If you have ever played golf, you know how difficult it is both psychologically and emotionally, and if you have never played, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about.
Golf is a hard sport because it’s the ultimate head-game sport, where you’re at war with yourself psychologically and emotionally. Factors with countless variables (clubs, weather, swing, mental game, etc) play a large role, and where no shot is ever the same, absolute mastery is almost impossible.
In this article, we’ll discuss in as much detail as we can the factors that play a role in making golf arguably one of the most challenging sports in the world to become proficient in.
There are many factors and variables, and after reading this, you will have a newfound understanding and hopefully an appreciation of the game.
Many people consider golf to be various things: a sport, a hobby, a passion, or even a way of life.
You will either love it or hate it, and it seems there is no real middle ground.
So if you have only ever watched golf on the television and have never played, then you will most likely not understand what all the fuss is about.
Golf is a game of skill that requires precision body movements, timing, agility, flexibility, an understanding of force, and many external variables. Furthermore, It is also a game that is fought within oneself on every hole, with every swing.
It may seem a bit extreme to someone who has never played, but these are just some of the things that make golf arguably one of the world’s most challenging games.
Whether you want to take it up golf as a sport or hobby; or are frustrated at your current level and you want to understand how to improve, looking at some of the factors which contribute to golf being such a challenging game can help you move forwards.
Why Is Golf So Challenging
The Mental Aspect Of Golf
The mental aspect of golf is probably more inherent than in any other sport.
The game is simple enough in essence.
Although it is counter-intuitive, it constantly presents a significant emotional and psychological self-examination of ourselves digging deep into the subconscious.
It can unravel who we are and can tell us more about ourselves than we could ever have imagined.
You have to understand that golf is similar to war (however, this is not a physical war), and unlike other sports, the biggest enemy that a golfer faces is inevitably themselves.
You may even consider golf to be the ultimate head-game.
The war waged within a golfer is both a psychological and emotional one where their fear and confidence keep fighting it out at every possible opportunity.
During a game, a golfer will experience both highs and lows, and as the frustration and tension mounts, they find out who they indeed are.
Whether you are a pro or an absolute beginner, golf is a game based on how balanced an individual is, and this will play a significant role in determining their success.
Now golf isn’t just hard because of the physical requirements, the mental requirements to master the sport are just as, if not more challenging.
The number of books, DVDs and coaches available out there tells you that there is a lot to learn mentally. The slightest change in thought as you step up to the ball or adjustment of your shoulders at the last second can make or ruin a shot (or entire round!).
Not letting these little things get into your head is one of the hardest aspects of golf.
I am sure you have seen the player who has a constant nagging voice in their head following them around the entire course, playing scenarios through over and over of topping the ball off the tee or taking 4 shots to get out of a bunker.
You can see their score going up and up, ruining an entire round in just one or two holes. This pressure on every shot is real, even when playing for fun.
Being able to keep calm and regain that composure after a fluffed shot is something that takes years to perfect and for some people frustration is uncontrollable a lot of the time.
No other sport at an amateur level consistently sees a mini crowd (your 2 or 3 fellow players, and maybe the following group) watching your every shot, and in complete silence.
Yes, the mental side of a golfers game makes it very hard to master!
The Physical Aspect Of Golf (Body Mechanics)
A golf swing incorporates the entire body with multiple degrees of freedom depending on athleticism, flexibility and body condiiton.
As golf swings vary from player to player, it is hard to be consistent even when hitting simple shots without even considering specialised shots like fades and draws.
Furthermore, golf is not based entirely on physical strength but rather timing, agility and flexibility.
Due to the fact that there are so many variables in a shot for many amateurs and beginners some part of their shot is based on their hopes for a good outcome rather than the execution of a good swing resulting in a good outcome.
Many people new to the game can appreciate how mentally difficult golf can be, but few understand that the athletic ability required also makes the sport a lot trickier.
Many people mock golf for not being a proper sport as it doesn’t involve frantic running around, but don’t be fooled.
The distance you have to walk isn’t what makes golf so taxing, you don’t see marathon runners turning their hand to golf for some easy prize money. It is other physical skills that increase the challenge.
Golf requires strong muscles in the back, shoulders, core and glutes not just to add distance to shots, but to keep a consistent swing. Having strong muscles in these areas allows the body to stay in line as the weight is transferred from the top of the swing to the follow through.
If the body is not kept stable throughout the swing, even by the slightest amount, errors are likely to start creeping in.
Time Flow of Golf
Besides sports like Croquet, snooker, pool or billiards, golf is pretty much the only other sport where the ball is at rest before it is struck.
For most shots you have around 20-30 seconds to make the shot, this includes club selection and pre-shot routine; so during a round of golf, a player will hit the ball for no more than a few minutes across the span of 3-4 hours of their rounds.
Where the good players stand out is in their ability to switch off between shots and get back in to the zone when making a shot. They give absolute focus to the shot and then switch off again once they have made it.
By comparison many amateurs will still be thinking about their last shot while playing their next shot.
Being able to let go of any outcome, good or bad, is crucial to increasing the chance of success on the next shot.
You Need A Lot Of Time To Practice
You may have heard of the 10,000-hour rule. This was a rule made famous by American psychologist and author Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. The theory goes that to become an expert in any field you need around 10,000 hours of focused practice time to accomplish this.
Now, 10,000 hours is a long time, a very long time, that it more than a full year of golf, 24 hours a day, every day. So if you’ve only just taken up the sport, you have a long way to go in terms of practice.
It was also found in a more recent study by Princeton University that this 10,000-hour rule only really applies to skills and sports with limited variables, for instance, chess or tennis where conditions don’t vary too much.
Now if you then consider that golf courses vary considerably and conditions can also vary vastly (especially if you play in the UK like me) then 10,000 hours is probably an under-estimate.
Golf’s difficulty rises further when you consider that you also have to master a variety of different skills.
You have driving, long irons, chipping, bunker shots and putting which all require different skill sets.
A master of the drive will still find golf incredibly frustrating if they take 5 putts on every hole!
An article in Today’s Golfer predicted it would require between 3 and 4 hours every single day of practice to reach scratch.
So it has to be your full-time job effectively, or you have to be taking that retirement plan seriously!
Variables in Golf
Golf has an incredible amount of variables which means that no two shots are ever the same.
With other sports, you are able to practice specific situations or go over certain circumstances again and again.
The number of variations in terms of variables you have to consider when practicing all the shots in golf is infinite.
These variables are both physical and mental, both internal and external such as your form on a specific day, your mental state, club selection, weather, fairways slope, how the ball is laying, and many more.
Furthermore, with each shot, these variables change, and they continuously change throughout each game throughout each swing, infinitely.
Besides all the internal variables, you also have 14 clubs to choose from based on different weights and lengths.
Club selection and shot selection, added to the amount of other variables increase the amount of different types of shots you can play and some you may never be able to practice for.
I am sure even if you played at your home course five times a day for as long as you live, you would still never hit the same shot, with the same result, twice.
Consistency Is A Key Component of Playing Good Golf
Tying in with the mental aspect comes consistency.
This not only applies from day to day, but also throughout each 18 hole round.
Nobody is going to care how sweetly you hit that drive on the first tee if you hit the next 10 drives into the rough! Likewise, that 15-foot beaut of a putt is going to be a distant memory if you 3 putt for the rest of the round.
And it is not just consistency in one type of shot. A player must be consistent with all aspects of the game throughout an entire round and from day to day.
With so much conflicting information filling our heads of why shots are not going to plan we are constantly tweaking our swings, moving feet, and turning shoulders.
Finding consistency, therefore, is even harder and when you correct one error you may be bringing in another bad habit!
This moving from thinking to habit can improve consistency, but consistency can be good or bad. There’s no point in a consistent wrong swing that lands you in the rough every time!
Making something second nature is the key.
When something isn’t an ingrained habit you overthink it, overcomplicate and make mistakes.
Have you ever had it where you overthink catching a ball and then drop it, but someone can suddenly throw you a ball without warning and you catch it with just one hand?
The closer you can get to the ‘one-handed catch mindset’ with your golf swing, the more consistent you will be.
Games Within Games
Besides all the variables in golf, you still have to master the golf swing, which takes dedication and commitment, not to mention that one element (sub-game) is entirely different from the other, and being proficient in one does not necessarily mean you will be skilled in the other.
The Long Game
A proficient golfer must be able to drive the ball longer distances, with most Amateurs aiming to get over 300 yards with their Drivers as a goal. Some achieve it easliy while others will never get close.
Golfers with higher swing speeds (over 100 mph) will usually find it easier to hit the ball longer but that’s only if the golf club is being delivered on the right path with the correct face angle.
The average golfer only manages to control and maintain a golf swing of approximately 70mph, so they are going to be limited in how far they can hit the golf ball.
The Short Game
In order to be precise at the short game of golf, you must be able to calculate the height and distance of a long pitch, and then you need to translate that through your body, commanding your muscles to replicate your mind’s inner workings.
When you are stood over a chip shot or a pitch shot do you think about Duffing It?
Maybe You worry you’re going to thin it through the Green, or perhaps you worry you’re going to fat the ball
Maybe you don’t know when to chip and when to pitch, or even what’s the difference
These are some of the aches and pains that many Amateurs face every time they have a knock.
We have put together a complete series that looks at the short game. It’s called Secrets Of The Short Game
This coaching course will take you through the fundamentals of the chip shot and will help you to become a more accomplished player around the greens
Putting is nothing like the long or short game and can even be considered a game unto itself.
Putting requires incredible skill with the knowledge of being able to read breaks and understand even the type of grass that is being played on because the grass will play a role in how fast the ball rolls, the putt strike, and much more.
How To Putt For Beginner’s
The General idea of putting is to roll the ball along the green into the hole using a smooth and unhurried putting motion that generates both distance and direction control.
The Putting technique can be broken down into several areas:
- Posture & Stance
- Body Alignment
- Ball Position
Aim – The putter-head is aimed towards the hole and when it is at a right angle to the target line the putter-head is said to be ’square to the target’
Grip – The Grip pressure should be light and even.
Posture & Stance – Standing upright with feet together and the arms out in front of the chest with the club shaft parallel to the ground, bend forward from the hip. Your back should remain fairly straight , but not tight.
As the club head reaches the floor, allow your knees to flex slightly. To create balance and comfort take a small step with each foot to the side. The feet will be slightly narrower than shoulder width and your chin should be slightly raised from your chest.
Body Alignment – Your shoulders, hips, knees and feet should ideally be parallel to the target line. This will encourage the correct shape of swing.
Ball Position – For a straight putt the ball should be placed in the middle of your stance.
Swing – The lower half of the body acts as a steady base. Al the movement comes from the shoulders rocking the arms and putter back and forth. The length of the swing should be roughly the same both back and forward.
The length of the swing together with a smooth repetitive speed should govern the distance the ball rolls. The direction is mainly controlled by the position of the club face at impact, as well as the direction the club head is traveling in.
Putting is all about repetition of the correct techniques and by concentrating on each of these areas we will be able to achieve a consistent putting stroke which in turn will help us take less putts during a round.
Becoming a Great Putter
Back in the 1960s and early 1970s US golfers won virtually every major championship and European golfers did not compete on the US PGA Tour – in many cases they were not good enough.
To be truthful, I have always contended that their putting was not good enough and that was what made the difference between US and European golfers.
At that time, European golf was dominated by Great Britain as few continental golfers played over here and the European Tour was very much in its infancy. There were a few South Africans and Australians plus Bob Charles who was virtually the sole Kiwi on tour.
From the mid 1970s and into the 1980s, the likes of Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo became great putters and the tide of US domination of golf receded.
Since then European golfers recognised the importance of improving their putting to enable them to compete on a world stage. Since then the modern era of golf has shown that to win worldwide you need an all-round game and putting is right at the forefront of importance.
So how do you become a great putter?
- Believe that you can make every putt
- Understand that 95% of first impressions regarding line are correct
- Don’t change your mind once you’ve taken your stance over the ball
- Practice at least 30 minutes EVERY DAY
Do not use any excuse for not practising – wherever you are, whatever surface you have can be putted on. Carpets can be putted on and used to simulate slow greens.
Tile or wood floors can simulate fast greens. When you get to grass you can use your experience of multi-surface practise to adjust much quicker and easier
How to Practice
- Concentrate on 6-10 foot putts – if you can make a high percentage of those putts you will reduce your putts per round and therefore improve your overall scoring
- Break your practice sessions into 30 minute sessions to avoid boredom and turn it into something YOU WANT TO DO
- Take 6 balls and spread them around a golf hole at varying distances between 6 feet and 15 feet
- Set yourself a target of achieving 50% success rate – increase that by 5% or 10% per session
- Record your practise sessions so you can monitor your improvement
When you achieve 90% success rate you can call yourself a good putter. Take that success to the course with you and watch your handicap come down.
If you can play to your handicap regularly, you will sometimes play under your handicap AND WIN COMPETITIONS
All the practise you have put in becomes worthwhile because you have proven the expression PUTT FOR DOUGH and improved putting is the easiest way of handicap golfers reducing their handicap.
A great way to increase your feel on the green when you putt is to practice with your eyes closed!
Taking your sense of sight away will heighten your other senses including your feel. Another great by-product of putting with your eyes closed is that it forces you to keep your body very still when you make the stroke.
Any unwanted movement could cause a complete miss hit or even stubbing the putter head into the ground. Here’s how it works….Start with a flat putt of about 6 to 8 feet in length.
Go through your normal putting routine and make a few practice strokes with your eyes open as usual.
Address the ball as normal, close your eyes and go ahead and make the putt.
Keep those eyes closed throughout and listen for the ball to drop in the hole. Still keeping those eyes closed and(if you don’t hear it drop in) tell yourself where you think the ball has finished. For example do you feel it has finished short and to the left or maybe long and to the right.
Now open your eyes and see if you were wright or wrong with your estimation.
With a little practice at this you should soon be getting most or if not all of your answers correct, improving your steadiness and distance control. Work up to some longer putts and start to make them more challenging with some big breaks. Practice this for just 20 minutes a week and you will keep on top of your putting and become more consistent.
You could even take this practice drill one step further and attempt to use it on the course. If you are conscious of your playing partners thinking you have gone mad, just wear your sunglasses – they will never know!
What an eye opener
When Putting try to make sure your dominant eye is over the ball at address as this will help you to see the line of putt much easier and align the putter face correctly.
To find out which of your eyes is the dominant one:
- Form a circle between your forefinger and thumb.
- Hold your arm out straight and look through the circle to an object in the distance.
- Finally close each eye separately and see if the object in the circle moves out of it or stays within it.
When the object stays within the circle it is your dominant eye.
For a right handed golfer, if you are left eye dominant try positioning the ball more forward in your stance.
If you are right eye dominant position the ball a little further back in your stance. The opposite is true for left handed golfers.
Practice Makes Perfect – Or Does it?
Did you know the most common putting aid on the market are the indoor putting mats.
These are usually about 6-feet long with one, sometimes two, cups cut into one end.
Often they are slightly uphill as this is usually to accommodate the hole. These are useful putting aids to use but there are a few things that you need to consider when using a putting mat.
The biggest drawback to indoor putting mats is the limited variety of putt that you are able to practice. The design of the mat is pretty straight forward, as we’ve already said it’s usually about 6-foot long and straight.
So you get to practice straight putts from up to six foot – whilst those putts are important to practice, think about how many times on a course do you actually get six foot straight putts.
One real downside to using putting mats is there is the danger of you getting in the groove.
What we mean by this is you will invariably learn the pace and line of the putt and then switch onto auto pilot.
You will then forget about setting up properly, your putting grip, the putting stroke and the putting strike, especially if you are making putts all the time.
You may have heard the saying that ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ – well we disagree.
We believe that ‘Practice Makes Permanent’.
If you keep coming up short in your putts – practising the same thing will enable you to keep coming up short in your putts!
We like putting mats, we use them all the time but we like to add a little variety to them. We also like to use putting mats for our chipping drills.
We place our putting mats on the floor and stand about 4-6 feet away from it and then play a chip shot onto the mat and aim to get the ball in the hole.
All the while we are trying to get the golf ball to release just like a putt would. Once we get good at it we then place small objects between the ball and the putting mat, maybe a book, that we then have to chip over all the time still trying to get the ball in the hole.
In summary, we think putting mats as aids for putting training are a useful tool. But we don’t want you to only putt from 6-foot in a straight line and we’ve told you how we use our putting mats, so that should give you an insight to how we would recommend them.
We just touched on some of the factors that make golf arguably the hardest game in the world. Individuals practice and play their entire lives, never dropping their handicapped score.
This is because there is not just one aspect that you need to practice. There is no correct swing, motion, or proper club to use at any specific point in time.
Golf is an amalgamation of body, mind, technique, and other factors like experience, knowledge, and more.
You have to be a balanced individual mentally, and no matter if you are a professional or a complete amateur, golf is probably the ultimate head-game sport.
Your focus, determination, and calmness under pressure will help aid in your success, whereas in other sports, technique and strength are a primary focus.