There's little doubt that golf is one of the most difficult sports to excel in, because it's so mentally taxing. I often get the question, "How much of this game is mental versus physical?" My stock answer is to say that golf is 100% mental when your physical is 100%. This means the better your technique, the more important the mental game becomes. You can't will the ball toward the target with just your mind, and you can't cut off your mind and expect the body to just blindly take over. You need 100% of both.
Having said this, there's no question that it's important to be positive while on the golf course. The next time you play golf, add up every single negative thought that races through your mind. The total might surprise you. And, let me ask you this: How many birdies have you made when you were upset, angry or frustrated with your game? Have you ever scored well when you were angry with yourself?
When it comes to Tour players, and even better amateurs, many of them aren't busy adding up the perfect shots they hit. Sure they relish in them, but what they're really trying to do is minimize mistakes made out on the golf course. And for them, the worst thing they can do is make a mistake on top of a mistake. This means following up a bogey with another, or wasting a stroke only to waste another with the next shot. At the highest level of the game, a compounded mistake is often the result of a negative state of mind.
The Tour even has a statistic for how well players rebound after making a score above par. It's called the "bounce back" percentage.
It calculates how often a player makes a bogey or worse, only to follow up on the next hole with a birdie or better. Right now (as of this article being written), Charley Hoffman and Keegan Bradley are at about 36%, meaning when they make a bad score, more than a third of the time they bounce back with a good score. This is a real testament of how Tour players, who may show initial anger and frustration after a bad shot, quickly get over it and get in a positive frame of mind.
So how can you make sure you're staying positive, even when things go bad? Try this simple exercise. Next time you play, wear a rubber band around your wrist. Every time a negative thought comes into your mind, simply snap the rubber band so that you feel it on your wrist. This concept has been used in numerous other disciplines, and I think it works well in golf, too. A quick flick of the rubber band will help you to remember that golf is just a game, there are more holes left to play, and negative thoughts do nothing toward helping you play better golf.
Remember, no matter how well you play, you're going to get the occasional errant shot, get a bad break, and miss more putts than you'll ever make. If you feel yourself getting frustrated, snap that rubber band and get things back into perspective and get back to having fun. Do that, and I'll bet you start shooting lower scores and get busy enjoying yourself out on the golf course.
John Stahlschmidt, PGA, is the Head Instructor for the TOUR Academy TPC Scottsdale. To comment on this ProSpective, email him at [email protected]