It doesn’t take a global pandemic to leave any of us feeling vulnerable. In golf, it can just take a couple of bad holes to shake your confidence foundation. But there is a way to take control of your game that can make all the difference in how you navigate your next round.
Before I share where I recommend you focus your mental and physical energy during a round I need to address the things that are outside your control. This is important because too often you may be wasting effort and increasing your frustration level because you’re trying to influence the parts of your game that you can’t.
Why You Must Let Go of the Uncontrollables
In golf and in life, you can control the HOW but not the WHAT. You have the ability to develop, maintain, and leverage an abundance of things that are a part of the process of playing golf. What you can’t directly control are the outcomes that come from your investment in the process.
For example, you can control what you focus on while planning a shot — the wind, the lie, your club and your various shot options. But even when you make the very best decisions about those things it doesn’t guarantee that your shot will end up exactly where you want it to go. It definitely increases your probability of success which is the upside to making sure you control your game in the right places.
To fully invest in the things that can enhance your game you’ve got to let go of the uncontrollables that are hurting it. Uncontrollables are the things that distract you, frustrate you, fuel your negative emotions, and create tension in your swing. When you get wrapped up in them it becomes harder to invest in the things that help you play great.
Common Uncontrollables in Golf
There’s a long list of uncontrollables I cover with my private clients. Some of them are external elements in your game, and some are created by you. In this post I want to focus on the common ones that I recommend you train yourself to let go of first. The sooner you choose to stop worrying about them, the more quiet and focused your mind will be when you play.
1 – Score
One of the biggest of the golf uncontrollables and the most difficult to let go of is your score. And you’re not alone if you actually believe you can control your score. That’s not exactly true. You can control the things that contribute to good scores. But because what you ultimately score is in future it’s not something you can directly impact.
The sooner you stop making it your primary focus during your rounds, the better you will play. I like to say that chasing your score will actually prevent you from posting a good one.
2 – Slow players
Pace of play remains a hot button topic with golfers. You may encounter specific situations that fuel your frustrations around the pace at which others play. I’ve heard them all — the group up ahead that you keep waiting on; the group that is riding your tail; the slow player in your group, and more.
Regardless, the pace at which anyone else plays is not under your control. And to the detriment of your game, you may have tried to speed up your pace to make up for the slow pace of someone else. Sacrificing your pace will guarantee two things — (1) that your shot performance will deteriorate, and (2) that rushing your shots will not change the pace at which someone else is choosing to play.
3 – What other people think
Have you ever caught yourself wondering what other people are thinking about you, especially after you just hit a horrific shot? It’s easy to have your imagination begin generating thoughts like, “I bet she’s sorry she invited me to play with her in this event” or “He’s probably tired of helping me look for my lost balls today.”
You can’t directly control what other people think about you or anything else. To invest precious mental energy writing other people’s thoughts for them is trying to control an uncontrollable. I can assure you that those you’re with are thinking much more about their game than they are thinking about yours.
These are just some examples of common things that can distract you from playing with a great mindset that leads to consistent play. And since you can’t do anything about any of them, let’s talk about the things you CAN control.
3 Ways to Take Control of Your Game
Here are some guidelines to keep you on track.
The controllable parts of your game…
- are in the present, not the past or the future
- exist in the process of playing and not in your outcomes
- and have to do with managing your inner world, not the external world
Now that you have more clarity around the direction we are going, let’s talk about where I encourage you to invest the lion’s share of your time, effort, and energy going forward.
Controllable #1 – Your Perspective
Your perspective impacts your confidence, your trust in your swing, and ultimately the physical delivery of your swing. That’s why you must keep tabs on it. Constant monitoring will allow you to maintain a healthy perspective at all times and under all circumstances.
Your perspective provides the lens through which you see everything! This includes your image of yourself as a golfer, your skills on any given day, your ability to overcome the challenges of the game, and more. Your perspective is something you can directly control.
The best way to take control of your game in this area is to make sure your thoughts remain positive, solution-oriented, and productive.
To play with a positive outlook pay attention to your incremental successes. After completing a hole, identify at least one thing you think you did well. Success tracking will give you reasons to continue trusting your game.
A solution-oriented approach will keep your thoughts centered on using your best options in the bag for the day. And occupying your with productive outlets that can drive achievement both on and off the course you will gain a greater sense of confidence and competence.
If unfavorable weather or health safety concerns are keeping you from the course, there are lots of ways you can be improving your golf skills from home. Using visualization you can replay past shot successes. You could read a great book on on-course strategy. Or perhaps you need to work on your flexibility.
Be proactive about controlling your perspective. Feed it with selectively sourced, high-value information that increases your knowledge, your confidence, and your impression of yourself as a player.
Controllable #2 – Your Focus
Since you’re always focused on something it’s important to make sure you are actively pointing your focus toward the things that you can control, and that add value to your game.
Take control of your game in this area when you’re off the course by identifying what you’d like to focus on during your next practice session on the range. Or plan the objectives you want to keep top of mind in your next round.
On the course, you want to focus on what you’re doing and not other people’s games. Direct your focus to the controllable aspects embedded in your pre-shot routine — your desired shot, your alignment, your target, your club selection, etc.
There are always plenty of things you could allow to grab your attention and pull it away. By policing your focus moment by moment you can pull it back on track the moment it begins to drift in an uncontrollables’ direction.
Controllable #3 – Your Expectations
Smart golfers take the time to set their expectations long before they leave for the course. It’s much easier to make good plans without the interference of your emotions that can distract you in the heat of play.
The best way to take control of your expectations is for you to align them with your “why” — meaning your reason for playing in the first place. Keep in mind that your “why” needs to be tied to the controllable parts of your game. Therefore, your “why” cannot be score-related, but must be process-centered.
When you set expectations on the things you can control you put yourself in a position to actually achieve them.
Leave me a comment and let me know which of the three controllable I highlighted today you will be sinking your efforts into with more consistency. I’d love to hear from you!
My thoughts and prayers are with you during this time of uncertainty for your health, safety, and emotional well-being. Perhaps you’re a regular reader but we haven’t had the chance to connect.
Just know that I am here for you and you can reach out to me by sending me an email, leaving me a comment below, or messaging me on Facebook. It’s my passion and mission to educate, inspire, and enrich the lives of my audience members like you. So please don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know how I may help you. I offer this at no cost and with no strings attached. Thank you for spending some time with me today.
Karen Williams says
Hey Dr Shannon,
Hope you are doing well. Thanks for your encouragement in this virus situation (as well as those positive words for our golf rounds). I’m a little concerned with all the isolation going on and hope people are not suffering in their silence… we need each other!
Anyway, my hubby and I have played 4 days in a row, as we don’t have others to play with. Everyone Is really keeping to themselves as we are all over 60 here. I’ve been relaxed and playing so much better that my handicap dropped from 40+ to a 34!! Today however didn’t go so well and I lost my mental edge way too early and finished with a 120 (yesterday was a 105!!).
Needless to say I really needed your email and words of wisdom. I was way more focused on those things I couldn’t control so I lost control of the things I should have had control of. Too bad I didn’t read it before I played!!
Thanks again for being there. I can’t tell you how much your words and approach to the game has helped me to look at it differently, and to play better.
Karen, I am glad to hear you and your husband are still getting out and living your lives! I think it’s possible to take smart precautions and still live as normally as we can right now. Nice job! Great news on the improvements in your game! With regard to the recent rounds, not to worry. You know what to be aware of and how to get your attention back on track. And you can! I am glad you found the article a helpful reminder and you are now equipped to play better going forward. Keep reading, and keep practicing great thought habits on the course. We can never put our mind on auto-pilot. Always orchestrate your thoughts so you can keep your game on track. My prayers are with you! Shannon
Mike Thompson says
Shannon since I have established a new purpose objective of focusing on my target and the process I would choose my focus as the controllable to work on.
Mike, I think that’s great and a productive way to manage your focus during a round! Thanks for sharing!
Joachim Lange says
Hi Shannon, I am fascinated by the mental side of golf because it teaches me so much for the non-golfing part of my life, i. e. family and job. I want to concentrate on Controllable #2 – FOCUS.
Sometimes, I am overcomplicating things by thinking about too much – the last shot, the next green, a comment a fellow player made etc. I believe that for me, the key to improving my game (-17 hcp) is to focus and be in the here and now. Next time I can play again – the courses in my hometown Cologne, Germany, have been closed for the past three weeks – I will endeavour to take FOCUS to the course, mostly focussing only on one thing: the next shot. Nothing else should matter. Just “discovered” you today but I am loving it already!
Joachim, Thanks so much for leaving me a comment! So glad you discovered me and that you found this article helpful! 🙂 I think your focus on focus is great and you don’t have to wait until you get a chance to get back out there. You can start training yourself to maintain a better, more present-centered focus off the course by playing shots in your mind. Just picture a shot scenario you’ve been in when you’ve found yourself distracted by one of the things you mentioned. While imagining the situation, consider where your thoughts were getting pulled at the time versus where you want them to be. It’s important that you recognize the source of your distraction at the moment so you can stop, get your attention back on track, and only then begin your pre-shot routine. Too often golfers will be oblivious to distractions and/or try to deal with them while they are standing over the ball. You don’t want to have your focus be on anything other than your desired target while over the ball. If anything else enters your mind, you must give yourself permission to step out and restart your process. I hope that helps. 🙂