The Mind Game Part V: Surviving when the swing isn’t working

Golf performance coach Paul Dewland is coaching me on the mental game. My apologies for the delay in posting, but I was camping with the family in glorious Canadian Shield country enjoying big rocks, forests and clear lakes. I intended on writing about the club championship at Blue Springs this upcoming weekend, but I felt compelled to write about trying to play when you don’t have confidence. That should tell you about my chances this weekend.

As I’ve become more educated about the mental part of golf, I’ve learned an important lesson: I may go through my pre-shot routine with the Nicklausian focus and precision, but if I lurch at the ball like a man possessed by demons and a case of ticks, well, the ball ain’t going long and straight.

According to the gurus of golf, I know that I’m supposed to be confident, trust my swing, and dance with the one that I “brung” to the course that day.

But if one shot sails left OB and the next balloons right, there’s no trusting or dancing. It’s more like fear and loathing. And yes, my last few weeks on the course have been a riot.

Performance coach Paul Dewland acknowledges this grim reality: “If you don’t have a swing that’s working, you won’t play with confidence,” he says flatly. “It just won’t happen.

“When you’re struggling out there, you have to accept your current swing. You don’t have to be resigned to it, but you have to accept what you’ve got on the course that day and ride it out. That helps you make the best of the swing you have.“It’s important that you don’t panic. Instead, be confident that you’ll eventually get back on track. You’ll take a lesson, work it out on the range, or whatever, but you’ll work it out.*

“And you will shorten the learning curve if you approach ‘working it out’ with curiosity rather panic or worry. You cannot learn while you’re worried; you only get better at worrying.”

Paul adds that if a golfer focuses on, for example, fixing her slice, then it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, he advises that a golfer focus on the process of hitting good shots.

“Ben Hogan had a fascination with the process of making good swings, and used the ball as feedback. He had an insatiable curiosity for swinging the club correctly. He wasn’t looking for quick fixes.

“To play at a high level, you have to know why the ball flies the way it does, you have to understand swing concepts, and you have to understand yourself. You have to be self-aware.

“People who become really good golfers are students of the game. They take lessons, read, and talk with other players about the finer points of the game. They have an appetite for how the swing works, and they work on applying that knowledge and experience to their game. That’s how you get better at this game. It’s like going to school.

“Namely, you have to understand how to use your body and mind to swing the club to hit good shots. Players who score well are aware of the ideal state that they need to be in internally, such as being calm but feeling athletic, and that they need to be confident in their swing.

“If you approach those times that you lack confidence as a learning opportunities rather than failure, you will improve.”

Thanks coach. That’s way easier said than done. But it sure beats driving a golf cart off a cliff because I can’t hit a fairway or make a putt.

As a friend says, this is a big topic. More on this next time.

*And I’ll report on my lesson with Annie Mallory of the Core Golf Academy at Piper’s Heath GC in Oakville, Ontario.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a performance coach, an award-winning writer, Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team and Mental Performance Coach at the ClubLink Academy at Glen Abbey. He is co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and a leader in training in the ManKind Project. He gets all excited when he helps people tap into their brilliance.

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