The first question to ask is what makes you angry? Is it just hitting a bad shot or is it what the bad shot makes you feel about yourself? We all hit bad shots and we all react differently to those bad shots, but it is how we deal with that reaction that determines how we continue to play afterwards. Some golfers get angry but control it to benefit their games. But for many golfers, anger interferes strongly with their performance.
When we examine our anger, we can rationalise what is happening to us and deal effectively with that anger. Becoming a golfer that accepts the outcome of each shot is what will give us the greatest enjoyment in the game.
Take most pride in the process you have developed for hitting each shot – let other people make what they will from the outcome. This is not an easy part of one’s game to change. After all, most golfers have spent their lives looking at where their golf ball finishes and then judging themselves. It would be much better not to judge yourself at all. It does not mean that you do not care about the outcome of each shot; it just means you have accepted the outcome before it happens.
When you accept the outcome of a shot before it happens, you will have gained a freedom few others enjoy. In golf and other sports, it is the key to success. You are doing all that you can to allow the ball to go to your target but you have already accepted the outcome. We know you are doing all you can because you have chosen a target, used a pre-shot routine and committed to the shot. As soon as the ball leaves the putter or clubface, you are just watching it to find out where it lands – nothing more.
If your anger is hurting your golf performance you need to give yourself a break from the expectations that you set for yourself. By lowering the bar and accepting the outcome of each shot, we can become more emotionally controlled and get back to playing our best golf.
To release anger in the moment, you can engage in different physical actions such as stretching the fingers of each hand backwards, squeezing the towel you use to clean your clubs or simply smiling to yourself for getting angry. Some golfers who get angry after mishitting a shot out of thick rough find it useful to walk seven or eight paces away from the ball and then return more calmly to take the shot again.
Proof this thinking works
Eleven male golfers of varying abilities were interviewed to discover why golfers experience stress and how they use a range of strategies to cope with it. They reported four major categories of stressors; evaluative others (people watching), specific performance challenges (challenging aspects of the course), psycho-emotional concerns (frustration) and competitive stress (pressure of playing in a tournament).
The six techniques identified by the golfers on how they coped with stress included:
1. Cognitive techniques (using self-talk, imagining good shots)
2. Relaxation techniques (deep breaths)
3. Off-course efforts (reading golf articles or practising)
4. Golf-course strategies (playing smart, using clubs that you have confidence in)
5. Avoidance coping (talking to friends between shots to keep the mind off golf)
6. Emotion-focused coping (breaking clubs and cursing)
What you can learn
This illustrates the variety of coping strategies that can be employed and how golfers can use practical techniques to cope with stress. For example, one of only two strategies (the other being avoidance-focused coping) that all 11 golfers said they used was golf course strategies, so one simple and practical way to reduce stress is to think smart on the course. For example, when under pressure, use the club you are most comfortable hitting.
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This is an excerpt from ‘The Successful Golfer: Practical Fixes for the Mental Game of Golf’ by sports psychologists Dr Paul McCarthy and Dr Marc Jones. Available now for £13.99. Visit www.BennionKearny.com/golf for more information.