If you’re interested in improving your game and getting more joy out of your golfing experience, this article is for you.
The road to better, more fulfilling golf starts with overcoming unrealistic expectations, that sense within us that builds up pressure from within, making the game more frustrating than it has to be. The secret often lies with a realistic understanding of our skill level in each category of performance, which in turn results in avoiding an increase in mental pressure. Most golfers suffer from the curse of unrealistic expectations.
This brings me to a new book authored by Dr. Rick Jensen, the noted performance coach, titled “Easier Said Than Done,” which deals with self-induced pressure. Perhaps a more appropriate title might have been, “You Are Not Good Enough to Choke,” but Dr. Jensen’s agent supposedly told him that the title would not sell books. Something titled “How to Fix Your Slice in 5 Minutes,” on the other hand, might sell more books but would not solve the real problem behind poor or sub-par performance. This is the same in the fitness world, where schemes like cookie diets, and eight-minute abs videos sound a lot better than, “Eat Healthy, Workout Daily, and Do Not Drink Alcohol,” a book that would find zero buyers.
Dr. Jensen’s book, as unassuming as the title may be, gets at the heart of the real problem — educating golfers at all levels about the importance of self-awareness of our own capabilities and skills. For example, if a player misses a four-foot putt that could have won the match, was it more probable than not that the player was going to make the putt in a high-pressure situation? Just because there is more on the line does not mean we automatically become a better player. Walking up to a putt knowing there is a 40% chance to make it, and giving it our best, is much better than trying to hit the putt thinking we should make it because the putt is important to us, our team, the match, etc.
Unreal expectations stem from many avenues, including improper practice. Most golfers practice “stock” shots. But adding variables, which all the different golf courses in the world impose on our skills, produces a different golfer than the one hitting twenty 7-iron practice shots at the same target with no consequence for a bad shot. Working on adaptability, instead of repeatability, will actually decrease the level of a golfer’s success during our practice session at the beginning of the process, however it will increase the skill level on the course.
Another issue that causes golfers to set unrealistic expectations is chasing a cure based on the one technical idea that is going to change their golf game forever. Books that promise quick technical fixes might sound super-appealing, but they seldom result in permanentimprovements. We gain unreal expectations when we can hit a couple of great shots out of a bucket of golf balls, giving us the hope that we can hit the same great shot every time we swing. These internal intentions might work on the range, or in a casual afternoon round, but put a little pressure on and “Houston, we’ve got a problem!”
Golf is a target game. If we do not have the target as part of our thought process we cannot consistently control the outcome. No matter the swing thought while swinging the club, we cannot lose focus of the target. To create real expectations of success we need to spend more time improving our skills, not just our technical swing. This involves, for example, learning how to hit our 8-iron 20, 40, 80, and then 120 yards. If we try, how often can we make contact on the toe of the club face, and then the heel of the club face on the next shot? These are skills that need to be acquired. Hitting an 8-iron with a full swing is important, but we cannot base our expectation on the results of just hitting that one type of shot on the range. Again, the myriad number of variables we encounter daily in a round of golf proves that technical capability is not the true test of golf.
In our practice sessions we also need to create situations to prepare our game for any situation. This is done best by creating games that have consequences. Such consequences might include losing/winning money, push-ups, or even more time practicing — whatever makes losing painful. Practicing in a group setting is wonderful for this task, which can be accomplished either on the course or practice facilities.
If we work on skills, and add pressure through competition, the results when practicing will usually get worse than if we hit stock shot after stock shot. But in the long run the skills developed will help us create realistic expectations, because our course results will be the same as when we practice. And through skill development, and preparing ourselves for the course, our golf game will improve.
Please understand that I was a master of unreal expectations for many years, so I speak from experience. It is a tough balance between having realistic expectations, building confidence, and striving for goals we have set for ourselves. In short, realistic expectations based on the development of our skill level will help us become happy golfers. While this message may not sell books, it will give the gift of more happy days on the golf course.
Todd Elliott is the Head Golf Professional at Hideaway Beach Club on Marco Island, Florida. Todd is a PGA and CMAA member. Todd is Titleist Performance Institute Level 3 Golf Certified. To contact Todd email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @elliottgolfpro.