Sports psychologist Gary Leboff explains how to control your anger on the course to trun your frustration into a positive for your game

By and large, golfers have a reputation for equanimity – an inate ability to stay calm under pressure. A reputation that, in my experience, is completely undeserved. Too many golfers are great balls of fire, unleashing their fury on clubs, trees or themselves.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it worked. If throwing your clubs or swearing at volume led to better scores. Sadly, it does not. What it does do is cause your game to implode and self esteem to shrivel. Throwing a tantrum is none too impressive if you are past your fifth birthday.

Anger Management is an important part of my work. Helping people overcome anger issues produces significant benefits in the workplace and at home. Control your anger on the course and you will also play better golf.

One of the prime causes of anger are RIGID beliefs about how we think things should be. Everything in life is right or wrong, positive or negative, black or white, good or bad. That even extends to what kind of golf I should play.

anger on the golf course
This way of thinking is, at best intolerant. At worst, it is BRUTAL. Individuals who behave in this way are relentless towards themselves and terrifying to those around them. Their misguided struggle for perfectionism keeps them in a place of dissatisfaction, refusing to recognise their achievements for fear of easing up. Unsurprisingly, given their harsh perspective on life, such people are ANGRY.

Some of you reading this column may already be wincing. Angry golfers are at the mercy of what psychologists term ‘The Reptilian Brain’ – the part of our minds that becomes active in threatening situations. Unfortunately, The Reptilian Brain makes little distinction between being attacked by a wild animal and hitting a poor golf shot.

If you have difficulty keeping cool on the golf course, ask yourself this:

a) What expectations do I have of myself (e.g. breaking 80, 10 GIRs, hole every putt under six feet). Make a list of everything you expect of yourself – WRITE THEM DOWN.

b) Now go back through your list, take one expectation at a time and ask – is this realistic?

Angry people set the bar at an unreasonable height. They persuade themselves that striving for perfection is noble – then beat themselves up for failing to achieve goals that were never attainable in the first place.

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Another trait of angry people is putting a personal spin on impersonal situations. I have worked with people in business who feel aggrieved if their e-mails go unanswered for 15 minutes. It never occurs to them that the other person may be in a meeting or out of the office. Bad drivers, late trains, your football team losing – none of these are about you. Grab that pen and sheet of paper again:

A) In what circumstances do you get angry or irritated on a golf course? Who says or does things you take umbrage at? What do they do? Here are five things golfers do that tend to infuriate other golfers…

B) Go back over your list and ask yourself – what meaning do I attach to this event?

For instance, if missing a three footer is on your list, what are you telling yourself when that happens ? (“good players don’t miss”, “I hate that green” “I can’t putt under pressure?).

All that actually happened is you missed a putt. The rest is your interpretation. You have given the missed putt a meaning. You MADE IT UP!

C) Find an alternative, PRODUCTIVE meaning: (I usually make those/ that was a one off/my stroke was good but the green wasn’t). If you must tell yourself a story, make sure it’s one that works in your favour.

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Golf can be a great way of venting your anger. After all, one of the best things about the game is it gives you something to HIT. But golf has a ruthless way of finding your weak spot. Keep getting angry with a club in your hand and golf will give you plenty of reasons to explode.

  • Yeti owner

    Most of the time I am fine on the golf course, even if things are going wrong all around me, however there are a few days when I just cannot hold it in. Normally when I am playing in or behind very slow groups when I lose my rhythm and interest.

    I have yet to break a club, or take it out on a playing partner (or caddy… Sorry Mr Allenby!) but I have come close at times. I also find that if I can start laughing at myself I can defuse how I feel. A Mars Bar and a Coke also seems to work, so maybe I just get low on sugar!