If you’re unhappy with your golf game, here are a few steps you can take right now to help you be happier on the course.
Let’s start with a question.
Why do you think so many recreational golfers are unhappy with their golf games? Why do you become unhappy?
Is it because they’re incurable masochists, dedicated to making themselves miserable?
Is it because they enjoy their work and family life too much, and need to suffer to balance it out?
So why might golfers become unhappy with their golf game?
And why am I bothering to ask the question?
Might you find it easier to be happy if you explored why you’re unhappy?
Perhaps it could be down to “The Gap”?
Not the clothes store, of course, but a concept I’ve stolen from Medicine. First outlined by Sir Kenneth Calman, it describes the gap between where you are…and where you’d like to be. The bigger the gap, the more unhappy you are.
And for most golfers, that’s down to score.
You might want to break 80, and so you’re frustrated when you struggle to break 90. Or maybe you want to play a round at par but you’re stuck in the high 70′s. Perhaps you just want to get your handicap down to 24.
But can you only be happy when your performance meets your aspirations?
But doesn’t that mean you’re destined to be unhappy most of the time? Do you need to be less ambitious in order to be happy?
Is it a straight trade-off between ambition and happiness?
One way to be happy with your golf is to understand why you golf.
So why do we play golf? For recreational golfers, those of us playing below the elite level, it’s not for lower scores; that’s the aim of the game, the destination for your journey…but it’s not why you play…is it?
So why do we play golf? Look at the results of a survey of over 700 golfers.
- Time spent with the people I play with (social experience) 20%
- Challenge of scoring well (trying to beat my handicap) 19%
- Being outdoors and doing some physical exercise (health benefits) 18%
- Shot euphoria (hitting good shots) 14%
- Course design (challenging/good design) 7%
- Competing against my playing partners 7%
- Course conditioning/aesthetics 6%
- Playing in formal competitions 6%
- Increasing business opportunities 2%
[source: Jeff Blunden's "Back of the Cup" Newsletter]
These stats are revealing; for over two-thirds of golfers, the principle reason they enjoy golf is entirely separate from performance. These golfers get most of their enjoyment before they even think about their score.
But this doesn’t tell the whole story, does it? After all, “scoring well” is the second most common reason…isn’t it?
Well…not exactly. Look at the wording again: it’s “The Challenge of Scoring Well”, rather than simply about score. It’s an important distinction. Golfers who just want to score low would presumably be satisfied with a glorified pitch and putt course on a calm day; a golfer who appreciates “the challenge” would not. Enjoying the challenge means accepting golf is difficult; the joy comes from embracing the struggle.
In other words, golf needs to be difficult to be enjoyable for these golfers.
But why do so many golfers seem to forget this?
Could it be because they get sidetracked by performance…and The Gap between where they are and where they want to be?
It wouldn’t be surprising if losing sight of what’s important led to unhappiness and frustration, would it?
Some golfers then make it worse by deciding postpone happiness until they’ve closed the gap, resulting in an ever-decreasing spiral of dissatisfaction.
So how can you reconnect with what’s important if you’ve been side-tracked by score?
Why not use the winter months to re-connect with why you fell in love with the game in the first place?
Find a quiet spot, and spend a little time thinking back to the time when you were happiest with your golf. What do you remember? How did you feel then, and what gave you the greatest pleasure?
Make the recollection as vivid as you can – don’t just recall what happened, but close your eyes and see yourself there. Really immerse yourself in the memory. Remember the sights and sounds that were around you at that time. Smells are great for triggering memories, so if you were happiest on a links course, add the smell of the sea air to the recollection. What contributed to your enjoyment of golf that’s missing from your game today? How can you bring it back into your game?
If you find it difficult to focus on something other than score, and the gap, change things around. Play without a card in your hand…or keep a different score. Keep a track of the shots where you stayed detached from the outcome, or the ones which flew as you visualised…or even just the shots which make a satisfying sound. Play a round with 1,2,3 or 4 clubs if creativity is what matters to you. Enjoy being outdoors, the company, the moments of solitude…or even all 3.
Or you could dedicate a “Seve Saturday”; take your lob wedge out of your bag and play with the flair and gusto that became synonymous with Mr Ballesteros.
But what if you can’t get beyond performance?
Some golfers can’t get past score, and the gap between their aspirations and performance. If this is you, at least you’re in good company; for elite golfers, score is the most important factor by far. But that still doesn’t mean you have to be unhappy if your score isn’t as you’d like.
Our golf score is defined by how you perform in a number of domains; these include easily quantifiable things like putting, short game, and driving, along with concepts which are more difficult to measure, like strategy.
When things aren’t going well, most golfers will focus on the areas where they’re performing poorly.
This is a mistake.
You might have an idea of your most common issues and how to rectify them, but what if these don’t sort things out?
A golf course isn’t the right place to work out what’s going wrong, is it?
It’s an even worse place to try to make a change. So why bother?
Why not turn your focus onto the areas which are going well instead?
Recalibrate your strategy to make full use of these areas, if at all possible. Leave your subconscious to wrestle with your problem areas – it’s got the best chance of sorting them out, so why not leave your subconscious to get on with it?
Does this sound silly? It shouldn’t. Listen to tour pro’s, interviewed after a disappointing round. What do they highlight? How often do you hear variations on the theme “I’m playing great tee to green but my putting’s just not quite where I want it to be”?
Others are yet more bold – they seem to remember different rounds to the one we’ve seen them play. Focusing on what’s working enables them to do just that, and keeps them from becoming despondent. In the middle of a tournament they simply can’t afford to let too much unhappiness slink into their golf game.
Why not try it out?
Does this mean you’ll never again be unhappy on the course?
Of course not; there will be times when frustration starts to bubble up, no matter how good your defences are. But even this can be useful; pay attention to how frustration and unhappiness make you feel. With a bit of time and perseverance, do you think you could start to identify the physical signs of frustration? Might this early recognition lead to you putting your coping strategies in place earlier?
The challenge of the golf writer, be they journalist, author or coach, is to provide content which is broad enough to appeal to a wide range of golfers, while being specific enough to be useful.
What about you?
Are you happy with your golf game? If not, why do you think this is? Which of these strategies might work for you, and how do you plan to put them in place? Why not take the plunge in the comments section below – let us know why you think you might be unhappy with your golf game, and how you plan to fix it.
Apologies if you’ve had some difficulties getting in touch; a server glitch meant that email@example.com wasn’t working, and my contact form started playing up around the same time. Both issues have now been rectified, but if you’re having difficulties still, please use the “comments” section below or catch me on Twitter.
Hat-tip to Graeme for letting me know about the email issues!