Play Within Your Comfort ZoneCopyright © 1999 - 2035 Craig Townsend
When playing match play against an opponent on a lower handicap, it's common for some golfers to often play shots which are way out of their usual comfort zone.
This is caused by fear of the opponent, which often makes a player feel they need to hit great shots throughout the entire round just to be competitive with their opponent. Whilst it's admirable to be ambitious (!), this mindset can be fatal in competition as just one early bad hole will often deplete all the confidence from the player, and provide the stronger player an unexpected gift of breathing space.
Once a stronger player is given an early lead, it's unusual for them to relinquish their control, and so it's imperative that you never give a lower-handicap player this kind of breathing space. This means that a slightly different approach could be taken, where less respect is attached to the handicap of your opponent, and more attention is given to simply playing your own game.
Here's why; even the lowest handicap players often begin their round whilst experiencing some level of nerves or anxiety, and so this is the very best time to exploit your opponent - simply by playing within your ability and (as best you can) staying with your opponent's score for the first 3-4 holes.
After three or four holes, if the two players are still level, this is generally an unusual situation for the lower-handicapped player - and it is not unusual for even highly seasoned golfers to begin to tighten up slightly and overtry on their shots (and we know how fatal that can be). This is brought about by the pressure exerted upon them - simply because of the fact that they are still equal with a player they feel they should be beating! Consequently even some of these better players' games can begin to unravel and self-destruct.
On the other side of the coin, by playing within yourself and sharing the early holes of the round, you can then begin to relax a little and believe that you are truly capable of competing with your opponent. This way, you have played yourself into the game - and if your opponent happens to self-destruct, well that's simply a bonus.
Of course, this is not to say that you shouldn't take some risks at times - as there is calculated risk involved in all good golf. But the difference is taking risks that are within your level of confidence and ability on that particular day, rather than taking risks which are way above your comfort zone.
A classic example might be where your opponent (on a lower handicap) hits a long tee shot onto the green of a par 3 hole, which will leave him or her with a 20-foot putt. In this situation, you have a choice of two different mindsets or approaches:
The first is that you make an emotional decision where you give too much respect to your opponent - by assuming that they will make this putt. This mindset can force you to be overly ambitious on your tee shot, in order to try and duplicate the quality of your opponent's tee shot, instead of choosing a shot you would feel more comfortable with.
This often results in your shot finding the bunker, rough or maybe overshooting the green. Result: A bogey, and your opponent two-putts in, to par and win the hole. This hole gives your opponent a vital boost of confidence, and provides the opposite effect by giving your morale a severe battering - and more often than not, this hole will set the trend for the remainder of the round.
The second mindset to this situation is to be less emotional - where you might choose to instead play a more comfortable tee shot. Whilst this might leave you a little short of the green, it leaves you to chip onto the green and ultimately putt in, to par the hole. Result: You share the hole, which means you are still maintaining the pressure on your opponent, whilst reinforcing your own belief that you have what it takes to compete with this opponent.
Of course, that is just one scenario; if your opponent had hit their tee shot within an inch of the hole, this would change your approach entirely - as in this situation it would then become sensible and necessary to go for an ambitious tee shot, in order to attempt to hole the ball in two strokes. There are times for playing within your comfort zone, and times for playing outside of it - it is the choice as to when, that is all-important.
The key is to play within yourself until you feel the time is right to take the calculated risks, as this approach maintains the pressure upon your opponent whilst helping to build your confidence against a supposedly superior player.
So have faith in yourself that your game is good enough and ensure that your choice of shots is not based on emotional decisions - it might make a world of difference.
"The Mind controls the body, and the Mind is Unlimited"
The best of success, Craig Townsend
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