What The Heck HappenedMay 31, 2016

So You've Had A Few Bad Holes. Don't Let Your Round Spiral Out Of Control

How to coach your brain into handling tough starts
Dr. Bob Rotella usually works with stars of the game like Padraig Harrington and Davis Love III, but recently he offered counsel to Max Adler.
Dr. Bob Rotella usually works with stars of the game like Padraig Harrington and Davis Love III, but recently he offered counsel to Max Adler.

How was your round last weekend? Anything go wrong? Wouldn't it be nice if you had a teacher to fix it? Golf Digest has the best network of teachers and they're here to help you out. All you need to do is send an email to editor@golfdigest.com with whatever went wrong with your game, and we’ll choose one to have a teacher address in our weekly What The Heck Happened segment.

Nick from Newport Beach, Calif., emailed us after he had his worst round ever at his home course. He hit his first tee ball OB, and started out double-double. Nothing got better, and it got worse and worse from there, where I wanted to leave. What the heck happened in my head and how do you pull yourself out of the mental trap?

Tough starts are easy to get caught up in, especially if you’re playing your home course. It’s easy to slip into the mindset of, I’ve parred that hole a thousand times, where’d this double come from?

If your poor play continues, that mindset has a tendency to build on itself. You start thinking ahead, I’m six over through three, if I keep playing like this I’m going to shoot 108! I haven’t shot over 100 on this course in years.

And so the spiral continues.

The error with this thinking, according to noted sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, is that you're living in the past and the future: you've taken yourself completely out of the present.

Rotella talks about it in his 10 Rules for competitive golfers.

“If you step onto the tee thinking, 'This is a birdie hole,' you're already thinking two or three shots ahead of the present," Rotella says. "Players who are truly in the present step onto the tee and think only of how they want to hit the tee shot. They don't think about what they ought to or will make on the hole. They think about the tee shot. They hit it. They accept it. They find it. They think about the next shot. They repeat the process until the ball is in the hole or until they have run out of holes. If your mind is truly in the present, you don't evaluate how you're playing, because that would mean you're thinking about the past. You don't judge or critique for the same reason.”

This line of thinking applies to both positive thinking –- thinking you’re going to make a birdie –- and negative thinking –- tallying up all your bad holes and convincing yourself you’re on your way to a career-worst round. In both scenarios, you’re putting your mind in the future, when the only thing you actually have any control of is the shot in front of you.

If you can simplify your thinking to only concerning yourself with the shot at hand, the game starts to get a lot easier. You stop planning and putting pressure on the shots to come, and you start forgiving and forgetting the bad shots that have happened. It's also a good way to keep yourself from taking it all so seriously, which is always helpful.


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