Verbal Use and Abuse

One thing most golfers are very good at is verbally acknowledging a bad shot. However, when they hit a good shot there is almost always silence. Why is it that most golfers are unable to compliment themselves? Why is this such a foreign idea? What ever happened to the adage, if you haven’t got something nice to say don’t say anything at all?

Look at it this way. If you had a caddie who spoke to you the way that you speak to yourself, you’d fire him. Period. But I see so many golfers who beat themselves up constantly. This destructive behavior makes it almost impossible for anything good to happen on the course.

I talk with my team about this subject a great deal. I tell them, “Remember, on the course, you are the only cheerleader you have.” So why is it that most golfers beat themselves up? Why aren’t they pumping themselves up instead?

Most golfers have two categories for golf shots. Either it is acceptable, in which case they remain mostly silent, or it is terrible, which is made obvious to all by negative self-talk. When they hit a bad shot, I would prefer that my golfers accept that they are human and therefore imperfect and prone to mistakes, and just let it go.  My rule is, if you insist in venting for the bad shots you must also say something positive when you hit a good shot. It’s only fair. Good and bad comments must balance themselves out.

On our team we have a rule: VERBALLY recognize every effective shot. By the way, verbal means, out loud. It is not acceptable to just think it. It has to be out loud. In fact, this is so important that over the years, during a few collegiate qualifiers instead of using scores to determine a winner, we have kept track of how many times a player has remembered to say something positive after good shots. That’s how serious I am about this. In time, my players notice that they’re actually doing far more good than bad just because they hear more positive comments than bad. This is a great way to improve a golfer’s self-confidence. And now, on the course we sound and play like winners.

Notice that the rule also says, verbally recognize every EFFECTIVE shot. An effective shot is not necessarily a great shot. Example: Let’s say you have a 7 iron into the green. You hit it thin and it runs most of the way on the ground, but finds the green. That’s an effective shot! It may not have looked pretty, but you met your goal. According to my rule, at this point, you have to say something positive. Why? BECAUSE YOU DID GOOD! Remember, the goal of a golf shot is not for it to look good, or to be technically perfect, it’s for the ball to find it’s target. Period. So don’t stand there in the fairway after a less than perfect shot rehearsing your swing and finding fault when you were just successful. Your shot found it’s target. You achieved your goal for Pete’s sake! Just pat yourself on the back and focus on the next shot; you’ll make a better swing next time.

For years, before focusing on positive self-talk, during a tournament round I would see many of my golfers hanging their heads and beating themselves up. And guess what? The more we assaulted ourselves verbally, the more we stunk it up. It would drive me nuts! Now that we employ the recognize every effective shot rule, my players have the ability to keep themselves in a positive frame of mind, even when things aren’t going their way. And guess what? Their bad play almost always turn around.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a college player, an amateur or a tour pro. If you let yourself get into a negative frame of mind, you might as well walk off the course, because nothing good is going to happen. I believe that whatever comes out of your mouth goes right back into your ear and then into your brain. It has been confirmed by scientists who study the brain that your thoughts actually carve out the grooves in your brain. That’s how a thought becomes a habit and a habit becomes behavior. This explains why most golfers never get better. They have programed themselves to expect the worst. It’s a fact, your brain is a computer and will only do what it’s programmed to do.

The solution is simple. Go ahead and react if you have to when you hit a bad shot. But then, when you do something good, pat yourself on the back. Tell yourself OUT LOUD that you did good. You must refill the emotional tank that negative thoughts and words use up. Learn to re-program your brain. Soon you’ll find yourself playing better golf and people will enjoy playing with you more.

We’ll keep talking about this subject in future lessons.

Thanks for following!


  • Awesome and so true. This is very evident in younger golfers I see on the course. I will have my 14 year old son read this tonight. I will quiz him on it later too.
    Thanks for the article coach.

  • Who’s that dead sexy man you took a picture of screaming? 😉

    I’ve noticed the few times I’ve said positive feedback to myself when I practice or play that I’ve played better but when I have only acknowledged bad shots or shots I didn’t find to my pleasing then I didn’t do so well. I’ll make a conscious effort when I practice or play to always voice both. We will see how good I can get!!

  • The irony you point out is great! I think in some bizarre way if we celebrate a good or great shot its showing off, but silence for some reason is proper etiquette. Cussing and carrying on never helps of course, but why not a nice fist pump or roar? I love it..

  • This is a vital lesson for me to improve my mental part of the game, there is no reason for any player to bit them self down. Positively recognizing every shot either bad or good and motivating yourself will not only make you play better but have more fun on the course. Thanks coach.

  • One of the strongest sayings i have heard is, ” what a man thinketh so shall he be”. if you think you are a good player you will be one, this lesson teaches you to be verbal over every effective situation, it is your 15th club which will give you the edge over any player. This might not happen right away but over time you will believe it and do it. Wish it, Dream it, Do it, say it and believe it!!!! Cheers coach

  • This is such a simple technique and rule to follow, and I am already feeling a big change in my frame of mind on the course. I’m starting to notice that my positivity is outweighing my negativity, even on the difficult days, and overall it helps me enjoy the round more and play better.

  • I was really happy about seeing this lesson on our coach’s webpage. Its a lesson that my experience as a golfer has really helped me improve over the years. I used to be sort of a quite player that had more anger than anything. People would say he’s got the talent he just needs to get it in between the ears. I now realize what most people probably meant by that. I just needed confidence in myself! Being a member of this team has really helped me realize that there a many efficient ways to recover from a bad shot. And i have also learned to maintain consistency and keep those good shots going because I am constantly reminding myself to verbally recognize every well played shot!!! Even if it scribbles down that fairway, guess what, “it’s in the fairway and most good golfers probably will still save there par” In all aspects of life, if negative energy or thoughts slips into our minds, the outcome would more than likely never be as good as positive energy and positive thoughts.
    Keep the faith golfers!! 🙂

  • This area of the game is something that until I changed held me back immensely as a golfer. After I realized that my best shots were only deemed to be “acceptable” versus a mis-hit 7-iron to 20ft of the pin being completely “unacceptable” in my mind I realized there was no sense in the theory. Many golfers get into a habit of this at a young age because think it may be a sign of weakness (or not cool) to be ok with a bad shot and to be a “man” you should shout and curse and snap your club in disgust when you don’t hit the exact shot you tried to. To a degree you must hold your own standards of what is acceptable for your abilities and what is not, but its the realization of that which requires some one to take the chip off their shoulder and swallow their pride.

    The exercises we did in practice to help me freed my mind up from the stress and pressure that you can put on yourself with every shot: “This has to be struck out the middle of the club face, with 2 yards of draw, starting on the tree limb in the distance and finish inside 10ft of the pin for it to be successful…” you can’t play golf that way and its certainly not enjoyable that way.

    I like your point on the athleticism of a golfers mind and once it is accessed and the player can begin to trust their athletic mind to react accordingly, rather than having 10 swing thoughts something great may happen.

    I think even Tiger could benefit from this article. He’s arguably the greatest player the game has seen, however his body language and attitude is terrible on the course and in media interviews which has made him an annoyance. As a result he has lost a great deal of his fan base. He’s famous for his fist pumps and big celebrations although people forget how miserable he is in between these moments of triumph when he hits it to within a foot of the pin and doesn’t bat an eye. He’s inspired millions of people into playing the game and having the highest aspirations of themselves; although in my mind, he has taught this next generation of players to be unsatisfied and ungentlemanly on the course with extreme contrasts in emotion from excited to anger which is an extreme waste of energy. There are a few very obvious reasons why Luke Donald is number 1 in the world and why Tiger is not anymore…

    Keep up the good work Coach!

  • As coach says having feelings on the course is fine, but in order to succeed and be a good player it is necessary to pump yourself up: if you are going to let your bad shots take over your mind and forget the good ones you have made, there is no reasonable way to improve your game. At the end golf is a game and it has to be enjoyed.
    Tanks Coach

  • I think the mental game is the most important aspect of a golfers repetoir. Verbally recognizing effective shots is crucial to keeping a positive frame of mind. Making a constant effort to do this has made a great improvement in even poor rounds.

  • Fruisen, just another example of how some of the most important lessons in golf don’t necessarily deal with the swing. Confidence and mental fortitude is quite evident in all your team members and I hope that some day soon it will finds its way to all of my players.

  • I strongly believe in this topic. As soon as you have hit a shot its in the past, you cannot go back in time and have to accept the consequences good or bad. Too carry on your round in a positive attitude, you have to verbally recognize your good shots to tell yourself your doing good! Your going out to play golf because you enjoy it, if you start to freak out on every bad shot, your teaching your body stress and anxiety which has no positive effects on your golf game. Being positive VERBALLY strengthens your mind and will evidently strengthen your game!

  • Another fantastic tip. I am a emotional player but that only works if the scales are even. Positive emotions are a very powerful thing.

  • Golf is game of highs and lows. This article is a good reminder. My goal this upcoming semester is to improve my emotions while I am on the course.

  • Starting this year I threw an insane amount of fist pumps. It took a couple weeks to get over the fact that it wasn’t the coolest thing (to fist pump a three footer), but hey… ill do anything to lower my scores. well almost anything

  • Before this season I had never thought about how showing emotion, whether it’s positive or negative, would actually affect my play. Hearing it from you earlier this year made me start to think about and how I could incorporate it into my game. I haven’t tended to show any emotion at all when I play. This season I am going to make a conscious effort to show more positive emotion while I play, because it would seem that it can only help improve my game and make it that much more fun to play.

  • I have yet to find one golfer out there who doesn’t get frustrated when hitting a bad shot. Like you always say, golf is a struggle and you need to balance out those low moments by rewarding yourself when hitting good shots. Telling yourself that you are awesome or throwing a fist pump is a great way to do that. Great post coach!

  • I am a very even tempered golfer, I think it goes along with my personality. On the outside it never looks like I get to high or low, for the most part this is true and an advantage that I love about my game. Even in the worst rounds I have always controlled my temper, never throwing clubs or cursing, sometimes I think this may also be my achilles heel. For the most part I have a short memory and I can repress bad swings and decisions quickly; however, I think I could benefit from a little physical display of disgust. Sometimes pent up frustration can cause my little muscles to bother my swing. I believe I would benefit to let some of that frustration out (in respectable Thoroughbred fashion of course).

    This season, I pledge to be more emotional on the course, in both directions. Tiger has the 10 step rule. When he hits a bad shot, he kicks himself and lets it out for 10 steps. On the 11th step, his head is up and all focus returns to the next shot. I’d say it works for the guy, I mean he is a half decent golfer.

  • Coach,

    I would not classify myself as an emotional player on the golf course but I definitely do get frustrated by my play. On the other hand, I hardly ever show positive emotion. This is something I have been working on; I need to start recognizing my effective shots. I still find myself getting angry with poorly struck shots that end up in decent spots. It is important to remember that those shots get the job done.

    In every other sport, players show a ton of positive emotion, so why not in golf?

  • In golf, it’s a real issue that we have so much time between shots. It can give a player a chance to beat himself up. In sports where there is faster reactions and less time to think, it is easier to keep a level head because you have to recover so quickly. If all golfers brought the ideology of “moving on to the next shot/point/play” I think it would be a better game for everyone.

  • Im usually good with the way I treat myself on the course. I make sure I am not “beating” myself up.

  • I will never forget the first practice we had with you coach as a team. I saw something id never heard before, positive talk on the course! Everyone was shouting I’m awesome after good shots and not acknowledging greatly the poor ones. It resulted in the most positive atmosphere I’ve ever experienced on the course. It not only encouraged a good time, but great golf! Verbal and overall attitude is a tough but essential aspect of the game to stay in the right part of mind.

  • Coach,
    I would definitely say that I am not to easy on myself while on the golf course. I have worked to improve my attitude on the course and it is greatly improving my golf game.

  • After the first two tournaments this spring season, I have not been to happy with how I have played. I put to much pressure on myself to try and be perfect which gets me into trouble on the course. I think that speaking more positively about my golf game will improve my tournament play.

  • I completely agree with this article. I read something similar in the book Zen Golf. It said that if you yell at yourself and say things like, “Teddy your a horrible golfer”, it might not feel like its effecting you. However, it is effecting your self conscience deep down. A golfers self confidence is one of the most important things. I like your idea about celebrating after a good shot. I play my best when I know that I am impressing someone. So maybe if I say something good to myself after a good shot i will play better. Thanks a lot coach.

  • Mackenzie Nelson

    Coach this is something that you stressed when I visited back in February, and I completely agree with you! It doesn’t make sense that golfers don’ compliment themselves after good shots. I have definitely adopted this philosophy and it definitely does help keep me positive. While I still sometimes beat myself up on the course, I’m really trying to have the positive talk outweigh the negative.

  • Mitchell Campbell

    This is an overlooked point Coach. I have read the book that Teddy mentioned and it does touch the same subject. When I visited you guys at Jekyll Island you pointed out (in the other teams) that players were using up energy through verbal abuse. It may not feel negative at the time but it is just using up unnecessary energy that may be needed later. I feel like I need to have a little more verbal USE this year. Some positive words during the round could definitely help me out. I am normally very quiet when I am playing well and very vocal when things go wrong. This needs to be reversed!

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