A little awareness goes a long way in shooting low scores

Swing Thoughts podcast pards: GSL (aka Howard Glassman on left) and me

You may assume that golfers who have a chance to break 70—whether they’re elite amateurs or professionals—are super chill, but they have the same anxieties as anyone on the precipice of possibly breaking 120-110-100-90 or 80

All golfers have that rare round where they become conscious they have one hell of a score going, and realize, ‘Holy crap, today could be the day!’ 

Inevitably, however, we start to worry about screwing it up.

Unfortunately, our brain wiring is partly to blame. Our most basic instinct is survival. In stressful situations, we’re programmed to think about what could go wrong, and take action to prevent it. That’s helpful in the jungle, but not for playing golf.

Our minds can race, our heartbeat quickens, and our muscles tense. In this excited state, some golfers unconsciously start walking and swinging faster. Many golfers, in trying to ensure they don’t screw up, slow down and get careful.

Unfortunately, this is when things can go sideways. Our easy swings now feel laboured. What was fun is now serious business. Eventually, we start making mistakes, we desperately try to stop the bleeding only to make things worse, and the possibility slips away.

So what can you do?

I believe it starts with awareness—becoming aware of what’s going on. That sounds pretty obvious, but most of the time we don’t know what’s going on within us. Mostly, we’re reacting in the same ways we always do when we’re stressed, but we’re not aware of our patterns.

However, if we become aware of what’s happening, we can respond rather than react.

Howard’s recent experience with his possible breakthrough score is an excellent example.

With six holes to play during a men’s night competition at par-72 Glencairn GC in Halton Hills, Ontario, he was two-under. “I started to get a bit nervy, forward-casting and imagining my name on the email that goes out as the ‘low gross’ and so on.”

He bogeyed 13, which dropped him back to one-under. “That snapped me back into the present.”

For the next few holes, he focused on his breathing, feeling the earth beneath his feet, and looking up at the horizon—techniques rooted in mindfulness that help keep us calm and in the present. 

On the par-three 16th, he nearly holed his tee shot to drop to two-under, and then he birdied the short par-five 17th.

It hit him—if he could par 18, he would shoot 69 for his lowest score ever at Glencairn, and do it under tournament conditions, no less.

“Now, I’m definitely sucking air in at a furious rate,” he quipped.

Jacked up with excitement, he unconsciously steered his drive, and smother hooked it.

He recognized what was happening to him. He noted that one of his partners mentioned something about millennials—Howard has two adult daughters in that cohort—and he earnestly engaged in the conversation.

Listening intently and watching his partner’s faces with curiosity all the way down the 18th hole kept him in the present moment. He was aware that this would help him, and enjoying conversation is a big part of golf.

Understandably, he was “overly cautious and pull-smothered” a seven-iron into a greenside bunker 20 yards from the hole. He blasted out to 20 feet away.

“I knew what the putt meant,” he said. “I didn’t tell myself to, ‘get it to the hole.’ I was committed to lagging it and if it went in, great. If not, 70 is a good score.

“And as soon as it left my putter I knew it was in,” he said, and relished the moment with a fist-pump.

As we discussed on the podcast, Howard said his breakthrough round at Glencairn had a lot of “ho-hum” moments, he plotted his way around strategically, and he hit his share of bad shots.

But he also said awareness helped him make his breakthrough.

Next time you’re on the verge of a breakthrough, you may find yourself becoming a whole lot worried. Instead, you might try a little awareness.

To learn techniques that will help you quiet your mind and achieve your breakthrough, check out my online course: Lower Your Score With Obedience Training For Your Golf Brain. 

And for lots of great golf nerd musings and fun, check out the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman and I. 

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!