How to mentally cope with bad golf

I played my weekly game of golf yesterday. It was a beautiful spring day in Melbourne, with a light breeze and plenty of sunshine, just perfect for golf. I was joined by some great mates and after a long week of work I was looking forward to the game and I hoped to play well.

Sometimes things just don’t workout though.

Despite following my automatic routine, I three putted the first, third and sixth holes. I’m not sure what was happening but for some reason I couldn’t get the ball into the hole. Making matters worse my swing didn’t feel right. I felt uncoordinated and my confidence was not at an all time high.

What’s the best strategy for overcoming this?

How to deal with a poor round

I’d like to discuss the mental strategies that I now use to cope with the frustration of playing (scoring) badly. This has been one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned and something that I have to continually work at.

No matter what happens I stick to my game plan. It’s easy to give up and change approach when things go sour. Golfers like to change their swing or their mental strategy. This is something I used to do all the time. I would play too aggressively and almost always compound one poor shot by making more mistakes. I’m now better able to resist the urge to change and focus my attention on playing the right shot at the right time.

A good example was on the 9th hole. I almost always play an iron from the tee – it’s a dogleg to the right and it’s nearly impossible for me to get a driver in play. Yesterday I reached for the driver, hoping to fly the trees on the corner, and get near the green. This was a moment of madness that nearly cost me. I snapped out of the aggressive mindset and ended up playing the correct shot from the tee.

Trigger my mind to relax and let go. Instead of trying harder and over thinking I use poor golf as a trigger to free up and let my subconscious take over. I have found that when I really want to play well I can start swinging a little carefully – this is almost always a recipe for disaster. Sometimes by giving myself the freedom to swing and play without fear is all I need to get my game going in the right direction again.

Be myself. I’m not trying to get mystical here only honest. After a bad shot or run of poor luck I need to vent my frustration. Holding things in seems to make matters worse. I need to get angry for a few moments then let things go. I don’t carry the anger or frustration till the next shot, just for a few seconds to release my emotions.

Yesterday’s game was not my best. The putting woes haunted me for most of the day. I three putted (again!) the 11th green and then missed a short birdie putt on 16. The swing started to feel better as the day went on but it never really felt it belonged.

Then something remarkable happened…

I nailed my three wood on 17. It was the best shot I struck all day. My approach finished close for a tap in birdie. Then on 18 I hit another good drive down the middle. Feeling confident after my last approach I made a good swing. The ball sailed dead for the flag and finished only inches from the cup.

After struggling all day I managed to salvage something. I left the course feeling good, despite not playing my best golf.

The most pleasing thing wasn’t that I finished with two birdies. The best thing was that I kept swinging and putting freely, despite feeling a lack of confidence. It’s this skill that enables me to play my best golf more of the time. Instead of worrying and changing my swing throughout the day, which doesn’t work, I’m able to negotiate a difficult round and still finish with a reasonable score.

It’s this ability that I rate more important than having a good golf swing and it just could be the most important skill in golf.

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MyGolfInstructor - October 1, 2008

I struggled with the mental side of my game for years until someone suggested that I read “Golf is not a game of Perfect” by Dr. Bob Rotella. It helped me prepare for each shot, stop keeping score and just plain changed that way I thought about my game.

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