As we draw an end to this tumultuous year, we also dive into off season for many sports. It is a great time to reflect on the past year and look at everything you have accomplished. Some of you may have crushed your goals, making great strides towards your college golf aspirations, while some of you may have struggled to find success through 2020’s uncertainty. If you feel like this year slipped away, or are looking to set up goals for the next year, I have supplied a checklist of the most crucial aspects that every player should focus on during the off season to prepare for the upcoming opportunities.
Every player has their own personal goals depending on the level in which they want to compete at. If you want to play golf at the collegiate level there are some challenges and sacrifices along the way, but by being goal oriented and tenacious in your process, you will undoubtedly find success. To accurately plan for the offseason we have to decide where we want our games to be in roughly 4 months. We have to step back and take a look at what our weaknesses are. There will never be a better time to tackle a mechanical flaw than when you have months to meticulously work on your game. In college you will not have this liberty of time so make the absolute most out of it right now. In college the golf season is essentially broken up into three seasons with only a month and a half break in between. There is the fall season which is also called the “unofficial season” even though it still counts for your team and individual rankings. Then there is your winter break, followed by the spring season otherwise known as the “regular season.” Your conference championship is usually 2 weeks after your last event of your regular season, followed by the regional and national championship spaced 2 weeks apart. The point I’m trying to make is that making changes in college can be done, but between qualifying for tournaments, traveling to events, and playing in all of them, you will have very little time and energy to do anything more than maintenance work on your game. This isn’t meant to sway any of you away from your dreams to play college golf, but rather to prepare you to have an edge over most of your competition. You set yourself up for success in the future by training the fundamentals of meaningful practice and preparation right now.
For starters let’s make a list of goals on where you want to be when the off season concludes. The first aspect to consider is your physical skills in golf. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is a TRUE weakness and a TRUE strength. What I mean by that is just because you can spin a gap wedge back 20 feet doesn’t make you a great wedge player. Can you hit every wedge in your bag precisely any distance, trajectory and spin on command? If not then perhaps that can be something you can focus on. You have to be realistic in your examination of your skillset. Once you decide your strengths and weaknesses you can begin to design a plan on how you are going to improve. Most players in junior and college golf will fail this step if they ever even make it past the original assessment of their game. The reason for this is because players have pride and confidence in their game, and a lot of us have a hard time admitting that there are things that we aren’t the greatest at. If you can manage to make it to step two, then you absolutely have to find a way to make your practice meaningful. Meaningful means different things during different stages of progression. So if I chose putting as my ultimate weakness I am going to assess the root cause of the problem. Let’s say I have a giant loop in my putting stroke and it’s causing major inconsistencies. I would begin this process by setting up drills every day that force me to have a perfect technique. I would hit putts for about an hour in this drill ingraining a perfect path. Then I would step out of the drill and hit putts to maintain my playability and athleticism. After a while you will feel as though you are ready to ditch the drill, this is where I would advise you to be patient. Rather than ditch the drill because you are a “pro” at it, start adding a pressure component to it. Take the drill and set it up on a right to left breaking putt around 6-10 feel from the hole. Hit putts for 15 minutes in the station and then challenge yourself to make 20 putts in a row with perfect execution of the drill. If you miss, start from 0. After you complete this on the right to left putts, move to a left to right breaking putt and repeat the process. What this does is add a realistic component to your practice. Anyone can stand in a drill and athletically adjust to make the ball do what they want after a few hours. The people who will make the most out of their practice will simulate competitive realism in their practice sessions. Develop your form focusing heavily on mechanics, then test yourself daily through pressure, and then go out and be an athlete and play the game. That is how your best players will make a change regardless of the level they play. I see too many people work on a part of their game relentlessly and never improve. This is because they often only focus on the first step of the improvement process, leaving them hitting putt after putt from the same exact spot. Congratulations, you just got very skilled at putting that one specific putt which you will only find right there. The correct way of practicing will translate to improvements in your on course performance under pressure.
Segwaying away from the physical side of the game, there are other aspects that are just as important to preparing you for the next season. The second aspect you should be focusing on is your physical fitness during this time. A lot of us are going to be shacked up at home during the holidays eating a lot of good food and trying to stay warm. It’s very easy to become lethargic and complacent during this time. There’s plenty of time to enjoy the festivities and still get in some good preparation and improve on your game. Key aspects to focus on are minor strength, endurance, and mobility gains. A lot of people focus on one of the four and see no real benefit of their work. The three physical attributes only serve a purpose in your game if all three are present. A lot of college athletes will go to the gym and put on 15 pounds of muscle, yet won’t get any better because they neglected flexibility and endurance. Develop a steady weightlifting program that is safe to do. (preferably under supervision as a kid) For your endurance you should use conditioning wisely. In college you are going to be carrying your bag for 36 holes a day. That’s roughly 12 miles when you count all your steps for the whole day. H.I.I.T training would be a good example of a way to over prepare for the road ahead of you in college. That stands for High intensity interval training. As a freshman in college I would run around the lake my college was built on. The lake had a track that was three miles long, the first mile was a jog, the second was a sprint, and the last mile was a jog. It doesn’t take you killing yourself on a treadmill every single day either. Regardless of your endurance right now, you can improve drastically over the offseason. Start slow and always remember you push yourself harder than the last time in your endurance and weightlifting routines. Progressively overload and add more volume (repetitions, weight, or distance) Remember that you don’t have to be the best at every single aspect of golf and everything that encompases it at your young age. Focus on getting a little better in every category of the game to become a much more polished overall player.
Finally you have flexibility. Develop a stretching routine that keeps your legs, lower and upper back, and chest loose. These are the most common causes of pain and injury in golfers. Tight legs cause major lower back pain and tight pectoral muscles cause the chest and shoulders to slouch and round forward, which causes horrible posture not only for the golf swing, but for life in general. Stretching is something most people will neglect and I am no exception. Although it can be a pain in the neck to take 20 minutes to stretch before and after a workout, it will certainly make a difference in your performance and your health.
The final step I will touch on is something most people unfortunately overlook. What i’m talking about of course is your mental game. I have become a student of psychology and immersed myself in the function of how our thoughts produce positive and negative actions. I have trained under some of the best sports psychologists in the world and enjoy helping others improve their mental game. I’m currently writing a book in which I cover how I went about controlling my mind. Through my studies I have learned that the human brain has about 12,000-60,000 thoughts per day. Of those thoughts roughly 80% are negative, and 95% are repetitive. So what does this mean to all of us humans? What it doesn’t mean is we are all depressed and miserable regardless of how misleading this statistic may seem at first. I’ll give you an example of how this accurately affects us as a golfer. You are on the 18th hole at the AJGA Junior Players Invitational at TPC Sawgrass. You have a one shot lead and you’re obviously nervous because the tournament is on the line. I’m assuming most of you are familiar with the layout of the 18th golf at the stadium course with it being a dogleg to the left with a massive hazard directly off the fairway. You step up onto the tee and go through your pre shot routine, chances are the thought of hitting it left into the water will enter your mind. It happens to everyone regardless of skill level. Everyone gets nervous, but why does that happen and what does it mean? It means that you are excited. You are in a position to accomplish something that you want to achieve. When you break it down and look at what is really happening it’s astonishing how people get scared and choke. The truth of this situation is that you are leading a golf tournament, which means you have played a great event, better than everyone else in the field as a matter of fact. You also have a chance to win a tournament you care strongly about, so get excited! When you focus on hitting good shots and get engulfed into your routine, you don’t have any room to dwell on negative thoughts. Negative thoughts will enter your mind, but they don’t have to be dwelled on and have importance placed onto them. Going back to the statistics, 80% of your thoughts are negative and 95% are repetitive. So your negative thoughts will come up multiple times throughout the day, and if you put energy and thought into them rather than dismiss them, you will be swallowed by negativity and have very little chance of success. Everyone has negative thoughts, it’s just how humans work. It’s an instinctual trait we have in order to draw attention and focus to something we care strongly about. Focus on what you are trying to do rather than what you don’t want to do. Executing a solid shot will always put you in a good position, so there’s no reason to worry.
Another mistake I see the majority of junior and young college golfers make is instant overcorrections. I had teammates in college who would hit 9 balls dead straight and then the tenth teeshot would be a push cut that just barely found the water. The next tee shot was almost certainly going to be a hard hook after that. The retaliation I had is that we as players can oftentimes be so overly critical of ourselves that we hinder our chances of reaching our full potential. In this scenario I would tell my teammates that they had just hit 9 out of 10 tee shots perfect, that’s 90 percent. There will never be a way to execute every single shot exactly how you want to, but if you put an unbelievable amount of energy and thought into every bad shot you hit, you’ll never get anywhere in this game. The answer isn’t to go to the range or have your coach look at your swing because you hit one bad drive the entire round. Pay close attention to your thoughts and make sense of them. Spend time to learn and understand why you think the way you do along with how it affects your performance on and off the course.
As you progress to higher stages of your golfing career you will begin to realize how important everything under the golfing umbrella is to your progression. Your favorite pro golfers aren’t great because they have perfect golf swings, they are great because they do virtually everything we talked about better than anyone else in the world. The Golf Performance Center takes pride in exposing the importance of these aspects to golfers of all ages and skill levels.
Christian Anderson is a contributor for Junior Golf Hub, dedicated to helping junior and amateur athletes accomplish their goals and achieve their true potential. He has trained with some of the most decorated coaches and sports psychologists in the world, including Mike Bender and Dr. Robert Winters. Originally from Ocala, FL, Christian was a member of Florida Southern College’s Men’s Golf program from 2015 to 2019. As an NCAA All-American and 2018-2019 team captain, Christian competed in four consecutive NCAA Division II National Championship tournaments, helping the Moccasins win the national title in 2017. Throughout his collegiate career, he played 141 rounds and recorded a 74.3 scoring average.