Mental GameApril 14, 2016

Five On-Course Distractions And How To Handle Them

These five common distractions have definitely derailed your game a time or two. Our teachers and psychologists show you how to keep them from getting in your way.
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As Masters Sunday proved, even the best players in the world can get distracted and lose control of their game. We’ve all been there -- probably frequently. But the difference between us and the guys on tour is that when the ship starts sinking, they're a lot better at righting it.

So why is that? What can we do to better deal with distractions? And to be clear, we’re not talking about the distractions that the pros face like cameras or the pressure of playing with a livelihood on the line. We’re talking about the little things that can mess up your game in a big way.

Dealing with someone playing slowly

Slow play: A tale as old as time. There’s nothing worse than playing with someone who’s moving at a glacial pace. You’re not going to be throwing out penalties to the guys in your group, but you’re probably tired of waiting for them on every shot and worrying about holding up the whole course.

Sports psychologist Dr. Gio Valiante says you need to focus on yourself. “You control what’s controllable: your own rhythm," Valiante said. "Be attentive to how you walk from hole to hole, and most important, pay attention to the rhythm of your routine. If you can protect the rhythm of your own routine, there will be minimal damage to your scorecard from their slow play.”

Gusty wind you can’t figure out

No matter who you are, wind that switches direction and force is hard. The last thing you want is to get the ball up high in the air, because the higher it gets, the more the wind affects it. If you can keep it lower, you’re going to have more control. So, how do you keep it low? Paul Azinger’s go-to shot in the wind was a knockdown. To hit a knockdown, he said he plays the ball back in his stance. And then, during the swing, his key thought is “Finish low to hit it low.” That means your follow-through is going to be a little bit shorter. This thought combined with playing your ball back is going to cause the ball to come out with more spin, stay low, but not lose distance. It’ll be like the wind isn't even there… OK, not exactly. But you’re not going to be dealing with any ballooned shots all day.

When one part of your game goes, and the rest follows for no apparent reason

You know the scenario: For some unknown reason, the universe decides to conspire against your driving. Out of nowhere, you’re losing everything off to the right. The rest of your game is fine at first, but then your iron play gets shakier, you shank a chip or miss a short putt. Why does one issue lead to this disastrous, total game meltdown?

According to Dr. Valiante, you need to approach the problem systematically. First, “Play more conservative shots: often by doing this, you begin to swing more freely because the conservative strategy takes hazards out of play. By swinging more freely, you tend to hit better shots and you can often trigger the cycle of upward confidence.” Just a little bit of confidence can change your whole round. You’ll be swinging like yourself in no time.

Bad course conditions

When faced with sub-par course conditions, it's easy to let it get to you. You know the drill: blame all your bad shots on the greens being punched last week, the fairways not being mown tight enough, the rough being too thick, whatever. But that’s the sucker play. Everybody and anybody can let the course bother them. If you can be one of the few that actually acts like a grown up and not use it as an excuse, you’re going to outplay everyone in your group. According to Dr. Bob Rotella, it’s all about attitude: “The moment you get impatient, bad things happen. In tough conditions, stay patient and let others beat themselves.”

Getting paired with people you don’t know

As childish as it sounds, it’s normal to get a little nervous when the starter fills that empty spot in your group with someone you don’t know. While it’s easy to focus on how much you think they’re judging your game, Dr. Valiante has the tools to help you handle the situation. “Remind yourself that other people care more about their own games than they do about yours, and that your mind is amplifying the fear. Your score is important to you, so your mind believes it is important to others. It isn’t.” Thinking like that will free you up to play your game the way you know how to.