Before I played golf, my sport was softball from the beer league. Our team was cruel, but we certainly had fun. After each match, we gathered in a semicircle around the tailgate of Terry & # 39; s truck, had a beer or two and decided who would be the last recipient of the coveted & # 39; trophy & # 39; would be … a wooden leg decorated with baseball hose and a shoe, given to the player who played the worst game of the night.
I played with the aptly named “Blues” for six seasons until fate threw a curveball. When I was about 50, I injured my throwing arm and had to hang up my glove. A few weeks later – perhaps because I was desperate for something active – I grabbed the opportunity to play golf with some of my teammates in a charity tournament. To my surprise, I really enjoyed it. Then and there I decided to become a regular golfer.
But from the very beginning, I couldn't help but notice an obvious paradox – despite their pre-round enthusiasm, my friends enjoyed little playing golf.
Where has the joy gone?
No doubt my friends cracked smiles as they rolled into a birdie, and clearly enjoyed exchanging jokes and whistling to each other as we walked the fairway. But usually when it came time to take a shot, their cheerful mood disappeared as soon as they stepped over the ball.
To be fair, the contrast surprised me. We laughed at our blunders on the diamond. Sure, you would hear the occasional curse after a mistake, but the bad mood disappeared almost as soon as it appeared. I guess you could say we all knew how good we were.
But on the golf course, the same guys pretended a miss had dire consequences. They would make a bad swing, describe the reason out loud, then routinely step aside and make a 'correct' practice movement. On the green, they would get so sour after missing a short putt you'd think they lost the chance for a tour ticket. And these emotional storm clouds seemed to linger and often darkened as the round went on. At one point I remember asking myself, "Why are they paying good money to get mad at themselves?"
And so, full of justice, I decided to be different. In hindsight I can see it was self-deception, but at the time I actually thought I would have no problem developing and maintaining a carefree, fun approach to golf. After all, I was a successful performance coach. I had worked with All-Stars in the NHL, and I was an executive coach for business leaders around the world. Frankly, I assumed I would rise above the unnecessary fears and silly frustrations that regularly plagued my friends on the links.
But like I said, it was self-delusion.
Once my game improved to the point where I was able to regularly break 90, my focus slowly shifted from playing golf for recreation to performing in a way that would be a "good one". score. In other words, my reason for being on the golf course subtly but significantly changed – albeit unconsciously – from enjoying the experience of making a swing to making my swing a goal.
And as my physical skills continued to improve, it only got worse. By the time I was skilled enough to break the 80's every now and then, my expectations were so strange that my dominant mood on the course was frustration. On good shots I felt neutral because after all I should be able to make that shot. And the inevitable bad swings and missed putts left me sour. In summary, I would say that emotionally I was not well attuned to what my primary goal should have been: the joy that lies at the heart of playing a game.
I mean … what's with the game of golf?
Why else do happy, successful, rational people put most of their precious emotional energy into their worst moments on the golf course and put little or no energy into their best?
In my case there was really no excuse. I have been professionally trained to know better and do better. Still, I still fell for the trap of allowing negative feelings to diminish my pleasure and often derail my most promising rounds.
Frustration & # 39; s Common Factors
I see three reasons for my mistakes:
First, the nature of the mind. We are all determined to pay attention to negatives because it gave us an evolutionary advantage. The ability to notice when something seemed or sounded out of place at the watering hole kept Stone Age hunter-gatherers alive. But that ability can cause the average golfer to focus too much on mechanical flaws and invest too little in how good it feels to make a good swing.
Second, the nature of the game. In order to practice a sport in the best possible way, the subconscious mind must be central and the conscious mind must sit in the background. But unlike many other sports, golf does not allow us to react to a ball or an angry opponent, automatically turning on the subconscious mind. In golf we start the action. Not only that, but there is also a lot of time between shots, which means that your thoughts move to the forefront of your consciousness. No wonder it's hard to get into "the zone" and stay there for 18 holes!
Third, the great emphasis of mainstream golf psychology on positive thinking. See, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with positive thinking. What I'm saying is this: you can't figure your way out of a negative emotional state. As anyone concerned about public speaking will tell you that once anxiety or frustration really hits, no amount of positive self-talk will come of it. It takes a little more, and believing that your emotions are less important than your thoughts does not lend itself to solving the problem.
Going from negative to positive
Here's the simple exercise that helped me change my usual price-sensitive emotions from mostly negative to mostly positive: I promised to feel good when I took a great photo. (And here I am talking about a great photo for me, not Mr. McIlroy or his colleagues on the PGA Tour).
And the keyword here is feeling. I'm not talking about changing my mind by 'great shot' say to myself or even say it out loud. I'm talking about an Ian Poulter at the Ryder Cup breast pump kind of feeling … the kind of emotion that actually stems from such a heartfelt, genuine passion for the game that pushes it into your memory.
You have that passion … otherwise you wouldn't be a fan of Practical Golf. Feel where it matters most: on the golf course, immediately after you hit a great swing or clear a great putt. Don't respond to your best moments with a ho-hum attitude. Allow yourself to accentuate a big hit by letting yourself enjoy the performance.
It is certainly a better way for me to play the game, and it may be a better way for you too.
About the author
Kent Osborne has professional experience as a mental coach for professional athletes and business leaders. His current passion is golf. You can read more about his coaching at scratchattitude.com, or on Twitter @scratchattitude
The post Falling Into, and Getting Out of Golf & # 39; s Deepest Trap first appeared on Practical Golf.