quick coaching

Practice Staying in the Moment

By Keith Stewart, PGA
Published on

Rory McIlroy lines up a putt on the eighth green during the second round of THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.Getty Images

There’s an old saying, golf should be played one shot at a time. We are guilty of getting ahead of ourselves on the golf course. Ever started counting your score as you try for a record nine holes? In all those cases, the result usually ends up being less than desired. Saturday at the PLAYERS Championship was one of those days where you really didn’t want to get ahead of yourself.
Watching the best players in the world struggle was entertaining at times. In other moments, it was very educational to see how some of the most elite golfers on the planet handle adversity. Rory didn’t have many highlight moments during his marathon Saturday, but his birdie on the 6th hole was a great example of trying to get the most out of every swing.
This roller coaster moment epitomizes the point of the coaching piece. Rather than allow the misfortune of the previous shot to determine his hole, Rory rallies for the pitch shot and still makes birdie. This little microcosm is cool. How do PGA Tour players stay focused on one shot at time? How can the rest of us use their approach to create our own success on the course?
Let’s start with the first question. Our mind races on the golf course under normal conditions. Think about what happens when there’s a tournament setting or abnormal conditions. In every case, these distractions take us away from our routine. In order to play one shot at a time, we have to play one shot at time in our head. Golf isn’t just a physical game. Like any other golf skill, this takes practice.
The next time you go play, alone or with friends, take an extra scorecard. Maybe bring an extra pencil too as we’re going to do some writing. After each shot, while your playing partners are hitting, consider the answer to these two questions.
  1. Did you follow your routine? Y/N
  2. Did you think about anything else during that shot? Y/N
Two quick questions with a simple yes or no answer. Mark them down on your card. By completing this exercise, you will help train your brain to stay engrossed in the moment. During each shot, your mind will now be aware and focused on positively answering those questions. You’ll be hyperattentive to your routine and blocking other stray thoughts out. Very quickly, you will notice how calm you can be on the course.
This won’t happen in your first round, but over the course of four or five rounds you will start to see a remarkable mental difference. PGA and LPGA tour players use exercises like this to practice their own focus. Once you start to really settle into each shot you will be amazed at your performance capabilities. Look at Justin Thomas’ round yesterday. A bogey free card under those conditions might be the best round of his life. In listening to his interview afterward he mentioned just trying to accept one challenge at a time.
If you can learn to clear your mind for each shot, then in-between every play you can really start to enjoy your round. Keep watching the PLAYERS with this new concept in mind. Observe the players going through their routine and experience how committed they are. Make that skill as much of a goal as any other part of your game.