A good golf game can make your whole day. A bad one can … well, who wants to think about that?
The truth is a bad day on the course can really bring you down. Depending on how you handle defeat, it can cause you to isolate your friends, fight with your spouse, be short with your children and make bad business decisions. And anyone who tells you to “lighten up” or remember that it’s “only a game” is just asking for trouble!
Is the answer to invest thousands in new equipment and professional coaching retreats with the coaches to the pros? Maybe. A simpler (and more affordable) answer might just lie in the way you talk to yourself.
Bobby Jones has said, “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course: the space between your ears.” And many other golfers agree. Golf is a mental game.
So, how do you psych yourself up for a “good game”? Here are 5 pointers that can help you get ready:
1. BE REALISTIC OF YOUR DEFINITION OF "GOOD." Do you remember the first time you played—that first game that got you hooked on the sport? There was a certain sensation to that day and that round. And it came mostly from the fact that you had no expectations. In your current game, concentrating on one or two (at most) areas or items for improvement is a great way to hone your focus and eliminate some of the internal pressure.
2. BREATHE! Ever held your breath on a stroke or a putt? You may not even realize you’re doing it until you suddenly (and loudly) exhale. With all the concentration you have to do already on posture, stance, distance, angling, wind calculations and on and on, remembering to breathe can be the last thing you want to think about. After all, shouldn’t your body be doing this on its own? Maintaining deep, steady breathing, however, is one of the surest ways to automatically calm your nerves. It sends signals to your Central Nervous System that “everything is okay” and allows your brain chemistry to stay as balanced as possible, so that you can make clear-headed decisions on the course.
3. TELL YOURSELF WHAT YOU'RE DOING RIGHT. Better yet, tell someone else: Saying your thoughts out loud gives them power. How many times have you shared with the others in your foursome that you didn’t give that stroke enough force or gave too much to the putt you just made? It’s okay to deconstruct what you’ve done wrong in order to learn and thereby improve your game. But if you’re caught up in only seeing the negative, your brain starts a negative feedback loop that’s hard to stop. Try pointing out what worked about that last swing: “Hey, I straightened that one up a little!” You could start a positive chain reaction in your golf group.
4. READ "ZEN GOLF" BY DR. JOE PARENT. Better yet, sign up for his free monthly newsletter at www.ZenGolf.com. As a PGA Tour instructor, Parent has coached the likes of Vijay Singh and Cristie Kerr, and is even the mental game coach for the men’s and women’s golf teams at Pepperdine University. Zen Golf is third in a series of books he’s written about the mental aspects of the golf game, a philosophy he’s been honing since the 1970s.
5. FIND YOUR MOTTO. Mottos are great mental cues, because they’re typically short and get right to the point. As a Communications Coach, I help my clients create them around their public speaking fears using a consistently simple, 3-step process: identify how you physically feel in your body when you talk negatively to yourself (in this case, about your golf game); then name the moods and emotions that accompany those physical feelings; finally, put the correlating thoughts into a sentence form, so you can see the mind-body connection. With a little work, you can begin to recognize the thoughts behind those thoughts. These are usually the ones that undermine your self-confidence and knock you off-center. Finding your motto entails picking counter-thoughts to the negative ones and using those the very moment you feel those previously identified body sensations that correspond to your negative thoughts. Then you can short-circuit the typical mental meltdown that usually accompanies them.
As a public speaker, I have a motto I use before going onstage. And it can easily be transferred to the links, too. Being short and small-built, I can sometimes feel invisible or “wimpy” at sports. When I start to feel the flutter in my chest and butterflies in my stomach that go along with these thoughts for me, I simply tell myself, “I’m petite and I’m powerful!” It works every time. What’s your golf motto?
Kealah (KEE-la) Parkinson is a Communications Coach who specializes in The Challenged Brain, or moments when the brain is stressed by emotion, learning disorders and other issues that compromise brain chemistry to give off thinking miscues. Her electronic workbook Speak Your Truth: How to Say What You Mean to Get What You Want can be found online at www.KiKiProductionsinc.com