In my experience, the single most important mental skill for a golfer to have is confidence. The fundamental reason a golfer should venture to the practice range and short game area is to practise for the purpose of finding and building confidence, or to maintain pre-existing confidence in their ability to hit shots in all shot type categories from putting through to the driver.
What exactly is confidence? And why does it come and go seemingly for no apparent reason? Why is it that many golfers can hit the ball well or chip and putt well when they practise, but when they go out on the course it all falls apart and they don’t feel any confidence in their ability to play?
I believe confidence is a direct result of preparation and experience. Confidence is not some mystical belief that cannot be substantiated by tangible evidence that it exists. Confidence is knowing you can do something because you have done it before, or at least you have simulated doing it in practice enough times that you just know you can do it again in competition. Once a golfer has executed a shot successfully in competition they then have a real and powerful experience to recall for future shot confidence.
All this I am sure you have heard before, but you still may have not have been taught “The Confidence Cycle” and a strategy of how to implement it into your own practice program. My first experience with learning about the Confidence Cycle came about when I attended coaching seminars at the Victorian Institute of Sport back when I was the Head Coach for golf in the early 1990’s. What I soon realised was that all successful golfers and sporting people practise this way — whether it is structured in a formal approach or quite instinctive. Without exception, unsuccessful golfers fail to practise using the Confidence Cycle.
There are four steps to the Confidence Cycle and as you read this you may realise that you never get past the first step when you practise. If this is the case, with a bit of discipline and a new approach, a whole new world of playing the game is about to open up to you.
Some golfers may already understand that they are practising technique or practising golf. Therefore they at least get to step two of the four steps (and play golf well) but never experience absolute confidence with their shot execution.
The four steps below will seem very familiar to any business person, because the reason they are successful and confident with their product or service is because they have followed the four steps of the Confidence Cycle. These same business people may also very soon realise that they don’t prepare to play golf the same way as they run their business.
The four steps to competing with confidence.
Step one. Technique (Learn the correct technique.)
Many golfers practise technique exclusively. They are constantly working on positions, moves, pivots or the latest trend of swing style — mostly based on who is winning currently on the tour or the new fad advertised on The Golf Channel.
Good technique is an absolute if you are going to play golf with confidence consistently, so your technique must be attended to in every practice session. Technique by itself will give you some confidence out on the course, but what usually happens when you hit a few poor shots is that you will then believe that it is your technique that caused the poor shots, and then you spend the rest of the round thinking about and working on your swing. When you practise technique, evaluate your success or failure by whether you achieve the move or position in your swing and not by where the ball goes.
Step two. Skill (Practise the new skill to ingrain the new technique)
Once you have done some work on your technique, you should then practise skill. Skill is practising a particular shot repetitively. Skill shots have a target and a goal of type and trajectory. An example might be a 5-iron fade shot — and you decide to hit a bucket of balls with that shot. After skill practice, your confidence level will be higher with that particular skill and you will play golf with a higher level of confidence. However by adding the third step you will create even more confidence in your ability.
Step three. Test (Test the skill under simulated competition pressure)
Testing a shot is where you now have a target and a goal and you use your full competition pre-shot routine on every shot. Many golfers avoid testing because they believe that it can damage their confidence as it exposes their inability to hit shots when it counts. Well, whatever confidence they believe they have will be exposed as fragile every time when they are under pressure in competition.
The business equivalent of testing is trialling and testing a product or service to find out whether it needs modification or adjustment before taking it to full production in the market. A successful businessperson would never skip this step. In golf it is vital in every practice session.
An example of a basic and effective test is a three-in-a-row test. For example: Hit three shots in a row with a 5-iron through a 10-metre gap. The first two might seem easy, but the third shot will feel much more like the pressure you feel out on the course. If you miss you then start again and continue with this test until it is complete. Once you have succeeded at three in a row, your confidence level will again increase with that particular shot. My belief is that three in a row in practice is equal to one shot when it counts out on the course. If you cannot complete a test after a few attempts, go back a step and practice the skill a few more times with no measurable pressure and then try the test again.
Step four. Compete (Take your new skill to the course with the confidence that you know it will work based on the success of correct practice)
Now that you have completed some three-in-a-row tests in practice, it is a matter of approaching a shot on the course and recalling and reminding yourself that you hit this shot three times in a row in practice, and you can do it again. Competing with confidence is the final hurdle to becoming a confident golfer. When you can successfully execute a shot on the course after taking yourself through the Confidence Cycle in your practice program you will have achieved absolute confidence in that skill. There are literally hundreds of skills in golf, so get started today and pick a drive, short iron and a putt test to add to your practice program and you will experience a new confidence out on the course. Remember confidence is a direct result of practice and preparation.