Howard gets the heck out of golf hell

Note: When I originally wrote this in June for Canadian Junior Golf Association magazine, Howard was so distraught over his game, he was ready to quit golf. There are weightier issues in the world to grapple with, but if you love the game, you’ll relate to this tale of misery and woe. Spoiler alert: It has a happy ending.

No matter how much you love golf, you’ve also hated it.

It’s hard to imagine that the game you work so hard at and excites you can drive you to the point that you feel like quitting.

IMG_0514It’s golf hell. And we’ve all been down there.

But you can get the heck out—and you might be surprised how.

You can learn a lot from the odyssey of my friend, student and co-host Howard Glassman—AKA Humble, the legendary radio personality—a “golf nerd” who sports a handicap factor of about 1.5 and plays in high-level tournaments around Ontario.

For one of the most entertaining and compelling conversations that you’ll ever hear about golf hell, I invite you to check out on Show #22 of our Swing Thoughts podcast. During the show, Howard bares his troubled golf soul to guest Richard Zokol in hopes the two-time PGA Tour winner can exorcise his golf demons. (Click here to download the show.)

Here’s a condensed version of their exchange, which I believe all golfers can relate to.

Howard: Earlier this year, I was playing some of the best golf of my life. The game seemed easy, and my worst scores were 75s and 76s. But now, I hate golf. I shot 96 in a tournament. And I have a qualifier coming up, and I know that I should qualify because I’ve beaten a lot of these guys, but … I’m playing as bad as I possibly can.

Every break I get seems to be a bad break. I’m thinking, ‘I’m as good as that guy, I’m better than that guy,’ but I don’t seem to be able to access my natural ability. So I’m having compulsive thoughts about my golf swing, about my process. And in recent tournaments, I haven’t been able to get results. It’s brutal.

Richard: That’s because you’re emotionally attached to future results. The harder you push into your compulsive thoughts, the worse it’s going to get. You throw in a big tournament and you’re magnifying it times 10. Most golfers are in this boat. I’ve been in it and it was killing me. It was like me with the lead of (PGA Tour event) Anheuser Busch Classic in 1986. It was hell. I was writing down bogey upon bogey on national TV. I realized I needed to learn from it.

Howard: How did you get out of golf hell?

Richard: Like (the late Canadian legend) George Knudson said, ‘You have to give up control to gain control.’ Give up your logical thought compulsiveness. It’s not easy when you’re that far down the rabbit hole. Once you find yourself going down there, you must have a plan for something else that you’re going to do instead. You’re going to have to learn to get your conscious mind into the present moment.

In many ways, Zokol was telling Howard things that we’ve worked on and that he already knows, such as the importance of practicing acceptance and not identifying himself with his scores and so on. All students of the game have heard this.

But there is a tremendous difference between knowing things and actually doing them.

The tendency, as Glassman exemplified, is to try to figure things out, work harder, and fixate on swing mechanics but that compulsiveness just prolongs the torment in golf hell. In many ways, you are just feeding more energy to the raging fire of emotions that are burning within you.

How to get out?

Make a choice to do something different as Zokol described. Mostly, it means stop what you’ve been doing and make a different choice for what you want, rather than what you think you must do.

Although he had just got some wise advice from Zokol, Glassman was despondent after recording our podcast. I’d never seen him so down. I asked what he felt in his body, and said he felt like the game was weighing him down.

“That makes sense,” I said. “You’re carrying around your expectations, hopes and emotions like a sack of rocks. You’ve got a choice to make here: continue feeling burdened or do something else. What would you rather be feeling?”

“Lighter,” he said immediately.

We agreed on this strategy: During his next game, every time that he became aware that he was obsessing or feeling strong emotions, he would (a), stop and (b), focus on feeling lighter.

That was it. Nothing more complicated than that.

A few days later, I received a long email from Howard. He had determined that in addition to lightening up, he was going to “return to an intention of gratitude and present focus and perspective. It’s a Game. I was going to talk to myself like I would if I was my own caddy… I was going to stop calling myself a jerk and offer some words of encouragement.”

At the end of the email, he reported his score from that day: 72 with seven birdies, the most he’s ever made in a single round.

Glassman went from golf hell to golf nirvana, even if just temporarily as happens to all golfers.

Trying to find your A game is a little like trying to capture a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it eludes you. But if you relax and stop trying so hard, you might be surprised to find that it lands lightly on your shoulder.

Tim O’Connor is a writer and Mental Performance Coach at the ClubLink Academy at Glen Abbey, and co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast. For information on coaching, contact him at 519.835.5939 or












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!