I’m new at this. Let there be no two ways about it. As of the writing of this post I have only had 8 sessions with 6 different players. I’m a work in progress who has so much to learn.
But I am in fact learning. I’m learning how to best relay my experiences in a coherent way to golfers so that they can benefit from what I’ve learned and avoid the unnecessary mistakes that I have made.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my 15 years of playing competitive golf, but I’ve learned a lot and conquered many of the poor mentalities that have filled my mind over the years. So when I talk to players I only talk about what I know and have lived through.
The purpose of on-on-one sessions with players is the same as my purpose for everything I do: to provide golfers with as much value as I can based on the experiences I’ve had. So one of the questions that I always ask players at the beginning of a session is this: “What do you want out of mental coaching?” And all of my students have said some form of “I want to be able to react better to bad shots.”
As someone who has lived through this and conquered this, and now teach players about this as a profession, this seems like an easy question. But I believe that these 6 players are a good subset of what every player has a desire to know better, so it is truly a valuable subject.
So when a player asks “how do I react better to a bad golf shot?” my first thought is “What is your definition of bad?” This question back to them brings out all sorts of factors like expectations, how good does the player see him or herself, how important is it to the player to hit a perfect golf shot, and how perfectionistic is the player? And secondly, I turn it back on them. “How DO you react to bad shots?” Their answer has usually been something like holding onto the past and wishing they had hit a better one. “I wish.” “I regret.” Looking in the past. It’s always about the past. Which, truthfully, makes sense. Every shot you’ve ever hit is in the past. So the only way to determine how good you are is to look into the past. So it’s understandable that this is their answer. Because for most players, they don’t really know better. They don’t know how they’re supposed to react.
But here’s the short answer to the question “how do I properly react to bad shots?”
Completely accept the shot with zero judgement of yourself. And move on.
Yes, there’s value in looking into the past and analyzing how you played or how well you hit the shot. There’s a ton of value in taking stats and knowing your tendencies and what strengths to lean on and what misses to account for.
But for anyone to ever say you should dwell on your past shots is way off the mark. If anyone ever tells you that you should internalize that last shot, (in my opinion, even if it was good. But that’s debatable.) then you shouldn’t listen to them.
The tougher, longer answer that I would give is that we need to look at and adjust your expectations of yourself. And probably lower your expectations of yourself.
Here’s a Josh Nichols rule of thumb about expectations: the higher your expectations are the more nervous you will be. Most golfers have higher expectations of themselves than they can actually achieve. So when you expect a lot of yourself and you hold yourself to that high of a standard, you’re setting a bar that you have to achieve. If someone else expects a lot of you then they are setting a bar that you have to achieve. Anytime there is an importance placed on something it creates the inner tension inside of you that we call nerves. Whether you or someone else has expectations for you, this is setting you up for disappointment.
That’s not to say that you should demean yourself and beat yourself up and think less of yourself. It is simply saying that you should have realistic expectations of yourself based on your effort level and the quality of the time you’ve put in.
So adjusting your expectations would be the holistic way to react properly to bad shots. If your expectations are in the proper place you won’t react poorly to bad shots. Even more so than that, you probably won’t even think it was a bad shot in the first place.
The important point here is not to focus on the reaction to the shot as the thing to fix. If you’ve got bad water coming out of the sink, repairing the faucet isn’t going to fix the problem. You’ve got to repair the well in order to fix the water. The poor reaction is the bad water. Fixing the reaction (telling yourself to be blindly positive and only say happy things and think happy thoughts) would be to repair the faucet. Bad water (poor reactions) is still going to flow out. In order to fix the bad reactions you’ve got to repair the well, which is your expectations of yourself. Fix the well and you will fix the bad water. Adjust your expectations and you will naturally react properly to bad shots.
Have the self-awareness to match your expectations perfectly with your effort level and you can’t possibly be disappointed.
And whether you hit a good one or a bad one. Accept it. And move on.