I’m not going to say you have to warm up before a round in order to play well. I’ve warmed up and played indifferently. I’ve also gone straight to the first tee, took a few swings to get loose, and shot even par.
But in general, you’ll play better if you warm up first, and better still if you warm up correctly. There’s more to it than just beating balls. A lot more.
It certainly helps to hit a few balls just to get relaxed, loose, and, well, warmed up. Literally. Move your muscles around by swinging the club lightly, even like a baseball bat at first, enough times for your muscles to actually heat up a bit. As you get older, this becomes more important for preventing injuries.
You want to hit a few balls to remember how your swing works. Much of the time, the first four or five balls I hit make it look like I picked up a golf club for the first time last week. Then everything falls in place and I have my swing back. I would rather hit my clinkers on the range than on the first few tees and fairways.
I like to hit one shot with every club. I don’t want to have to hit my 8-iron for the first time on the fifth hole. I would rather already have made friends with it that day.
Are there special shots you need to hit on this course? A tee shot around a corner? and approach over a tree? Rehearse them on the practice tee.
But let’s get down to subtle things that will make a big difference.
Find the tempo you will use today. Find the tempo that lets you swing as fast as you can without feeling like you’re forcing it, and lets you maintain your 3:1 swing rhythm. It might be a little faster, or a little slower than you think you normally use. That’s OK. It’s your tempo for today.
Then move on to ball position. You’re looking for the low point of your swing, so you can set up with the ball an inch or so behind. Move the ball back and forth between shots to find the position where you get the most solid strike.
Next, practice your aim. You don’t have to hit any balls to do this. Set yourself up to some marker downrange with a club or an alignment stick behind your heels. Reach back with your clubhead and pull the stick against your heels. Now step out of your stance and see if the stick/club is aligned parallel left of where you were aiming. Keep setting up to different targets until your sense of aim is spot on.
Have you ever gone to a professional tournament and watched the players warm up? Here is something they do not do:
Pull a ball over, set up, look downrange, hit the ball, watch it for a bit, pull over another ball, set up, hit it, watch it for a second or two, pull over another ball, and so on.
What they do is take their time. They take their time. They pull over a ball, take their time getting set up and aimed, hit it, and watch it until it lands. Then they’ll take a few practice swings, or practice a swing movement, and without being in any hurry, drag one over, take their time getting set up, hit it, watch it, and so on.
They’re practicing being deliberate when they have a shot to make. They’re not practicing to take five and half yours to get around the course, but not to be in a rush when it’s time to hit.
If warm-up like this, and get clear on tempo, ball position, aim, and deliberation, you will, on the whole, play as well as you can much more often.