How To Relax On the Golf Course

Many times when you hit a bad shot it’s no surprise. You knew it was likely to happen because of the anxiety you were feeling before you even stepped up to the ball. Maybe you were looking at a tee shot into a tight landing area. Maybe it was a downhill slider on the putting green.

For some reason the shot intimidated you. When that happens you get nervous and there is little chance of hitting your best shot or something close to it. What to do?

You could do what the mental game gurus say to do, like get a pre-shot routine and follow it, as if that would distract you from your worries. Or you could do a short breathing exercise before you step up to the ball.

There are all sorts of looney things in the mental game literature that don’t get to the heart of the issue, which is, you care too much about something you shouldn’t care about at all.

Look at this. You’re out on the golf course for some recreation, the company of your playing companions, and getting some exercise. Golf is a vehicle for all of that, and there’s no need to make any more of it. Yet, for some reason, we do. That is where the problem lies.

The solution to the problem is to play like being out there is enough and let the rest of it be what it may.

I don’t mean to play indifferently. Please, do your best. If you’re not going to try to do your best on the golf course, then go do something else you feel motivated to be good at.

I mean to do all you can before and during the stroke to hit your best shot, realizing all the while that where the ball ends up is nothing more than the next place from where you will be hitting it.

Right now you probably judge each shot after you hit it. Based on what you wanted to do, this one was good enough, this one wasn’t so much, that was a great one, and so on.

You gotta stop doing that. Good ones and bad ones. Just hit the ball and move on. When you get into judging mode, you’re chasing success, but that brings up failure, too. Success and failure are a matched set. The problem with that is, failure rules.

Have you ever wondered why one critical remark stays with us so much longer than a dozen compliments? It’s left over from our early past as proto-humans when failure could mean being eaten rather than getting to eat.

We don’t live in that kind of life-and-death world anymore, but the wiring is still there. We too easily stop giving ourselves the freedom to succeed and center instead on avoiding failure.

There’s little we can do to prevent others from making stray remarks, but why on earth would we do it to ourselves, which is what you do when you get into the success-failure trap?

There’s nothing on the golf courses I play on that is a life or death affair. You hit the ball, find it, and hit it again. If the ball goes in the water, drop another one and keep playing.

When golf gets any more complicated than that, it’s because you made it that way, and there’s not reason for you to do that. So, stop doing it. Just stop it.

You might say, I try not to, but I just can’t help myself. Oh, yes, you can. You have to build up a little willpower, which is the condition of your mind that has the courage to do things you know are right.

Figure out the shot you have a good chance of hitting successfully, hit that shot, and when it’s over, it’s over. No judgements, good or bad.

It’s especially important not to judge your good shots, because that leads you into judging your shots by a standard that you are not going to meet all the time, which leads to disappointment when you fail to meet it, which leads to worry, and the cycle of caring too much has begun. Control your mind, not your swing.

Pop quiz. Why do you want to relax on the golf course? If you say, so you can hit good golf shots, that’s the wrong answer. You’re still in caring mode.

The right answer is, being mentally relaxed is the best way to live, to experience life, and to enjoy life. Golf is part of enjoying life. Practice because you enjoy practicing. Play because you enjoy playing. Out of that will come good golf shots and satisfying scores.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

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