Four Key Secrets To Keeping Your Sanity While Playing A Round of Golf

Golf Tip: Staying focused on the game of golf is half the battle.

“Golf is a sport played on a 5-inch course. The space between our ears.” – Bobby Jones.

I am dedicated to improving my golf game. Let that be said right off the bat. End of story. No ambiguity. I approach each round of golf with a positive attitude and the expectation that this round will be my best.

Some of my friends think I take the game too seriously. And it’s probably true. But it is a game I love to play and it’s always more fun when I play well.  “Playing well” is, of course, a relative term. I know I will never be a Michelle Wie or a Lorena Ochoa. I started too late in life to ever play that well. But in my own little world of golf, I can improve.

Before each season, I set at least one realistic goal that I can try to achieve. This year, it is to drop my handicap by another 5 points. I’ve done it before—I can do it again. The key is to practice more consistently and concentrate with a focus on each moment of the game.

Too many times I have played with — there’s no other word for it, with abandon! — without thinking, without processing the options I have in terms of club choice, landing spot, or best approach. For players with years of experience and intimate knowledge of how to use each club in their bag — this processing is almost automatic. They know which club will get them to the green, which pitching wedge will get them out of the rough without trouble, and whether to take a drop and take a stroke when their ball is stuck under a bramble with no hope of a backswing. It seems so easy for them because they have played the game for so many years. For myself, a golfer who has only played seven seasons, every option requires deliberation and time. Which of course I don’t give myself. I watch the better players, especially on the greens. They take their time studying the grass, the line of the putt, the undulations and little bits of grass, even the direction of the wind and the sun in the sky. I on the other hand, am more likely to just set up and putt without a lot of thought. I don’t want to hold up the game, so I rush my shot. The result though is exactly what I don’t want— more putts! and taking more time! Which drives me crazy!

The first key secret to keeping your sanity on the golf course is to take your time and focus on the present moment. If there is anything I’ve learned while playing golf, it is that once a shot is taken, it’s done. Over. And you can’t play it again. Play in the moment. Focus on the shot you are about to take. Don’t worry about the last hit or the next, they are beyond your control, focus on the one-shot you can control— the one in front of you.

The second key secret to keeping your sanity is to step back and picture the perfect shot you are about to play. It’s hard to do this. If  I am playing on a hole that has water, my mind loves to send images of my shot plopping into the drink. If there are sand traps in front of me, all I see are images of my ball buried deep in the sand of a bunker’s far edge. At times like these, I have to step back and shake those images from my mind. I focus on my target and see in my mind’s eye my ball, struck perfectly, heading for the middle of the fairway or the green. In my imagination, my ball is never in trouble. It’s perfectly played and I par or birdie the hole.

I know this second secret might seem a bit unrealistic, but if you don’t believe you can par every hole, you never will. This leads to the third secret to keeping your sanity – believe you can do it. Not just hope you can do it—that invites some small level of doubt. But simply believe you can achieve your goal—you can make that putt, you can get out of the sand in one beautiful stroke, land on the green and one putt! And you can drive the ball straight and true on every hole.

I mentioned this when discussing some of the things I’ve learned from Joseph Parent’s best-selling book, Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game. He writes extensively about the mental game of golf and how critical it is to believe in your game. To make the perfect shot, your mind must be able to picture it. If all you see is the hazard, the rough or the sand, your mind can’t focus on the one thing you need to focus on— landing your shot in the perfect spot. Successful people do this “imaging thing” all the time. If you can picture where you are going, you can get there.

Finally, the fourth final secret— and probably the most important: always learn from your mistakes, let go and move on. I know I earlier suggested that doubt should not come into your mind… be in the moment, picture the perfect shot, and believe you can achieve it. There is no room for doubt. But there is room for realism.

Realistically, no one is perfect. Even Tiger Woods, one of the best golfers on the planet. I watched him play at the Masters. He was in the trees more than once, in the sand a couple of times and even three putted on one hole towards the end of the day. Even with all that, he came in fourth. The winner, Phil Mickelson, ended up under the trees as well, and played a spectacular shot out of the pine needles to within a foot or two of the hole. If either player had focused only on their rotten last shot, I doubt they could have done as well.

One thing I know for sure is that every round of golf is full of challenges. Learning to focus, imagining success, the belief in my ability to play well and learn from every shot, keeps my love for the game alive and my mind from going loopy!

What do you do to keep yourself sane?

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