Minding your game

KEVIN HAIME

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

Practice is a big part of the game. The more you work on your swing, the better you'll strike the ball and the more greens you'll hit.

Same goes with your short game. If you learn more shots around the green and tidy up your putting stroke, you'll save strokes and shoot lower scores.

Or at least that's the theory. The problem is there's more to golf than hitting the ball. All the pros on tour hit the ball about the same, but Tiger Woods waxes them all on a regular basis. That has less to do with ball striking and more to do with his mental and emotional strength.

If you can improve your decision-making and deal with things that happen to you on the course, you'll really become a better player. Here are a few keys to better course management and dealing with pressure:

ARRIVE EARLY

Preparation is the key to good golf. If you want to play your best, always get to the course early enough to warm up properly. Hit some short and long putts and make sure you finish your warm-up by practising the shot you'll need off the first tee.

PLAN AHEAD

Go to the first tee with a plan. You've got to approach every round with a strategy or a game plan -- and stick to it. Decisions you make in advance about how to play the course are better than decisions made on the fly.

PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS

... and the course's weaknesses. Every hole has an easiest way to be played. Figure out what that is before you hit your first shot. Also, try to put yourself in a position that will work with your normal ball flight. If you slice or fade the ball, tee up on the right-hand side and aim a little left, so your normal ball flight will end up in the fairway. Fighting tendencies is a bad idea.

DON'T EXPERIMENT

Be reasonable about your shot-making ability. Don't hit shots you've never tried before or even those you don't think you can pull off 75% of the time. The golf course is no place to try new shots.

THINK ONE SHOT AHEAD

Always consider your next shot. My No. 1 course management tip is to think about the next shot after the one you're hitting. Try to leave yourself in a position to make your next shot as easy as possible. High-risk shots usually end badly -- just ask Phil Mickelson. Keep the odds in your favour, just like you would at a blackjack table.

STAY POSITIVE, PATIENT

To play your best golf, you have to be confident and upbeat. If you let bad play get you down, your game will spiral out of control. Try not to allow outside distractions or bad shots affect your next shot. If you get down, your scores will go up.

LEARN FROM MISTAKES

Always reflect and learn from your round. I see amateurs making the same mistakes over and over again. Use your experiences to prevent bad things from happening in the future. I even like the idea of keeping notes on rounds to help me remember mistakes and miscalculations so I won't repeat them.

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FAVOURITE NEW SHOT

About five years ago I started using my hybrid to hit long chips.

If you're more than 40 feet from the flag and just off the green, your hybrid is a great option. Putting from that far can be inconsistent because you have to make such a long stroke. Chipping with an iron can also be difficult because it's hard to predict the amount of spin your lofted club will put on the ball.

Your hybrid is like a heavier, longer putter, so it won't require a really long stroke, but it also won't spin the ball too much.

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PRODUCT WATCH

It's hard to ignore the meteoric rise of Adams Golf hybrids. They are now the No. 1-rated hybrids on every professional golf tour. The Adams are very easy to hit, but don't balloon the ball in the air like other easy-to-hit hybrids. Adams' Idea Pro Gold hybrid is worth a look for better players looking for a lower, more penetrating ball flight. There are a lot of great hybrids on the market, but none are generating the buzz of the Adams Golf hybrids.

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BOOK IT!

My Top 5 golf books that deal with the mind:

1. Golf is not a Game of Perfect (Dr. Bob Rotella)

2. Fearless Golf: Conquering the Mental Game (Dr. Gio Valainte)

3. Eight Traits of Champion Golfers (Deborah Graham and Jon Stabler)

4. The Golfer's Mind - Play to Play Great (Dr. Bob Rotella and Bob Cullen)

5. Lights-out Putting (Todd Sones)


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