If you want to start shooting lower scores, you need to learn how to self-diagnose your bad shots.
No matter how many lessons you get, the more you know your swing, the more prepared you are on the course. Because let’s face it, your swing coach can’t watch you every single shot like a Tour player.
If something isn’t going well mid-round, you must know how to turn the ship in the right direction. This is easier said than done.
First off, should you even assess your bad golf shots mid-round?
I think it’s a fine line. While you should take note of what the golf ball does, don’t get too technical.
For example, if you’re constantly hitting a fade or draw, this is something to notate. This way you can adjust later in the round and play accordingly.
But on the other hand, I don’t think you should meticulously assess every single shot like Bryson DeChambeau. For most amateur golfers, this will cause even more confusion than anything else.
Plus, when you’re thinking about your swing throughout the round, it’s very difficult to stay in rhythm. Instead of playing golf, you start thinking about the mechanics in your swing. That rarely works.
Instead, you should notate tendencies, assess every shot in full after the round, and try to stay in rhythm. The best golfers in the world are rarely thinking about their swing when they’re playing well. They can get into a flow-state and swing unconsciously for their best results.
Here are some best practices for self-diagnosing your game and getting the best out of each round.
Before diving into the mechanics of diagnosing your swing, it’s important to bring up this topic. If you don’t manage your emotions during the round, swinging well consistently is nearly impossible. Look, everyone, even PGA Tour Pros hit bad shots during the round. If golfers who get paid millions of dollars and still hit bad shots, why do you think you shouldn’t hit them too?
Zach Johnson said it best, “Realizing bad shots happen is the best way to deal with them. Take the drama out of the shank or top. Use humor or laughter to make it go away, and then move on.”
I bring this up because if you think you’re always going to hit great shots, you are setting yourself up for a ton of disappointment during the round. Instead, go into each round knowing that you are going to hit some amazing shots, some good shots, some bad shots, and some really bad shots.
That’s just golf!
But the more even keel you can become during all of these shots, the better you will score. When has getting angry every actually helped your score anyways? If you look at the best players in the world you will notice they are pretty neutral during the round. While you might see an occasional club slam or a celebratory fist pump, most of the time they’re cool and collected.
Try to adopt this calm, neutral tone into your day. While it’s natural to want to hit good shots and play well, don’t make the game harder than it needs by getting upset.
Once you begin to learn how to manage your emotions, you will stop beating yourself up after bad shots. This will lead to less self-talk, less doubt about your abilities, and most likely, lower scores.
Part II of managing your emotions is becoming self-aware during the round.
What do I mean by mastering self-awareness?
I mean the more you know your game and your abilities, the more likely you are to accept bad shots and move on. The best golfers in the world understand that only a handful of shots are going to be exactly perfect. While their “good” shots are better than most people’s best shots, they don’t expect to hit each one perfect.
You can do the same by understanding that you’re not always going to hit it exactly how you want and that’s okay. You don’t need to hit perfect shots all day to shoot really low scores. All you need to do is hit some fairways, get it close to the green, and have a good short game.
I see this so many times with amateur golfers. Let’s say you’re an 18 handicap and shoot around 90 for most rounds. When I play with them, they get super angry when they three-putt for bogey, hit a bad drive or miss a short putt. They have these unrealistic expectations that are way past their current ability.
So keep it cool, understand your abilities, and don’t put extra pressure to hit every shot perfect. You will probably end up with fewer big numbers that wreak havoc on your scorecard. The more you understand that every shot isn’t going to turn out perfect, I bet you will feel tons of pressure lifted.
Alright, now that you understand your emotions and expectations are in check, it’s time to learn how to self-diagnose your bad shots. The first thing is to assess what happened.
Again, I recommend only doing a thorough assessment if you hit a shot uncharacteristically bad. Don’t do this for every bad shot or you will be mentally exhausted by the back nine.
After you hit a really bad shot, ask yourself…
- What was my goal for the shot and what actually happened?
- Did I stick to my routine and focus on my target?
- Did I allow negative thoughts to enter my mind before hitting?
- Was I thinking about mechanical swing thoughts or something simple like tempo?
You will find that a lot of the times you weren’t in the right mental state to hit a good golf shot. Maybe you skipped your routine, didn’t pick a target, start thinking about where you didn’t want the ball to go or simply rushed the shot.
If you make it through the mental checklist, then check these factors to assess your golf shot.
I would argue that alignment is one of the biggest things most amateur golfers struggle with. Because here’s the thing, if your alignment is off, it’s hard to tell if you did something wrong in your swing or maybe you just hit it dead straight.
So before you start to take your feet apart, think about where the ball ended up. Were your feet, hips, and shoulders parallel to the target? Or were you aimed way left or way right and it dead straight?
This sounds simple but fixing your alignment will fix so many different issues. If your body is aimed way right or left of the target, your mind will pick up on that and try to help. During your swing, you will try to self-correct and pull or push the ball back to the target.
The body and mind will always try to overcome a problem and often correct for your alignment issues. So make sure that you pay attention to your body.
The second thing to ask yourself is…Where did you finish the golf club?
Your finish, or follow through, is also a huge indication as to how bad or good your setup was for the specific golf shot. If you have problems coming to a comfortable and perfect T-finish, something is probably wrong in your alignment.
This also applies to your short game as well. Let’s say you had a sand shot that you chunked, left it in the bunker and don’t know why that happened. If you passed the mental checklist, look at your finish. Was it a high finish or did you finish low and stop at the golf ball?
A lot of the times, your finish will tell you if you decelerated at impact. This makes it really hard to hit any shot great. On sand shots, you will leave them in the bunker. On full shots, you will tend to throw your upper body and pull the shot.
So make sure to always check where you finish so you can learn what happened during the shot.
One of the best swing thoughts during the round is to “master your tempo.” This is really the only swing thought I have during any round of golf. Because if your tempo is on, even with a less than perfect swing, you’re going to hit a lot more good shots.
Remember, a 3:1 tempo is the ideal timing for a consistent golf swing. A lot of golfers get too fast and aren’t smooth like they are on the range. Quit trying to kill everything and trust that the club will do its job. When you’re tempo is on, everything else will flow very solid in your game.
The final thing to evaluate is your divot. I want to make a caveat though and say your divot can lie to you because of your alignment. Sometimes you might feel like you put a perfect swing on the golf ball but it went 20 yards right of your target. Yet the divot doesn’t match.
So yes, your divot can tell you a little bit more about your swing, I don’t trust it with 100% accuracy. Instead, think about your alignment, tempo, and finish.
How to Self Diagnose Bad Shots – Part 2
Alright, now that you know how to self-diagnose your swing mid-round, let’s go a step further. After the round is when you want to really make the necessary changes. My motto is, “Train it off the course so you can trust it on the course.”
Here are some easy ways to do it:
If you’re struggling during the round and have no clue what’s going on, have a friend video your swing…but don’t watch it (yet). Instead, video a few swings and look at them after the round.
This will help you learn what’s going on and see if you have any tendencies during the round. As I mentioned, alignment and tempo are two of the biggest contributing factors to bad shots. So check those first and then look at take away, transition, and follow-through.
If you actually want to shoot lower scores on a regular basis, start tracking your rounds. This will make it clear where you’re struggling and where you’re doing good at. Chances are, you will be shocked when you do the numbers.
Maybe you’re hitting way more fairways than you realize but struggle with irons. Or maybe your long game is great but your short game is 50% of your overall score.
To get started, keep it simple and do it right after the round when your memory is fresh. I recommend starting with tracking your fairways hit, greens, up/down percentage and total putts.
After doing this a few times, see if you can spot a trend. Then, spend 80% of your practice time the following week(s) on that part of your game. Spend the other 20% working on the good part. If you do this after every round, you will constantly work on your weaknesses until they become your greatest strengths.
If you want to really track your game, notate which side of the fairways and greens you missed on. Like they always say, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Spend a few minutes on the 19th hole doing these stats to identify the weaker parts of your game.
The better your routine on the course, the less likely you are to hit really bad shots and question everything. Your routine will help with alignment, manage your swing thoughts, and focus on the target. So work on a good pre-shot routine on the range so you can take it to the course.
The final thing to help you improve your game and minimize the really bad shots is to get a lesson. Sometimes it’s hard to understand what’s going on in your own game because you’re too close to the situation. Instead, get a pair of eyes you trust to help you improve.
Remember, the best players in the world have a coach so it probably won’t hurt you!
It depends on where you are now. The best way to improve your golf swing is to work on your tempo and impact position.
It happens to everyone, even the PGA tour guys. So instead of getting worried or saying you’re going to quit the game forever, take a deep breath. When all hell is breaking loose on the course, manage your emotions and focus on tempo.
Try to stay in the moment and don’t let your mind wander to the future. Then, commit to swinging smoothly with every shot you hit.
Practice and routine.
The more you train your swing on the range, the more you will trust your swing on the course. Confidence simply comes from competence and understanding your game and swing.
The second thing to help your confidence is nailing a routine. A good pre-shot routine will help you avoid negative thoughts, set up to the ball square, and stay in rhythm.
Ball flight comes down to two things; your swing path and clubface. Make sure to take a full read of the New Ball Flight Laws of Golf to understand this concept further. Plus, you will learn how the divot can lie as I mentioned before.
Remember, golf is a game of bad shots! For most amateur golfers, you are going to hit way more shots that you didn’t intend than ones that came off the club perfectly. And that’s okay!
You don’t need to hit every single shot exactly as you imagined. The more you can manage your emotions and keep your expectations in line with your abilities, the better you will score.
As I mentioned, I think you should do the real, in-depth analysis for after the round. It’s very difficult to try to make any changes mid-round. Oftentimes, this will lead to way too many mechanical swing thoughts and not enough emphasis on target or routine.
But if you do it hit a really bad shot or can’t seem to get going early in the round, go through a quick assessment. Check your alignment, tempo, and go through the mental checklist. Then, just keep going.
Don’t focus on the bad shot and simply think about the next one. Remember, golf is a game of misses so stay cool and trust yourself. You got this!