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For the past 25 years I have been convinced that I have made or witnessed every imaginable mistake in golf – especially in the mental game. When it comes to your attitude on the golf course, balancing and avoiding extremes is critical. While this may sound generic and simple, I can guarantee that getting it right (or at least improving) will be part of your keys to getting better at this game. Any golfer on this planet could use help in this department.
Recently I sent this tweet and we can use this as my "thesis statement" for this article:
The best golf is played when you exist in the space between worrying too much or not at all. This is * hard * to do
You cannot "live and die" on the result of every shot. But at the same time you have to be involved enough to control your emotions and approach each shot analytically
– Jon Sherman (@practicalgolf) May 6, 2021
Finding the happy medium between too much and too little care can look different for all of you. We all bring our own personalities into play. However, I know that tilting too heavily in either direction will not work in the long run.
As usual I'll try to give tangible examples of what I mean, because I'm sure at this point you'll be wondering "what the hell is he talking about ?? !!"
Live and die with every shot
You all know this by now, but 18 holes (or even 9) is long. Each round of golf usually has different acts. In fact, they can be as dramatic as some of your favorite movies. There is heartbreak, pride, triumph and even redemption.
When I had to point out one of my biggest shortcomings as a golfer, I overreacted based on the result of each shot.
A wrong ride can cause me to panic – suddenly I run faster and worry about what might be my next mistake. Conversely, an early birdie might have made me "peacock" a little too much and wondered how well I would score that day.
I now know that you cannot become a better golfer if you are constantly in this state. If there was a device to measure your responses, you would like to follow this:
As always, I would like to remind you that perfection does not exist. We are human beings and it is impossible to fully control our emotions.
There are still rounds where I am a bit more erratic, but I know I do it a lot less than I used to. Plus, after sitting around a bunch of top players, I can tell you that they have a higher chance of being proved right in this department as well.
"I Don't Care Golf" Play
At the other end of the spectrum, there is a desire to watch mentally when the going gets tough.
I used to play a very unproductive game against myself. Let's just say the first 5 holes were a disaster; I could say to myself, "oh, just forget this round." And then, all of a sudden, after 4 good holes, I could say, "Wait, I'm going to play this one out and see what happens."
Unfortunately, golf doesn't work this way (in the context of becoming a better player, of course). There are plenty of options to save or say to yourself, "I don't care at all what happens." I often find that golfers do this as a defense mechanism. We are afraid of finding out how badly we can score if we keep trying after a rough patch. Sometimes it feels like we're staring into the abyss (yes, this game can make us feel that way).
This extreme doesn't work either. If you go back and forth between caring and not giving, there is no chance of growing as a player. Of course we care how we play!
I am constantly saying words like routine, consistency and system on this site because they are important. Golf is a game that requires long periods of focus and emotional control, which is arguably one of the greatest challenges. Now I don't expect you to operate at the level of a PGA Tour pro, but usually there are options for most players to make adjustments to their gaming experience.
Give every shot the attention it deserves, and continue
Here comes the part of the article where I give you the simple answer. It will sound too easy to be true, but the big concepts are easy to understand, but difficult to put into practice, as consistently with most things in golf.
I keep finding different ways to say the same thing, but that's what coaches generally have to do to change behavior.
Existence in the space between not caring and giving too much can generally be achieved by following the following process on the course.
Go through an analysis for each shot. Think of things like your location, wind conditions, height differences, the problems surrounding your goal, etc. This does not have to take 2 minutes!
Commit to your goal, club choice and technique.
Have a pre-shot routine. For example, I choose my goal behind the ball, take two swings and then align myself.
Take the shot!
Briefly go through a routine after admission. If it is a good result, internalize the success. If it's not what you hoped for, do a quick non-emotional analysis.
If you can commit to going through a similar process for every shot, you will become a better golfer no matter what.
It took me a long time to understand, but every shot that hits you is truly an independent event . All shots taken together affect your final score, but I think it's best to approach them all as a new, different circumstance. It will help you make better strategic decisions and, more importantly, compartmentalize your emotions. Again, muccccccchhhhhh easier said than done! I don't always understand this properly.
So if you're driving a wandering driveway into the trees and you're still worrying about your mistake, that shot is over. Your new task is to make the best possible decision with the current shot and not let the previous event influence that decision, which with many players is trying to make a hero shot to make up for the mistake.
If you can commit to this philosophy and work on it consciously, I guarantee that a lot of good things will happen in your golf game, and it won't just be your score going down. You will also have a healthier relationship with golf and will likely get more satisfaction from the game.