Emotions Run the Show
by Top 100 Teacher, Brad Brewer
Playing your best golf involves three vital skill sets: fundamental technique, tactical execution and emotional control.
Of the three skill sets, emotional control is the “I got this” one. Translated into 18-hole language, “I will take a couple deep breaths as I brush my club through the rough looking for my ball…the first time. The second time I will bounce my club off the ground in a fit of anger and then go look for my ball.”
Where’s the control?
True emotional control begins with the awareness that there are four defining moments that make or break each round you play: How you start, how you handle the first big miss, how you respond to your first great hole, and, how you finish.
Slow Starts No More
Nervousness and tightness also known as, “first tee jitters” are real and afflict new player to tour player.
Reducing this condition begins in the warm up. High performance players use their last shots on the range to simulate play on the first tee. Once on the tee box they will take several deep breaths for the purpose of creating rhythmic breathing, calming their heartrate and quieting their mind. Often, overthinking is the culprit that causes agitation. As you are breathing deeply quiet your eyes by focusing on just one specific spot like your thumb nail or shoe tip. Soon, your eyes, heart and mind will be calm.
You are now ready to start your round like a champion.
Even the best golfers on tour can derail with the first bad swing of the day. On the surface it may appear all is still well, but to an experienced coach, some of the things observed are eyes darting back and forth, standing over the ball longer than normal, or abandoning their pre shot routine.
The player who can bounce back with a birdie after a double bogey is the one to bet on.
Jack Nicklaus is the boss of the Bounce Back Stat. He could stick to his routine because he could let go of his last shot. He forgave his misses and stayed focused on what he wanted to create instead of trying to blame faulty technique. This approach kept him in right brain creativity rather than tied up in left brain analytics.
Riding the Birdie Train
Just as an errant shot can cause emotional turmoil for a golfer, believe it or not, so too can a birdie. And who said this game is 80% mental?
Emotions, good or bad, run the show!
A successful hole, just as a disastrous one, can cause us to alter our thinking which affects tactical approach and emotional calmness.
Riding the birdie train requires letting the last one go and approaching the next hole with a clean slate. When I think back to my own “rides” during competitive play, I stayed focused on playing fearless and aggressive until I ran out of holes. Of course I learned this only after making the mistake of doing otherwise. One story in particular resonates with this lesson. I was playing in the Makaha Open on the island of O’ahu. I finished the first round with five consecutive birdies and then had to go straight to work as a first assistant at Turtle Bay Resort. Remarks from co-workers ranged from, “Man you were on fire!” to my director of golf whose comment, “Well that has to be a first!” was the last I heard. I started my second round thinking about how I needed to prove those five birdies were not a fluke and proceeded to give them back one by one until I got out of my own head.
As I illustrated with my own story, struggling to close out a good round is due to the emotional connection to the score and where you are to par. Whether you are ahead of expectation or behind.
My mentor Arnold Palmer shared his thoughts on finishing strong:
“Finishing well begins with an expectation of finishing well. I remember playing a tournament where in the practice round I said to myself, I am going to own this 18th hole. That week I finished 7 under for the week and approached the final hole at 5 under par. There was no care of where I was on the leaderboard or what others were doing, I just focused on owning that last hole.”
In summary, the next time you walk onto the range to prepare for your round, 1. Use your last few shots to simulate play on the first hole. 2. Making your way to the tee box, reinforce your expectation of finishing well. 3. On the tee box, calm your eyes, heart and mind. 4. Forgive errant shots and 5. forgo being score bound. Repeat 2, 3, 4, and 5 as often as necessary and you will be running the show, not your emotions.
Share with us at firstname.lastname@example.org! Which steps were easiest? Which was most challenging?