Imagine you just three-putted from 15 feet. How did you react? Did you get frustrated? Or did you accept it and calmly walk to your next shot? How you react to events, good and bad, on the golf course influences your mindset and performance. Some players are as cool as Fred Couples appears, others get as hot as Craig Stadler looks after missing a three-footer. The first principle of self-control is that you must be in control of your thoughts and emotions before you can control your performance. It’s how you react to mistakes that determines if mistakes are compounded and “the wheels fall off” or if you can remain composed and play on with control.
Why do some players lose control emotionally and turn a bogey into more bogeys? One reason is that they can’t forget what happened on the last hole or shot. Most players set themselves up for frustration or anger because they don’t meet their expectations for how they think the game “should be” played. The frustration makes a player get out of his or her normal rhythm, try harder, or be over aggressive with a game plan. In this article, I present mental skills for controlling your emotions and helping you stay composed before you let the wheels fall off.
1. Stop Dwelling in the Past
Negative emotions begin after you react negatively to a bad shot or a bad score on a hole. You carry it to your next shot because you choose to dwell on your mistake. “What a stupid shot I hit” you mumble to yourself. It’s not only a distraction, but you start to tense up physically. This mindset is unhealthy for your self-confidence and enjoyment. Do you really want to continue to beat yourself up? You make the choice to focus on that bad hole or refocus on what you need to do to play your next shot. Make the right choice.
2. Give Yourself Permission
Does one mistake cause you to unravel? Some players expect that anything less than a flawless round is a failure. If you expect too much of yourself, you are setting yourself up for certain frustration and heartache. No one can be perfect. You must learn to accept that you are human and humans make mistakes. Allow yourself the luxury of making mistakes by giving yourself permission before the round. Even the best players in the world on top of their game make mistakes. You must accept mistakes so you can stay calm and composed. The key is how you recover from a bad shot, not what it cost you.
3. Slow Down and Breath
Anger causes you to walk faster between shots, rush your shots, swing faster, and speed up your preshot routine. Part of staying composed includes calming down physically. When upset, make an effort to slow down and take time walking between shots. Take your normal preshot routine. Breath through your abdominal region. This helps reduce muscular tension and gives you a positive focus.
4. Be Your Own Best Coach
Negative emotions feed off of a player’s negative self-talk. First, pay attention to what you say to yourself after a poor shot. Second, learn to “counter” the negative self-talk and give yourself a pep talk: “I’m a good putter, I’ll make my next putt.” No one can be positive for you, but yourself. You have to be your own best coach and turn your self-defeating thoughts into words of encouragement.