I know that golf is a difficult game to play consistently well. I also know that the majority of amateur golfers would play a lot better if they would only give themselves a break from ‘beating themselves up’ every time they hit a golf shot that is less than they expected.
I’ve spent countless hours around amateur golfers as well as professional golfers and one thing I continually notice is the difference in attitude between pros and amateurs when it comes to the way they deal with ‘less than desirable’ golf shots. For the most part successful professional golfers are experts at dealing with the continual ups and downs of this great game.
The pros who play golf on tour realise that “you can’t control the game, but you can control yourself during the game.”
Of all the many factors that influence the results that you achieve on the golf course, the factor that will make the biggest difference to you is how you manage your frustration when things don’t appear to be going your way. The easiest thing you can do is get upset about a golf shot and carry the anger and frustration with you.
One of the mental confidence skills that pros that play golf on tour develop is a high tolerance for frustration. Frustration is a form of stress, and reacting to it negatively can literally set off a chemical time bomb inside you that erodes your confidence and propels you spiralling into a negative emotional cycle that seems to have no end.
I.e. Bad shot = frustration = bad shot = frustration = bad shot = frustration etc
The bottom line is you need to control the way you experience frustration. It’s important to realise that your perception of any golf event dictates your response, and this response is chemical in nature. When your perceive golf events in a negative way such as ‘feeling frustrated’ you release chemicals into your blood stream that trigger a multitude of biochemical events, that can cause you to produce increased adrenaline and cortisol which are stress hormones. These chemicals affect the feel and rhythm of your swing and symptoms such as an increased heart rate and high blood pressure are not uncommon as well.
The good news is that stress brought on by frustration is fine as long as you recognise it for what it is. Stress exposure is the starting place for our mental, physical and emotional growth. Small intermittent doses of stress are actually good for you because it allows you to become accustomed to the ever changing conditions of the golf course. Guarding yourself against stress exposure will not make you a better golfer-it will make you worse.
There’s a saying that goes “If you don’t adapt your die,” and metaphorically speaking this is quite correct. If you don’t learn to adapt you don’t learn how to move beyond your existing comfort zone and your golf improvement dies. Being too comfortable and basically developing a golf game that really never changes is described as arrested development. This is where you stop improving and start getting too comfortable, or if you like too automatic.
Professional golfers are always improving small aspects of their golf skills so that they never become too comfortable and too automatic. Being uncomfortable is vitally important as it challenges you to keep finding ways to get better. “Negative stress lives just beyond uncomfortable,” and the question you might need to ask yourself about frustration is this; “what makes you think that every golf shot you hit should turn out exactly as you planned it?”
Remember the problem is not the frustration you experience from hitting a golf shot that wasn’t up to your standard; it’s when you exceed your level of frustration tolerance that problems begin to arise. Would golf be more enjoyable for you if you could simply let go of the negative feelings associated with hitting poor golf shots that aren’t up to your level of expectation?
Professional golfers know that nearly every golf shot they hit is going to be less than they expected. In other words, they hit the majority of golf shots poorly compared to their level of expectation.
If they aim to hit their golf ball down the middle of the fairway, thirty to fifty percent of the time it will go into the rough or into a fairway bunker or sometimes even into water.
If they are hitting an iron shot into the green, about forty percent of the time they will miss the green.
If they play a sand shot from a greenside bunker, at least fifty percent of the time they will not make the putt.
If they pitch their ball from the front of green wanting to get it really close to the hole, most of the time it will finish short and left or right of where they expected it to finish.
And finally, when they putt from six to ten feet from the hole they will miss at least fifty percent of them.
So for all the practice hours that professional golfers perform their craft, their golf shots are miss-hit most of the time. The difference is that they know it and they continually manage their expectations, and so must you.
It’s unreasonable to think that your golf shots will turn out anything like you expect them to most of the time because there are so many variables influencing where your golf shot will finish. The best that you can hope for is to accept that you will probably be short-long-right or left of where you thought you would be.
We cannot master the game of golf, no one has, and no one ever will. You can however master your emotions so that when you are faced with the choice as to how you will respond to a poor shot, you can take your golf club and carefully slide it back into your golf bag and walk to your next golf shot without emotionally buying into the less than desirable stroke you just played. Accept that you did the best that you could in the moment and live with it.
Beating yourself up over any golf shot suggests that you are probably putting a great deal more pressure on yourself than you need to, and that you have developed unreasonable expectations about certain golf skills. By continually doing this you will never learn to realise that you have the ability to think before your react and choose the option to simply accept the consequences of your actions and get on with your game.
Increase your capacity for tolerating more frustration during your round and you will develop your ability, and stretch the potential of your golf skills towards better golf shots when it counts, leading to more confidence and far more enjoyable rounds.
How happy and confident you are on the golf course really is an excellent indication of just how well you manage your frustration tolerance levels. The more you accept the difficulty of the game and continually work conscientiously on your weak skills the less likely you will want to beat yourself up. Remember “you can’t control the game, but you can control yourself during the game.”