This is a question I get asked a lot by my students:
“How can I erase a bad shot and not let it create doubt and affect my mood for the next shot and/or the rest of the round? Whenever I have a bad hole, I immediately start to think about how much that’s affected my chances of a good score and then the negative thoughts flood in…It’s hard to bounce back from a bad hole!”
The negative chain reaction
Thoughts are just thoughts. When a thought is produced by your brain, it doesn’t yet have the power to become a feeling or an emotion and affect your mood. However, the more time you give a thought, the more power you give it and eventually it will change your mood. If it’s a negative thought, it can quickly become frustration, performance anxiety and fear.
5 Ways To Bounce Back From A Bad Hole
Here are my top 5 ways to dissipate the negative thoughts that you’re likely to have after a mistake or bad hole, and prevent them from becoming a negative mood.
1. Acknowledge your reaction
There’s a saying that champions respond to what happens and losers react. Becoming more aware of how you are thinking and feeling on the course and how that affects your play is a big part of the mental coaching process. E.g. If you miss an easy putt or put your drive OB, you can expect a negative thought to enter your head. This is perfectly normal. They key is to notice that you are having a negative thought, and if you do, you’ll have the time to choose your response, instead of just reacting.
2. Decide upon one minute of calm
Many of my students have found that trying to clear the mind and focus on their breathing straight after a bad shot or hole can help. If you can do this (it takes practice), you’ll stop the chain reaction from thought to mood change, and quality (deep belly) breathing will help lower your heart rate and reduce the stress response. This will enable you to bounce back from a bad hole.
3. Observe your body language
There’s a scientifically proven relationship between posture and mood. If you were to frown and put yourself in a hunched over (weak) posture, you would eventually start to feel down. Conversely, if you walk with your shoulders back and smile, you’ll feel more confident and powerful. When you’re feeling like you’re in a slump on the course, notice your body language and correct it if needed.
4. Have an attitude of gratitude
One of my students has put a couple of colored dots on his glove (with a sharpie). One of them is his “gratitude dot” and it represents people that are going through hardships and suffering at this time. Every day, about 21,000 people in the world die of starvation. We are very lucky to be able to play golf however we play, so put the missed 4 footer in perspective!
5. Other ways to hit the reset button:
- Close your eyes and count to 10
- Replace the negative thought with something positive. Think about something completely unrelated to golf: like your favorite vacation spot, your (other) favorite sport, friends or family or anything else which is pleasant to you
- Look at the sky for 10 seconds
- Try to find a positive in the shot you just hit (this is a great challenge)
Try these mental game techniques and I hope you find something that will help you bounce back from a bad hole! Another thing to remember, the first hole does not have to set the tone for the round! Many great rounds have started with a bogey or worse. Work on resetting and sticking to your mental plan throughout the round.
Photo by Keith Allison