Sometimes the best plan is to have no plan

Sometimes the best plan is to have no plan

Like most club golfers, the greatest annual test of my golf is the club championship.

In the Club C, it’s always fascinating to see how well I can incorporate the coaching and performance fundamentals that I provide to my clients. I want to empower my clients, but I want to play well too! If a coach doesn’t admit this to you, he or she is lying.

I was in the A Flight this year. I had a frustrating start to the season as I incorporated some changes that I worked on with professional Mike Martz, and my index rose to around eight, which took me out of the championship division. But as the Club C approached, I was feeling pretty good about my game.

I was also buoyed by some coaching that Howard Glassman, my Swing Thoughts podcast partner and a scratch player, has given me about tournament golf, namely about selecting targets that take the potential for big numbers out of play. (We talked about my Club C in Episode 141.)

In the opening round Friday of the Club C at Blue Springs GC, I focused on targets, which kept my usually busy mind fairly quiet. I was six-over after 16 holes, and became conscious that I might be leading. I rattled off some tense swings and bogeyed the last two holes.

Turns out, I was the first round leader, but I was disappointed by my wobbly finish.

On Saturday morning, I decided to focus on targets and on maintaining connection to the club through the swing. That connection thing has worked wonders in the past to circumvent tight swings, so why not?

The plan worked swimmingly to start. On the 3rd tee, however, my hybrid hit about a foot behind the ball, and the ball skittered into the woods. I laughed. I stuck with my connection plan, but ballooned to 89. I rode home in gloomy silence.

That night, I rationalized that attempting to stay connected to the club—especially in the emotionally charged Club C—took an enormous amount of concentration. Besides, I employed it as a ‘fix,’ and they rarely work. If I’d been doing it all season, maybe.

Instead, I was thinking about it. And I know that thinking about the swing while attempting to swing is a bad idea. 

On Sunday morning, my instinct was to root around in my mental Rolodex for a plan for the day. Then, I thought: ‘What if I didn’t have a plan? What if I just swung the club … and whatever happened … happened?’

As I hit shots on the range, I just let my body do its thing. Eventually, I noticed something interesting—it felt very good to let my body move on its own. It was like my body was doing what it wanted to feel good.

Casey Brandreth was beside me on the range. He said, “Tim, keep swinging with that tempo, and you’re going to have a great day.”

On the front nine, my clubs felt light in my hands, and the game felt easy. I was aware that I was playing well, but I didn’t seem to care that much. I made the turn in 39.

On the back, I continued to let it happen. In the fairway on 15, I was aware that I was four-over and likely in contention. Instantly, I felt nervous and incredibly self-conscious that my partners Max and Peter were watching me. They had become my cheerleaders,

In retrospect, I tried to think my way through a wedge shot—my default under pressure—and made a double.  

That reminded me to stop trying and just swing, and I played the final holes well. I finished second by two strokes.

I left the course feeling great. For one of the first time in years, I played golf without effort or ‘grinding.’ I played golf the way a child plays a game.

What a revelation: I didn’t need a grand plan to play the game of golf. I didn’t need to think about anything while I swung the golf club—even when the intention of my plan was to prevent myself from over-overthinking! Talk about a dog chasing its tail.

If you’re struggling with your game, finding yourself frustrated and unable to swing freely, why not plan to go out and just swing at targets … and see what happens, even if just for nine holes.

You may discover some things that you were not aware of. If you can leave the golf course every day knowing more about yourself than the day before, you’re a winner.

You cannot argue with that plan.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf and mental performance coach, an award-winning writer, and Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team. He is the recipient of the 2020 Lorne Rubenstein Media Award, given by Golf Ontario. He is author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story, and co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman. And he plays bass in CID—a punk band!

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