There are those few golfers every tournament that don’t have the big mistake. But as a whole, every single player during every single round during every single tournament has shots or holes that they want to take back and do over. Yet we continue to be surprised that this happens. We play a great round and then double the last hole. We are putting so well and then hit one way past and miss the come back putt and it’s a three putt.
We expect perfection of ourselves even though we know that perfection doesn’t exist. Striving towards mastering something is one thing, but expecting it every single shot and every single hole and every single round is simply naïve. It’s ignoring the facts. Statistics. You statistically will not hit every shot perfect. If you did, then what you think of as perfect becomes normal. Then you would have a new, higher expectation of perfect. The best player in the world’s mistakes might be better than your mistakes (or even better than your good shots), but to that player they are still mistakes. So it stands to reason that what we perceive as perfection doesn’t exist.
So how does this practically affect how we think. Once we realize that we can’t expect perfection and that mistakes are normal, then we quit focusing on perfection and mistakes. We quit focusing on the outcome at all. When we realize that the outcome, whether up to our standard of perfect or down to our standard of mistake, is just a thing that happens and will always happen, then we can dismiss outcome as unimportant.
So once we remove outcome from the things that we focus on, what’s left? Well let’s just think this through. Let’s say a round of golf takes 4 hours. And let’s snip out the exact time of the round when you see the outcome of a shot. From the time you make contact with the ball each shot to when the ball comes to rest. Let’s say each time that the ball is in motion is an average of 10 seconds. And let’s say you shot an even par 72. So the total combined time the ball is in motion for the whole round is 720 seconds. 12 minutes. If your round is 4 hours, then 12 minutes is just 5% of your entire round.
I think we are all under the impression that there can’t be anything more important in a round of golf then when the ball is moving after we’ve hit it. What could be more important than the golf shot and where the ball goes?
Let’s compare this to something else to put it in perspective. Let’s think about school. Think about all of those hours and days and weeks spent in class, doing homework, reading, studying. And then that tiny amount of time taking tests. In college, it’s probably a total time taking exams of about 3 hours for the whole semester. The time taking exams is probably roughly that same 5%. Yes, the test is important. It’s the deciding factor of whether or not we pass. But no one would recommend giving the test the most attention. A successful plan would be to use those hours and days and weeks leading up to the test preparing. We all understand that how well we do on the test is based on how much attention and focus we put in throughout the entire semester, not how much we care when it’s time for the test. Yes you can cram the night before and put everything into the test to the point of exhaustion. But no one would claim that’s the best or healthiest way to do it.
When we take this view it means we realize that the test is just a symptom of how we did on the other 95% of time that was spent. And so it is with a round of golf. So when you’re preparing for a round of golf, why do you put so much attention into preparing for what you’re going to be doing for only 12 minutes? Shouldn’t you at least devote some of your practice time to that other 3 hours and 48 minutes that you’re going to be on the golf course?
So this opens up a whole new realm of practice and preparation. Instead of only preparing for those 12 minutes by hitting range balls and practicing short game and putting (of course still extremely important), you’re preparing your body to hold up for 3 hours and 48 minutes. You’re training your mind for how to think for 3 hours and 48 minutes. Yes, we all want to hit the perfect shots and we want to know exactly where the ball is going to go, and therefore that’s what we practice. But to think that the rest of the round is just throw-away time between making the ball move is a nearsighted view.
Practice your physical game. Improve your swing. Putt better. But remember that the majority of the time you spend on the course is not hitting a shot. It’s walking or riding between shots. It’s thinking. It’s talking. It’s breathing. Get good at these things and if nothing else it will make your time more enjoyable. And it might even help you do the 12 minute part better.