It's easy to manage your golf game on the course when things are going well. On some days your swing is going to feel great, the bounces will go your way, and your rounds will mostly be blissful. However, as many of you are well aware those days can be a rarity for us golfers. The area of golf where most players struggle is how they manage their games when things are not going well. While you may not believe it, this is one of the keys to improving.
These are the times when you have to become a trauma surgeon. Your metaphorical golfing body is going to have multiple wounds that need attention, and quickly. If you don't take the right measures, then sadly your round is going to have an unfortunate demise.
Here are three things you need to keep in mind on these days:
Accept The Challenge
When you start to feel that it's going to be "one of those days" early in the round, you essentially have a binary choice to make:
- You can declare the day a loss, and spend the rest of your round muttering around in self-loathing
- You can dig your heels in and commit to yourself that you will fight the good fight
I know what it's like to choose option #1. I've done it plenty of times in my golfing life. It's a terrible habit to form and I can assure you it will prevent you from becoming a better golfer (if that is your ultimate goal).
Option 2 is much harder, but I can promise that if you simply commit to yourself that you will not give up on the round, and stay mentally committed to each shot, then good things will happen over time.
I'll give you a perfect example of how this plays out in my own game.
Last year I was trying to qualify for the U.S. Mid-Amateur. It was one round qualifier, and I knew that it was going to take a round of around even par or below to make it to the event in Atlanta. While I didn't fully expect to play that well, I knew I was entirely capable, which had me looking forward to the day for several months.
Needless to say, the day did not go as I planned. Here is a screenshot of my scorecard:
I knew things were veering off track quite early. I felt uncomfortable, my swing was a bit shaky, and the green speeds were giving me serious issues. After six holes I was two over and knew that the rest of my round would have to be pretty stellar. Then things went off a cliff - I registered three double bogeys and my score ballooned to eight over after the 11th hole.
My chances were completely toast. I felt like I had been punched in the gut, and to be completely honest, I wanted to walk off the course at that point. I knew I would deeply regret that decision so I decided to choose option 2 on this day and try to save my round as best as I could. The last thing I wanted was a nasty letter from the USGA warning me that I wasn't good enough to play in their events.
I played the relatively difficult final seven holes at one under and narrowly missed out from making a hole in one. Finishing with a 78 at that point felt like a victory because I knew it could have been way worse had I chosen to give up. Rounds like these have a great silver lining because you can take the positive memories from the grind and apply them to future rounds.
That's not to say that things will go that well every time. I've had rounds where no matter what I did my eventual score turned out to be much worse than my average. But if you continually make the commitment to accept the challenge of saving those less-than-stellar days, I can 100% guarantee you will be a better player overall.
Don't Play Aggressively
My next key to stopping the bleeding has to do with your strategy. For most golfers, their tendency is to play more aggressively when things aren't going well. It's very similar to a poker player being on tilt. You can read this article to learn more about this concept, and why it can be so damaging to your game.
Bad strategic decisions are not a good idea, despite how well or poorly you are playing on a given day. Trying to thread your ball through small openings in the trees and firing at pins surrounded by trouble lead to bigger scores in the long run.
Long story short - you must resist the urge to play more aggressively when you are not playing well. It is essentially pouring gasoline on a fire that is already starting to get out of control. If you want to prevent your scores from spiraling out of control then stick to the smart strategy!
Oh, and Don't Forget to Have Fun...
This last concept might easily be the most important one:
YOU ARE NOT PLAYING GOLF FOR A LIVING; IT IS A LEISURELY PURSUIT. THE DEFINITION OF LEISURE IS THE USE OF FREE TIME FOR ENJOYMENT.
Sorry if that was obnoxious, I just wanted to make that abundantly clear to everyone because sometimes I forget this myself.
A round of golf is not a life or death situation. Your livelihood is not on the line. Small kittens will not perish somewhere if you don't play your best.
Although it might feel like big things are on the line at the moment, in the grand scheme of things one bad round of golf is not going to alter much in our lives. However, if you are starting to spend the majority of your rounds in absolute misery when you don't play that well, then I think you are starting to have a problem.
Golf should be fun regardless of your performance. It is absolutely ludicrous to devote large sums of money and time to an activity that does not bring you any joy.
Interestingly enough, remembering to smell the roses on days where your game might not be cooperating is usually the best medicine for turning things around.
Wrapping It Up
We all have days where we feel like our game is in the weeds and our wounds are too surmountable to operate. I guarantee you will become a better and happier golfer if you do the following:
- Accept the challenge
- Resist the urge to play aggressively
- Remember you are there to have fun
I'm not telling you that this will be easy. It's also not possible to accomplish this goal every time. But like many other things in this game, if you can get incrementally better you will see results in the long run.