Who are you scoring for?

It may seem a strange question to ask about your game, but it is one we would like you to consider. Who are you scoring for? 

Over the years we have seen so many players (including ourselves), fall into the trap of confusing golf as something you are, as opposed to something you do. When your whole self-worth hangs on the line with the outcome of a score, it can be a pretty lonely place. When your ego is attached so much to the direction a golf ball takes, you are walking on an emotional tightrope. 

When ‘you’ as a human being are on the line when you play the game, too much is at stake. Golf is something we do, not what we are.  

Our value as a human being is a given: one person is no better than another and has no more value.  

If you have a bad day as a golfer, you have not had a bad day as a person. It may seem a touch dramatic, but we have found over and over again, that very little golf improvement can take a lasting effect unless you are able to break some of these underlying and often unconscious barriers. 

The way to practically apply these concepts to your game is to fully embrace your understanding of acceptance. If there is a more powerful tool in your golfing mental toolkit than acceptance, we have yet to discover it.  

Acceptance, as a concept, is really difficult to grasp when you are ultimately looking to improve your scoring.  

We need to make really, really clear that acceptance is not resignation. You are not giving up on the desire to hit good shots or shoot lower scores. What you are doing is to be willing to truly embrace any outcome the game wants to throw at you. 

Good, bad or neutral, one thing for certain is during any round of golf, no matter how good it is, you will always get a sprinkling of all three. 

Our meditation teacher, Vin Harris, often says: “Most human suffering is an unwillingness to accept the experience as it is.”  

Think about this for a moment and perhaps repeat it back to yourself. It is that important! We spend so much of our lives resisting thoughts, feelings and sensations. We don’t want to feel the bubble of emotion arising within us. We don’t want to experience the sense of loneliness, frustration or disappointment, yet it is the resistance to experiencing these sensations actually happening which keeps us stuck. 

There has never been a truer phrase than ‘whatever you resist, you strengthen’. When you resist the feeling of anxiety and believe it shouldn’t exist, you actually halt the natural process of energy moving through your body. E-motion. Energy in motion. The energy wants to move through you, it wants to dissipate. It is totally counterintuitive and paradoxical to embrace the notion that, if we are prepared to be with whatever is arising within us, then it will naturally dissipate. 

Taken from The Lost Art of the Short Game by Gary Nicol and Karl Morris – with a foreword from Bob Vokey, the godfather of wedges.

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What is the true potential of your short game?

The power of perspective can give your short game the freedom to become unrecognisably different in the future 

What could YOU focus on that would give you more enjoyment, regardless of the score? What do you need to learn, which if you did, would have the biggest impact on your game? Really consider the questions as it is so vitally important. In the quest to get better, if some learning is required, then you will also need to consider how best you can engage and apply that learning on the golf course. 

Maybe you need to learn to respond to your shots better – good bad and indifferent. It is never the bad shot that is the problem at golf because everyone hits bad shots. It is far more likely to be the response to those shots. One of the most powerful learning tools we have available is the skill of NOTICING. Just by noticing what is happening, we actually create the conditions for change. We cannot change something unless we actually know what it is. Noticing is powerful.  

For the above example, you could play a round of golf and set out with the intention of simply noticing your reactions. What do you actually do when the chaos of golf emerges? How do you react when the ball doesn’t behave in the way you would like it to?  

Play the round WITHOUT trying to change anything, just go out with the intention of noticing. You will be surprised as to the effect of this. It is like you are playing a game with a camera following you around the course. Instead of reacting in the usual auto-pilot manner, you place yourself voluntarily under the spotlight. You shine a torch of awareness on what you actually DO. This awareness is curative. You don’t stay the same when you bring that light to show, in great detail, what you didn’t know before. 

Then ask the question: What were my three best shots today? 

To ask this question and then genuinely to answer it has a huge potential benefit to your game in the long term. By contemplating the answer to the question, you are encouraging your mind to go back over the round you have just played and seek out your own versions of excellence.  

You select the good shots (they will be in there somewhere) and then, as you select the good shots, some magic occurs.  

As you select, then write down, the good shots, you are actually solidifying the memory of them. You are strengthening the memory trace. This is so powerful because when you get to play again, you may well have more of these mysterious occasions when you stand over a pitch shot, look at the green and you just ‘know’ you are going to play a good shot. 

Taken from The Lost Art of the Short Game by Gary Nicol and Karl Morris – with a foreword from Bob Vokey, the godfather of wedges.

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How do you know which shot to play – and when?

Shot selection is a fundamental element of the short game. How often are you selecting the right shot at the right time? 

For the vast majority of golfers, statistically, the most important shot on most holes isn’t necessarily the tee shot or approach shot but the third shot. That might come as a bit of a surprise when all we seem to hear and talk about is distance, but the reality is that your third shot will, more often than not, be the one that can either make or break your score. This is where you can really make a difference to your scoring and enjoyment of the game but it is sadly overlooked.  

Third shots can be crucial when it comes to the momentum of a round. They can either stop you dead in your tracks or allow you to keep a good round going. 

If you miss the fairway off the tee, you can generally get your ball back into play with your second shot. Once you get your second shot back into play and hopefully somewhere around the green or at least within striking distance of it, now is the time you can get back on track with a good third shot. 

It sounds pretty straightforward but you can only really make a difference here IF you have put your errant tee shot or second shot to the back of your mind. We’re not going to preach about the power of positive thinking because it can and will let you down. You can venture out on the course with the best of intentions, telling yourself that you will have a good day today. You will hit booming drive after booming drive. You will hit every green in regulation, and you will hole every putt you look at. Sounds great until reality kicks in and the chaos descends. As the former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson famously said: ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth!” 

You miss the first fairway. You miss the green with your approach shot. You duff your first chip. You knock the next one forty feet past the hole. You finish off with a three putt. Within the space of 10 minutes, your positive attitude has left you, never to be seen again, replaced with the polar opposite, a totally negative one.  

There is no middle ground here and the journey back from negativity is a long, arduous and exhausting one. You cannot be a little bit positive. It’s akin to being pregnant: you either are or you aren’t. 

We’re not saying you should adopt a negative mindset, far from it. A positive mindset is always preferable, but rather than think positively, we would encourage you to ask positive questions. Questions focus the mind and keep you grounded in the present. 

Rather than saying I will do this or I will do that, why not try a slightly different approach?  

When assessing any and every shot, ask yourself: what is the shot here? what does the ball have to do? is it possible that I could play a really good shot here? what does a really good shot look like? what does a really good shot feel and sound like? 

By asking these questions, we go into problem solving mode. As human beings, we have come a long way since living in caves and hunting down lunch as a result of asking good questions about how we are going to solve a particular problem, coming up with a good answer, formulating a plan and then executing it. 

Taken from The Lost Art of the Short Game by Gary Nicol and Karl Morris – with a foreword from Bob Vokey, the godfather of wedges.

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How should you approach your next short game shot?

How to be task-orientated – and ensure that every time you step into a bunker you are ready to embrace the task at hand 

For as long as we can remember, we have been told that the 40-yard bunker shot is the hardest shot in golf – and because we have all been told it is incredibly tough to execute, we all buy into and believe that particular story. Just like any other story, including your own, if you hear and tell it often enough, it becomes the truth. Living in today’s world, we are all too aware of ‘fake news’, which used to be either lies or myths. Could it be that the 40-yard bunker shot falls into that category?  

We have allowed this shot, or a pitch over a bunker for example, to become such a massive obstacle because everyone tells us that it is, that when we have to play it, all we can think about is the perceived difficulty of the task. However, if we flip that on its head and start to view this shot as an incredible opportunity to show off our skills and get up and down for a par or birdie, suddenly there is a massive shift in our thinking and our attitude – and consequently our ability to execute the shot proficiently. 

What we perceive to be real, influences to an extraordinary degree, our capabilities. Think about it this way, if you choose to place more attention on the obstacle rather than the opportunity the situation provides, which do you think will ultimately prevail? 

While you may not be able to control the situation itself, you can control your perception of it, which will in turn influence how you deal with any given shot or situation. It is only when you include yourself in the situation and your ability to perform any given task – and this applies to life in general as much as it does a golf shot – that clutter overcomes clarity. 

How you perceive, or choose to perceive, any given predicament, will essentially lead one of the following outcomes: 

a) Perceive a shot to be difficult to the point of near impossibility and your mind will become busy with all sorts of negative, unhelpful thoughts about the potentially disastrous outcomes. Your attention will be focused on how on earth you are going to get out of this dreadful situation you have found yourself in. Consequently, your subconscious mind will try to find evidence to support these thoughts, inevitably leading to an inability to perform the task efficiently or effectively. 

b) Accept it for what it is, as just another golf shot, and it becomes an opportunity. We have all successfully dealt with much more challenging situations in our lives than a pitch shot over a bunker. What did we do then? We got on with the task at hand, completed it and moved on. 

Perception is everything. How you choose to perceive any shot or situation is entirely down to you. Is it a chore or a challenge? Is it an obstacle or an opportunity? 

Taken from The Lost Art of the Short Game by Gary Nicol and Karl Morris – with a foreword from Bob Vokey, the godfather of wedges.

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How can you stop your short game ruining your score?

You have the power to control the destiny of your short game. By doing so, the outcomes might just change for the better   

Think about when you play golf and you are very score focused. You want to make lots of pars and some birdies and above all, avoid bogeys and doubles. That is your focus. To get back into the clubhouse with a ‘good score’. The problem is we are focused on the score but can we control it? If we hit a perfect putt on the perfect line at the perfect pace, does it always go in the hole? If we hit a perfect drive and the ball bounces left instead of to the right, we have missed the fairway and the ball sits nestled in some thick rough.  

We can, of course, heavily influence the score by our actions but can we control it? 

When you look at the concept of perceived control, you can see all the dangers from a mental game perspective of focusing heavily on something we have very little control over. No wonder we have such high levels of anxiety throughout the game of golf. The key question going forward is, do you want to remain an anxious flyer or become a much calmer driver? 

We remember hearing a story about the great marathon runner and former world record holder, Paula Radcliffe, which gives us a hint at what we could potentially pursue as a point to focus our attention on in a more productive way than being hamstrung by a score focus. 

Clearly the ‘score’ in marathon running is your time and one of the biggest factors in such a long race is your ability to deal with discomfort. The phrase we have all heard is ‘hitting the wall’. The moment in the race when you seem to have more miles left than energy. So often it is as much a mental battle as it is a physical challenge. 

At those crucial points in the race when it would be all too easy to focus on time and how many miles were still left, Radcliffe had a mental trick up her sleeve.  

When the wall approached her, she would simply ask herself: ‘Can I count the next 20 breaths?’ The answer of course being yes.  

She had a point of focus she could control. A place to rest her mind as she got on with the job of running the race. Yes, I can focus on my breath. Yes, I can count the next 20 breaths. Suddenly a place where she did have control now became her immediate sanctuary to go to. Of course, the beauty of this profoundly simple, but immensely clever, trick was at the completion of each set of ‘breaths’ she would be significantly nearer to the finish line. 

She occupied her mind in a place giving her perceived control over a very challenging situation. She chose to place her mind and her attention somewhere useful. You can be liberated from the tyranny of score thinking by a similar process. 

Taken from The Lost Art of the Short Game by Gary Nicol and Karl Morris – with a foreword from Bob Vokey, the godfather of wedges.

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How can you transform your bunker play?

Let’s begin the journey of transforming the way you approach shots from the sand 

Without getting overly technical, we believe there are a few basic fundamentals that should be applied to achieve bunker brilliance. There are no absolutes as everyone is different but having studied and spoken to some of the best bunker players ever, there are definitely certain things they all do. 

We have spent a lot of time observing, working with and learning from some of the best bunker players in world golf. Anyone who has ever seen Seve play bunker shots would think that his sand wedge was actually an extension of his hands and an integral part of his physical make up. 

Over the years there have been a lot of good and even great bunker players. There have also been some who fall into the exceptional category. Gary Player is a name that has long been associated with exceptional bunker play. 

There have been numerous others including England’s Paul Broadhurst, who used a Wilson Gene Sarazen R-20 sand wedge for decades. Zimbabwean Tony Johnstone was a true magician in the bunkers.  

Brett Rumford from Australia could have charged his fellow tour pros a fortune for sharing his knowledge and expertise.  

We know Ernie Els spent a lot of time honing his skills with his countryman Player. Phil Mickelson clearly deserves a mention here. 

What makes them stand out? Essentially their ability to not only read the situation and see the right shot.  

Ultimately, they have been able to execute or bring that shot to life time after time. 

They are all built differently and range from 5’ 6” to 6’ 3” in height, so clearly one size does not or cannot fit all. That said, there are commonalities in what they do. One thing they ALL have in common, while difficult to measure or quantify, is soft hands.  

You will never see any visible tension in their hands or arms, yet we constantly see club golfers strangling the living daylights out of their club the minute they get anywhere near a bunker. 

Soft hands create feel. Soft hands can be educated and are a prerequisite for good bunker play. Strangle the club and you will always struggle. Think of grip tension on a sliding scale of one to 10.  

If the veins in your neck are trying to burst through your skin when you grip the club, you are probably close to or beyond a 10. Aim for four or five on that scale. 

Hands with little or no tension allow for great rhythm and tempo. Watch any top bunker player and pay attention to the tempo of their bunker swings. It is a thing of beauty. A rhythm you could almost dance to. 

Taken from The Lost Art of the Short Game by Gary Nicol and Karl Morris – with a foreword from Bob Vokey, the godfather of wedges.

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Is technical mastery of the short game a pre-requisite?

A task is a piece of work to be done or undertaken, while technique is a specific way of carrying out a task 

When you are faced with a shot around the green, whether that be a shot that requires less than a full swing, a pitch over a bunker or water, a chip and run or a bunker shot from a plugged lie, do you start thinking about what the ball needs to do or what you need to do? In other words, are you thinking about the task or the technique? The shot or the swing? 

We would imagine that, initially, like most golfers, you are probably thinking about what your ball needs to do to get close to the flag. Great: you are focused on the task. However, once you are over the ball, there is a strong possibility your thoughts will quickly turn to what you need to do. Those thoughts might be about how you need to move your arms, hands, hips and/or shoulders. 

You have probably figured out how you would like your ball to fly, where you would like it to land and how it will react when it lands on the green. Visualisation is extremely powerful and something we strongly recommend you work on. 

You have created a nice clear image of the shot in your mind’s eye. You’re almost ready to go but then – out of nowhere – you suddenly think about the last time you played a similar shot that resulted in a double bogey because you duffed it three feet in front of you. You remember that one of your playing partners told you that you had bent your left arm in your backswing and lifted your head at impact. Now your thoughts are entirely on your technique. You have completely forgotten about the shot you face right here, right now and suddenly you feel fear and tension engulf your entire body. You can feel your hands tighten around the grip in a desperate attempt not to make a mess of yet another pitch. 

Only seconds ago, you were totally engaged and absorbed in the shot and now you are entirely detached from what, in reality, is a pretty straightforward shot and a fairly simple task. All thoughts and visions of playing a great shot have been replaced with numerous internal technical instructions, all vying for your attention. Your initial clarity has now been replaced with a maelstrom of mental clutter. 

All you have ever learned about staying in the present moment has gone out the window as your mind goes on a journey of time travel. Firstly, re-visiting previous bad shots and then, just as quickly, jumping ahead into the future, predicting and worrying about the result or outcome of the shot. 

You are not alone. This happens all the time to players at all levels. This is what can and does happen when thoughts and focus jump from task to technique. That being the case, what can you do to prevent this from happening time and time again? It is pretty simple. In a world where we are led to believe that complexity is the key, quite the opposite is true. 

Taken from The Lost Art of the Short Game by Gary Nicol and Karl Morris – with a foreword from Bob Vokey, the godfather of wedges.

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What is the lost art of the short game?

How we have gradually lost sight of what really matters most when we play golf 

There is a school of thought that suggests hitting the ball further off the tee automatically makes the game easier by resulting in shorter clubs for approach shots into greens. Unfortunately, the quest for greater distance can and often does result in a loss of accuracy and having to play your next shot from a bunker or in the rough or from behind a tree. None of which are always straightforward or as easy to control as a shot hit from the fairway. 

There is so much more to playing good, engaging and enjoyable golf than making pretty swings and hitting bombs. We have all experienced days when we felt like we were swinging nicely and hitting the ball solidly, yet we walk off the 18th green scratching our heads, wondering how on earth it all added up to a disappointingly poor score. Sound familiar? 

The four three-putts, the drive out of bounds, the pair of knifed bunker shots and too many duffed chips to mention. If it hadn’t been for them, you could have got your handicap cut, won the monthly medal, lifted the trophy, made the winner’s speech, accepted all the praise and pats on the back… 

Was it down to the fact your backswing felt too much on the inside on that drive up the last? Was it because you didn’t quite manage to hit every drive at least 350 yards? (like you normally do – yeah right, if only!)  

Was it because you lifted your head on that 7-iron into the 12th green (as your playing partner was so quick to suggest)? Or was the reality of your disappointing score a direct result of an embarrassingly poor short game? Take a minute or two to think about that. Be honest with yourself. In fact, be brutally honest with yourself. Chances are, when you reflect on pretty much every round of golf you play, the majority of the shots you have given away, or left out there are from within 100 yards of the hole. 

Yes, we all want to swing it like Tiger Woods, Adam Scott or Rory McIlroy, but the likelihood of ever achieving such greatness is perhaps just slightly beyond the reach of most mere mortals. Remember this: golf swings don’t win tournaments, golfers do. 

We are not for one minute suggesting you don’t work on your golf swing – far from it. Good fundamentals combined with functional technique is helpful when used wisely and would always be preferable to poor fundamentals allied to a dysfunctional technique.  

However, we would encourage you to work on improving your golf shots rather than your golf swing. There is a massive difference between the two. 

By all means strive to improve your technique and shot-making skills – but be mindful of the fact that a large percentage of the shots you play during any and every round of golf will be on and around the greens.  

Basically, do not neglect your short game. We’re sure we don’t need to tell you that a player with a razor-sharp short game is a fearsome opponent. Always. 

Is it possible that YOU could develop the short game skills to rival the very best players in the world? Absolutely. 

Taken from The Lost Art of the Short Game by Gary Nicol and Karl Morris – with a foreword from Bob Vokey, the godfather of wedges.

Available now in hardback (£19.95) and Kindle (£9.99) formats.

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