Expectations in Golf

You often hear amateur golfers say that they play their best golf once they stop caring, or at the beginning of the year after a bit of lay off from golf. Often attributing it to not having any expectations on the golf course and therefore being more relaxed and loose out there. Then once they start seeing some good results they start pressing again and expect those results to repeat themselves and their game falls apart for a while. Sound familiar?

Most of us have had our encounters with Expectation on the golf course and have witnessed the destruction she can do to our game, but does Expectation always have to be our enemy?

People always talk about setting a Goal if you want to achieve something. That it’s healthy and helps you accomplish the things you’re striving towards. By definition, the often helpful Goal is “An observable and measurable end result having one or more objectives to be achieved within a more or less fixed time frame”. Where our often destructive enemy Expectation is defined as “A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future”. 

So why are one of these helpful and one of these so often hindering to amateur golfers? Would you set a Goal if you didn’t have a strong belief that it will happen? Don’t expectations usually have a measurable end result? So what’s the difference?

I think where we go wrong in the context of golf is the short time frame of our expectations which are highly affected by variables we can’t control. Variables in golf are the type of shot you’re faced with, the hole you’re playing, the weather, your playing partners, course conditions, pin placements, how your body is feeling, and the list goes on. As a 5 handicap, for example, you may have created an expectation to hit it pure and break 80 every round you play. With so many variables you can’t control over 18 holes or even on each individual shot,  having such a short term expectation isn’t conducive to a healthy mindset on the course. So beating yourself up when you miss a green or shoot 81 on a cold blustery day with tough pins isn’t going to do you any good.

You can expect to play your best with what you have that day under the conditions. You can expect to try your best and embrace the challenge of every shot. You can expect to conduct yourself in a respectable manner. These are things you have complete control over. You can still expect a lot from yourself. You shouldn’t, however, expect to pure every shot and break 80.

On the other hand, an 18 handicap won’t (hopefully) have an expectation to break 80 every round. However, they may have a goal to break 80 some day. You realize that you aren’t going to do that until you practice and improve your short game, improve your ball striking, among other things. You practice and seek instruction to strive towards this goal with no immediate expectation. A goal involves a plan and an execution over time. A clearer path to the end result. An expectation is something that sneaks up and makes us think that something should just happen because it’s happened in the past, causing us to forget that we have to work for it.

If we keep our short term expectations away from being results oriented and draw up a game plan to become better over the long haul, you’ll be much more relaxed on the course. If having a game plan doesn’t sound up your alley, do it the old fashioned way by grabbing a beer at the turn and release Expectation into the wild.

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