Updated: May 20, 2020
Imagine you are on the first tee of your favorite golf course.You are nervous but anxious to hit as you have been practicing some new swing fixes for week. You take a breath and tee off, hitting a great shot right down the fairway. You are relieved and completely excited, thinking to yourself this might be the start of your best round yet. You get to your ball and grab a 3 wood with hopes of hitting this par 5 in two. You hit your shot just off the heel and end up short and left of the green. It was a decent shot and still puts you in good position to birdie the hole. Yet, you still think to yourself, "gosh darn it" (or perhaps you use some more choice words).
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. There are two possible outcomes to this story, but speaking for myself, I am more familiar with one of them in particular. The one that leads to broken clubs and keeps Golf Galaxy and Dick's Sporting Goods in business.
So what does happen next?
You brush it off, enjoy a beautiful walk to your ball while admiring the shimmering green leaves on the trees as they wave ever so slightly in the backdrop of the clear blue sky. You get to your ball, analyze the conditions, focus on your pre-shot routine, visualize your shot and hit a great chip 3 feet from the hole.
If that is your reality, Congratulations. Keep enjoying your golf rounds. If that seems like a wonderful yet unattainable dream, keep reading.
For me, and I believe most golfers, what happens next is the mind starts racing. Frustration builds and it opens up the door for negative thoughts to come flooding through, without any permission or examination. "You always mishit your 3 wood", "There goes that round" or "You will never be good at this game". Whatever it is, it's usually very unkind and very dramatic. Without any questioning, you immediately accept these thoughts as truths.
You come up to the ball in the left rough and are determined to hit it close. Why not, you have been diligently practicing your pitching shots. But, you don't hit is close; you decelerate on the follow through and duff it.
Now, there really goes your round.
You have become bogged down by negativity and fear. You spend the next 17 holes doubting and over analyzing your swing while simultaneously criticizing yourself. You will never play well under these conditions, but the hole is too deep now.
How do we prevent this from happening?
How do we prevent from a simple thought, nothingness really, from unraveling our entire psyche and sabotaging our golf experience.
The easiest option is we don't. We just let it happen and deal with the mental and emotional turmoil, distracting us from actually improving our golf game. We accept the minds interpretations of our mishit as us being "the worst golfer in the world" and "never good enough" and then we use outside things to distract us and lessin the emotional strife.
The other option, which is much more difficult, will dramatically improve your life and your golf game, but will require dedication and resilience. You must be dedicated to the process and allow yourself to fail at it before you start getting it correct, just like when learning to play golf.
The biggest problem with our negative thoughts is not that they occur, they are fairly common for everyone, but that you allow yourself to believe them and live into them. They are small puffs of air that you turn into an all consuming thunder cloud. That is a pretty cool trick, but who wants to spend the rest of the day under a dark, rainy cloud?
We need to set up a filter for our thoughts to protect our mindset and our psyche.
Everything your mind tells you will now go through a best friend filter.
"Would my best friend say this to me?" Would your best friend tell you, that you are the worst golfer in the world or that you can't hit that shot. If the answer is yes then you might need a new best friend. If the answer is no, then don't let that thought in! Let it pass by and turn your focus to the glistening green grass or chipping birds. Realize the thought is an irrational, fear induced aspect of your imagination that will eventually fade away if you do not pay attention to it. The negative thought has no power unless you give it power though attention and acceptance. Realize it's absurdity and bring yourself back to the enjoyment of the present moment and beautiful challenge of this game.
This process might seem silly or pointless, but what is the harm in giving it a try. Maybe you do not see any progress with your golf game at first, at the very least you will feel a little better about yourself.
The biggest different from the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour Golfers are they stay focused and positive more often than we do. Now we have the power to improve and increase our positivity, which you will soon find leads to a more enjoyable golf experience and life.