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  • Writer's picturePaul Tolley


Whilst it is not my normal style to write articles focusing on negative issues, I believe it is important to understand the most common human errors which Golfers make before, during and after playing golf. I have adopted this approach in an effort to save all Golfers a considerable amount of time, effort, disappointment and frustration and allow them to focus and concentrate on the things which will enable allow them to play their best possible game.

In this article I will not be dealing with any “swing technique” and I will be concentrating on the area of “human skills”. What do I mean by this?

Well, a large number of poor shots/results are caused by issues other than your technique. I am not suggesting that technique is not important and clearly, if you are not able to make reasonable and regular centre face contact with the ball then the game will indeed be difficult. However, every Golfer that has played the game has hit a good shot with “their swing” whatever style or form that may take. We have only to look at the Tour Players to see that they are all distinct and achieve their results in a different manner.

The one thing that is common to all of them is that they are all able to manage their “human skills”.

I am of course referring to elements such as belief, trust, doubts, fears, thoughts and emotions all of which influence our confidence and ability to perform to our desired level.

Before we begin to look at specific common errors which Golfers make, it is important that you understand the concept of “cause and effect” in relation to your golf. Currently, the majority of Golfers believe that a poor shot or disappointing result is caused solely by bad technique. With this belief, they look for a solution and change of technique after every poor result. This leads to a continuous cycle of change depending on the result of the shot which will eventually drive you insane! What if the error was caused by something else like a poor attitude, lack of trust or putting your attention on something which is not useful to you?

Poor swing technique can be the effect/result of poor thoughts or changes in thought.

So, what is cause and effect? Cause and effect in relation to golf can be defined as follows;

“It is something that happens (the effect) and that which makes it happen (the cause).

Every motion produced with our body or our club (cause) and every thought (cause) or changes of thought (cause) have certain reactions (effects)”.

Understanding that a disappointing result could be caused by a thought or emotion allows Golfers to manage the situation and perform as best they can without constantly changing their “swing technique”. So, let us now look at what I consider to be the most common human errors which Golfers make before, during and after the game.


I am often asked; “Why is it that I can hit the ball well on the practice range but not on the course?”

To answer this question, we need to look at how we currently practice and why this type of practice is not effective and how we should practice in order to get the best return (on the golf course) for the time and effort that we put in.

Typically and unfortunately, most Golfers perception of practice is to hit a certain amount of balls on the driving range in a certain amount of time. Most Golfers will have a specific amount of time they have available to practice and a certain number of balls in mind (one or two baskets). They have a “scrape and hit” approach to practice where they just keep raking balls in front of them and hitting away, with no purpose to the shot. Practice ends when either the balls run out, their hands hurt or it gets dark. For most Golfers it is a question of quantity (either amount of time or amount of balls) as to how they judge whether there practice is successful or not. The result of this sort of practice is to develop and reinforce sloppy habits. If there is not a purpose to each shot, all you encourage is the development of a loose swing and an unfocused mind. This habit, which you have just created, will now appear on the golf course. This will be the moment when you become frustrated and tell yourself that all that time and effort spent on the range was a complete waste of time! No wonder you think twice about going to practice again! So why is this type of practice potential harmful to us as Gofers?

Part of the reason is because you have practiced hitting balls on the range. You haven’t practiced hitting balls under real playing conditions. There are shot situations and pressures on the course which you won’t find on the driving range – unless you intentional create them.

Practice needs to be much more about quality and not quantity and it needs to be about playing golf.

Golf is different from other sports; if you want to practice your tennis, you go to the tennis court; if you want to practice your football, you go to the football pitch. The same applies to sports like rugby, squash, badminton, track cycling, athletics, Formula 1 racing, etc. In those sports, practice takes place in the actual sports arena. The sportsmen and women in those sports are always playing they are not practicing. In Golf, we have a separate place to practice and it is a completely different environment to the Golf course. Therefore, you must change the essence of how you practice. The good news is that this is a matter of choice and under your control. How can this be achieved?

The first concept to understand is the necessity to avoid separating practice and play. They are both golf. The purpose of practice is to play better golf on the golf course not to hit the ball perfectly on the range. To accomplish that goal, you need to focus all your attention toward playing the golf course. When you can’t be on the course, you have to make your practice as golf/play like as possible. In this way you will always be playing golf and there is no separation between the two elements. Practicing in this way creates both physical and mental habits that will appear on the golf course.

“Practice the game before the game and practice the game in ALL of its conditions.”

The most important practice essential is about making your practice as much like real golf as possible. This is called Simulated Golf. This means don’t just stand there and mindlessly hit balls. Is that how you play golf? On the golf course every shot is different; every shot has a new challenge and purpose. So, how can you create that situation on the practice area? Well, there are many things which you can do to simulate golf on the driving range and the short game area. When practicing and simulating golf you should do the following;

· Use your full routine for every shot – This way there will be no difference between practice and play. This must include having a visual image of the shot with its trajectory, bounce, roll and end result.

· Change clubs for every shot – How many times on the course do you hit 20 seven iron shots in a row?

· Change target for every shot – This will train your mind to recalibrate for each shot.

· Change the lie of the ball every shot – Particularly for the short game, don’t give yourself perfect conditions, it doesn’t happen on the course.

· Play the golf course on the driving range – Imagine the holes of the course and hit the relevant clubs for each shot (Drive, iron, pitch or chip and putt).

· Putt with one ball to several holes instead of several balls to one hole – Practice your putting the way the game is played. Anyone can putt well when they Putt several balls to the same hole.

· Chip one ball and then putt – This is the most realistic way to practice the short game. Anyone can chip well when they chip 5 balls to the same pin.

Every golfer is capable of performing these tasks however what they need is the discipline, determination, commitment and patience to practice them. If you succeed in this then your practice then becomes;

· Real: you are practicing as if you were playing golf.

· Wide: you are practicing all the elements of the game.

· Deep: you are focused and paying attention to your intention.


Experience tells me that most Golfers think far too much about a variety of things whilst they are playing. These thoughts can change from round to round, hole to hole, shot to shot and even, from club to club. These thoughts will generally fall into the following categories;

· Analyzing errors/thinking about technique,

· Thinking about results or score (past, present and future),

· Thinking about consequences (past, present or future)


After a few poor shots, most Golfers will tend to think their swing is broken, which is not true. However, they start to focus more and more on swing technique and move their attention away from the task in hand (Target). It is a fact that trying to consciously control your body during any movement makes the task more difficult. Trusting what you have is far more important than trying to correct something or forcing a movement while swinging. Golfers can still hit good shots with a less than perfect swing if they connect to the target and the shot (task) and trust themselves.

Linked to this is the tendency to think of too many things. Most Golfers play their best when their mind is focus on one idea or as few things as possible. If you want to make things more difficult for yourself try thinking of 5 different swing thoughts and add to these as your round progresses! Why not decide before you play what you are going to pay attention to (i.e. balance, rhythm or tension) and stick with this for the whole round. That way your attention will be on something useful to your game and something which you have personally chosen that is relevant to the game and not on something which is not useful and influenced by the result of each shot.


Most Golfers would play much better if they had no memory of what their score was or if they didn’t try to predict what score they will have at the end of the round. Golfers would just play every shot as best they can. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t know what you score was during a round until after your last putt was holed. It is fact that your score has absolutely no relevance until after you have finished the 18th hole and signed your card. Up to that point your score does not exist.

All of you will have said to yourself whilst playing;

“I am 3 under my handicap after 9 holes if I par in then I’ll have 39 points?”

Conversely, you have probably also said to yourself,

“I have only 15 points on the front nine, I better improve otherwise I may not get 30 points”

Both these thoughts are based on trying to protect or predict an outcome, both of which put limitations and pressure on you as a player. Why saddle yourself with these extra burdens when the game is difficult enough! Better to just continue playing and see what happens after the 18th hole. You may surprise yourself with the results!

An alternative is to divide the course into 6 x 3 holes. The goal is to simply play as well as you can for each and every set of 3 holes. With this game you are constantly giving yourself a fresh start and it allows you to move towards playing one hole and eventually, one shot at a time.


Most Golfers when they are directly over the ball will be thinking about the consequences of the shot. Their attention will be placed on trying not to do something, for example, “don’t hit it in the water; avoid the bunker, rough, trees”. Also, their thoughts may turn to past experiences such as; “the last time I played this hole I went to the right; the last time I used this club I hit a poor shot”.

Thoughts such as these are clearly not useful to us and act as a trigger for our mind and body to re- produce the same movement associated with the previous experience.

Generally this will result in the same shot and outcome. Whilst we are all influenced by our previous experiences and in some situations these can be very useful and positive to us, they are no guarantee that the same outcome will happen in the present moment or in the future. For example, you may have had problems with your Driver previously but that does not mean you will have today, tomorrow or next week provided your attitude, thoughts and emotions are correct with the club.

I often ask Golfers, “What is your favourite club?” and I receive a variety of answers such as; “my driver or my hybrid or my seven iron”. Of course, the correct answer is “I don’t have a favourite club; I treat them all the same”. Why would you want a different attitude with some clubs when your swing is the same with all of them?

If you are having problems with particular clubs then it is probably your attitude which is the problem not the club.

Having different emotions and feelings about certain courses, certain holes, certain clubs and certain shots is very common but before you question your technique and equipment make sure your attitude is correct with whichever one of these is giving problems. This attitude from the past will affect your present and future performance unless it is changed.

In summary, be careful with your thoughts and emotions. If your attention is not on your target (task in hand) then you will have no intention to your shot and this is counterproductive. Your thoughts will either be on something which is useful to your game or on something which is not. Make sure you choose the right one!


Expectations are merely attempts to predict the unpredictable and a demand that you place on your future performance. One interesting statistic from the PGA tour is that 7ft 10in represents the 50% make distance in putting. In other words, a Tour Pro is just as likely to miss from this distance as to hole it! However, in my experience most Golfers are disappointed if they miss from this distance. Many feel that they should hole it which suggests that their expectation levels are well above where they should be. All Golfers have experienced different expectations; if we play well one day we expect to play well the next and if we play badly, we expect to struggle.

“Golf’s biggest myth is that the past equals the future”

There is no type of expectation that is healthy for your game. Expect to play poorly and you’ll play with no determination or energy. Expect to play well and you’ll have no resilience to change things if they don’t go as planned. So, make it your policy to play with no expectations, negative or positive and apply the following strategy;

· Adopt “Expect nothing and deal with everything” as your motto.

· Control the controllable to give yourself the best chance of playing well (More on this later).

· Believe in your capability. Play your game with the skills that you have. Don’t try to do what you cannot.

Linked with unrealistic expectations is the ability to deal with and accept that as Golfers, you may not always strike the ball, play the game and achieve the result that you wish. Having the ability to accept this situation is crucial to maintaining control of your thoughts and emotions and subsequently, your performance. Many Golfers have perfectionist tendencies however, they need to control this otherwise their performance will suffer. Whilst having a strong desire to play perfectly is a noble trait it is not always useful since the game of golf is about managing misses and not about hitting perfect shots.

Your game will always be a mixture of great, good and good enough shots.

The best players in the world are not capable of producing their best golf on demand so it is again unrealistic and unhealthy to have this trait. The essence of golf is uncertainty so you must accept that you cannot control everything and you must embrace the uncertainty rather than stress about it. If you react emotionally to any set back then you are not giving yourself the best chance to play your game. Stay calm, deal with it and move on.


In golf there are two things which we need to control, the ball and ourselves! Whilst controlling the ball is not always easy and is relative to our technical ability, the control of our attitude, emotions and thoughts is something which is entirely under our control. However, we very often allow what happens to the ball to control our mood and emotions and determine whether we enjoy ourselves or not!

The problem with focusing on things which we cannot control is that they are a complete waste of our time and energy. Furthermore, they distract us from where our thoughts should be and therefore, move our focus, concentration and attention away from the task in hand. Accordingly, our thoughts and emotions should be focused on the things which we can control and these will produce a calmer and more controlled frame of mind which in turn will allow us to perform as we wish.

Below is a list of controllable and non-controllable factors which will enable us to improve and enjoy our game.


●Equipment – you decide completely what equipment, ball, clothes, shoes, etc.

●Enjoyment – you decide whether you choose to enjoy the game or not.

●Nerves – anxious or excited by the game – they are not so different.

●Your routines – you control completely your process.

●Emotions/Moods – as in life, this is always you’re choice.

●Punctuality/Preparation – time of arrival, time for practice.

●Diet – energy and hydration whilst playing.

●What you think – Thoughts = Feelings = Behaviour. Are they useful or not?

●What you say to yourself – useful or not and in what tone? Kind or otherwise?

●What you say to others – what tone of voice/mood – happy or miserable?

●What you listen to – useful or not?


●The weather- the ball does not know what the weather is like, it reacts to your club.

●Tee times – early or late/1st tee or 10th tee – what is the difference?

●Course conditions – wet or dry; good or bad, it is the same for everyone.

●Playing partners – Spirit of the game – they are there to play just like you.

●Pin placements – the purpose of the hole is to receive the ball no matter where it is.

●Other’s speed of play – you can only control how fast/slow you play.

●Breaks/Bounces/Luck – Some good and some not so good – deal with it.

●Lie of the ball – good, bad or just how it is?

●Past shots – a waste of time and energy

●Score – means nothing until you sign your card.

●Winning – someone may play better than you.


So, you should now have a much greater understanding of the most common human errors that you as Golfers make and can probably appreciate how difficult you are making the game for yourselves when the solutions are in your hands.

What type of golf would you play if you had the choice and what would you have to change to make that happen? Do you think having a technically perfect swing would do it? Maybe 10 more metres distance from the tee or the latest turbo driver or maybe a change in attitude, a change in thinking and better management of your emotions or maybe a combination of a few things?

Whatever you feel it is, I guarantee that by implementing and committing to the advice above, you will start to eliminate the most common errors that occur in the game today.

So, in order to make improvements to your game and play the type of golf you wish, you should;

· Practice more effectively - Simulate golf and get better return for your effort

· Think less, pick one simple thing that is helpful to your game and stick to it

· Stay in the present, fear is always based in the future and the past is unchangeable

· Have realistic expectations and accept that golf is not a game of perfect shots

· Control the controllable and don’t waste time and energy on other things

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