(or: How To Keep Your Golf Game From Sucking Even More)
By Scott McCormick ISAG Contributor
Above all else, golf is a game of failures. Repeated failures. Excruciating, humiliating failures. If you golf often, the question isn’t if you are going to have an agonizing on-course meltdown, but rather when said disaster will occur.
It happens to PGA tour pros. It happens to scratch golfers. And it happens to your average weekend warrior.
The key – and this one of the things that separates top notch golfers from the Duffy McSixpack set – is how you react when the inevitable happens. A bad shot can quickly turn into a catastrophic hole, which can swiftly snowball into an entire round of doom and gloom. And often, it doesn’t stop there, as the lingering memories from your disastrous outing dance uncontrollably in your mind, poisoning the well for future redemption.
With luck, it will only be one aspect of your game that goes haywire for you. But chances are, there’ll be a time when your long game, your short game, and everything in between goes to hell in a hand basket.
Maybe you know the feeling; your drives are consistently heading out-of-bounds, and when you finally get on the green, you have to battle just to three-putt.
Or when swapping out your long irons for your pitching wedge is a nice change of pace…in the same way that explosive diarrhea is a nice change of pace from projectile vomiting.
Whether your meltdown is one awful shot, or a summer’s worth of atrocious play, the key is to find your means to recovery before it gets any worse.
Each individual golfer has his or her own technique for attempting to bust out of a slump – some of them work well, and others simply prolong the misery. Let’s take a look at some of the good (and the not-so-good) meltdown recovery techniques:
Assess the Cause
Is your poor play the result of poor physical fundamentals? A glitch in your swing? Or is the problem psychological? A mental weakness?
These two potential causes are not mutually exclusive; in fact they often play off of one another. A physical glitch causes several poor shots, which screws up your mental mojo, resulting in more fundamental gaffes.
You are too tense or too nervous, which triggers your normally sound physical motions to run askew, which causes you to uncork an embarrassing shot, which in turn causes more tension and anxiety. Repeat.
It becomes a chicken and egg equation to determine if the root cause of your repeated shanks is mental or physical. But it can be very helpful to have a sense of which is the impetus for your poor play.
If the problem is physical – in other words, you have a systematic flaw in your swing that is causing you to repeatedly mishit your ball – then your solution is going to be different than if it is simply a head trip.
The good news is that if your issue is largely physical, it is actually easier to cure than if it is a mental glitch. I don’t know about you, but when I go into the doctor’s office complaining of certain symptoms, I prefer to hear a clear and direct diagnosis and an equally specific remedy. Nobody wants to hear “I don’t know what to tell you, pal. It’s all in your head.”
If you have a fundamental flaw in your game, it’s important that you don’t just “play through it”. Continuing to play with a technical glitch in your swing will only reinforce it and make it much more difficult to remedy in the future.
What you need to do when you are swinging improperly is take a step back from competitive rounds and work the kinks out. I recommend taking a lesson (even seasoned golfers can benefit from having a pro’s advice), or having a friend video tape your swing so you can analyze it. And then get out to the driving range and practice, practice, practice until the wrinkles are all ironed out.
Golfers of all stripes are prone to mental gaffes that can send their game into a vicious tailspin. And there are numerous causes for these on-course cataclysms, and just as many solutions. It all depends on your individual psychology. If you find you are frequently having your game derailed by inexplicable lapses in concentration, sudden outbreaks of the yips, or a missed shot causes you to boil over like tea kettle – well, you’ve got to get ahold of yourself.
It’s easier said than done, but the best golfers have techniques for blocking out outside influences that can cause mental lapses, and most importantly they learn how to forget about poor shots so they can focus on recovering, and not let one blunder turn into a comedy of errors.
I don’t really have the answers here, and if I did I would either be on the PGA Tour myself, or writing best-selling golf psychology books, but what works generally works for me (until it doesn’t) is to focus on the good shots and not the poor ones and when I am playing poorly, focus on the future and ways to recover – one shot at a time, so to speak.
Here’s a quick rundown of some common tactics that can occasionally work, but more often make things worse, and are thus not recommended as long term solutions:
• Throwing Your Clubs – Sometimes it feels good to release some tension and anger by throwing a hissy fit and succumbing to the innate desire to punish your club for a poor shot. It makes you look like an asshat, however, and more often than not it will fail to improve your game, and after you shank the next shot, you’ll be inclined to act like a baby again.
• Cursing Up a Storm – Muttering some choice words after an awful shot is a time-honored golfing tradition employed by the best and the worst players. If it helps, feel free to let a four-letter word or two roll off your tongue, but don’t overdo it. Nobody enjoys playing with a guy that unleashes a profanity-filled tirade every time he shanks a shot. And you’re game will suffer if you are an insufferable golf partner.
• Getting Drunk – I know many a golfer that drowns the sorrows of a poor front nine by pounding alcoholic refreshments throughout the back nine. While this may temporarily ease the pain of your lousy game, it isn’t going to make you play any better, and in the long run it will harpoon your ability to make necessary improvements. Hold off until the round is over and then, if appropriate, enjoy a drink or two at the 19th hole, while you focus your thoughts on the one or two good strokes you made that day, rather than the dozen poor shots.
Scott McCormick is a golf fanatic who has never thrown a club or dropped an F-bomb on the course. He has also birdied every hole he has ever played. When not living in a fantasy land, Scott is a golf commentator whose writing appears courtesy of Golf Now Phoenix and Golf Now San Diego For more of McCormick’s commentary, see his recent post on Ian Poulter at the Ryder Cup .