Practice, Practice, Practice
When you are at practice, you should be training every aspect of your game. This includes the physical aspects like putting, chipping, and ball striking, but being the master of your emotions is the most important thing that you can practice.
My freshman year of college, I had a terrible habit of letting go of my club with one hand on the range when I hit a bad shot. Of course, whatever you do in practice is going to be reflected when you play, so I would often one-hand shots or drop my club on the course. Coach didn’t like seeing this. He sat me down in his office one day and told me that I needed to stop doing it. He said that some of the members at the golf course had started asking questions about me because I was showing negative emotions so much, and that reflected badly on the team and him.
Thankfully, he was also a very supportive coach. I don’t remember how long it lasted, but every day at practice for at least a month, he would come out to the range with me and watch me hit balls. There were 2 purposes to this. First, he could help me understand why I was hitting bad shots and spot things in my swing that I might be able to improve. Second, every time I let go of the club, he made me do 20 sit-ups before I hit another ball.
Having a negative feedback loop like that changed the way I practiced in a hurry. To this day, I’m still not perfect, no one is. Every once in a while I will one-hand a shot on the range or the golf course, but it is a much more benign reaction. There is no emotion behind it, and as soon as I see where my ball finished, I’ve forgotten about the shot and moved my focus to what I need to do to recover.
Waste No Energy
One negative reaction may seem insignificant in the moment, but think about how much energy it takes to play a golf tournament. Between the physical strain and the mental focus, it’s no wonder the best players in the world make sure to schedule days off. With this in mind, it’s really important to save as much energy as possible through the things you can control to give yourself the best chance at performing well.
How does reacting negative waste energy? Everything your body does, inside and out, requires energy. Any extra movement, thoughts, reactions, changes to your natural balance are going to deplete your energy source on some level. One reaction, one stray thought, one cuss word may seem insignificant, but those adverse reactions add up. Over the course of 54 holes, you would be surprised how much better you feel if you never react to a bad shot.
This is something that I experienced for the first time when I won the National Championship. It was one of the first times in my life that I can remember when I never reacted negatively to a shot or situation. I was in a state of total inner balance, and as a result I was able to put all of my energy towards playing to the best of my abilities. It’s no coincidence that this also happened to be the week that I collected my biggest win so far in my career.
The other issue with negative reactions is they spiral out of control. Once you drop your club once, it becomes easier and easier for that reaction to happen again. Our brains can’t tell the difference between positive and negative emotions in situations like this, they only know that we had a strong reaction, and assume that we want to repeat that scenario. So what our brains do is make an effort to repeat the motion that produce the strong reaction (i.e the bad shot) and are therefore primed to waste more energy on another bad reaction. Once you get caught in the spiral, it’s incredibly hard to get out, so it’s best to avoid it altogether.
Professionals in a variety of different fields have come to preach the benefits of deep breathing exercises. Learning the right way to practice deep breathing and implement it into my everyday life changed me in such a positive way it’s impossible to put into words, but I will do my best.
I was rudimentarily taught the art of deep breathing in February of 2019. As in right before I started playing some of the best golf of my life. I had heard people talk about deep breathing as a means of reducing stress, but I had never been inclined to try it myself. Once I did, I immediately noticed some changed.
Within 2 minutes of the first time I ever tried proper deep breathing, I could feel my entire body relax. I personally carry a lot of tension in the muscles of my neck and shoulders, and for the first time in years, I could actually touch my ears to my shoulders without any pain or discomfort. Because my muscles weren’t so bound up, I was also able to move better. My flexibility and balance, which are 2 essential elements of golf, both improved immediately.
Later that night, I noticed a difference in my sleep pattern. I fell asleep faster, slept more soundly through the night, and woke up feeling more refreshed. This was the most welcome surprise for someone who hardly ever slept through the night before.
Deep breathing is a more precise art than you might believe, however. When you first start, it is important to keep a few things in mind.
- Fill your belly – on your inhales, don’t breathe into your chest. Focus on pushing your belly button out and down. This allows the diaphragm to expand down into the abdominal cavity, which increased the ability of the lungs to get a full breath. There are a number of benefits to this, but what’s most important to know is that you will actually feel worse if you breathe into your chest instead of your belly.
- Loose Focus – don’t be too narrowly focused on your breath. Be aware of it, but also be aware of everything else around you. When you first start, its best to close your eyes. This will help you to both focus on your surroundings and feel the changes in your body as you relax. On your exhales, push the air out through your mouth as if you were breathing through a straw. This will help to ensure that you are not rushing your breaths.
- You will know when it works – I can’t explain the sensation that happens when your deep breathing works, but you will know. It’s a sort of blissful rush of calmness that overcomes you, and your worries and stresses seem to melt away. It doesn’t take long to reach this feeling, and the more you do it, the better you will get at it.
Golf is a game that can be played in many different ways. Angry is not one of those ways. The art of controlling your emotions is one that I believe should be taught before a child is ever handed a club. Regardless of your ambitions in golf, by controlling your emotions you will set yourself up to lower your scores and have more fun. And at the end of the day that’s all we can ever hope for.