By Ralph Cissne
Southern California Golf, April 2002
Every golfer experiences moments of doubt. No other game provides more opportunities for gut checks and self-evaluation. Who hasn’t been humbled in the following manner? With great skill, you hit an excellent approach shot, bow gracefully to the thunderous applause of your companions and walk triumphantly onto the green. Then you stand over a four-foot birdie putt and feel the cold and certain clutch of fear grip your throat? “What if I miss it?” you ask yourself, initiating the probability of failure. “I will look like a fool.” A better question is, “What are you thinking?”
Whether it is a four-foot birdie putt or a 190-yard carry over water, fear is the beginning of the end of your scoring opportunity. Fear in these situations often rises from reflex reactions to our most negative fundamental thought about ourselves, which for many people is: “I am not good enough.” As a child your family, friends or teachers may have used harsh words to criticize you or your behavior. They may have said you couldn’t do this or that. It is not unusual for a small child to accept such statements as fact. They are not. Such criticism is often intended to protect us; however, these misguided negative offerings can cut deep. Find a way to forgive these detractors, let go of the past and move on. What’s the purpose of holding on to thoughts that bring you down? Better to choose a point of view that serves your objectives now. The world is how you perceive it to be. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to make the most of the opportunities we’ve created, in life and on the golf course.
“Everyone misses four-foot putts,” you hear people say, but there is no logical reason to think about missing them. Golfers frequently make statements like, “I can’t hit a three iron.” Or, “I can’t putt on these greens.” How can promoting incompetence possibly help them improve their scores? The intelligent choice is to focus on the result. On the greens, take a few deep breaths, visualize the ball rolling along your chosen line and dropping into the center of the cup. See this clearly in your mind. Tell yourself you are “the greatest putter who every lived.” Share this affirmation with your regular foursome. Amuse yourself, have some fun with it, knowing when you relax and fill your mind with positive imagery and a sense of accomplishment, there is no room for fear and failure.
Learn to build momentum in your round by feeding off your great shots. When you hit an iron close to the pin, rather than jumping up and down and screaming gratuities to the golf gods, choose to maintain your emotional balance. Smile and politely tip your cap to your companions, but conserve and redirect your energy. Relax and be aware of the profound sense of satisfaction flowing through your body. Be confident and know you may access this heightened state of accomplishment whenever you want. Relax, enjoy the moment and focus your attention on making the putt because you are, after all, “the greatest putter who every lived.”
There is no substitute for good instruction and plenty of practice. Practice with purpose and confidence. Develop a consistent pre-shot routine to align your body and lock in your intended target. If you really want to improve, commit to a teacher and a regular practice schedule with heavy emphasis on wedges, chipping and putting. The more confidence you build into your short game, the more success you will experience overall. And don’t be seduced by the dreaded demons of distance. What’s the point of being long and wrong? Learn to hit it straight first then go for distance.
Most importantly, focus on the finish, on what you truly want to accomplish. Practice visualizing the flight of your shots and, when you complete your swing, holding a balanced finish until our ball lands on the target. Maintaining balance is essential to building a consistent, fluid tempo. Lighten up and loosen your grip on your old bad habits. Think of your swing as an expression of your natural rhythm. Hold that thought and learn to take deep breaths to release the tension in your body. Learn to relax and embrace the possibilities of playing the game of your life. Celebrate your great shots and don’t beat yourself up should something go wrong. Be confident you will recover. The beauty of golf is there is always room for redemption. Remember, you are the greatest… Play well.