Bad Golf's John Robins: "How to cope when your form deserts you"

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Bad Golf's John Robins has gone from a 21-handicapper to a 13-handicapper in a matter of months, putting the brand under serious threat!

But never fear, the comedian and broadcaster’s recent good form proved it is still capable of deserting him with zero notice. Here, in his exclusive Today's Golfer column, he explains how he coped when those halcyon days of good rounds and cuts end abruptly.

The very title of this column is under threat. In fact, my entire golfing brand could well be doomed. Over the past weeks, a number of people have said to me, ‘come on John, fair’s fair, you can’t call yourself a bad golfer anymore!’. And, despite three putting from two feet on the most recent video on my YouTube channel ‘Bad Golf’ I must concede defeat. I am now quite good at golf.

Aside from becoming something of a fraud, I do hope I’ve given a few bad golfers reasons to be cheerful. If this 21-handicapper can shave eight shots in a matter of months, then there’s no reason you can’t do the same.

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For about three months now I’ve enjoyed the thrill of weekly cuts, to the point where I’m now playing off 13.4, something not only did I never dream of, but I never dreamed I was capable of.

My swing hasn’t improved hugely, I’m just playing fewer bad shots, because I’m making fewer bad decisions.

But more of that next month. Today I want to talk about something every improved golfer will know: that first round when your purple patch deserts you.

John Robins has taken inspiration from Raymond Floyd's 'The Elements of Scoring' book.

Having recently read Raymond Floyd’s The Elements Of Scoring’ I was better equipped than I might have been for the challenge of playing to my new level. It is a superb book, perhaps the most useful book about golf ever written. On page one he gives a piece of advice which we would all do well to embroider on our golfbags

“The object of the game is to shoot the lowest score you can”

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At first impressions this may seem like a statement too obvious even for the opening chapter of An Idiots Guide To Golf.

“What’s he talking about?! I know that!”

But do we? Do we really understand what that means? Is that the attitude we carry with us at all times on the course? I doubt it.

Putting is not a strength of Bad Golf's John Robins.

What he means is, don’t be distracted by any goal other than shooting the lowest score you can. The object of golf is not to hit your driver 280yds, nor to hit greens in regulation, nor to break par, or 80 or 90 or 100. The object of golf is not to hit a screaming fairway wood from the rough, nor is it to shoot your lowest ever score. The object of golf is to shoot the lowest score you can, on that day, by whatever means it takes.

Last Thursday it became very clear that my recent improvement had stopped dead. Irons chunked, tee shots shanked, chips duffed and putts left heartbreakingly short. I felt like I’d gone backwards and each tee shot held not the calm hope of par, but the terrifying ‘fear of FORE!’ So, what do you do? How do you still manage to ‘shoot the lowest score you can’ when your game has deserted you?

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Well, the first thing I told myself is ‘John, you’re not suddenly bad at golf, this is not a crisis, it’s just a bad round’. Form comes and goes, and we risk seriously damaging our score by assuming all hope is lost, that we were always bad at golf and this is our true game.

One of the many things that separate the pros from the amateurs is they not only know their best game inside out, but they also know their average game, their poor game, and their nightmare all-hands-on-deck game. And more than this they know what to do when they’re not shooting their best. That’s how players make cuts, not by suddenly finding their A game but by keeping disaster from the door when they hear its footsteps approach.

So, after avoiding both panic and despair, I decided I was going to have to find a B game, or even a C game. I couldn’t rely on my swing to get me round the course, so I had to rely on my brain instead. This meant no delicate shots, no high-risk shots, no playing over trouble. It meant putts from the semi rough, bump and runs from fifty yards in and playing to the widest part of the fairway and the centre of the green.

WATCH: John Robins' putting let's him down

The second thing I did was to remind myself of the fundamental goal that had helped me break both 90 and 80: It’s all about putts for par. If I could walk onto each green with a putt for par, whether it was from six feet or sixty feet, then I had managed to maintain a base level of competence.

Dear reader, I failed in that goal. However, I didn’t abandon it. I kept that anchoring objective at the forefront of my mind.

The next aim was to complete the rest of my round without losing my temper and without losing my concentration. No one likes playing with someone who’s thrown in the towel, so I was to treat that morning as a mental training exercise. Could I keep focus when that focus wasn’t being rewarded?

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Well, it’s not just enough to just tell yourself to keep focus when you hit a drive straight left out of bounds after hitting your last thousand shots to the right.

What I found is that you need small targets. So, I set myself several mini games. Firstly, I set myself the challenge not to blob any remaining holes. Secondly, I would secretly compete in matchplay holes with my playing partners. And finally, I would come out of this nightmare with thirty stableford points.

Bad Golf's John Robins has been playing a lot of golf since lockdown lifted.

I have no shame in saying I failed to succeed in any of these goals. I blobbed two more holes, got pasted by my playing partners and scored a paltry 25 points, making me 20th out of 21 people in the roll up.

But without these goals I wouldn’t have succeeded in the fundamental challenge of not losing my concentration. And I have no doubt that on that day I shot the lowest score I could.

When I totted up that score my heart didn’t sink, nor did I question what had gone wrong or why I had suddenly lost my game. I hadn’t lost my game at all, I was just playing a different version of my game. I had scored 93, my worst gross score in three months of near constant improvement. But is 93 that bad?! Of course not. Is it the sort of score that I would have been pleased with just a year or two ago? Absolutely it is.

I had shot 77 on my previous round, but 93 on a day when my entire game left me for dead. Now that’s decent scoring.

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Find out more about John Robins at johnrobins.com

Bad Golf's John Robins with his Cobra golf bag.

WITB: Bad Golf's John Robins

Click the club names to read reviews and tests of John's clubs

Driver: Cobra King RadSpeed Loft: 10.5º set to 11.5º. Shaft: Tensei blue 65 reg

Hybrid: Cobra King Speedzone Loft: 2H. Shaft: Recoil reg

Irons: Cobra King Speedzone Lofts: 5-GW. Shafts: Recoil reg

Wedges: Cobra King MIM Lofts: 52º, 58º. Shafts: STD wedge shaft

Putter: Odyssey O-Works 2.0 R-Line

Golf ball: Bridgestone E6

Apparel: Puma

John Robins is an award-winning stand-up comedian and BBC Radio 5Live host. Download the podcast here and watch his comedy special 'The Darkness of Robins' on Netflix here. You can also follow John on Twitter and Instagram.

For more from Bad Golf, subscribe to their YouTube channel or follow on Twitter and Instagram.