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How to Stay 'In The Zone' Like Lydia Ko Did During Final Round of the ANA Inspiration

By Keith Stewart, PGA
Published on

Lydia Ko of New Zealand hits from the 17th hole during the final round of the ANA Inspiration at the Dinah Shore course at Mission Hills Country Club on April 04, 2021 in Rancho Mirage, California. Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

“I’m going to break 90 today!” That’s what we say to ourselves as we pull into the parking lot. Arriving on the property with a tour player’s mindset is easy. In the final round of the ANA Inspiration, Lydia Ko fired a 10 under par course record-tying round. She started 7 under par on the front nine. She made it look easy.
Then it happens, you do have that great day. Putts are falling, your inner Lydia comes out. Forget breaking 90, you’re on pace to break 85 for the first time. As you feel this storyline developing, thoughts begin to creep into your psyche. Of course, your playing partners are chirping like Nantz and Sir Nick giving you the minute-by-minute broadcasting breakdown.
We have all faced this moment, and we will face it again. For a vast majority of us it doesn’t turn out to be a dream scenario. 
Next time you encounter this moment in your game you are going to be better prepared by reading this succinct strategy for playing better outside your normal comfort zone.  
Before we get to the remedy, let’s consider what our comfort zone is. Your handicap is approximately 85% of your average score. If you are on pace to score below your handicap, you’re definitely entering the “zone.”
The unique thing about golf is that it just doesn’t have to be a complete 18-hole score. It can be your best 9 holes ever, most birdies in a round, most pars or the reaction to your first ever eagle! It’s any moment on the course that takes us from 0-100 mph. 
How do touring professionals like Lydia Ko keep it going? 
Simple. They stick to their routine and they use our most powerful tool on the course; self-awareness.
Sounds cliché, but it is actually very easy to do. Every golfer has a personal routine. Even if you don’t have a routine you still have one. Trust me, your activity on the golf course is about as routine as a beginner poker player whether you are aware of it or not. The power of self-awareness is going to be your key for keeping your record day on track.
Start to pay attention to yourself on the course. Believe it or not, this is the #1 commonality amongst all successful players.
The ability to know what you do is almost more important than how you do it.
If you don’t necessarily have the best memory, use a pencil and paper and write things down. Every time you play, they give you both!
The best place to start this evaluation is on the practice range.  Hit a series of shots and write down your observations. Do you make your practice swings behind the ball or next to it, do you take any practice swings? How do you align yourself, etc. Make observations with the goal of coming up with a detailed analysis of your routine. This will not be completed in one practice session or round. It will take several, give yourself some time.
Once you have a complete perspective of your routine, you’re ready for the next time you find yourself outside your comfort zone. Looking back at Lydia, she stayed very much within herself as she continued through her round. That helped her finish her round successfully. This upcoming weekend pay close attention to the leaders. There will be tremendous pressure on their game. Watch their walk, if you can hear them, how fast are they talking? Who can maintain their normal?  
Reaching the end of your personal record isn’t all about club selection. One bad drive doesn’t spoil the effort. What holds us back is our ability to notice ourselves. Have some fun and embrace your egotistical side in your next range session or 9-hole evening walk. The personal practices you observe just might be the most important lesson this PGA Coach can give you.