It was a moment that summed up the self-destructing golfer that all golfers, average or great, experience: I K Kim missed a 1-foot putt on the final hole in the Kraft Nabisco Championship to win the LPGA’s first major tournament of the year. She was visibly shocked and subsequently lost in a play off to an 18-foot birdie putt by Sun Young Yoo – hardly surprising after missing the earlier putt.
Golf is a sport that can induce frustration, anger or reduce you to tears and there is no hiding place. Good shots or poor shots are exposed for all to see and there are no teammates to hide behind or to blame. You can say as many prayers as you like, but you just never know what is going to happen.
We all do it
To my embarrassment, on more than one occasion I have missed 1-foot putts. And it is no help when your playing partners say “don’t worry about it, we’ve all done it” How can you forget it, when you know it should never happen. It is a humiliating experience and you feel so helpless.
Moreover, it matters just as much to the average golfer who is playing in a friendly four-ball or a weekend medal. There might not be the same amount of money riding on it, but you care just as passionately.
Golf is no respecter of reputation
Try to explain Rory McIlroy’s collapse at the Masters Tournament in 2011 or Greg Norman’s meltdown against Nick Faldo in 1996. Both had played great golf for three days and had seemingly unassailable leads, but inexplicably lost on the day. Nobody under performs deliberately, so why does it happen.
You cannot question their technique or skill levels or for that matter their mental toughness. Although they have never won the Masters, they have won at the highest level and know how to win. What’s more, these guys will have had access to top sports psychologists and have learnt mental strength techniques and tips on how to handle stress and maintain performance levels under pressure, but clearly it still goes wrong on occasions.
Unlike the average golfer, top players can usually keep their emotions in check and play consistently well because their technique and skills are so reliable. They have the knowledge and confidence to make up for a poor shot with their next shot and in the main can avert self destructing golf.
So, what chance, have the rest of us got?
The average golfer does not have the skill-set to recover so easily from poor shots and often follows one bad shot with another. Before you know it, your entire round has become a blur and one to forget. But, unfortunately, your subconscious will not let you forget and can influence your next round with the same negative thoughts, unless you can supplant them with positive thoughts and outcomes.
Strangely, even the good days can be confusing. You might play better than normal on any given day, but if you do not understand why you are playing better, what chance have you got of repeating it the next time.
So, how do you overcome self-destructing golf?
Jack Nicklaus used to say that on a good day, he would hit no more than two shots near perfect during a round of golf. So, the first lesson to learn is to be realistic about your capability levels and your golfing goals.
Set realistic targets before you play. For example if a high handicapper your objective could be to average 5 strokes per hole, which would give you a respectable score of ninety.
Most importantly, practice any shots you are not comfortable with out on the range until you feel happy enough to try them out on the course. Consider golf tuition if you need help with your techniques.
Try personal mind games, which can be played at home to improve your mental strength and confidence. Picture playing shots perfectly with positive outcomes to over power your negative thoughts. Ideally, combine this technique with practice. If you can learn to play without fear, you will have a greater chance of success.
Before each shot, imagine taking a photograph with your mind’s eye. Focus on what you can see and control, not the result. Swing freely and within yourself and let the golf club do the work. The result will take care of itself.
A good book I would recommend is the “Golfer’s Mind” by Dr Bob Rotella, a leading sports psychologist. In it you will find tips, advice and recommendations about how to develop a better mental approach to golf.
Above all, remember why you are out there, which is to have fun. Do not cripple your golf through over analysing everything or self-destruct because your shots are not all perfect. Just go out and play and enjoy the challenge of a game nobody has ever mastered completely and never will.