“I never learned anything from a match that I won.”- Bobby Jones

“It’s not what happens to you on the golf course that matters, it’s how you respond to what happens that will determine how good a player you become.” – Some Wise Arse Golfer

The next Mental Game Killer is not being able to get over bad shots and move on quickly.

Your reaction to the outcome of shots can be a major obstacle in getting better. We all hit shots that we don’t intend. It’s part of the game. But to call a shot bad, you have to judge it as so, which will affect how you play. The way to get better is to get to a point where you don’t even acknowledge shots as bad – you accept that they are part of the game and quickly put them behind you and move on to the next.

As Dr. Bob Rotella says “Golf is not a game of perfect.” Not even the best players in the world can hit every shot how they would like. Responding poorly to shots by getting angry, even just a little, can affect your mood for the next shot, which can then snowball into further negativity and loss of focus.

The best thing we can do is give every shot our best intention and manage our reactions. To play our best golf, we need a steady disposition: even the slightest bad reaction to a shot cause tension and loss of confidence. It’s also important to remember that mistakes indirectly make you a better player. If you can learn from your mistakes, you can become a better player each time you play. But do this reflection of your weaknesses after the round, not during. On the course, take a positive from EVERY shot and move on quickly. Try these techniques to calm your mind if you’re disappointed with a shot or bad hole:

  • Try to immediately focus on what you did well. Did you stick to your routine? Was your club-selection and strategy good even if the ball was off line?
  • Try laughing! A good way to have less than perfect shots roll off is to just laugh about it. Zach Johnson said “Realizing bad shots happen is the best way to deal with them. Take the drama out of the shank or top. Use humor or laughter to make it go away, and then move on.”
  • Strike up a conversation with your playing partners
  • Have a “go-to” subject you can take your mind after a shot you consider “bad”. This could be anything such as the number of trees you can name, the different types of birds you can hear, another hobby outside of golf, whatever it is, take your mind away from the game for a little while
  • In your pre-shot routine: Tell yourself:“although I have a very positive intention for this shot, I will accept the result, good or bad and not have a negative reaction.”
  • Look up to the sky: the sheer magnitude of the open space above will quickly make you realize the insignificance of what just happened
  • Tiger Woods has a “ten pace” rule where after he hits a shot that he did not intend, he gives himself ten paces in which to get over it. Just making that decision to do this will help you.
  • Have the shot be forgotten by a physical action that represents it, like putting the club back in the bag

In golf, there really aren’t any bad shots. As Bobby Jones’ quote infers, you learn more from playing badly than by playing well, which is a good thing to remember when it’s not going so well out there. After every round, you are a more experienced player, no matter how you play. Play with these things in mind and you’ll more easily deal with the adversities that a round of golf throws at you.