Breaking Our Bad Habits

Golf Advisor staff members admit their bad habits to show how a new instruction series by Martin Hall can help break yours.

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Everybody has bad habits on the golf course.

Even the best players in the game struggle with something. Golf is the endless pursuit of perfection.

Shoring up shortcomings can be the least enjoyable part of the game, or the motivation that drives you. Martin Hall is here to help. Hall, host of Golf Channel's School of Golf, has put together an 18-part series on GolfPass called "Breaking Bad Habits" where he goes in-depth how to fix the biggest issues in your game.

Although the Golf Advisor editorial staff plays plenty of golf, often at nice places, we still could use all the help we can get. In this story, we strip our games to the core, laying bare our sins for the world to see. Maybe by sharing our biggest faults, we can inspire you to take a harder look at your game to figure out where you're losing shots. Once you identify a problem or two, turn to Hall for the best advice on how to address them.

Getting mental

Brandon Tucker
Current Index: 6.4

The par-5 6th hole is the climax of a round at Pebble Beach.

As much as I love golf and would jump at the chance to be able to play it all day, everyday, I marvel at touring pros' ability to have laser focus for four competitive (and typically slow) rounds, not to mention a couple practice rounds early in the week.

Losing focus for a hole, or even a shot or two, can be the difference in making a cut or even keeping your card.

My worst habit is in my head: I can't put 18 holes together. I get off to bad starts a lot. Worse, if I get off to a good start, my mind wanders to the possibilities of my final score which leads to imminent doom and a return to the "comfort zone" which for me is in the low to mid-80s. I've known about Bob Rotella's "Stay in the present" mindset since the 1990s. Why can't I achieve it?

Former PGA Tour pro Richard Zokol launched the MindTrak app this summer. The goal is to get the golfer more concerned with their shot preparation than their score. His app wants you to score each shot you take by how you prepared for it.

"The problem is how we perceive success, which is score." said Zokol. With MindTrak, golfers score each shot's assessment and execution. By taking your mind off what you actually shot per hole or round, and instead focus on these two metrics, a golfer will focus on what will really on the most meaningful thing.

Zokol isn't the only instructor with a platform that wants to track your "mental" score. Scott Fawcett's DECADE system asks golfers to assign a 1 or 0 value to the preparation of each shot taken based on Dr. Lardon's Mental Scorecard. In order to be "committed", a golfer must commit to the distance and shape of the shot and pull the trigger totally committed. Based on Fawcett's data, 1/4-1/3 of a stroke can be lost per poor mental event.

The trick with each scoring system is you have to be honest with yourself. That's not always a delusional duffer's strong suit. But whether you use MindTrak or DECADE or your own system, keeping tallies of your mental preparation and commitment to each shot can at the very least keep your mind off your true score, which in itself may prove dividends.

Being more mindful of my mental approach and commitment earlier this year did lead me to have a few rounds that were better than my "comfort zone" and was able to drop my handicap by a couple shots. But bad habits tend to creep back in once you stop being aware of them. I've also found there is a fine line between being focused and getting stiff. A relaxed, committed state is the promised land.

Short game woes

Jason Deegan
Current Index: 7.1

Jason Scott Deegan gets out of trouble with a pitch that sets up par at New South Wales in Australia.

With so many physical issues, all stemming from two broken vertebrae in my lower back as a teenager, I've resigned myself to the fact that I'll never have a fluid, athletic-looking swing. I'm a self-taught golfer who relies more on my short game than ball-striking to shoot good scores. That said, my short game has deserted me the past few years.

At a Nike golf school in 2015 at Sea Island's famed Golf Performance Center, I tested out as a 3 handicap inside 100 yards, but after a bout with some chipping yips in recent years, I've lost some confidence. I've tried to focus on strategy and comfort level when it comes to breaking my bad habit of screwing up relatively easy chips and pitches. If my ball's on a tight lie near the green, I've narrowed my options to the ground game instead of the riskier aerial route: 1, putting it or 2, using a less lofted club like an 8 or 9 iron to chip, the preferred method taught by Dave Pelz. Both take the chunked or skulled wedge shot out of the equation.

I've also found that with such inconsistent full swing mechanics, I'm better at short-yardage feel shots, half- and three-quarter wedges and 9 irons. For example, my 9 iron is typically my 125- to 130-yard club, but it's really become a weapon at 115 yards instead of trying to muscle a wedge that distance. I'm back in single digits, at my lowest index ever, because I've dialed in my short game and eliminated the stupid errors that used to plague my scorecards.

Inconsistent tempo off the tee

Tim Gavrich
Current Index: +2.1

The author and his trusty old 7 wood.

Competition has always been inseparable from my perception and love of golf. It was hard for my 7-year old brain to fully appreciate Tiger Woods' dominating Masters victory in 1997; Justin Leonard's 1999 Ryder Cup heroics were crystal-clear, though: the joy and passion of competition hooked me to that side of the game, and I've never gone more than a few months between organized tournaments of one sort or another - junior golf, high school, college, local and regional amateur events - ever since.

What's been interesting to track over time is the fact that the strengths and weaknesses of my game have evolved. I swear I never missed a fairway in high school, but I also left just about every putt short and when I missed greens in regulation, I was a step behind my peers. Flash forward 15 years and it's almost the opposite: now I can chip and putt pretty well (my most recent tournament round: a 74 with just 5 greens in regulation and 25 putts), but my ball-striking is less consistent than it used to be, especially my driving. Other players I compete against seem to have set-it-and-forget-it swings with the big stick, and I envy them.

Tempo is key for me. My natural swing cadence has always been quick, but when I get tense it gets out-of-control, causing a two-way miss off the tee that has cost me several strokes recently. I have an Orange Whip in the trunk of my and its super-flexible shaft is great for both loosening up when I get to the course and ingraining the "one-two" rhythm I know I need. I've never been good at practicing with a purpose, but maybe if I start using it habitually, it'll start to straighten me out.

I also think my current driver's shaft might not be the best fit for me. It's a bit on the heavy side, which I thought would be helpful when I bought it a couple summers ago. But compared to the shafts in my fairway woods, which are about 10 grams lighter, I think it's creating a bit of a muddle in terms of the way my woods feel relative to one another. A more cohesive bag setup might be in order.

What bad habits are you attempting to break? Let us know in the comments below and click here to learn more about Martin Hall's new GolfPass series, "Breaking Bad Habits."

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
18 Comments
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When I start playing inconsistently, I always go back to the fundamentals i.e left arm straight, keep eye on ball ect. Seems to always fix me. I feel like sometimes I tend to over exaggerate those things. When I see the ball come off the club head, That means I’m usually playing well. Last week head was down and I was seeing the ball, but I was hitting behind every shot. Can you keep your head down for to long? I’m pretty sure it was causing me to hit behind the ball.

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Please help me to stop dipping at impact. I can't stop!

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Try putting your feet closer together. I dip my shoulder too. If my feet are shoulder with or a little less helps me. Dipping also happens when you are trying to go down and after the ball. For instance for a long shot. If you slow it down and let the club do the work, it helps with dipping.

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I don't know why you only feature low handicappers - they are few in the real world. Mid teens is still a good level and you would address many more if you concentrated there.

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PENALTIES:
I'll have games where I hit off the fairway into tall grass and loose my ball. PENALTY!! A couple of strokes a game because of poor eyesight penalties. Geeze! It then gets into my head and aggravates me through the game. How do I get around this psychological mess?

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I am having difficulty in visualizing where the chip shot should land on the green. As I age need little longer chip shots and they are inconsistent which adds to my higher score. Please help.

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I pull everything left dead pull left

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OMG I know the feeling. "Over the top" swing. I look like Tiger Woods at the top of the backswing but I am IN the woods when I hit it.

Key focus point for me to cure this is to focus on keeping my hands close to my body on the downswing, keep your head down and swing through the ball.

Drill: Place a 2x4 about a foot in length along side the ball, about 3 inches away. If you swing "over the top" you will hit the end of the 2x4. Great incentive to "come at it from the inside" so as not to hit the 2x4 with your club head.

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Standing up, thrusting hips forward/towards the ball during downswing, leading to topped shots or weak right hits. On a good day, just leads to inconsistency.

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I have a bad habit of pulling my wedges left. I can hit most of my irons straight but when I get close to the green I always pull left ! It drives me crazy. How do I fix this?

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You are pulling it by going "over the top" on your downswing. I know because I do it all the time! We get a little anxious on short shots 'cause we want to hit it close. Don't aim right - that's just a band-aid and doesn't correct the problem. Keep your head down and focus - "come at it from the inside" just like you'd hit a long iron.

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aim right... seriously: I do the same thing, especially when it is in between clubs for distance. When I square up my stance, I get a better result

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I have a tendency of not finishing my swing, more so with long irons and woods than short game. I often finish shoulder length and belt buckle never turned to the target.

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I strike the ball correctly if I keep my head down an eyes on the ball.
I have a bad habit of moving my head before I strike the ball and it causes a miss hit every time.
I believe it’s from 35 years of playing baseball/softball and wanting to see where the ball is going? I took up golf in my 40’s and normally played in golf outings.
I retired at 68 last year and now play about once a week weather permitting.
I still haven’t broken 100 yet but I’m getting close.

Any suggestions?

Stay Safe thanks. Bruce

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