Raise your hand if you've ever berated yourself when playing golf. As in, “You stink, Charlie! You always find a way to screw up!”
While it's not necessarily bad for your game – see Tiger Woods countless explosions of self-disgust – it takes a rare golfer to turn such negativity into positive results. Indeed, this may be Woods' most underrated skill.
For most of us, negative feelings like anger and frustration translate into tension, distraction and a loss of confidence. Our game goes into a tailspin and pretty soon, we've thrown in the towel. Only after we give up do things turn around, and by then it's too late to salvage the round.
So how do you combat the negativity that is an inevitable part of the game? Turn your frown upside-down? Don't worry, be happy? Look on the bright side?
It's not quite that simple, but yes – sometimes, forced positivity is your best defense. Here are a few tips for defeating your inner Negative Nelly:
- Tell yourself to stop: You hit a bad shot and the voice starts in. “Your swing is a joke.” “This hole's got your number.” When you hear it prattling on, just say “Stop,” or, “Shut up.” Say it out loud if you want, or just think it if you prefer to keep things to yourself. But put a halt to the negative talk, pronto.
- Breathe it out of your system: When an overheated mind starts getting to you, hit the pause button and inhale a long, deep breath. As you exhale, imagine all that negativity leaving your body. Repeat as necessary until the gremlins are gone.
- Reverse negatives to positives: Instead of thinking, “Here comes my usual meltdown” after an especially galling shot, go with, “I can recover from that, no problem.” Rather than approaching a troublesome hole with trepidation, vow to show it who's boss this time. Easier said than done? Sure. But practice this technique and it will become a habit.
- Call on past positive experiences: You wouldn't be playing golf if you had never hit a great shot, pulled off a miraculous recover or drained a clutch putt. That's why we keep coming back, right? When you've got a shot that's fraught with danger, recall a past experience – on the same hole or elsewhere – where you came through in a similar spot. Visualize creating the same result, then make it happen.
- Stay in the moment: What's the big deal about one bad shot? Often, we fret over the impact it may have on our score. In other words, we're not practicing “process vs. outcome” thinking. Analyze your mistake objectively, determine what went wrong and how you'll fix it, and move on to the next shot. Once there, put score out of your mind and focus on the task at hand.
Negative thinking will get the best of you, but only if you let it. So don't.
How to Stay Positive on the Golf Course
Golf is a hard game. Okay, so that is probably an understatement. Golf is a really hard game, and millions of people around the world know that to be true thanks to the countless bogeys they have made over the years. Even good golfers regularly hit bad shots, which is a testament to just how challenging this great sport can be. While the challenge of the game of golf can be frustrating at times, it is also what keeps us coming back time and again - there is always room for improvement, and there is always the possibility of posting a new personal best. No one has ever mastered this game, and no one ever will.
With all of that in mind, it is easy to see how golfers can get a bit discouraged out on the course. You are almost certainly going to hit at least a handful of poor shots during every round that you play, and you may even hit a bad shot or two on every hole. Seeing a poor result after giving your best effort to a shot is frustrating to say the least - having that happen repeatedly can lead you down a bad road mentally. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all in the game of golf is not making good swings, but rather the task of keeping a positive attitude from the first tee to the last green.
Despite all of the failure that you are likely to experience during each round, you need to keep your head up and maintain a positive attitude regarding your game. This is a skill that is possessed by all of the best golfers in the world, but it is not often found among the amateur ranks. Most amateur golfers allow themselves to think negatively after just a couple of bad shots, and those negative thoughts lead to more and more disappointing results for the rest of the day. Having a positive attitude in spite of any mistakes that you may have made is not going to be easy, but it is going to be necessary if you are going to reach your potential on the course.
Staying positive on the course is something that you should be able to achieve, despite the challenges, because it is a choice that you can make. It is hard to improve your physical performance because it can take months (or even years) of hard work on the range to make an actual improvements to your golf swing. On the other hand, if you dedicate yourself to positive thinking, you could start to realize benefits in your very next round. That isn't to say this is going to be easy, as you will have to work hard if you are going to make positive thinking the norm for you on the course. To succeed, you need to have a combination of a good game plan and plenty of determination. The game plan will be laid out for you in the instruction below, however you are going to have to provide the determination on your own.
The Basics of Positive Thinking
Before getting into the specifics of how you can implement positive thinking in your game, we are first going to look at some basic points related to the idea of positive thinking in golf. What does it mean to think positively? Why will it be a good thing for your game? Once you review the points below, you should have a much better idea of what positive thinking is in golf, and why it is so important to your success.
- Expecting success. The basis of positive thinking in golf is this - when you stand over the ball, you should expect good things to happen. Of course, good things are not always going to happen, as bad shots are inevitable. However, those players who think positively will always be standing over the ball thinking that a great result is soon to follow. In many ways, you will be required to have a selective memory in order to make this happen. You have to be able to forget about your bad shots almost immediately, while remembering your good ones in order to gain confidence. Everything else you do in terms of working on your mindset stems from this one starting point - if you can stand over the ball and expect good things to happen, you are going to find that your game improves as a whole.
- Playing without fear. It is one thing to respect the course that you are playing and the challenges that it provides, but it is another thing to actually fear these hazards. Yes, you want to respect the course and use a game plan that gives you the best chance for success. No, you don't want to fear the course. Having fear in your mind is going to prevent you from making your best swings, as you will tighten up and your swing speed will come down as a result. Playing with fear anywhere in your mind is only going to make this game tougher than it already is, so don't go down that road with your mindset.
- Looking for progress. Good golfers are always spotting points of improvement within their games, while poor players are always looking for things to go wrong. One of the great things about golf is that you have the opportunity to continually improve into the future as you gain knowledge and experience. So, as a golfer with a desire to improve, you should be constantly looking for progress in your own game. Spot areas that you have gotten better and relish them, while also looking for weaknesses that you can improve upon. Every golfer can stand to improve, no matter what kind of game they currently have, so keep your head down and continue to think about reaching new levels of quality on the course in rounds to come.
- Carrying you through the tough times. As has been mentioned throughout this article, there are certainly going to be some tough times ahead on the course. You are going to hit bad shots, and you are going to play the occasional bad round. The most valuable part of positive thinking is its ability to carry you through the bad times in order to get you to the good times as quickly as possible. Positive thinking will help you see that you can rebound from a bad shot or bad round by continuing to give good effort. Without that kind of positive mindset, you might be tempted to give something less than your best effort on each shot - or you may just give up entirely.
Positive thinking really isn't complicated in golf. Unlike the technical aspects of your swing, which can get rather complicated quite quickly, you don't have to overcomplicate the concept of thinking positively while on the course. As long as you stick with the ideas presented in the points above, you are sure to be on the right track.
A Set of Rules
It is great to set out onto the course with the goal of thinking positive all day long. Many golfers start their rounds in a 'good mood', with every intention of thinking positively from the first tee to the last green. Unfortunately, those plans are often laid to waste shortly after the first shank or first triple bogey. The level of frustration that can be induced by this game should never be taken for granted - it has the ability to take otherwise level-headed people and turn them into angry, short-tempered golfers.
So, if you are going to keep your pledge to think positively from the start to the finish of your next round, you may want to use the following set of 'rules' to keep you on track. Obey each of these rules during your upcoming rounds and you should be able to think positively throughout the day.
- It's over when the club goes in the bag. Bad shots are going to happen, and those bad shots are going to tempt you to get out your positive frame of mind. Don't fall victim to the temptation of getting angry and losing your temper just because of some bad swings. As a good rule of thumb, try to set aside your frustrations before you put your club back in the bag to walk or ride off to your next shot. After you hit the bad shot, allow yourself a moment or two to be frustrated while thinking about what went wrong. That is perfectly normal, and there is nothing wrong with letting out those emotions. However, that emotion needs to be put away along with your club when you place it back in the bag. If you can relax yourself and move on when you put your club back, you will be able to successfully avoid having your frustration carry over into the next shot.
- Don't let bad breaks get to you. Not only is it hard to hit good shots on the golf course, you also have to deal with the fact that golf isn't always a fair game. Sometimes, even your good shots don't wind up in good spots. Maybe a gust of wind comes up after you hit the ball and your shots ends up offline due to the breeze. Maybe you hit a beautiful drive right down the middle of the fairway, only to find your ball has come to rest in an old divot hole. No matter what the bad break happens to be, you need to rise above it in order to keep your round on track. Some players are prone to letting these bad breaks get to them, and those players are the ones who are going to waste shots as the day goes on because they are still thinking about something that happened a few holes ago. The best thing you can do is chalk up these bad breaks to simply being part of the game, and do your best to recover as quickly as possible.
- Ignore slow play. This 'rule' can be a challenge for many golfers. As a golfer, you are going to inevitably run into slow play from time to time. In fact, depending on where you play and when you play, slow play might be something that you face nearly every time out. If you prefer to play at a fast pace, you may get out of your normal rhythm due to the slow movement of the groups in front of you. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about their pace, so the best thing you can do is ignore that aspect of the round and focus in on what you can control. Take a bit of extra time to prepare for your shots, and enjoy having the chance to be out on the course - even if you are out there for a little longer than you would like.
Just following these three simple rules will take you a long way toward keeping a positive attitude throughout your round. By ignoring slow golfers in front of you, ignoring bad breaks, and letting go of your frustration as soon as you put your club in the bag, you can keep your mind pointed in the right direction all day long.
You are far more likely to stay positive during your round if you are having fun as you play. Golf is supposed to be fun, after all, so it only makes sense that you should focus on this aspect of the game in addition to trying to maximize your performance. It is amazing how many golfers forget about having fun while they play, as they are too wrapped up in trying to shoot the best possible score. There is nothing wrong with being competitive - and competition is certainly a part of golf - but this is a game, and failing to have fun makes the whole thing rather pointless in the end.
So how can you make sure that you are having fun during your rounds of golf? First, do your best to play golf with people you like. This might sound obvious, but playing golf with good friends is going to be a lot more fun than playing with strangers (or even people you know but don't like very much). Try to develop a group of 'regulars' whom you can golf with on a periodic basis. The memories you make on the course together will make your friendship stronger, and you will be able to encourage each other to play your best (along with some good-natured teasing, of course). When playing with this regular group, you will likely find that it is easier to remain in a positive frame of mind about your own game, since you will be having so much fun overall.
Another way to have fun on the course is to try out new courses from time to time. You don't want the game to get stale by going back to the same places time and again, so do your best to get out to some new tracks as frequently as possible. Playing new courses is always exciting, and your game is bound to be tested in new ways when you go to a course that you have not previously played. There is nothing wrong with having a favorite home course that you play most often, but be sure to give some variety to your game whenever you can.
One other element of having fun that is often overlooked is embracing the challenge that comes along with trying to shoot a low score. As stated above, there is nothing wrong with being competitive - but that competitiveness needs to come out in the right way. Rather than getting angry when things don't go your way, look at the challenge as a positive thing and embrace your mistakes as just another obstacle to overcome. After all, if it was easy to shoot a score in the 70's, or even the 60's, everyone would do it. The challenge is what makes it fun, so embrace that and enjoy the ride to the best of your ability.
Positivity on the Putting Green
There is perhaps nowhere on the golf course where it is more difficult to stay positive than on the putting green. Just as you are going to hit bad shots during a round, you are also sure to hit some bad putts, and those bad putts may come from short range when you were expecting to make. A missed short putt is a shot that has been lost and will not be recovered, which makes it extremely difficult to get over those mistakes. You have to stay positive on the putting green if you are going to come back to make better putts later on in the round - but doing so is going to be easier said than done.
The first step toward being positive while putting is understanding that misses are going to happen. No one makes all of their putts, even if those putts are coming from relatively short range. If you have 28 putts for a full round, you have done quite well on the greens - and that means you have missed at least 10 putts along the way. So, having realistic expectations in mind is going to help you stay positive even as a few putts go sliding by the edge. There will always be putts that fail to fall in, and accepting that fact of the game is going to be a big help toward your mindset as you head around the course.
Also, the same rules apply when putting as when hitting a full swing in terms of expecting good results. As you stand over the ball, you should expect nothing but to see the ball fall right into the middle of the cup. Before you walk up to take your stance, picture the ball rolling along the green and dropping in. See this visual over and over in your mind and your chances of making that vision true will increase. You need to be fully committed to your stroke in order to hit the right line with the right speed, and visualization is a great way to stay committed to your stroke all the way through.
You are going to get bad breaks on the putting green as you are throughout the rest of the course as well, so more mental toughness is going to be needed when your ball happens to bound off line. Even good greens are going to have a few imperfections here and there, so you can't always plan on a smooth roll along the entire length of the putt. You are bound to have a putt or two that are rolling right toward the middle only to bounce out at the last second, and you are going to be rather frustrated as a result. Setting aside this frustration and feeling good about the stroke you made is really the only way to respond - if you keep making good strokes, the results you are looking for are eventually going to follow.
It is easy to allow putting to get in your head, and the mind games that you deal with on the greens can easily make their way into the rest of the course. This is another issue that needs to be considered with relation to positive thinking on the putting green - allowing carry over from the greens to the tees and fairways. You need to have positive thinking working for you no matter what kind of shots you are playing, so don't allow the negativity to work into your mind at any point - even if a short putt slides by the edge for a painful bogey.
Positive thinking might not be the 'key' to golf, but it certainly can help you play well. Keep yourself in the right frame of mind using some of the tips above and you will have a better chance to post good scores than if you allow yourself to get negative after a poor shot or two. Stay on the positive track from your first shot through to your last and your game is going to take a step forward even without making any physical changes.