Since my first golf lesson which took place on October 31, 2014, I have scarcely played nine holes of golf. At first, I couldn’t even hit a shot due to a dismantling and complete rebuild of my swing. I have practiced in a net, hit thousands of pitch shots, performed endless drills, read dozens of articles, books and blogs about golf – and experienced countless emotional meltdowns in that time.
Is my swing better? Yes and no. When I’m practicing in my net at home, yes. When I’m hitting balls in the hitting cage at my home course, yes. When I’m ten feet from an athletic looking golfer hitting 175 yard seven irons crisply every time at a driving range, no. When I’m playing on the course, no.
I’m a total head case out there. By that I mean that my head interferes with my game. I get intimidated by other golfers, tense up, lose my feel, make stupid mistakes, mistakes that I know better not to make and hence hit the ball poorly.
I understand with ever-increasing clarity that the mental game is as important as the physical, that I can hit one gorgeous shot after another in the comfort of my own garage or backyard, that when nothing is on the line, it’s easy. My body knows what to do. If I hit a stinker, it is effortless to get back to hitting well with some focus. I stay relaxed, fluid and loose.
Not so on the course.
I played with my husband last Saturday and shot the highest score I’ve shot in decades. It was so damaging to my pride, I can’t even repeat the number. Think some 10s, a few four-putts, plenty of chili dips, sculls and slices and, well I think you get the picture. My beautiful new swing that I’ve worked so hard on evaporated hole by hole.
Men tend to get angry when they play poorly. They might throw a club or pound one into the ground. As for me, I cry. I can’t help it. I just get so frustrated that the dam breaks and the tears flow. I don’t audibly sob mind you. Steady, soundless tears cascade down my face and I have trouble breathing normally and when I try to speak it sounds whiney. I get even more tense and well, it’s not conducive to even mediocre golf. It turns a bad day into a complete debacle. I know I behaved like an eight-year-old. I even felt like one.
When I shot that shockingly high score, I was simultaneously having the worst meltdown I’ve ever had on a golf course. But it was a blessing and it turns out there was a beautiful silver lining to this ugly gray cloud.
It forced me to look squarely into the eyes of a better mental game.
I read everything I could online about the mental game and vowed to commit to much more even keeled consistent routines out on the course. Here are some gems:
1. Line up the shot every time.
2. Keep the same order in the pre-shot routine.
3. Stay in the moment.
4. Don’t celebrate a good shot.
5. Don’t berate myself for a bad one.
6. Don’t think swing mechanics while playing.
7. Visualize every ball flight.
8. After my turn, think on to the next shot.
9. Write the number down but don’t start adding things up.
10. Be confident that my body knows what to do.
11. Take great care with all putts. No gimmes.
12. Stay even keeled throughout the round.
13. Effectively manage all parts of my game.
14. Accept the outcome of every shot.
And for the first time, I tried humming a single note when I address the ball and it really helped drown out my noisy, active mind.
I think I’ll do this stuff – all of it.
I am still making stupid mistakes that cause fat, offline and sculled shots, but I get a few really good ones in too – and I realize that as long as my body continues to know what to do in practice, it will eventually remember what to do in play. It’s all in my head! There is no other explanation. A really good example: if I hit a bad pitch, say, scull it over the green, I hit a second one perfectly that rolls to five feet from the pin – nearly every time! What does that tell me? The six inches between my ears is in the way.
I’m organizing my bag the same way every time and keeping my club faces clean. My whole attitude is changing. I will continue to practice my beautiful shots and trust that my body knows what to do.
I went out the next day for a quick nine with my husband and easily shaved off the extra strokes from the day before – all due to my diligence with the mental side of the game. It was the only thing I changed.
I’m determined as ever to become a better golfer. Since I started lessons, yesterday was the first time I started to see the possibility of it really happening. All because I got my emotions in check and took seriously what I’ve heard about for years.
Keep your cool. Stick to your routines no matter what.