What To Do When Things Go South

None of us like to think about it. If you’ve been playing the game awhile, and have had some decent rounds, you never anticipate a terrible score. More than likely you’re planning on breaking 100, 90, 80, 70 etc. the next time you play. Maybe you’ve been working hard on your game and just got fitted for a shiny new set.  You’re primed and ready to take on the world as you drive to the golf course.

So, what happens? That tip that worked the last couple rounds doesn’t work on the range. You can barely hit the clubface, and the ball is shooting off in any direction it sees fit. Now you’re scrambling to find something, ANYTHING to keep it together. You search your memory bank for some tip or move that will get you through the round. Now you arrive at the first tee with your brain completely scrambled, and zero confidence. Of course, your opening shot is a topper straight into the hazard.

Golf is the most mentally complex sport out there because we all believe we have the potential to be better than we are (which is true). Very few of us can dunk like Lebron, or hit a hanging curveball into McCovey Cove, but we can all park a 130-yard shot next to the pin like Dustin Johnson (maybe with a different club and ball flight, but still). It makes no sense that golfers shoot 78 one day and 98 the next on the exact same course and weather, yet these wild variations in score also happen to the best players in the world.

“Life (Golf) is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life (golf) is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life (golf) is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life (golf) is difficult no longer matters.”

-M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

A good quote to remember as we play. Things are inevitably going to go sideways sometimes. Remember Phil Mickelson at the WGC-Mexico? He saw every inch of that golf course with his driver and 3-wood one round, and still managed to shoot 68. You can chalk that up to an incredible short game (which is true), but how would you play if every one of your tee shots was in the trees? Here are some tips to help you along:

Don’t let your game dictate your attitude:

We can all be a little guilty of this. It’s easy to be upbeat and happy when you’ve made three straight birdies, but how are you after going double, triple, double? You can go crazy, break clubs, throw a tantrum and act like you don’t care (when everyone knows you do), or you can try to make the greatest comeback in golf history. As difficult as it is, you must try to take one shot at a time, put the bad holes behind you and battle back. Remember, you’ve hit good shots before, and you will again. Right now, be present, advance the ball, and let the results fall where they may.

Think about what you WANT to happen, not what you don’t want:

It’s funny how fairways become narrower and ponds become bigger when we’re struggling. Play a movie or see a tracer in your mind of the ball flying to your target. Get that feeling of hitting the center of the clubface in your hands. Having a clear mental picture of good things happening before you swing can turn your game around quickly.

Golf is all about how you react to mistakes and luck:

Good players know they’re never going to be perfect. Even on the best days, there’s wind, unfilled divots and unseen tree branches to deal with. The best players accept bad breaks and swings and carry on.

Work just as much on your mental game as you do your swing:

This includes pre-shot routine, commitment to every shot and playing one shot at a time. Do your best to put some pressure on yourself while practicing. Don’t let yourself go home until you hole a bunker shot, or make 30 3-footers in a row. Try to go through your full routine (it doesn’t have to take long) before at least 75% of your shots on the range. Mix up targets and clubs and always aim at something. This kind of practice will not only help you when you’re playing bad, it will maximize your potential when you’re playing well.

Work just as much on your short game as you do your swing:

Three-putts and not getting the ball on the green from 100 yards and in will increase your score dramatically. Even if we’re not striking the ball well, we can make up shots here. Also, short game doesn’t rely on a ton of athleticism or physical ability. If you worked hard enough, you could be as good as anyone in the world at putting and chipping. We’re all going to miss greens. Have a backup plan.

Remember, no matter your level, we all go through the same thing. Enjoy it!