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GET YOUR MIND RIGHT: How To Play Well After A Bad Start Or Stretch Of Holes

In this post I want to explain the natural inclination to give up when we start playing poorly during a round and what you can do to turn it around.

I was recently on a trip golfing in the Nebraska Sandhills (more on that in a future article) and was struggling on the second round on our last day.  I began thinking about EVERYTHING except my golf game and the shot at hand.  I had negative thoughts, or what you’d call “stinking thinking”, about what I was trying not to do or avoid hitting into.  I couldn’t clear my mind and focus on my next shot.  If I had been in an area with cell reception, I probably would’ve pulled out my phone and started reading email as a nice distraction.  Most of us have done this, or watched someone we are playing with do it.

Oddly enough, the situation brought to mind my exercise classes.  I can now do them again thanks to the special injections in my knees I have previously written about and which have allowed me to avoid joint replacement surgery.  During class, my favorite instructor, Candy, about midway through often yells “Get your mind right!”.  She does it just when you’re thinking you can’t get through the class— I’m just dying, sweating and breathing hard and I just want to lie on the floor.  She asks us what we are telling ourselves at this time?   Usually it’s not good for me and I’m thinking stopping sounds like a pretty good plan.  But I persevere and make it through the class.

When we’re playing well, the thought of quitting doesn’t occur, even if we are tired.  But when your game “goes south” we just let ourselves get distracted by our life outside of the course.   Our minds aren’t right as they wander to things we need to do, like go to the store or contemplate what to make for dinner.  We think about people we need to see, or ponder issues that have come up with family members or even ourselves, etc.  The list goes on and on as you know.

It’s important to understand this is how we work as humans.  When things go wrong, people may dissociate or disengage from the task at hand for various reasons.  One common reason is that we feel overwhelmed or stressed by the situation, causing us to mentally distance as a way to cope with the negative emotions or our perceived failure.  Disassociating provides a temporary escape from the problem or our feelings of disappointment or frustration.

Moreover, we disengage if we perceive the task as futile or our round impossible to salvage.  We might believe our efforts to focus on the next shot and not those we have already made won’t make a difference.  In such cases, disassociating is a defense mechanism to protect us from further disappointment or a feeling of incompetence.

It’s important to note that disengaging from a task when things go wrong is not always a negative response.  Sometimes, taking a step back and regaining perspective can lead to better problem-solving or decision-making once our emotions have settled.  However, prolonged disengagement or avoidance of proper execution of the next shot can hinder progress and prevent opportunities for learning and growth.  You can’t just pick up your ball every time things go wrong.

Experiencing a bad start to a round of golf or playing poorly for several holes in a row can be wildly frustrating.  Here are eight tips that can help you improve your play when that happens and turn things around:

1. Stay Positive: Maintain a positive mindset and remind yourself that golf is a game of ups and downs.  A bad start doesn’t define your entire round.  We all have had many rounds that didn’t start great but ended well.

2. Let Go of Mistakes: This is a biggie.  Don’t dwell on your earlier shots or mistakes.  Instead, focus on the present moment and the upcoming shots.  Letting go of the past will help you concentrate on your current performance.  If you watched Ted Lasso on cable TV, in one of the first episodes he tells one of his soccer players to “be a goldfish”.  Why?  Well, Ted insisted goldfish have 10-second memories, hence, BE A GOLDFISH.  Happiest animal on earth, Ted said.


3. Adjust Your Strategy: If certain shots or clubs aren’t working for you, consider adjusting your strategy.  Play it safe, choose conservative targets, and focus on hitting the fairway or green rather than attempting overly aggressive shots.  On days when I know I’m not hitting my clubs well, this has definitely become a strategy for me.

4. Take a Breath and Reset: When you feel frustrated or overwhelmed, take a deep breath, step back, and reset.  Use this moment to calm your mind, regain focus, and approach the next shot with a clear mind.

5. Break the Round into Smaller Goals: Instead of focusing on the overall score, break the round into smaller goals.  Aim for achieving specific targets on each hole, such as hitting fairways, avoiding bunkers, or focusing on consistent putting.

6. Stay Committed to Your Routine: Stick to your pre-shot routine and focus on each shot individually.  Relying on your routine can help you regain confidence and create a sense of consistency.

7. Visualize Success: Before each shot, visualize a successful outcome. Imagine the ball going exactly where you want it to go. Positive visualization can boost your confidence and improve your execution.

8. Seek Support from Playing Partners: Engage in positive conversations with your playing partners.  Their encouragement and support can help lift your spirits and refocus your energy.

Remember, golf is a game that requires mental resilience.  Embrace the challenge, learn from your mistakes, and stay committed.  In other words,  when you play poorly “Get your mind right.”


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