Mind coach Gary leboff explains how to manage your expectations on the golf course to produce positive results
You may recognise this scenario. It’s a beautiful morning as you stride onto the tee. The sun is shining, your game is just where you want it to be and you fully expect to shoot the lights out.
Four hours later and it’s all gone to pot. One mistake has led to another, confidence evaporated as the round wore on and the scorecard is as average as ever.
A golfer’s form is rarely predictable, but most play well when expectations are lowest. One of the pivotal jobs for a sports psychologist is to provide a foundation for consistent performance from which excellence can regularly emerge. Here’s a question even the pros get wrong: when does a round of golf begin?
The first tee is far too late; golf is not like a light bulb that can be turned on and off. Nor is the answer a) on the practice range, b) putting on your spikes, or even c) driving to the club.
A round of golf begins between 12 and 18 hours before you get to the course. At a conscious or subconscious level, most golfers are anticipating, contemplating or stressing about their round almost a day in advance.
I ask sportspeople for a number out of 10 to describe how intense they feel when entering the competitive arena. Ten is ideal for boxers, footballers should aim for a seven – but golfers who score themselves above a three are too agitated and will find it hard to stay calm on the golf course and control your anger.
Staying calm when you need to demands preparation. Signs of excessive intensity include rushing your food, driving too fast and shortness of breath. Eat slower, walk slower, breathe slower, be slower. The choice is yours – do what you’ve always done and you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.
Another problem for golfers expecting to play well is trying to stay grounded this prevents them for managing their expectations. It’s not as easy as it should be, because the heady prospect of success can be intoxicating.
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I work hard to keep my players grounded at all times. One of the disciplines I ask them to follow is to feel the ground beneath their feet while they walk around the course. It may seem a bit esoteric but the benefits of this exercise are immense. Here are some of the effects you can expect:
a) The pulse rate slows
b) Awareness improves
c) You stop fretting about the last shot or worrying about the next one
D) You stay in the present – an essential prerequisite for entering “The Zone”.
Another tendency for the more excitable golfer is to set aside course management. In the heat of the moment, they forget to play their normal game and attempt to pull off shots even Tiger Woods might consider ambitious.
I demand that my players – and I do mean demand – create a strategy for each hole in advance of a round.
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They have to know, preferably by heart, which club they will use off each tee, which side of the fairway to aim for, which iron to hit and which side of the pin provides the best birdie opportunity. Having a Plan B (to deal with, for example, a change in wind direction) is also imperative.
One of many benefits of having a clear course strategy is that it clears the mind on the tee. It’s like pressing a reset button. Your subconscious will relax when it is prepared, when it isn’t you’ll start to feel a sense of panic.
No matter if you’ve just come off an eagle or a double bogey, clarity of purpose cools the emotions and provides you with focus for what lies ahead.
I’m the first to admit I can be a killjoy. I do not want my players bounding onto a golf course like some exuberant puppy in possession of a toilet roll. Patience, confidence and a composed mindset are the ingredients that deliver success. By all means look forward to your round, but keep your anticipation on a short leash.