to put together a string of 66 consecutive holes without a bogey, that's Justin Rose's game plan in a nutshell. Even if your goal is consderably less lofty than that, keeping the physical and mental parts of the game under control -- and focusing on eliminating unneeded tension -- is the best way to achieve that.