Bounce-back from Mistakes on the Golf Course

Effectively using simple strategies to respond positively to mistakes on the course can save you a lot of shots. Developing a positive response to mistakes often requires more than just redirecting your attention and “forgetting about it.”

Some players respond best with thought changing strategies while others find action based strategies more effective, particularly if you are a player who tends to lose your cool.  Here are my top two thought based responses and top two action strategies for getting you back on track fast.

Positive Response in Thought and Discussion
1. Refocus Cues: First create a guiding attitude you want to live by as a player.  An attitude that is based on adaptability and intensity when things aren’t going well, and does not accept quitting or feeling sorry for yourself.  Then decide upon one or two words that sum up this attitude for you as a mission statement such as, “stay hungry”, “never quit”, or “love the battle.”  Use these words as refocus cues when you experience adversity on the course and stop the negative responses cascading out of control.

2. Productive self-talk and conversations with others: Review the type of conversation you have with yourself and with your caddy or coach when you make poor mistakes during a round.  Some players can get more openly negative when they have some one there to complain to such as their caddy or coach, compared to times when they are alone on the course.  This type of action must be controlled.  You have to practice discipline in what you chose to talk about.  Your discussion can be reactive and maintain your focus in the past and on how frustrated you feel, or it can be proactive and focus on the “task at hand”.  An effective approach to creating a proactive discussion is to ask yourself, “What is my plan for this next shot?”, “What do I need to do right here, right now?”  When you focus your discussion with yourself and your caddy on the present moment you can rapidly regain control of your emotions and make more clear decisions.

Positive Responses in Action
1. Body Language: Altering your body language or walk can be a highly effective way to reverse negative emotional reactions.  Most players do not place enough weight on how powerful this type of action can be.  For instance, if you are the type of player who starts to rush your walk and looks down in thought after a few errors this can translate to rushed pre-shot routines and fast swings.  To reverse this chain-reaction, you might need to slow the pace of your walk, look up and out at the course, and stretch to reduce the tension you feel.  Recognising the type of switch you need to create is an important step and everyone has slightly different needs.

2. Leave the error behind you: Following a frustrating three-putt or a really poor shot that has left you in trouble, most players walk on from these errors too quickly still carrying the mistake with them as they move to the next shot.  Create an action that helps you to leave the mistake behind.  For example, take a moment to visualise the shot you wanted to see, and then let it be.  Make a commitment to placing your club back into your bag only after you have assessed why you made the error and are ready to move on.  Do not place the club back into the bag until you can let it go.

Plan your positive approach to mistakes
All of these strategies seem easy enough to do, but if you do not plan specifically the key thoughts and actions you will engage, they won’t suddenly take shape when adversity strikes, and your default reactions are likely to take over.  Select at least one key thought and action as your “go to plan”, and then share it with your coach or caddy.  Sharing your positive reaction plan will allow your supporters to provide feedback on how well you are responding in accordance with your plan, particularly the body language changes.  Sharing the plan with others also enhances your accountability, in fact we are all better at following through with our plans when we know we are being monitored.

Dr Jay-Lee Nair PhD | Psychologist MAPS
Book an appointment to further develop your positive approach to mistakes with Dr Jay-Lee at the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre.