Three weeks ago I had a dreadful start to my round. It started very badly. With no hope of a low score, I stopped chasing a decent number and changed my mental approach. That decision has improved my game ever since and I think I know why.
Beware brothers bearing gifts
On the first tee par 5, my brother, Neil, gave me a gift of 3 new balls. Slightly harder than my usual soft ball but nice and shiny none the less and even better – free. My drive reached an impressive apex of about 6 feet, but straight and it kept rolling. My 3 wood did a similar thing. I topped it. So far, not great but it was early days. My wedge to the green was so thin. It shot low and left and buried itself under the lip of a greenside bunker. 4 shots later I was out but miles from the hole. My putts were woefully short and I carded a 10. Ten!
A slight improvement
The next hole was a repeat performance – topped drive and 3 wood followed by a thinned wedge to the back of the green in a ditch. I added a ragged 8 to my card. So what on earth was going on? Why was I suddenly thinning almost every shot? And then it dawned on me.
I usually play with a yellow ball. Neil had given me a skin of 3 white balls. When I put them side by side, the white ball looked a tiny bit bigger to me. Of course it’s exactly the same size, but to me, the new shiny white ball was standing out more than the yellow ball in the sunny conditions. Was this illusion telling my brain to stand a bit taller and swing through a bit higher at impact causing the thinned shots? That excuse felt plausible to me so I immediately changed back to a yellow ball and within a few holes I was back in the game. With a decent score a distant ambition – sub 100 would be good – I radically changed my approach to the round. I was going to experiment.
Fear of shot shaping
Free from the pressure of trying to win, I set out to try some different shot shapes. I normally hit my shots pretty straight. So let’s change all that. With every drive and approach, my goal was to shape the shot to suit the hole. I started to draw and fade. Still not great but the intended direction of side spin was there. The next learning was the starting line to suit the amount of the draw or fade. But it was getting over the fear of hitting a straight shot into the hazards to the side of the fairway that was my main mental barrier.
The final hole
The 18th was going to be the final test. Go right or fade it too much and you’re in the woods or on the practice ground with a walk of shame to find your ball amongst the hundreds of others. But my ball is yellow. Problem solved. So with driver in hand I aimed for the clubhouse window beyond the practice ground. Madness! I set up for a draw and threw the club out. It started on line, sailing right over the trees before a nice left turn. And it kept on going, coming to rest in the middle of the narrow approach to the green. One of my best and longest ever drives on that hole.
Learning from disasters
I had shot 96 and I was so pleased, not with the total, but with what I had just learned. I had stopped fearing the risks of failed shot shaping and trusted myself to do something different. My next rounds were 86 and 78 so a turn for the better. And best of all, my shots are starting to do the same – mostly.
“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.”
Shakespeare knew a lot about golf.
What do you learn from your nightmare rounds? Let us know in an email to email@example.com and we’ll mention some of the best in our monthly newsletter.
Paul Hart is a founding director of PuttBANDIT Ltd, co-inventor of the PuttBANDIT Ball Marker and enthusiastic improver.
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