How to (potentially) solve one of the most difficult problems in golf

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Golf is a relative game and that is why it is so attractive for so many different levels. For one player, breaking 100 is a milestone worth party beers and a number of text messages to friends. For another, it can question life in general (yes, sometimes we can all become a bit melodramatic).

Whatever your relationship with the game is, it is an ongoing mental battle. In a sense, we are all in conflict with our past and future while we play. The wise advice is to stay present and focus on one shot at a time. However, it is almost impossible to prevent our mind from wandering. Sometimes we are afraid of a specific event that returns in an earlier round. Other times we see our milestone in sight, but still have seven holes left.

So how do you solve this? Can you even fix it? (these are rhetorical questions)

I recently received this message from a reader:

I have trouble staying present during a round. Normally I start very well, but around the 9th hole I start thinking about winning or shooting my lowest round. Do you have articles on this subject?

It came at an interesting time in my own game. In recent months I have tried to analyze a specific lap that I had in competition. Despite the fact that I have made significant progress in my mental game in recent years, I believe I have made several mistakes with my focus.

In this article I would like to guide you through that round. I'll let you know what I thought (my real thoughts are a bit embarrassing). I also want to discuss how I am working on this for the next time I am in a similar situation. I hope you will all see some connection with your own golf game and use some of these techniques to hone your mental skills.

I warn you that this article is slightly longer than most I write. It is also more personal. I don't try to talk so much about my own game, because I don't want to bore you all. But in this case I think I can hear about my experience and that my thoughts can help you.

The Competitive Bug

For the past five years I have immersed myself again in tournament golf. The New York Metro region has numerous amateur events with fierce competition. If you play well with qualifications, you play some of the best courses in the world. I immediately jumped into the deep at a U.S. Open Qualifier in 2015, and since then it has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. There have been some great moments, and some too embarrassing.

Fortunately, I have seen incremental progress every year. In the beginning, the pressure to shoot a number with a one-day qualification was probably too much for me. But the more comfortable I have become, my results have improved. Like everything else in golf (or life) – it took a lot of failure, reflection and experience to get ahead.

2018 was a bit of a breakthrough year for me. I went to some of the most important events in our area and got a taste of what it felt like to play with the best players under even more pressure. I enjoyed it immensely, and in some ways I'm a little addicted to the feeling.

This year I couldn't resist raising my expectations a little. But for the most part it was a near-accident season. I usually played well, but missed one or two strokes. When you play against great golfers, the margins are pretty thin.

There is one event in particular that has stayed with me. My ultimate goal is to qualify for the American Mid Amateur. For those who don't know, that is a tournament that is limited to golfers aged 25 and older. I can tell you from experience that nowadays it is quite a challenge to compete against college golfers. So for someone like me who is 36 years old, the American Mid Am is the pinnacle of amateur golf.

The Qualifier

This year the American Mid Amateur qualification was played in my region at Nassau Country Club. Last year I played in the Long Island Open there, and it's a job that challenges all parts of your game. It demands a lot from the tee and requires precise iron play. Perhaps the most challenging part is the greens. Tom Fazio did them again in 2012, and they can be frightening in tournaments. The first time I played them in a competition, they rolled around 13 (or higher) on the stimulometer.

It is a bit of a hard task to make it to the big event every year. More than 100 talented golfers compete for just six places and two alternatives. Depending on the circumstances of the day, it is likely that you have to shoot below par to make it. As you would expect, the USGA would like to challenge the participants. Mentally, the most challenging thing is not to think about the song all day and to concentrate on playing your game.

When I stepped down on the nine, I was quickly confronted with some of the most challenging holes on the course. After an opening bogey, I managed to grind a few pars with testy 10-foot putts that went in. A birdie on my 4th hole brought me back to level par and felt comfortable.

Things went well. I hit fairways and greens. On my 7th hole, I drained a curvy, downhill 60-footer for birdie. In reality, I hoped with two putts, but when the putt fell, I couldn't help but think, "Is today?"

After a few sandy pars, I made the turn to one-under. I didn't know it then, but I had one of the best laps in the morning session.

Icarus flew close to the sun

When I went to the first hole of the course, I knew that I was facing the tee-shot that made me most uncomfortable. With out-of-bounds on the left and the driving range on the right, there was not much room for error. I took a deep breath and steered my driver in the middle.

At this point I started pumping myself up even more. Unfortunately my playing partner lost his tee-shot after our three-minute search. I had to wait a while until he went back to the tee. The pin was on the right and I had about 145 meters, a perfect 9-iron for me. But I had quite a bit of time to think about this shot. I chose my right goal well left of the pin where there was a lot of green. But I swung the iron to the right and ended up in a bunker. I was short-sided and had a terrible lie. My only option was to play well past the hole, and my shot went through the green.

My heart started racing a bit and I started to wonder if I would unravel this. But I concentrated on the shot, went up and down for a bogey, and felt relieved.

After a few routine pars, I had a 20-foot birdie putt on my 13th hole. I felt good reading and my speed had been flawless all day. The putt followed with 5 feet to go to the hole and I was convinced that I had made it. Then it was a 270-degree turn around the cup with one of the most evil lip outs I had ever seen.

Par was not a bad score, but I knew that I almost had no gaps, even though I was even for the round. The following piece was very challenging to manage pars, let alone birdies. Despite my best efforts to keep myself positive, the lip felt a little deflated.

I bogey the next hole with a 6-footer that burned the edge. The 6th hole on the course (my 15th) is perhaps the most challenging tee shot. It is a long, 450 meter high par 4 that I knew I could not reach if I missed the fairway. I quickly picked up my tee when I saw my drive laser in the middle of the fairway. It was a bomb.

When I walked towards my ball, I saw that he was in the middle of a deep divot. I took a little extra bat to compensate for the 160-meter uphill shot, but I caught it a bit heavy and landed briefly from the green. I missed a testy par putt with a few centimeters.

At that time I knew that I probably had to beak two or three of my remaining holes to have a chance. Things happen quickly when you come down under pressure. Frankly, I didn't feel so nervous. I was undoubtedly a little depressed and I felt the round slip through my fingers. But I followed my routine. Unfortunately the birdies did not come. There were still a few bogeys instead.

I finished with a 74 (+4) for the day. It was a respectable lap considering the difficulty of the job and the pressure of the day. However, as I suspected, a round of one under was needed to get a play-off between five golfers for the remaining four places.

I was not angry with myself. I played well and came down; it was a matter of centimeters on different putts that kept me looking outside. Who knows what would have happened if the birdie putt had fallen to 13? Generally the pressure didn't feel too heavy and I enjoyed the chase.

Where My Mind Going

After the round ended, I went through all my shots mentally, as usual. I was generally satisfied with my strategic decisions. I also kept my routine very well. Perhaps the only significant error that occurred in my 10th hole was when my playing partner lost his tee shot.

What I worried more about was my thoughts in between shots. When you play golf, especially when walking the course, there is a lot of mental downtime. I usually like to fill it in by talking to my game partners. That day I had a good dialogue with the other golfer in my group.

Despite the conversation, however, there were a few twists and turns that took my consciousness. If I had to categorize them based on the holes I played, here they are:

Holes 1-3: Oh shit! Keep it together – this doesn't start well. * Phew * my putter saved me
Holes 4-6: OK, you have made the ship stable. This can be fun.
Holes 7-9: * 60-foot birdie drops * This is my moment. I'm going to make it and how cool will it be to tell everyone (note: I'm very embarrassed to admit this)
Holes 10-12: End call, but you are still right
Holes 13: How did that not go at all?
Holes 14-15: It slides away, keep alive!
Holes 16-18: The ride is probably over, try to have a respectable finish

I quickly moved from doubt to extreme confidence. Then my ego got out of hand and I thought about telling the readers of the site about my eventual triumph, and then realizing it had slipped away. Everything within a time frame of 4 1/2 hours! Is golf not a nice ride?

One day after the round, I called a friend of mine, Scott Fawcett. He regularly consults with elite amateurs and professional golfers with his DECADE strategic system. But in the end, most of his work is psychological. I was frank about my thoughts with him. His analysis was that thinking about bragging to people how I had made it was the most damaging thought of the day. I agreed sheepishly and still couldn't believe I was going there.

We also discussed expectations and the distribution of my scores based on my skill level. One of my most important questions was how to deal with the pressure to have only one opportunity to score in a qualifying tournament. For me to get under par, based on my handicap level, this will probably only happen 10-15% of the time. So although I can do it, I also have to be realistic and understand that I have to do my best.

As he had done many times before, he urged me to consider meditation and mindfulness. So I finally did that.

This is essentially what everyone is saying

The conventional wisdom in any sport, especially golf, is something with the effect of "one shot at a time." The idea is not to think too much about the past or the future and only focus on the moment. In a sense, they describe the concept of mindfulness. Although there are many definitions, here is one that I found useful:

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the environment through a soft, caring lens.

Mindfulness also involves acceptance, which means that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them – without, for example, believing that at some point there is a "right" or "wrong" way to to think or feel. . When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we feel in the present moment, rather than recreating the past or imagining the future.

Great! But how do you do that?

In golf, I have found that going through my routine before every shot, as well as deep breathing, can be very useful to relieve nerves. However, I am not perfect and I want to get better in this part of the game. After investigating the idea of ​​mindfulness a little more, I think it is a concept that many of us are already doing at a certain level, but it is also a skill that can be improved through meditation.

For a long time I wanted to learn to meditate. However, I avoided it because it seemed like a concept that is a bit "out there" for me. However, it is becoming increasingly popular. Millions of people undergo guided meditations on apps such as Calm and Headspace. After doing about 30 sessions on one of the popular meditation apps called Waking Up by Sam Harris, I changed my mind about the concept as a whole.

I am far from an expert on this subject, but running daily exercises of 10-15 minutes yields a number of interesting techniques. When you meditate, you acknowledge that your thoughts can stray and that it is OK. But at the same time you get methods to focus your mind on what's currently going on.

For me it helps enormously to concentrate on my breath coming in and out of my nose. For others it may be to think about what sounds you currently surround, or the feeling of your body resting on a chair. If you are right, you are suddenly completely focused on what is happening for you, and it is very refreshing.

OK, but what about golf?

Let us now go back to the original question of the reader and my dilemma with my thoughts during moments of pressure.

First of all, let's acknowledge that we are all playing golf for fun. I know the game has a competitive element, but breaking 80 won't somehow determine your life.

On the other hand, I know exactly how important it can feel at the moment. You will probably all understand what it is like to struggle with the stress and anxiety of your job expectations. I believe that some tools can help.

I have come across them myself over the years and I believe that meditation can improve them further.

Here are some ideas for you:

Routine, routine, routine: I cannot emphasize how important it is to have a repeatable (but not too long) routine for every shot you take. This can be a personal choice, but once you have made a choice, it can help to keep your mind present in moments of stress. You usually want your body to be on & # 39; autopilot & # 39; is going. Bet on your routine.
Deep breathing: It may sound too basic or too far-fetched, but controlling your breath helps a lot. When situations become stressful, things often accelerate for golfers. Their thoughts, heartbeat and breathing begin to accelerate. Focusing on breathing deeply through the nose and breathing out slowly through your mouth is an excellent remedy that helps me a lot.
Focus on what you stand for and appreciate it : Golf is a wonderful game because it gives us time to spend outside. We often do not even take the time to acknowledge the beauty of what awaits us. Staring at the trees, feeling the breeze on your face, having conversations with your friends – don't forget that these are gifts! Recognize when they occur.

There are many other techniques that might work for you, but the main goal is to get your thoughts from the past and the future, and more about the present. You will never be perfect in this; nobody can. But you can get better.

Pressure and nerves are all relative in this game. They are not there for nothing; because golf is important to you. Those feelings will never disappear, but you can manage them a little better. I continue to explore meditation as a way to build these skills and I encourage all of you to try it out for yourself. Almost all available apps offer a kind of free trial version, and many others have suggested guided meditations that are available on YouTube.

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