(Yet another excerpt from the eventually forthcoming book, “Why We Golf”)
The Staley System
Now I have to admit that normally I wouldn’t be inclined to share my secrets with everybody, but since you’ve been kind enough to navigate through the almost infinite distractions of the internet to this humble site, I thought I’d share them with you. So here it is, from tee to green, The Staley System.
Tee shots: A higher index requires higher scores so you’re going to have to focus on this from the first tee on. And erratic drives are the foundation for big numbers on your scorecard. Most importantly, it’s simply not enough just to have a swing thought. You have to be trying to focus on something in your takeaway so that you can be distracted by self-evaluation during that other part of your swing that actually involves hitting the ball. Or to put it another way, just make sure that you’re “working on something” with your swing whenever you’re hitting any tee shot. Two of my favorites, and they’ve been working great as of late, are to ask myself “Hey, did I just reverse pivot?” and “Was that a good shoulder turn or it was all arms again?” Try these and I guarantee you’ll soon be generating that internal mixture of distraction and self-doubt that getting to a higher index is going to require. Remember this: the key is to think of your golf swing not as an athletic act but a mechanical process. Don’t think Fred Couples. Think the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz.
Fairway woods and long irons: Now if you followed my advice off the tee you’ve set the stage nicely for this next set of shots. Most likely you’re not in fairway and, if by chance you are, there’s probably a lot of real estate between you and the green. So the operative thought here, and this is where these clubs come in handy, is to think, “Wow, I’ve got to make up a lot of ground on this shot.” That’s it, now we’re thinking like a high handicapper. And that, of course, means swinging as hard as possible.
Middle and short irons: This is getting excited isn’t it? We’re getting closer to what some other instructors call the Scoring Zone, but my philosophy is that you can add strokes to your game anywhere, so let’s not forget these clubs. What’s critical here is to shift the way you think about distance out on the course. Yeah, you’ve swatted a couple shots and now you could knock it up on the green, but stop and think for a minute. 150 yards isn’t that far in the game of golf, but if somebody hit a baseball that far it would be a tape measure home run. And did you ever think about how small the head of your seven-iron is? It’s not that much bigger than the ball, so you’re going to have to tighten your grip and swing really fast.
(I know that all this talk about swinging hard may seem repetitive and it may be tough for some of you to put into practice. But take it from me: just stick with it and pretty soon you’ll start seeing results!)
Wedges and the short game: At last, the Promised Land! Despite following my advice you might actually be right off the green in the number of strokes that good players call “regulation”. But it’s never too late to add strokes to your score on any hole. You can add them really quickly around the green, so let’s get to work. There are a lot of tricky little shots here and your first response in most situations is to think, “Man, I can’t hit this shot!” And you want to know something? You’re right: you can’t.
Now keeping the sort of mental attitude that leads to higher scores isn’t always easy and you may find yourself feeling comfortable with a particular chip shot or pitch. What I’ve found works in this situation is to tell myself “Well, this is an easy shot so I better not screw it up.” If you keep thinking about golf shots just as golf shots you’re never going to get your index up as high as possible. You’ve got to make each shot critical not only to your score but your self-esteem, otherwise you’re not going to get the tension in your hands and upper body that a High Index Short Game requires. Here’s a tip that might help: don’t let the distance between your ball and the hole determine how hard you hit the ball when you’re chipping or pitching. Let the situation dictate the level of tension in your grip and stance. Do you need to get up and down to halve the hole? Is this the 18th hole? If so, you’re in luck! Just grip the club as tightly as you can and let the tension in your upper body do its magic. There you go!
Putting: The beauty of the Staley System to Higher Scores is that the most critical component to getting your scores up is actually the simplest to teach. When it comes to putting you only need one thought: good putting is impossible. You’ve watched enough golf to see the best players in the world miss short ones, and if they can’t make them all, what chance do you have? That’s right. None!
The putting performance that you’re looking for is just a question of focus. Focus on the incredibly small margin of error involved in putting. Focus on the imperfections on the green or the difference in speed from the last time you played. Above all, focus on the significance of the putt for your score or the match.
I know that I’ve probably made this all seem incredibly simple and straightforward and you’re probably saying to yourself, “Come on Paul it can’t be that easy! You mean if I just follow these simple pieces of advice I can shoot much higher scores?” And you’d be both right and wrong. Believe me, just following these steps will help, but getting the golf performance you’re looking for calls for special preparation and the right mental attitude. So as a special bonus I’ll throw in these extra tips:
Practice: Just say no. The same goes for lessons. You can do this on your own. Now if you must practice, spend your time on the range and, this is critical, if you do find yourself on the practice putting green limit your practice to a couple indifferent strokes on your way to the first tee. You don’t want to have a feel for the greens until the fifth or the sixth holes at the earliest. It’s critical to establish an utter lack of confidence in your putting from the very beginning of the round.
Mental attitude: I can’t stress the importance of this enough. If you hit a bad shot it is proof that you’re an idiot and have no talent for the game. Above all, it’s important to see any good results out there as completely random and improbable. Don’t worry if you hit a good shot. The feeling of satisfaction will be fleeting. Trust me. One affirmation that I’ve found to be really effective after I’ve hit a particular shot well several times in a row is to take refuge in the concept of the reversion to the mean. If I tell myself that things have to catch up with me and that a string of good shots leads inevitably to some bad ones I know that I can bring that mixture of dread and anxiety that playing my worst golf is going to require of me.
And there you have it. Now go on out there and post some big numbers. I know you can do it.