Everyone gets the bad-shot jitters at some point. Are you trying to impress your boss or a client? Want to save face in front of your golfing buddies? Hope to inch under your personal best score? When each stroke matters and the pressure is high, you’re not the only one who sometimes gets stuck in a downward spiral of bad shots. Any coach or friend can tell you to “shake it off,” but what does that actually mean? How can you just “get over it,” and move on to play your best?
Sports psychology research shows that mental toughness is one of the most important qualities for athletes. If you want to be a lifelong golfer, it’s important to make sure you don’t waste your time on the course on negative thinking or self-talk. Resilience, in life and on the course, is one of the most important markers of long-term success.
According to instructors from Golf.com, the PGA Tour keeps statistics on who is best at leaving bad shots behind: “The Tour keeps a statistic called “bounce back,” which tracks how often a player follows an over-par hole with an under-par hole… Jim Furyk [for instance] ‘bounces back’ nearly 40 percent of the time — in other words, more than a third of his bogeys or worse are followed by birdies or better.”
Now that’s an encouraging statistic! Keeping that in mind, here are three steps to help you in becoming the next comeback kid:
1. Recall the good shots
Do you have a personal memory reel of your top best golf shots? Play it in your mind now. Remembering feelings of past success helps you to relax, and puts you in the same mindset you were in when you performed well. Have you ever birdied this particular hole before? Remember what it was like, and latch onto that feeling. One of the best ways to build confidence in a dicey moment is to remember all your hours of practice, and that you’ve shot great holes before, so you can do it again.
2. Take a timeout
When the players of a team sport like football or basketball start to meltdown, their coach calls a timeout. One of the reasons they do this is to stop the negative momentum. If you’ve been caught in a downward shot spiral, step away from the tee box or your ball for a moment, and do a few stretches or take a few deep breaths. Not only will the deep breaths calm you down, but you’ll also get a moment of distance and perspective that will help you disconnect from negative emotions. Yes, there is a speed of play rule in golf, but no one will begrudge you a quick 20 seconds to stretch and reset.
3. Remember your strategy
Do you usually play holes conservatively? Don’t mix up your game plan by attempting an unnecessarily risky shot just to catch up after your nasty slice. This kind of mid-hole strategy switcheroo can contribute to negative inertia. Instead, it’s better to be analytical and moderate about how things went wrong, and how you can get back on track. Act as a coach and cheerleader to yourself, not a harsh critic. Adjust your original strategy as needed, and move on to the next shot. It’s bound to be a great one!
Mastering the ‘bounce-back’ move
Who among us has never broken down and had a complete nightmare hole? We’re talking the kind of golf that would make Jordan Spieth’s triple bogey disaster at the 2016 Masters held in April look like a minor mishap.
…But he went on to achieve two first-place wins on the PGA tour in the same season. Why? Because he practices resilience, just as he practices his swing. Training yourself to feel relaxed and confident in the face of a tough stroke, a tough hole (or even a tough round), can be just as important to your game as your killer drive.
— Cammy Pedroja