We’ve all had them. I had one yesterday. Frustrating. Demoralizing. Even embarrassing. They hit like a sudden cold that we didn’t see coming. First the sore throat on the warm up range where say 7 of 10 shots are not hit well, but 3 are solid, and we think, “Great. I’m ready. I’ve got it down. Swing looks great.” Then a cough where we pull the opening tee shot left close to being OB. “Where did that come from,” you think. “I saw none of that on the range.” Then the sore throat worsens when you hit the relatively easy approach 7-iron fat, wasting a shot. Then a sneeze with short game woes surfacing like a U-boat: You unceremoniously flub a chip from just off the green. Bogey, on a pretty routine par hole. The thought of a long, suffering cold settling in. You make some adjustments as the game proceeds, but they are acts of blind desperation. Instead of sticking to what you know and practiced, you begin to experiment with some mostly untested techniques. You return to default golf where you grope in the dark for something that once worked, arrows that you dropped from your quiver at a time just like this one, discarded in the dungheap of history. A full scale cold descends on your system like an ominous thundercloud, a cloud we call a bad round, or “not my day” or “I just don’t have it today” or “maybe I should fake a bad back and quit” or…
And like a cold, we often feel helpless in fighting it off. Once it sinks its claws in, we are doomed to the suffering that follows. But there are remedies that can shorten the duration of a cold. Are there such remedies for a game of golf gone wrong? For those who read my blog regularly, you can probably predict what I am about to recommend. For the main reason for a round gone bad is in the mind. We get locked into a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy of doom. We develop an anticipatory anxiety, sinking into a quicksand of one step forward and two back, until we begin to expect the worse before it even happens. It’s a conditioned mind that forgets to remember how to get out of its own way. For when encountering an uncomfortable present, it retreats to the security of a past that is no security at all. And the past is none other than a mirror image of the present dilemma. So we go deeper into the slippery sand toward dejection and despair.
The answer in breaking this chain of negativity is to return to what you know, to return to the fundamentals that have worked for you in the past. So you’re not letting go of the past, you’re remembering what you did in the past that produced shots that were more successful than what you are experiencing in this moment. Given that your mind is in a sort of golf panic mode, this is not particularly easy. But nor is it impossible to attain. What you’re looking for is a swing thought that can return you to making one successful swing that can lead to one experience of solid contact. That’s all you need at this point. Whether the shot goes right or left or short or long, the important thing is the contact you are making with the ball. For the main element that characterizes a bad round is poor contact with the ball with your scoring clubs, namely your irons. You only have 14 swings with a driver on most courses, and usually connect on at least half of them, so a bad round is not necessarily triggered by poor driver play. True, poor driver shots are a blow to the ego, and an embarrassment, but usually you can rebound sufficiently into some sort of recovery. But there are many more opportunities for mis-hitting irons, pitches, and chips that can quickly propel you into the slippery slope of a bad round.
So you’ll need to slow down and take a moment to assess what you are doing with your iron swing that is causing the inconsistencies. What I’ve observed in myself and others is that improper weight shift is often the culprit. I was watching the Legends of Golf tournament the other day at the par 3 Top of the Rock course in Ridgedale, Missouri, and noticed how nicely all the past greats of the game–Nicklaus, Player, Trevino, Irwin, Crenshaw–got their weight over to the forward side at the start of the downswing. There was rotation of the hips, yes, but most importantly, their legs pushed their weight towards the target allowing the club to come down and through the ball. Once that move was initiated, they could pull the butt of the club down along the proper plane, guiding the club face to a square position at impact. Timing here is critical and these old masters still had their timing intact from years of competitive golf.
Of course, proper timing of this sequence of movements is what handicap amateurs lack most, since we just don’t play or practice enough. And this is one of the triggers that can start a bad round rolling. There are pulls and pushes, hit solidly otherwise, but crashing into trees or houses or deep rough or impossible bunkers. There’s lack of concentration when the mind is on other things like work or bills or your kid who should have a job by now. There are putting woes like three-putting from 20 feet; or chipping yips ala Tiger a short time ago; or your playing companion whose pace of play drives you nuts. Get your mind back into the game.
Speaking of pace of play, I believe amateurs, who don’t particularly own their swings, can be too easily influenced by the swings of others in their group. And once you lose your pace, you lose your consistency. If this is what you think is happening, take some practice swings, breathe, and bring to mind the pro golfer who most reminds you of the pace of your own swing. This is part of taking inventory as you make your way to your next shot. Figure out what’s wrong. Try a solution…or stick with what brought you to the dance hall and persist until the gears click in. Or…accept the bad round as it is (we all get colds from time to time), a part of this sometimes baffling game, and hope that the next time you play, a good round comes up on the wheel of fortune/misfortune. I should add when I say good round/bad round, I’m referring to the golf itself. I would label my round yesterday as excellent if my judgement was based solely upon the quality of my companions, Jerry and his son Reed, two great guys whom I only just met at the course.
One other thing, one other consideration of possible miraculous salvation: Sometimes a bad round suddenly transforms into a good round in any given moment. That’s where faith comes in. You make a 30-foot putt. You land a perfect wedge a foot from the hole. You chip in for a bird. Just like a cold that disappears the next morning, something unknown, unexpected, unpredicted, clicks in and a disastrous nine going out turns into a glorious one coming in. It’s that kind of game.