When asked what you struggle with most in golf, how often do you reply with, 'I just wish I was more consistent'?
Every golfer craves consistency - or, in the ideal world, consistency laced with gradual improvement. If you can arrive at the first tee knowing that your game is in good shape, chances are that you'll have a mental advantage over each of your playing partners.
But back in the real world, golf performance can vary quite drastically from one round to the next - sometimes for no obvious reason. Why is it that an almost career-low round can be immediately followed by a pain-filled day to forget? It seems borderline unfair.
Golf is, of course, a technically demanding sport, and external variations (weather, course conditions etc.) mean that even with an identical swing, ups and downs are an unavoidable reality. But that doesn't really account for days when your entire swing just seems a little 'off'.
Even in the pro game, golfers who shoot the lights out and threaten to go sub-60 on Thursday can struggle to a few strokes over par just 24 hours later.
So what gives? Why do we all suffer these inconsistencies, and how can you banish rounds that leave you with many more questions than answers?
We've listed some of the standout reasons and a few changes you can implement to extend those periods of great golf.
You have poor discipline at set up
So much of where your golf ball will go is predetermined by the decisions you make - and the positions you take - at set-up. Having a consistent, predictable strike is nigh-on impossible if you stand over the ball differently each time.
First, let's talk about your grip. We are assuming you know what a good golf grip looks like, but how discplined are you at making sure you hold the club the same each time you address the ball?
Though most golfers' grips are different in some way, shape or form, the importance from a predictability standpoint is that your grip is the same each time you are getting ready to hit.
That goes for your grip pressure too - keep it the same and stay aware of times when you might be tensing up.
Next, work on getting your clubface square at address (it's very easy to get this wrong); the same goes for your body alignment. Perhaps videoing your set-up might give you some visual feedback, and you can make any adjustments necessary.
How often do you spend time at the driving range making sure your clubface, shoulders, hips and feet are square to the target? If the answer is 'not a lot', you might have stumbled upon one of the standout reasons for your inconsistency.
You've lost your tempo and rhythm
When we think about great tempo and rhythm in golf, it's only natural to let our minds wander towards the buttery smooth golf swings of Freddie Couples and Ernie Els (to name just a few).
While the thought of developing such a beautiful swing might seem like a pipe dream for us mere mortals, taking time to actively work on your tempo and rhythm will help you improve your consistency.
What's more, if you have an understanding of the optimal tempo/rhythm for your game, it will enhance your ability to troubleshoot your golf swing on the course mid-round.
As a general rule, amatuer golfers tend to swing too hard. We're trying to hit our driver farther and impress our buddies, and that sort of 'grip it and rip it' approach can find its way into our iron play and short game too.
When you're swinging out of your shoes and your timing is impeccable, you might well shoot a good number. The first time your tempo and rhythm start to fade - even just a smidgen - it's going to be a struggle to keep the ball in play.
A top tip we love is to have a thought of swinging with the goal of holding your finish for a few seconds. When you are focused on remaining stable after your follow-through, it can have a great overall effect of smoothening out the entire swing.
If you're out on the course swinging like a maniac, you're going to find it difficult to hold that finish.
Start to view your tempo as the glue that binds your golf swing together, and it could lead to fewer inconsistent rounds of golf.
Your mental game is letting you down
How often have you been playing solid golf approaching the turn, and then one bad golf shot appears - seemingly for no apparent reason - and massively rocks your confidence?
If you've felt rounds get away from you after hitting one single ball OB, or catching a bad break, it could indicate that your mental game needs a bit of work.
Negative emotions tend to lead to tension in your arms and - as a result - your swing. When you're fraught with uncertainty, inconsistency reigns, and your round could descend into chaos.
It's a well-worn saying, but if you can remember that 'the most important shot in golf is the next one', and truly implement that as a golfing mantra to live by, you'll step onto most tee boxes already 'one-up' on your opponent.
We love Tiger's famous 10-step rule. For those who don't know, when prime-Tiger hit a bad shot, he allowed himself to get angry, but made sure to forget about it ten steps down the fairway.
If it's served the GOAT well through the years, it could also help manage your emotions on the golf course.
You lack a meaningful practice plan
A high number of golfers go to the driving range between rounds with no real plan of what they need to work on, never mind how they intend to get the desired results.
Too many of us head to the range and hit ball after ball with very little structure. Whether you're trying to take your good play to the next level, or recover from a poor round, getting benefit out of a driving range session starts with having a defined routine and a plan.
Give each shot the time and concentration it deserves. Have a target in mind. Employ your pre-shot routine. Make your swing. Consider (and perhaps log?) the result. React accordingly if needs be.
Skills games can be useful too.
We can sometimes become complacent and neglect clubs that we feel are working well. It might seem like a good idea to focus all your time on your weaker clubs, but if you've been dialled in with your short irons (for example), and choose to ignore them altogether between rounds, it could lead to unexpected regression.
And don't forget your short game practice. If your local driving range facility also has a short play area, it's a no-brainer. Amateur golfers can improve their game more quickly by focusing on the short game, yet we tend to spend more time walloping drive after drive at the range.
You have too many swing thoughts
Most golfers, at some point in their golf journey, have stood over the golf ball with what seems like hundreds of different swing thoughts.
Often it happens when we are trying to make swing changes, or perhaps after watching a few too many conflicting instructional videos on YouTube. When you're down the proverbial rabbit hole, it can be a lonely and confusing place.
An initial suggestion would be to speak your local golf pro and perhaps book a lesson. If that's a little too expensive, or if you prefer working it out on your own, try picking a 'go-to' YouTube golf coach and stick to their teachings.
In terms of on course tricks you can employ to remove these swirling swing thoughts, you could try becoming more target focused.
Find a target off in the distance and trace a line back to the ball. Perhaps you could pick a point a few feet ahead as you address the ball and focus on hitting through that area.
You should get the double benefit of removing all that pre-shot noise and improving your strike as you hit through the ball on the ideal target line.
The main message here: when you're consumed by far too many swing thoughts, simplification is key.
You're using the wrong clubs
A high percentage of golfers fall into the mid-high handicap bracket and arguably should be looking for a set of golf clubs that offers a decent amount of forgiveness.
A set of brand-spanking new blades might look as pretty as a picture in your bag, but if you can't hit them for toffee, what benefit do they provide? We'd wager not very much at all.
You might hit a super-low number when you're swinging your absolute best, but when your rhythm and tempo are off (even just a little), your mishits will get little in the way of forgiveness, and you're heading for a tough day on the links.