One of the key psychological upsides of golf is, ironically, one of its main downsides too, especially when you need to clear your mind after a bad shot. Golf just gives you lots of time to think, to reflect, to pontificate…
We’ve all felt the anger of a bad golf shot. There’s nothing more infuriating than being on for a good score and then an errant tee shot comes out of nowhere and ruins your card. But moving on from a bad shot is imperative if you’re to post a good score. So, RSNG spoke to Performance Psychologist Jake Brown to discover some practical hacks to do just that…
Unlike fast-paced sports, golf gives us ample opportunity to scrutinize. Between most shots there are an almost guaranteed couple of minutes of thinking time, and when used effectively, they can manage our reactions and limit the compounding of mistakes. Alternatively, we can stew.
“The thing is, the bad shot alone is not the problem,” says Performance Psychologist Jake Brown. “The average golfer hits an awful lot of them each round, and even the best in the world hit a few bad ones across the 18-hole stretch.”
“The problem is that we don’t let it go; we don’t move on from a bad shot. So, by the time we’ve reached the ball for our next shot, we’ve already catastrophized and concluded we’re ‘the worst golfer to ever play the game’, and we’ll never be any good.”
The trick therefore isn’t to avoid bad shots, but to control your reaction and make sure the next one isn’t a repeat. Here are Brown’s nine steps to do just that:
1. Don’t Hold It In “The worst thing you can do is carry your anger into the next shot. You rush your pre-shot routine, your swing speed goes up and your accuracy goes down. Allow yourself a temporary release of emotion, just as long as it doesn’t involve a club up a tree or an upset greenkeeper, thanks to the extra divot you’ve just taken out the tee,” says Brown.
2. Slow Down And Take Your Time “Consciously slow everything down. Walk slower to the ball. Slow down your breathing and be really deliberate with your routine. I’ve never met anyone who plays better golf when they are rushing.”
3. Focus On The Controllables “Whatever you do, make sure you’re 100% committed to your next shot. The past is entirely out of your control which means it’s irrational to still think about it. The problem is we respond with our impulsive and emotional mind before we activate our slow and rational brain.”
“This one’s easier said than done, for sure, but if we can move closer to this mindset it allows us to let it go and focus on the things we can actually control and influence.”
4. Be Mindful “Mindfulness meditation is hugely popular amongst elite athletes, and for good reason. But the reality is, sitting down on the green with your eyes closed for five minutes after a missed putt isn’t very practical and probably won’t go down too well with your playing partners, or the 2-ball behind you.”
“But just because you can’t practise mindfulness sitting down, it doesn’t mean you can’t still be mindful and incorporate some of its core elements.”
“Simply put, being mindful means holding the present moment; non-judgemental awareness. It;s the exact opposite of beating yourself up about your previous shot and judging your swing mechanics, club selection and shot choice.”
5. Ground Yourself “Notice what’s around you and connect to the present moment using the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique:
5 things you can See 4 things you can Touch 3 things you can Hear 2 things you can Smell 1 thing you can Taste
“Thankfully the golf course provides a sensory-rich environment to make this technique really effective. Notice the color of the trees you’ve just hit your ball into, the sound of birds chirping or the feel of the rough under your feet. It shifts your attention allowing you to get out of your head and into the moment.”
The challenge becomes trusting your swing and letting it go
6. Breathe Deeply “Pretty essential, of course, but breathing serves two important functions. On a physiological level, slowing down your breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces your heart rate and inhibits the stress response.”
“On a psychological level, it reduces mental noise and gives us an attentional focus point that isn’t a horrible action replay in our heads of the slice we’ve just hit out of bounds.”
7. Label It As An Anomaly “A massive problem amongst us golfers is we love to tweak and fiddle with our swings. Our mind is strongly biased towards ‘cause and effect’ explanations and negativity. This, partnered with the constant swing analysis on our screens, means we often look for swing faults that aren’t there, whilst over emphasizing the odd bad shot, despite the majority of shots beforehand being more than adequate.”
“The challenge therefore becomes trusting your swing and letting it go. Too much conscious control actually inhibits your natural, fluid and deeply learnt swing.”
A bad shot means you’re statistically closer to hitting a good shot because you fall back to your average
8. Regression To The Mean “Regression to the mean is a statistical principle that says things even out. If you play off 10 and shoot 70 one week and 90 the next, probability states that your next round will be closer to your handicap – you regress to your mean.”
“So, a bad shot means you’re statistically closer to hitting a good shot because you fall back to your average – and you can’t argue with stats, right?!”
9. Reframe In Your Favor “Reframing simply means changing your perception about a situation. In other words, accept you’re going to hit bad golf shots and reframe a mistake to be one step closer to a good shot, rather than the trigger of a sharp decline.”
“But what about when you’re playing well? Statistically this does mean you’re closer to a bad shot, but you can use the power of reframing again. If you make a few good putts or hit every fairway, ignore this statistical principle and tell yourself you’re on a hot streak… you’re playing well… it’s your day.”
“In essence we’re saying be rational when performance is poor – an optimistic outlook and a protective mechanism for your confidence – and irrational when performance is good? Perhaps, but great golfers create their own reality. Elite sportsmen shift the rules to seemingly work in their favor, so positive thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
10. RECAP: How To Clear Your Mind After A Bad Golf Shot
- Don’t hold it in!
- Slow down and take your time.
- Focus on the controllables.
- Be mindful.
- Ground your attention to the present moment.
- Breathe right.
- Label it an anomaly and trust your swing.
- Trust you will regress to the mean when it’s bad.
- Reframe the situation in your favor.
WHAT NEXT? Find out how Japanese craftsmen are turning making golf clubs into an art with this RSNG article.
Jake Brown is a Performance Psychologist and Founder of [Mindframe Performance] (https://mindframeperformance.com). He works with elite and amateur athletes across a wide range of sports, specializing in golf psychology. He also plays golf himself off a handicap of 4, as well as semi-professional football. Follow Jake on Instagram for regular performance tips @mindframeperformance.
Photo by Andrew Anderson, mk. s, Bobby Jones, Marvin Meyer, Dan Congdon on Unsplash.