There are different theories out there on why the Scots named this game of getting the little white ball in the hole, ‘Golf’. The one I like the best though is, “All the other 4 letter words were taken”. There is no game more frustrating, as well as addicting, than golf. There must be thousands of golfers every day in America who profess that they are going to give up the game, only to see them back out on the links a week later.
It is hard to improve at anything in life, but as any seasoned golfer will tell you, it is especially hard to improve at golf. Granted, it is a difficult game with many facets, intricacies, and precise requirements to advance the ball toward the hole. And of course it does demand much patience and concentrated effort over the 4 to 5 hours of play. But why is it that some people actually get worse with practice?
In golf, our failures are constant and highlighted, and no matter how good you get you will always hit a high percentage of mediocre to poor shots, because golf does demand so much precision. You also have to deal with the unpredictability of the game, the rub of the green if you will. You may have hit a decent shot and got a bad bounce, maybe you chose the wrong club, or perhaps the wind whipped up just as you were hitting your shot.
At this point, golf calls for you to pull up your big-boy-pants and suck it up. All of the aforementioned aspects of the game can grind a person down on the golf course if you let them. Instead, one needs to learn how to turn these seeming negatives into positives that we draw from, so as to strengthen our games and improve our mental outlook and attitude.
In order to do so and to improve over time, a golfer must begin to employ conscious practice and play. Unfortunately, most don’t do this as they go to the practice range with the goal to hit the ball good and no other real plan, setting them up for frustration. Over and over again, they go out with the same intolerant attitude and lack of patient understanding, yet with high expectations; and over and over again they get upset, angry, and deflated at how bad they are hitting it. It’s like watching an Alzheimer’s patient who sets out to do the same puzzle anew each day, with the same expectant wonderment, only to put it down angry and unfinished after 10 minutes day after day after day.
You can’t just allow yourself to react unconsciously and get mad at bad shots, rather use reason as you seek to understand some of the why’s of the bad shot with a calm acceptance. Getting mad and having a temper because you’re not a better golfer than you are, or are worse than you thought you are, will never help you get better – it just makes you look silly and is out of line with the spirit of the game. One must realize how difficult the game is and how it mixes with human error and limitations; sometimes reality just bites.
Once we do realize that the big picture doesn’t come all at once, that we need to be more aware of our particular habits and idiosyncrasies, and trust working on the pieces without seeing instant results, we will be much happier and actually have better results. It’s a tricky thing to not work on the results of the golf shot, but as I’m always telling my students, the more they want to hit that ball well, the worse they will hit it. Whereas the more they focus on making a good, smooth swing with a balanced finish position, regardless of where the ball goes, the better the shots will just happen to be. Until you learn to embody this Catch 22 situation, and view the ball as an incidental that just gets caught up in the way, golf will be unusually cruel to you.