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HOW TO MANAGE YOUR GOLFING EMOTIONS
Words by Jenny Jones

You have undoubtedly heard the following comments on the golf course. Perhaps you say these things either silently to yourself, or you may even be saying them aloud.  

  • ‘I’ll never be any good at this game.’
  • ‘I am stupid. Why hit that shot?’
  • After one bad shot. ‘Oh, it’s going to be one of those days.’
  • ‘I can’t hit that driver.’
  • ‘I hate using my 5 iron.’
  • ‘My putting is hopeless at the moment. I always 3 putt.’
  • ‘I wonder what my mates think when I spend all that time practising and then don’t shoot a low score.’

These negative thoughts come from anticipation, doubt, anger frustration, high expectations or anxiety.

  • Anticipating the worst: ‘I hope I don’t play badly today.’
  • Doubt: ‘I can’t hit over that water. I never play the 12th hole well.’
  • Anger: ‘Screw this! I give up. I am useless. I don’t know why I bother coming to golf.’
  • Frustration: ‘It’s no use. I hit it great on the practice range yet am hopeless on the course.’
  • High Expectations: ‘I must hit every shot long and straight.’ ‘I mustn’t miss any putts under six feet.’ ‘I should play well in this event.’ ‘I am a better player than others in the competition.’
  • Anxiety: ‘I can’t hit a decent shot on the first tee with people watching.’

Now, think about these emotions. They are common thoughts and feelings. Are they born of fear? Are we always trying to make the results happen? Are we caught up with what others might be thinking? For example, are you focused on trying to:

  • par a hole
  • break your handicap
  • win a competition
  • meet your expectations
  • fit in or not be self-conscious
  • not embarrass yourself
  • not fail 

There is only one way to overcome these fears and it is becoming mindful that it’s OKAY to have these thoughts and feelings. Accept them as normal. Give up trying to fight them. Acknowledge them, then take action to focus on your processes.

TOOLS TO BECOME AN EMOTIONALLY FIT GOLFER

Here are some things to consider that will help you become an emotionally fit golfer.

  • All emotions are okay.
  • Learn to acknowledge the emotion. This releases the build-up.
  • Learn to accept the emotion by verbalising it.
  • Learn to not react negatively to the emotion.
  • Turn the emotion into a ‘superpower’. 

Let’s look at examples of different emotions and how to handle them.

MANAGING NERVES

‘Walking to the first tee. I am always nervous.’

  • Acknowledge the nerves just by saying ‘Oh, I am nervous’ - either to yourself, out loud, or to a caddie or supportive friend (this takes away the power of the nerves). Don’t try to suppress the nerves or wish them away.
  • Turn the nerves into a positive by thinking differently about your nerves. Try saying – ‘I always play my best golf when I am nervous.’
  • Physically – try to slow down. Walk more deliberately, breathing slowly and intentionally will help.
  • Healthy nerves – if you remain a little on edge it can help you remain focused

MANAGING ANGER

‘I always get so angry after a bad shot or a bad hole.’

  • Acknowledge the awareness of your heightened emotion. Whoa, I am really angry right now. I may need to walk this feeling off or breathe it out of my system. Healthy anger drives you to want to be better, just be careful not to act out angrily and waste energy.
  • Understanding your anger will drive you to a be better golfer because you know you are capable of much more. The power is in letting the anger subside and not REACT either by verbally abusing yourself, throwing a club or allowing more anger to follow. Practise saying, ‘I pause when agitated.’
  • Physically – allow yourself 10 steps when walking to your next shot to release.

MANAGING ANXIETY

Do you worry what other people think of your game? Do you worry you hold people up? Do you worry when you play with people with lower handicaps? Do you feel embarrassed about your score when you have a bad day? Maybe you worry about letting your playing partner down.

  • These are all normal feelings. Realise every golfer has some sort of anxiety. You are not alone.
  • Learn to ‘NORMALISE’ these feelings.
  • What advice would you offer to a child learning the game who was experiencing those feelings? Would you offer them encouraging words?
  • Would you say we all feel like that at times?

Learn to use your pre-shot routine to physically get you through your anxiety.

  • PAUSE and be mindful of your thinking by asking yourself: Do other people feel like this?
  • It may help to normalise the feeling, stop fighting it and just let it go. Anxiety comes from looking into the future. Are you focusing too much on how things should be, what you want your score to be, or the fear of how you’ll feel if it doesn’t happen?

MANAGING EXCITEMENT

‘I get overexcited when I play well and then the bad holes follow. I always follow a birdie with a bogie.’

  • Be excited, really excited. This helps build self-confidence and cell memory that this is the outcome you desire.
  • However, we need to identify that over-excitement can distract us from our process and routine and the heartbeat quickens.
  • We need to slow down after a great shot or a few good holes. For example, deliberately walk slower or slow down your breathing. Ground yourself by looking at the sky, a nice plant or the beautiful golf hole.

MANAGING FEAR

This is the emotion that is most often behind a bad shot.

‘I am afraid of hitting it in the water. I am afraid of missing short putts. I am afraid of duffing a shot in front of others. I am afraid of going out of bounds. I am afraid of hitting over bunkers. I am afraid of leaving it in the bunker. I am afraid of just playing badly.’

  • Face the fear by identifying fear and being honest to yourself about it. This is a powerful mental strategy. Stop trying to pretend you are not fearful. Let go of having to stop trying to make the fear go away. Try verbalising the fear, it may lessen it or even defuse it.  You may have to admit the fear a number of times before it starts to lessen.
  • The action required is to say – ‘I accept my fear on this shot, but if I focus on my routine, one swing thought and watch the ball, I can get through this.’ Say – ‘The more I accept my fears, the stronger golfer I become.’
  • Fear on the golf course is not unhealthy. It helps us be realistic regarding the shots we choose to play. I recommend learning to pause before a shot and ask yourself ‘Is this shot within my capabilities?’ ‘Is it necessary?’

For more information on this coaching go to www.mindfulgolfcoaching.com and grab a copy of Jenny’s book Intentional Golfing Success

ABOUT JENNY

Contributing Expert, The Mind Game

Jenny has been a professional golfer for 30 years. When Jenny first turned pro, she claims she would have been voted the “player least likely to succeed.” In fact, she heard on the golfing grapevine that a leading amateur golf administrator stated that she would never make a cent from professional golf! 

Over her debut year on the LET, she proved those doubters to be right. However, not long after that tough time, Jenny discovered something that would change the way she played the game and lived her life.

Just 7 years later, Jenny had accumulated 9 x professional wins, was No. 1 on the ALPG rankings, received an Order of Merit in 1991 and was awarded the Australian Golf Digest’s Australian Woman Golfer of the Year in 1992. Her personal profile showed she had earned more than $3 million dollars from the game.  Jenny shares the tools and techniques she used to turn her life and career around, which can and will help any golfer at any level.  

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