Originally Published By Ron Beck for Golf Pro Magazine (1997)
“Them” is the golfer who has lost their way. Either they have lost their perspective on the game or their perspective is inappropriate. They’re not enjoying the game and they fail to see what the game has to offer. It typically starts with a bad shot or two, then comes the tantrum and the round ends up in a head down, self-pity party. You hardly recognize them when they come into the shop after their round.
What happened to these people and how can we help them? Our jobs as PGA Professionals is to add to our member’s and student’s enjoyment of the game. It’s not our obligation – it’s our privilege. In the following paragraphs, I will offer some ideas on why a golfer’s outlook could go sour as well as some suggestions and techniques to “talk them off the ledge”.
I often wonder what, if anything, some golfers as committed to. They just seem to be in the midst of chaos trying not to be embarrassed. I don’t feel that’s what any golfer should be committed to. The game is humbling by nature. Mistakes and bad shots are part of the game. The game of golf just has so many variables, at some point things just aren’t going to go your way.
As golf professionals and teachers, we have the opportunity to help our students form their commitments. Commitments could be things like playing without fear and letting go, just as examples. Two commitments that are productive and attainable - every time out – as appreciation and gratitude. Appreciation for the traditions and challenges of the game, the course and for fellow players. Gratitude just for the opportunity to be a part of it all. Our commitment as golf professionals to appreciation and gratitude for the game of golf should be fundamental. If it is, it will surely rub off on our students.
Frustrations and despair are often the product of unrealistic expectations. Greek philosophers said the worst distress is that of an unfulfilled expectation. Ask any golfer how far they drive the ball and they’ll respond with a tale of their longest drive. When asked about their scoring ability, they’ll tell you their lowest score. Unfortunately, they tend to measure their performance against these standards. Is that fair to the player? Of course not – they’ve set themselves up for failure.
The main points we need to make with the player in this scenario are; that expectations – if they insist on having them in the first place – should be based on averages, not exceptions. And secondly, is there any real value in judging shots, holes and rounds? After all, all you can really do is give it your best effort and accept the consequences. Being overly critical of yourself will certainly adversely affect your next effort.
PAIN VS SUFFERING
There is big difference between pain and suffering on the golf course, and once that is understood and dealt with, major breakthroughs can be made. Let’s call pain the immediate feeling when a two-footer is missed or a drive is sliced OB. It’s a normal and expected reaction to a less than desirable shot. Poor shots are part of the game, and so is pain. It’s OK.
But what happens after pain is suffering. The player refuses to let it go. Now instead of missing that two-footer and just chalking it up to a bad stroke or bad read, they tell themselves they’re a bad putter. And then they continue to live out their self-fulfilling prophecy by continuing to miss short putts.
When Ben Crenshaw misses a make-able putt, you can see pain on his face, but for one moment do you think he tells himself, “man am I a lousy putter”? I think not, because his commitments are too strong for that. Yes, suffering is totally self-inflicted and can be avoided simply by accepting the fact that golfers are human – they are not perfect and mistakes will continue to be made on the course. Hitting a bad shot doesn’t make you a bad person, but your reaction to it sure could.
The frustrated golfer walks alone, head down, studying their shoelaces. They need to understand there is so much more to the game than just hitting shots and making numbers. In fact, hitting shots constitutes less than 5 percent of the time spent in an 18-hole round of golf. The time between shots need to be enjoyed. The game is played in the most beautiful setting of any other sport – just take a non-golfer out on the course and watch their reaction. In James Taylor’s remake of the classic ‘50s song Up On The Roof, “…and at night/the stars, they put on a show for free…” Just think about the land your course is on, and what a beautiful and natural place it is to explore.
Have your students fill their lungs with air and walk with their heads high. Tell them to wake up and see what’s out there. Suggest they try to appreciate nature – the trees, the clouds, the birds, the tadpoles in the pond. Make sure they smell the fresh-cut grass, feel the sun on their face, and hear the sounds of laughter that fill the air. Have them study the architecture of the course and help them understand why the architect put a bunker in a certain place or why the greens slope in particular directions. Once they become aware of the subtleties of the game, they will become fascinated with it again and their spirit will return. The wonderful thing is that if we can help our players develop a better perspective on the game of golf, more often than not their perspective on life in general is not far behind.
As Golf Professionals, we have a great opportunity to influence our members and students. Our commitment must be compassion and a sincere desire to help others. When you catch up with your players after their round, don’t ask what they shot – it implies you’re making a judgement on their game. Ask them if they had fun or learned anything out there. Maybe that will help them put the game in perspective, maybe they will feel better about themselves. Make your shop a “safe” place for players to gather after their rounds. Don’t leave them on the ledge – do anything you can to talk them down. You’ll both be rewarded.