Does your temper get the best of you after a poor shot or missed short putt? Does making a crucial par or birdie overwhelm you with excitement?
If either answer is yes, these reactions likely affect how you play the next hole, if not the remainder of the round. Golf is a game of highs and lows, and there are plenty of both in the course of a typical 18-hole outing.
Naturally, pro golfers are subject to the same emotional swings. The ability to handle ups and downs often separates winners from also-rans.
Why It's Important
Whereas heightened emotion can boost performance in some sports, golf is best played with an even temperament. Anger can prove highly detrimental, especially when it's allowed to linger. When negative feelings send the mind and body into overdrive, it becomes that much harder to execute a golf shot.
Some golfers go the opposite direction, hanging their head in defeat after a setback. This deflated state can wreak havoc on one's game and set off a downward, bogey-filled spiral.
Positive emotions are generally less harmful, but can have unwanted side effects too. Excitement can cause you to think ahead – to the possibility of a career-low round, for instance – and lose focus on the task at hand.
Who You Should Watch
With a few notable exceptions (ahem, Tiger Woods), tour pros rarely exhibit extreme anger when things go wrong. Granted, professionals are apt to celebrate a crucial birdie, but they get it out of their system before setting up for the next shot.
Take Fred Couples, for example. He carries the same calm demeanor no matter what he's just done, good or bad. The same can be said of stoic K.J. Choi, unflappable Luke Donald and ever-cheerful Matt Kuchar.
Pay attention to how pros react after a wayward tee shot or a poor putt. They'll likely express outward disappointment, but only momentarily. Then they'll assess what went wrong with a few slow-motion rehearsal swings, or a second try at the putt they missed. A brief chat with the caddie often follows.
In short, the world's best golfers expect to make mistakes during every round. When miscues happen, they compartmentalize the error, analyze it briefly and then move on.
Apply It to Your Game
Anyone who takes golf with a hint of seriousness is subject to emotional swings. Here are some good ways to keep your cool when things go downhill (or you get a little too pumped up):
- Take a series of slow, deep breaths between shots.
- Repeat a soothing word or phrase (“Relax,” “Calm down” or “Let it go”).
- Switch off the emotions and enter analytical mode. Figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again.
- Fight, don't fly. Instead of moping or giving up, resolve to give 100 percent to every shot the rest of the day.
- Focus on the process, not the result. Instead of thinking about what might unfold, stay in the moment by sticking with your pre-shot routine.
- Remember, golf is just a game. In the big scheme of things, the worst that can happen is not that bad.
Better Golf Watching the Pros Keeping Their Cool
Amateur golfers can learn a lot from watching the way professional golfers go about their business on the course. Sure, pro golfers typically have better swings than amateur players, and they usually putt better as well. However, their advantages don't end with the physical side of the game. Most pros perform far better than their amateur counterparts in the mental side of the game as well. If you would like to take your game to a new level, you not only need to make better swings – you also need to use your mind as a positive rather than negative influence on your performance.
One of the best ways you can use your mind to your advantage is by keeping your cool on the course. When you watch pro golfers on TV, you will notice that they rarely get too far 'up' or 'down' during the course of a round. Instead, they do their best to stay on an even keel while hitting solid shot after solid shot. Some people might think that this makes golfers 'boring', but that isn't the point. Rather, the players are just trying to be as efficient as possible, not wasting emotional energy on things like frustration, anger, and disappointment.
Of course, it should be said right off the bat that professional golfers, much like amateurs, are not perfect on this point. Pros get frustrated from time to time, and you will see that frustration manifested in the form of a club toss, a four-letter word, or an angry comment to their caddie. However, even when they do lose their temper for a moment or two, most pros are capable of pulling things back together in time to hit the next shot.
To follow the lead of the pros on this point, you should work on developing two specific skills. For one, you should do your best to keep your cool as frequently as possible on the course. Riding a roller coaster of emotions up and down throughout the day is only going to wear you out and hurt your performance. The other skill is learning how to get rid of frustration quickly after it sets in. On those occasions where your temper does get the best of you, having techniques in mind for how to move on will go a long way toward saving your score for the day.
Regardless of what level of golfer you happen to be, learning how to keep your cool can help you lower your scores. Beginning golfers have a lot to think about in terms of learning new techniques, so it would be a waste of brain space to worry about getting angry after a bad shot. For the more accomplished player, becoming frustrated on the course is only going to put a limit on what can be accomplished. It is very likely that your frustration will cost you at least a shot or two when it does get out of control, so you will have hurt your final score through something that was completely in your own mind.
In this article, we are going to offer some strategies for how you can learn from the pros on how to keep your cool. Put the ideas below into action on the course and you will both shoot lower scores and have more fun at the same time.
Causes of Frustration
Golf is a hard game. Of course, you already knew that. There are plenty of ways to become frustrated on the course, because there are plenty of things that can go wrong. Depending on your personality, you may find yourself spinning downward into frustration after just one or two poor shots. The ability to steer clear of these negative emotions can help you to play your best golf on a consistent basis.
So what are the mistakes which are most likely to lead you down a path of negative thinking? The following list should look familiar in terms of triggers for anger, frustration, and more.
- Missed short putts. Just the thought of missing a short putt is enough to send most golfers into cold sweats. Missing a short putt is frustrating because you feel like you have given away a stroke that can never be recovered. You can more easily forgive yourself for something like an errant tee shot because it is hard to hit the ball accurately over hundreds of yards. It is easy to understand how the ball could veer offline when you are swinging so aggressively at speeds of 100 MPH or more. The same cannot be said for missing a short putt. The task of rolling the ball three or four feet along the ground into a hole seems like it should be no problem. When it goes wrong, it is easy to allow your temper to get the best of you.
- Picking the wrong club. This is another one which will irritate the average golfer to no end. The hard part of the game is making good swings – so you feel like you should be left with a good result when you produce a quality swing. However, using the wrong club is a sure way to miss your target, even with perfect mechanics. Using the wrong club can either leave your ball short of the green or send it flying clean over the target. Either way, you are going to be angry and a shot will likely be lost in the process. You are never going to be perfect at picking the right club each and every time, but you can improve on this skill over time by becoming more and more familiar both with your game and with your equipment.
- Incurring a silly penalty shot. Some penalty shots you find on the golf course aren't much of a crime. For instance, if you are playing a 200-yard par three with water all the way from tee to green, it is easy to understand how you could find the hazard. You need to produce a great shot to carry the distance successfully, and there is no way to 'bail out' with a layup. The course is forcing you to hit a good shot, and you may not succeed each time – so hitting the ball in this kind of hazard is not cause for anger. On the other hand, knocking your ball into a hazard which should have never been in play in the first place is highly frustrating. If there was a layup easily available, for example, you will have a hard time forgiving yourself for finding water than you could have avoided with strategy.
- A bad break. There is a considerable amount of luck involved in the game of golf. Even if you hit a good shot, you still have to be fortunate to have your ball wind up close to the target. You could get a bad bounce along the way, or the wind could come up at the wrong time. Having the fate of your shots taken out of your hands by the elements is another event which can lead to frustration. A player who is having a good day otherwise could have their mood turned by something as simple as a bad bounce or a bad lie in the middle of the fairway.
As any golfer would know, the list above is only a partial collection of all the various events on the course which could lead to serious frustration. Other possible issues include slow play by the group in front of you, a bad start to the round, difficult weather conditions, and more. Each individual golfer will have his or her own personal frustrations and pet peeves, but the point is the same for everyone – playing great golf comes down to keeping your cool as often as possible.
The Basics of Keeping Your Cool
As outlined above, there are plenty of ways to lose your cool on the golf course. Fortunately, there are also plenty of methods you can use to keep yourself under control from the first tee to the last green. By having a plan in place before you even tee off for how you are going to avoid frustration, you will be better equipped to deal with the challenging events that come up over the next four hours. It is certain that you will face adversity during every round – the players who deal best with that adversity will usually come out on top.
To develop your own personal plan for counteracting frustration, consider the tips below.
- Use the advantage of time. One of the interesting things about golf is the amount of time you have between shots to think about your game. While this can present a challenge – if you get nervous, for instance – it is also an opportunity to get rid of your frustration before the next shot comes around. Imagine, for instance, that you are frustrated after hitting a poor drive into a fairway bunker. The bad news is this situation is that your temper is a bit up and you will have to deal with a difficult second shot. The good news, however, is that you have to walk for a couple of minutes before you will arrive at your ball. Use that time to calm down, clear your head, and refocus on the task at hand. By the time you step down into the sand for your next shot, the frustration should be gone and you should be ready to perform.
- Think logically. Instead of reacting with anger when you hit a poor shot, try instead to look at the situation from a logical perspective. What went wrong? Why did the shot fall short of your expectations? What should you do better next time? This is often the way professional golfers approach the game. Rather than wasting energy on frustration, they will think about where the shot went wrong so they can avoid making the same mistake again later in the round. Get into the habit of analyzing your own game after each poor shot and you should see your performance improve – and your frustration level go down.
- Keep the big picture in mind. In most cases, a single bad shot is not going to cost you the chance to post a good score for the round. If you hit a poor drive, or if you miss a short putt, there will still be plenty of chances to make good things happen. You need to keep the big picture of all 18-holes in mind when you are trying to keep your frustration level down. That one bad shot will only destroy your round if you allow the anger you feel to carry over for several holes to come. If you can get yourself back on track mentally right away, you will soon forget about the mistake by hitting a number of good shots in a row.
- Strike up a conversation. Sometimes, there is nothing quite like a little bit of friendly conversation to take your mind off the frustrating turn of events you have experienced. Assuming you are playing with other golfers, try striking up a conversation after you have hit a bad shot or two just to distract yourself from the situation at hand. Of course, it would be best if you could manage to talk about something other than golf. By the time you walk up to your next shot, your frustration may have drained away thanks to focusing your mind on a new topic.
Every golfer is different in terms of what kind of tactics will work to reduce feelings of anger and frustration. It is up to you to determine which of the ideas above is going to benefit your game. Think about your personality and how you deal with frustration in other situations – what works when you are away from the golf course? Most likely, something similar will work for you on the course as well.
What is Your Motivation?
Let's be honest – it can be hard work to keep your temper under control. You have to be disciplined to not have your frustration get the best of you over a four-hour round of golf. To maintain that necessary discipline, it helps to have a specific motivation in the back of your mind. For professional golfers, it is not hard to find that motivation, as their paycheck depends on the scores they post. That likely is not the case for you, so motivation is going to need to come from other sources.
One of the best ways to keep motivated on the course is to set goals for yourself. For instance, you could set a goal that you want to reduce your handicap by three strokes by the end of the golf season. With that aspiration in the back of your mind, you will have a reason to fight back against your temper when it flares up on the course. You know you can't afford to post too many high scores if you are going to keep your handicap moving in the right direction, so pulling it together will be essential.
Not only is it helpful to have big picture goals for your game, but it is a good idea to set goals for each individual rounds as well. A couple options for individual round goal setting are listed below –
- Set a target score. There is some debate as to the effectiveness of this strategy for the average golfer. On the one hand, setting a goal score for the day could help you to stay focused through a rough patch of poor shots. On the other hand, you might find that you put too much pressure on yourself when you constantly have that number looming in the back of your mind. You will know that if you make just one or two mistakes early on, that could be the difference between hitting your target and coming up short. Think about your personality and decide if this is the type of goal that will lead to a positive response. If you love the pressure that comes with a challenge, go for it. If not, consider using the next option for goal setting.
- Set target performance marks. Rather than aiming for a particular score, consider trying to hit on certain performance markers such as greens hit, fairways hit, putts per round, etc. Based on your personal skill level and the type of course you are playing, you could set out targets on a few different parts of your game for the day. The idea behind this is simple – if you do a good job of hitting on your goals, the score will take care of itself. For instance, you could decide that you are hoping to hit at least seven fairways, at least nine greens, and finish with under 30 putts. If you manage all of those points, it is almost certain you will have a nice scorecard when the round is complete.
By establishing goals, you will give yourself a reason to push aside your frustrations during the course of the day. You aren't going to hit your targets if you let your temper get the best of you for more than a minute or two, so you will be forced to pull it together in short order. You may not succeed in hitting your goals during every round, but the successes should outweigh the failures when you have motivation on your side.
Trust the Putting Process
As you know, putting can be the most frustrating part of playing golf. Whether it is missing a short putt or three putting from relatively close range, making mistakes on the greens can cause you to become frustrated after just a couple holes. Since no one is able to make all of their putts, you have to understand that failure on the greens is just part of the game. Once you accept the fact that missed putts are a part of golf, you will have a better attitude with the flat stick.
To get yourself in that proper frame of mind, remember that you don't control your putts once the ball leaves the face of the putter. Sure, you can make a great read and perform a perfect stroke – but that doesn't mean the ball is going to fall in. There might be a small bump in the putting surface which knocks your ball off line. Or, this one green may be a bit faster than the rest for some reason, causing your putt to race by unexpectedly. While these outcomes are not desirable, they are not your fault, either. It is important that you learn to separate out what is under your control and what is up to the random nature of the game.
During practice, train yourself to judge your putts on your stroke alone rather than the outcome. If you are happy with your stroke, you should consider the putt a success – even if the ball doesn't drop in. Some of your good putts will go in and some others will not, but that shouldn't change your attitude or level of frustration. Pay attention to what you can control and let the rest of the game play out as it will.
It is not easy to control your emotions on the golf course. While it might look like professional golfers are great at staying cool, the reality is that those players lose their temper from time to time as well. It is perfectly natural to get frustrated when playing this difficult game – but you have to learn how to regain control over your emotions in short order if you wish to play at a high level. Don't let one mistake carry over for several holes while you remain angry. Instead, let it go as quickly as possible and get back on track by playing a great shot with your next swing. Even without making any technical improvements to your game, you can lower your average score simply by learning how to keep your cool. Good luck!