Another day in golfing paradise: A short story
It’s 9:37 am, you’re 8 holes into your weekly round and you’re playing well. The sun is shining and there’s a warm breeze coming in off the ocean. You check your scorecard and you’re 4 shots better than your usual score to this point. What’s been working? You didn’t do anything out of the ordinary before the round, a quick coffee and a few putts but the cart girl did smile at you, was it that? Whatever it was, it didn't matter. We’ve just made par and. Life is good.
You’re on the ninth tee. This hole isn’t your favourite but you know what shot you have to hit. It’s a Par 4, 385 yards with bunkers at 220. The breeze is into your face, but you’ve been ripping the ball on the range so the driver is the right club. Laying back short of the traps with your trusty hybrid would be the conservative play, but screw that, you’re feeling good. Driver it is.
You make a practice swing and clear your mind. The breeze is picking up but that doesn’t matter, driver is the right club. You draw the club back at the perfect tempo and start your downswing. Here we go - 255 right down the middle.
How are you doing this? You look up and the ball is sailing through the air via a majestic little fade and it lands in the centre cut, way past the bunkers. As you walk up to the ball, your surroundings are unfamiliar. You’ve barely been in the fairway all year, let alone this round, and you’re left with an awkward yardage, right between clubs.
You watched a YouTube video the night before about hitting a three quarter swing high fade shot off an uphill lie and decide now would be a good time to try it. If it doesn’t work, who cares? You’ve been getting up and down like a fiend all day, you can do it again.
You pull your 8 iron, which you haven’t hit today and make what felt like the same swing as the YouTube pro told you to make. The ball shoots forward like a rocket 3 yards above the turf and is zeroing in on THAT greenside bunker. You’re always in there!
OK time to scramble AGAIN - you love it when golf is like this. You can’t wait to tell your friends how you made that 6 from the jaws of a 4. Oh well, maybe you’ll break 90 next week?
DOES THIS STORY SOUND FAMILIAR?
If the answer is yes, then you’re like nearly every golfer I’ve met who is on the long, torturous journey to breaking their chosen milestone, and you probably suffer from the same crippling trait I see in all of these players.
What is this trait? From the story you could see a number of things.
Do you watch too many YouTube videos?
Is your warm up routine perfect and yet it still doesn’t provide results?
Is it that you know you have no chance with the cart girl, but still tip too much?
IT IS NONE OF THESE.
The correct answer is that you’ve become comfortable with SELF SABOTAGE.
SELF SABOTAGE is the root cause of most of your problems.
I’m a true believer that golf provides a mirror in which we can view ourselves. Sure, the mirror might warp and distort what you see, but it is a mirror nonetheless, and we must use it to learn, adapt and grow. SELF SABOTAGE is difficult to spot in the mirror of golf because it masquerades itself in the shadows of an already fiendishly difficult game.
Let’s look at a few common examples of golfing SELF SABOTAGE. See if you recognize any.
- You would prefer to hit the ball out of the rough instead of the fairway.
- You prefer hitting around or over obstacles than being in the fairway.
- You chip from the fringe when putting would be infinitely better.
- You automatically hit the driver on par 5 tee shots.
- You feel uncomfortable with a wedge in hand inside 120 yards.
- You feel better when you’re scrambling and mess up approach shots often to leave a pitch shot.
Yes, yes I know. All of the above could be perfectly legitimate things to do or feel on the course, but I can tell you for a fact, that they are symptoms of a player who has gotten into the rut of reactive golf. Becoming a proactive player is key to throwing off the shackles of SELF SABOTAGE and finding golfing nirvana.
What are you afraid of?
What I have seen in countless players is a fear of getting good at golf. Please let that thought sit in your mind for a moment and think about what it means.
We fear getting good at the hobby we have chosen to play. Matt, have you lost your mind?
Why do we fear getting good? Players who are on their way to breaking 100, 90, 80 or any milestone in between can get addicted to the grind, the struggle, the graft that golf can and will present to you.
We have all spent rounds, slicing, topping, duffing, thinning and shanking the ball. Sometimes, you will still score well during those rounds and it FEELS GOOD. You feel like you’ve got one over on the golfing gods, giving them a massive middle finger as you sip that hard earned brewski in the 19th.
But let’s be honest with ourselves. Playing like that, round after round, week and week, year after year is pretty exhausting. Being REACTIVE all the time is exhausting.
Becoming a proactive golfer not only lowers your scores, but makes you more confident and have more fun. Being in control of your game and your decisions is so empowering that it transcends surface level ‘fun’.
You have to believe that you will hit good shots, believe that you will take the right approach before you can hit good shots and can make the right oncourse decisions.
Once you start getting into positions on the course which you have planned to be in, you will have to learn how to hit shots from those positions. If you are used to hitting your second from the rough, or out of the trees, you WILL get good at hitting those shots. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep hitting those shots. You can level up!
If you then find yourself in the fairway, hitting off a perfect lie with no trouble in front of you, it can feel completely alien.
I spent YEARS unable to hit a wedge off a fairway lie. It was worse than the yips. If I was within 130 yards of the green, I would prefer to have been in the rough manufacturing some kind of miracle shot because it was a comfort zone distraction. That way the pressure to hit a straightforward wedge on the green was removed. If I missed the green from the cow grass, so what? Scrambling is fun, right?
I realised that playing golf from the fairway was ‘boring’ in my mind. Deep down, was I afraid that by getting good at golf, hitting the ball from the short grass, and putting for birdie or par consistently I would lose that feeling of triumphing over adversity?
This level of SELF SABOTAGE was so deeply ingrained that I would prefer to chip from around the green rather than hit long putts. I convinced myself that I had a good short game, and that like Phil Mickelson, I was a scrambling king.
Proactive golf is FUN
Two putting for par or bogey is golf. In the other chapters of this guide, you will see how nearly every concept ends up at the business end of the hole. To become a truly proactive golfer, you need to let go of your fear of making a good score by hitting the ball, finding it, hitting it again and then putting it into the hole.
If you’re the type of character who runs constantly on adrenaline and seeks out uncomfortable situations, then reactive golf may be your one and only calling and that’s fine. On the whole, I think we need to reserve those feelings and emotions for when we will inevitably need them the most. That way, those miracle shots and unlikely pars will FEEL EVEN BETTER as they will mean more. If you’re always grinding, those successes get lost - it’s always onto the next struggle.
Next time you play, don’t auto pull your driver on a par 5. Think for 10 seconds about what you can do in that moment. If driver is the dress free option, then play that option, but if 6 iron is even less of a stress, then hit the 6. Then think about your next shot. What shot will you be hitting next? What shot do you want hit into the green? As you will see in this chapter, working back from the green is the way you will truly become a zen master.
Embrace the idea that you can play a hole the way you want to and you will do it. Plant the seed, imagine yourself playing back from the green and perform Inception on yourself. Try it, you might even enjoy it.