Getting on Top of Your Game in the Off-Season

It’s only natural to take time off, especially during the winter months, when inclement or extremely cold weather in many parts of the country makes enjoying a round of golf next to impossible. And we all understand the importance of taking a break, giving our minds and bodies the chance to rest and rejuvenate. But as necessary as taking a breather is, there are still many things we can do to prepare for the upcoming golf season. Whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, spring will be on its way before we know it, and it will soon be time to start swinging again.

Now, it may be true that many tour players don’t pick up a club until a few weeks before their first tournament of the season. Like taking a vacation from school or work, they opt for other sports and activities that allow them to come back to golf refreshed and revitalized. But others use the down time to work on their games, getting comfortable with changes they wouldn’t want to attempt during competition.

You don’t need to overhaul your entire game. Just start small, focusing on the fundamentals. Revisit your grip, posture, and alignment. Practice short swings, putting, visualization, and stretching—all great areas behind building a foundation for improving your play. If golfing outdoors just isn’t feasible until late spring, then do grip and posture checks in a mirror (sliding glass doors also work well). You can even get ready by doing “phantom swings” in that mirror (but keep the clubs out of your hands here . . . nobody needs seven years of bad luck). If you have your swing on video, pop it in that player and start watching. And get in the habit of recording PGA or LPGA events so you can watch their swings, too!

Physical strength is as important to your golf game as working on your mechanics, and winter is a great time to focus on developing a workout regimen. Of course, you would never start any strength or conditioning program without first consulting with your coach, but a Pilates class or some martial arts instruction might be a great change of pace for you. Talk to your coach or other fitness professional about sports that provide excellent cross-training opportunities for you while away from the clubs. Who knows? You may already be on the right track!

If you’re not currently training like an Olympic athlete, don’t sweat it. These suggestions aren’t meant to make you feel guilty. You’re the best judge of what you need to prepare. And try not to be frustrated if your backyard is covered in six feet of snow. There are creative ways to remain mentally and physically strong, no matter where you are. As you mature as a golfer, you will develop your own style and manner of transition from season to season and will discover what works best for you.

Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction:

  1. Know When Your Competitive Season Starts

    Have a plan and start date. There are junior tournaments year round, so you can expect your competition to be practicing, even if you choose not to! If you don’t want to touch your clubs until the first day of spring, that’s fine, but then stick to a schedule after March 20 that will prepare you for play.

  2. Set Specific, Short-term Goals: Be Process-oriented

    This is a good time to check disciple and form healthy habits. Measure progress by your stick-to-itiveness. “Did I pick up my club today?” “Did I do my drills according to plan?” “Did I spend time on developing my game this week?” “Am I able to do more sit ups today than I was able to do three weeks ago?” When you’re spending less time on the course, you can spend more time on your game!

  3. Set Broader, Long-term Goals: Sit Down with Your Parents and Share Your Dreams

    Let them help you map out your practice and play for the next six to twelve months. Evaluate where you are . . . and where you want to be.

  4. Club Check: Check Your Equipment

    Does it still fit? Do you need new grips? What are you going to need to start a new season? Make a list of needs and discuss them with your coach. Discuss the financial impact of those needs with your parents. Maybe you can pick up a few more chores to earn some extra cash? Thinking about that new driver you want is a great way to pass the time while you’re shoveling snow!

  5. Swing Changes: Now is the Timeless Pressure, Fewer Emotional Peaks and Valleys—to Make Changes

    Work in a mirror. Do the drills your coach has given you. Use practice aids. Be clear about what it is you are trying to change. Practice away from the golf ball, even away from the course. It is much easier to make changes when you are not focused on ball contact and immediate results.

  6. Go Mental: This Can Be very Useful and Lots of Fun!

    Practice visualization. Use your imagination. Feel the difference between being in a relaxed, focused state and being uptight and under pressure. Simulate your best golf. Stir up real emotions. Can you see yourself in your mind’s eye? See your swing? Your home course? Winning and holding up that trophy? What are you wearing? Can you smell the freshly mown fairway? Now . . . how long can you sit and visualize all of this? Can you do it for five minutes today? Can you do it for ten minutes tomorrow? Can you work your way up to 30 minutes?

Most importantly: keep golf FUN, CHALLENGING, and EXCITING, and you will do great whenever and wherever you choose to tee up!

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