A golf lesson learned a little late

This is sort of a continuation of yesterday’s post – thought a story would resonate with more golfers. Here’s the story.

It was my first big golf event. I had qualified through to the match play rounds of the State Championships and was paired against a gun golfer. This guy had won a lot of events and had way more experience than me. The course was also set up for a serious tournament – the greens were lightning fast and many of the pins where in tough positions. It’s an understatement to say I was nervous.

I started well. Somehow nailed a shot on the 1st hole that set up birdie. But from then on I was far from my best. Made lots of mistakes and never felt that comfortable in the situation – I was trying hard but couldn’t keep out of my own way long enough to string a decent stretch of holes together.

I made a long putt on the 15th to stay one down. I did the same thing on the 15th and 16th. My opponent was frustrated. Despite me hitting the ball all over, he couldn’t finish me. The 17th is a long par 5 and he was over the green in three and I was safely on in regulation.

It was then I had a moment of clarity.

What are you worried about? This game isn’t so hard. You’re right in this match. Let’s relax and start playing some golf – what’s the worse thing that could happen? If you get through this match just go out and let rip this afternoon. You’ll be fine, there’s nothing to worry about.

I felt confident. And the nerves had disappeared. All I had to do was play and things would be alright. I realised then that the worry and stress didn’t really help – and despite getting in my own way I was still in contention. The jolt of enthusiasm and confidence didn’t last long however.

The gun golfer chipped his ball way past the hole but then sunk the long putt for par. He pumped his fist. At the same time I forgot everything contained in my pep talk and lost my way. I tried way too hard to sink the first putt and made a poor attempt at the second. Instead of playing the 18th hole the match was finished.

I was disappointed, but that moment of clarity has stuck with me all these years later (I think it has been 17 years). From that point on I made steady progress with my game. I learned to stop trying so bloody hard and eventually worked out how to play better under pressure. There was no magic involved. It simply involved letting my system play the game with as little interference (from Pesky) as possible.

My biggest regret is not having the realisation earlier on that day as I may have gone on to bigger things. I should have gotten down to business from the start, but as they say, it’s better late than never.

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Cam280 - November 8, 2012

Even though I had 27 putts yesterday I went through a patch of poor golf. I made the turn 2 over, chicko roll and a ginger beer later i’m taking a drop from the hazard on the 10th, managed to make bogey. Parred the 11th then hell broke loose bogey,bogey,bogey double bogey all because I let a social player through, all passive, aggressive like, a victim scenario. I mean who thinks they should or could just cruze through a comp all pompous like, I managed to birdie 16, 17 and parred the 18th.
Moral of the story expect the unexpected and don’t at any stage let your bubble burst.

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    Cameron - November 9, 2012

    Cam280: Yep, you’ve gotta keep trucking no matter what. The fact you are more aware of these disruptions means you’re on the right track to eliminating them. Good stuff and watch out for those passive aggressive people.

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Gregor McCulloch - November 8, 2012

How often do we go out onto the course wanting to play well and being disappointed almost from the start when we’re not having the game of our lives. We need to learn what our ‘real’ game is and that sometimes our game that day is not our best, or more importantly that it is not as good as our opponents who may well be having their best game in ages. The game involves missing fairways and playing bad shots. Why can’t we get that into our heads.

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Grayden Provis - November 9, 2012

Gregor said: “The game involves missing fairways and playing bad shots, why can’t we get that into our heads”.

Indeed. And that applies even if you’re Jack Nicklaus:

“Getting good at this game, then staying good, is a tough and lonely and endless journey, with lots of dead-ends and other frustrations to strain your body and stress your mind along the way. Which, of course, is why so few of the tens of thousands who set out on it get very far along it”

If that was Jack’s experience of “getting good” at golf ours certainly won’t be any easier. In fact it’ll be a whole lot harder because we only play once a week. Jack played and practiced 24/7 and STILL found it “frustrating to mind and body” trying to get good at it.

Bottom line: golf’s not a game you can dabble in and be good at. So you either put in lots of time or just continue to dabble and accept lots of missed fairways and bad shots as Gregor says. The odds are simply against you. You’re using a full swing of a long stick with a small head to hit a small ball large distances. The fine motor skills to be able to do this consistently well can only be developed over a long time and many hours of practice as Nicklaus says. No amount of scouring magazines and golf books for a short cut is going to work. Personally I think the challenge is to try and find some peace in golf WITHIN those constraints, not try and beat them. If you can’t you’re probably better off taking up bush walking.

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Mike Divot - November 9, 2012

‘Twas Nicklaus who said in each round he expects to hit six terrible shots. That thought has helped me.

But what is more profound, to me, is that he also said that in each round he expects ONLY six shots to turn out exactly the way he wanted.

In between are a hell of lot of shots that are there-or-thereabouts and that is the reality of golf. Perfection doesn’t exist, so stop chasing it and falling short. Work with what you have and the game is easier and more enjoyable.

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Cam280 - November 9, 2012

In my opinion I play my best when my target allows for a range that is dictated by gravity. Gravity is your friend. Find the speed to reach the highest point and let gravity do the rest.

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Grayden Provis - November 9, 2012

I reckon Cam280’s comment is spot on. For those unsure of what he means he’s talking about finding the back swing speed that takes your arms to their natural highest point (different for all of us depending on our body type and flexibility) and then letting them basically “fall” through under gravity (the feeling of them getting a “free ride” that Hogan talked about). He’s saying that the targets you can reach with that type of hit is the sort of targets you should be looking for. This approach certainly improves the odds in your favour when you’re making a “full swing of a long stick with a small head to hit a small ball large distances”. It improves the odds of bringing the club face back square to the ball because you’re taking the aggressive “hitting” out of the swing which is when all sorts of distortions happen. Cam280’s talking about patient, trusting golf, allowing it to unfold rather then “pressing”. At least thats my take on what he’s saying. I’m sure he’ll correct me if its not 🙂

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    Cameron - November 9, 2012

    ALL: I think it’s about choosing the path of least resistance. Making golf as simple and as easy as possible for you. For too long I tried to play how others wanted – when I realised my way was best golf got a whole lot simpler and more fun. But as I’ve said a million times, learning to walk your way is not that simple – you’ve got to overcome a tonne of resistance, both internally and from outside. It’s all about knowing what you can and can’t do and then being brave enough to choose the shots you can hit. It’s all pretty simple, but like a lot of simple ideas they’re easily ignored.

    Some great comments by everyone 🙂 thanks for stopping by.

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