Last weekend I played in a two day stroke play tournament out at Cottonwood Golf and Country Club, a private course located near Calgary, Alberta. Although I was going into the tournament without any expectations, I was looking to take some lessons learned from Club Championships and apply them over the weekend.
Unfortunately, my scores didn’t work out too well. I shot 87-85 despite getting off to a solid start. I had a few lapses in concentration on day 1 and stacked up a couple of big numbers which I found hard to bounce back from.
However, even though I was out of contention to win anything, I showed up for round 2 feeling refreshed and ready to play. On the range beforehand, I reminded myself to just get back to the fundamentals I was working on early in the season and not over think anything. I had a fantastic warm up and was excited to get out there.
I carried my warm up out onto the course, hitting it beautifully. In fact, I hit it beautifully the entire day. This may sound crazy as you already know that I shot 85, but it had nothing to do with how I hit the ball. I gave myself every opportunity to shoot a good score.
My problem that day was my short game. I got myself into a huge mental funk as soon I was inside 100 yards. I was swinging freely and confidently everywhere else, but the moment I was around the greens I felt like I was in some sort of suffocating chamber that I couldn’t get out of. I was thinking mechanically, thinking about results and thinking about the consequences of not hitting it perfectly. So I’d like to correct myself and say that my problem wasn’t my short game, it was my mental game when applied to my short game.
The week after the tournament we had a huge snow storm in Calgary. It was early September and there we were looking at a winter wonderland for most of the week. Naturally I was a bit bummed not being able to golf, but looking back it may have been a blessing for my golf game.
It gave Beth and I an opportunity to get back into a workout routine that had slipped most of the summer. It gave us a chance to relax, go out for dinner, and even go see a movie one evening. It also gave me the chance to chill out and reflect on my game, and pick up my partially read book “Your 15th Club” by Dr. Bob Rotella, which had collected dust much of the summer.
I picked up the book where I left off, and it was almost uncanny how the things Dr. Rotella was talking about resonated with me and my recent tournament experience. He was talking about people experiencing short game or putting difficulties and how it usually stems from internal pressure placed upon themselves. They start thinking things like “I have to make this par putt to hold my round together”, or they start to fear embarrassment of missing shots they “should” make. Or they fear that if they don’t score well that all the time and effort they’ve invested practicing would be wasted.
Instead, he discussed, we should be focused only on our target and staying relaxed. We can be intensely focused and immersed in our target, but not at the expense of staying relaxed and carefree. We should never compromise staying loose and relaxed for anything. We should have total confidence that the ball will go where we want it to, but at the same time not care if it doesn’t. If a 3-footer doesn’t go in, your loved ones won’t love you any less and the world will keep spinning. Even if it doesn’t, it surely wasn’t because a little white ball didn’t go into a hole from 3 feet away.
Looking back, this was exactly the sort of pressure I was starting to put on myself at the tournament. I started to tie my score to my ego, and after some good ball striking early on I started to feel like if I didn’t take advantage of it around the greens that it would be a waste. In the back of my mind I knew it was a very strong amateur field filled with more experienced players, and I convinced myself I couldn’t afford to make a single mistake. The internal pressure I put on myself was too much, and I got in the way of my own performance. I had lost the internally cocky, carefree attitude of a kid playing the game and got caught up in results.
After five snowy days without touching a club after the tournament, the golf courses were open again in Calgary this past weekend. I was excited to get back out on the course. On every shot I tried to stay relaxed, and thought about my target and routine only. Nothing to do with mechanics entered my mind, and I was ready to accept any result. On the greens was the same thing, I focused on my target and routine only.
I also tried to completely ignore the speed of my putts in my conscious brain, another suggestion from Dr. Rotella. He said that your brain will automatically calculate how hard you need to hit a putt based on experience and the information you gather in your routine. Consciously thinking about both line and speed can overwhelm the brain and lead to tentative strokes. So I just went through my routine, picked a target and made a carefree stroke at that target.
I enjoyed some good results after resetting my mental approach. I shot a pair of 74’s at two courses I had never played before and stacked up 9 birdies over 36 holes. It was far from perfect, but perfection wasn’t the goal. Neither was scoring or making birdies. The only goal I had was to minimize internal pressures on myself. To immerse myself in my routine and my target, stay relaxed and accept the result and score that followed. I believed that the ball would go where I wanted it to but at the same time reminded myself that it really didn’t matter where the ball went or what score came of it. That no matter what, I’d be just fine.
It was a good reminder that the mental game takes time and effort to hone, just like a physical aspect of the swing does. By bouncing back with a couple of decent rounds I’m by no means “cured” of getting into a mental funk, having a bad round, or placing too much internal pressure on myself. It’ll take constant effort, practice, and monitoring just like any part of the physical game does. It’ll go through ebbs and flows and feel easier some days than others, but that’s the beauty of this game we all love.
This past weekend I reminded myself what it felt like to play like a kid with nothing to lose, and I’m going to work to keep it that way.