The biggest hazard that a golfer will face during their round is the temptation to mentally quit during a round of golf. For some reason, golfers go into a round of golf not expecting adversity. This is flawed thinking because it is inevitable. Because they are not mentally prepared, they are shocked and saddened when adversity arrives and too many times they are unable to cope. Like in the illustration, they willingly jump off into the abyss of despair, where there is no recovery and the penalty lasts for the remainder of the round.
Somehow golfers believe that every shot will be hit perfectly and that golf will be easy. That is not reality, not for any golfer at any level. Golfers must remember that golf is usually a struggle. Golf is the equivalent of salmon swimming upstream. It’s hard. It’s hard almost every day.
When you prepare for a round of golf, you should make a mental commitment — a commitment to accept whatever happens, good or bad, and in the words of Winston Churchill, “Stay calm and carry on.”
Staying calm and carrying on no matter what is the only good option you have. Some days are easy, most are hard. You must remain positive and fight with everything you have until you arrive at the clubhouse. Otherwise, you’ll be miserable, you’ll make your playing partners miserable and you will be guaranteed you will shoot a miserable score.
I know all of you have watched Tiger’s top 10 shots on the Golf Channel. Did you notice that none of those shots was from an ideal position? Only one of shot happened from the middle of the fairway, and he hit that shot in almost total darkness.
The point is, one of the reasons he’s been so successful is that he believes with every fiber of his being that something good will happen even when he is in a tough spot.
I have a great example from my university team in 2012. One of the freshman on my team was named Makenzie. He was a fine player and I believed he could become a superstar, but as with most freshman, he had a lot to learn — especially when it came to keeping his head in the game during tough rounds.
We were playing in a prestigious tournament. The Golfweek Fall Preview in Florida. This is an account of Makenzie’s final round.
He had high expectations, too high. When I saw him on the range, Makenzie was upbeat, “minting it” as he says, and was telling me he was going to tear it up.
So, I caught up with him on the 7th hole, a par 5. I thought he has just played his 2nd from the fairway, but I then learned that it was actually his 4th shot. His 2nd shot had gone out of bounds. He was completely despondent because after finishing his 7th hole with a double, I learned he was now seven over after seven holes. The round was not going at all the way he had envisioned. I could tell he had mentally checked out and he had no fight in him. If I had given him the option he would have walked off the course. I told him, “Sorry dude, I don’t get to substitute like in other sports. You’re stuck out here and have to make a decision to make. Are you gonna cry or try?” It’s something I used to say to my young son. He would always take on projects that were beyond his abilities and eventually get frustrated to the point of tears. I would say to him, “Son, we can cry or try, we can’t do both. We’ll do which ever one you want. But you have a decision to make.” Back to Makenzie… he was mentally checked out and we still had 11 holes to play in the final round of a really important tournament. I wasn’t going to let him let his team down or himself down. I told him, “We can still salvage this round! So, lets get started right now!”
On the par 3, 8th tee he hit last so we had time to chat. I got his mind away from his troubles and told him how much I thought of him as a person and as a golfer. I reminded him how beautiful this part of Florida was and how blessed he was to be able to play college golf.He hit a nice approach. As we walked to the green we laughed as I told him stories of other golfers I coached through the years and the times when they were able to make something out of nothing. When we got to the green we were surprised to see he was left with a really difficult 36 footer that was down hill and a double breaker. We read the putt from every angle and what do you know, we made it for birdie! Big smile on his face! He was back!
On the most difficult hole on the course, the par 4 ninth, he played the hole well but ended up 3 putting from long range for bogie. Just like that, his world was coming to an end once again. I said, “What is so bad? You’ve just played the last 2 holes at even par after a terrible start on the first 7 holes! So I continued to make him smile, telling him funny stories about coaching and golf as we played the par 4, 10th hole and what do you know, we made a really good 18 footer that broke from left to right for another birdie!
Once again, big smiles, life was good. Unfortunately, he bogeyed the par 5, 11th and was once again in the dumps. Total despair. Life sucks! He thought, golf hates me! After more cheerleading from me, he made a routine par on the par 3, twelfth. I pointed out to him that in spite of the ups and downs that he had just played the last 5 holes at even par and that he’s doing fine. But now I had to leave him to go check on other members of the team. I had him promise me that he would remain optimistic and upbeat. He assured me he would be fine.
I caught up with Makenzie again as he was walking from the 13th green to the 14th tee. His life was over! He had just triple bogeyed! All of the fight was completely gone. There was nothing left. He was now 10 over par.
At this point, I’ll admit, I had had enough! I “coached him up,” as we say in the biz, albeit firmly. I told him he had a decision to make — this time, it wasn’t as much about this round, but more about what kind of player he was going to be. I challenged him, “You’ve got to decide right now, is golf tougher than you, or are you tougher than golf?”
I had his attention. Once again, I told him that if he had total 100% belief that something good was going to come out of this, it would, and conversely, if he didn’t, it wouldn’t. Whatever he decided would happen, would actually happen. He was now completely on board. We then took a moment to map out the final stretch of 5 holes. I thought we could birdie 3 of the last 5. He completely bought in, had total belief in his skills and Makenzie went on to birdie 14, 15 and 16! He had completely erased the triple! Now he completely refused to let his mind have a single negative thought. We were on the 17th, probably the best chance for birdie and after a monster drive, ended up making a tough par after pretty much chopping up the hole.
He played the par 4, 18th perfectly and made a 10 footer for birdie to finish out his roller coaster round. We hugged and laughed. He had birdied 4 of his last 5 holes and 6 of his last 11. Makenzie played the last 11 holes at -1. He shot +6 for the round and ended up helping our team.
Ironically, not once did we talk about swing during his round.
It wasn’t the most impressive round ever shot — a 77. But for him it was the springboard that propelled him to be a great collegiate golfer. As we stood there watching the others in his group putt out, I’ll never forget he had his arm over my shoulder thanking me for my help and telling me how much he had learned.
His collegiate playing career is now over. I can assure you, that’s one of the few rounds he remembers. That’s how it is in college golf. You play a lot of rounds in a lot of places. You don’t remember much about the good days. There isn’t much to remember. Those days are easy. The proudest and most memorable rounds are the ones where you dig deep when faced with adversity and come out on the other side learning something about yourself. The ones where you made something out of nothing.
If you never give in and jump off into the pit of despair, you too will have great stories to tell.