Most of the time we take the small wins for granted.
Have you ever fist-pumped after making that three-foot putt for a regulation two-pointer? Or after hitting the fairway on the opening hole at your home course? On the other hand, how many times have you beaten yourself up after a short putt missed, a stray drive or a heavy-handed chip shot?
Whether or not we like to admit it, the balance of power (and momentum) slips away from us in those ‘horror- show moments’ out there. But all is never lost. In fact, just like every great psychological thriller, the answers to getting out alive are often right in front of us the entire time – long before the straitjacket and muzzle are required.
The positive momentum swings throughout a round of golf are like the gorilla tape which keeps it all together for us out there. However, momentum swings in the other direction are a lot like that collection of your wife’s family heirloom china plates which you wrapped in old towels before ferociously taping the box closed as the mover’s van arrived – left in a fragile state and only seconds away from disaster and tears.
It sounds a little crazy if you’re hearing this for the first time, but it is extremely important to celebrate the ‘small wins’ throughout your round. This doesn’t mean pulling out your best Tiger roar, or a Harry Higgs gallop on your putter the next time you sink a six-foot putt. But it might mean hitting the middle of the green on a straightforward par three and quietly paying yourself a compliment on the great execution of that swing. Or having the willpower to lay up on that risk-and-reward par five before reminding yourself that pitching from 80 metres is your greatest strength – even if it isn’t.
This mental gameplay is guaranteed to make you feel better, as the scales are now able to find their balance over the course of your round. So often we harbour a grudge against ourselves for an unforced error, poor decision off the tee or a loss of focus over a short putt. Yet when we hit a solid drive, play a tactically sound recovery shot from the trees or hit a mid-iron into the centre of the green, it’s almost taken for granted – ‘yep, that’s what I am meant to do’.
The problem with that statement is that you never end up giving yourself a positive score for those shots, yet you always give yourself a negative score for the misfires. The inevitable result is that you often feel like you played worse than you did.
The other thought I would like to share with you is to putt with a ‘childlike sense of wonder’. Kids never really care if they miss a putt, as they are just trying to hit the ball into the hole, whereas adults are more worried about how not to miss.
I hope this short read helps you enjoy your next game just a little bit more – and beat yourself up a lot less.
– This column first appeared in the May 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!