Golf is a wicked game that can build you up, then let you down—whether you’re a pro or a 20-something handicapper. Yet, anyone who plays the sport is drawn back to it, sometimes to be rewarded; other times throttled.
The highs and the lows are frustrating for the weekend player. So, just imagine what it would feel like to play golf for a living—when your financial livelihood depends on it. On the PGA tour, a missed putt could mean a missed cut, lost income—and potentially, the loss of a tour card itself.
With so much at stake, how do the PGA tour pros cope?
We caught up with some of the tour’s finest at the 2016 AT&T Byron Nelson Golf Tournament in Irving, Texas, to find out the answer. What we ended up with were some great tips that we all can use to regroup and recover when those double bogies get us down.
Watch What You Say (and We’re Talking that Little Voice Inside Your Head)
When a golfer hits a slump, the Negative Nellies come out of the woodwork with posts and predictions, but most golfers take that in stride. It’s more important to go after the hater they can control—and that’s that little voice inside of their heads.
“Sometimes we get used to certain self-talk. We say things to ourselves that are negative, and we say them so much that we become numb to it,” said Sean O’Hair, a 34-year-old, seven-year tour veteran.
O’Hair is a big proponent of sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, author of Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, Golf is a Game of Confidence and numerous other titles extolling the connection between mental fitness, positive self-talk and great golf.
“One thing that Rotella has taught me is the value of keeping a journal for a week, and writing down all the thoughts going on in your head. When you take a look at it, you’ll notice what you’re really saying to yourself. It’s pretty amazing some of the negative things that you say.”
For O’Hair, keeping his mental golf game healthy is one of the most challenging parts of being a tour pro.
“It’s easy to go out and beat balls all day,” O’Hair said. “But, it’s hard to actually take the time off the golf course and just think or meditate about what’s really going on.”
But, it could be the thing that changes the game.
Visualize the Good Shots When the Bad Shots Come to Call
Mark Wilson does a lot to keep life in balance. He and his wife, Amy, are heavily involved in numerous children’s charities. On the course, he counters a few bad shots by focusing on something from the past.
“I try to think of the best shots I’ve ever hit. That’s the key—although it’s easier said than done,” Wilson said. “I think people tend to dwell on the negative. Think about it—in school, they put check marks beside the ones we got wrong—society does the same thing. So, we’re naturally focused on fixing what’s wrong, instead of focusing on what we do well.”
The same thing happens on the golf course.
“We tend to dwell on our mistakes—on the bad shots—which does you no good at all in a tournament. If you could just remember the best three or four shots you’ve had all day, and focus on those, you’ll improve your performance,” Wilson said. “If I’m in a lull; if I’m not playing well, I continually remind myself that I’ve done this before, that I’ve hit some great shots and I try to relive those shots to give myself more confidence. It really makes a difference.”
Enjoy the Game—and Remember How Lucky You Are to Be Playing It
Leftie Brian Harman is seven-year tour pro who likes to keep things simple. He always uses a quarter to mark his ball, he always carries peanut butter sandwiches in his golf bag, and, he always tries to remember, good or bad, how great it is to play golf for a living.
“It’s important to remember that we’re really blessed to get to do what we do. Our offices are outside, on beautiful golf courses, and not a lot of people get to say that,” Harman said. “I try to remind myself of that when things aren’t going well. I try to remember how lucky I am to be out there in the first place. “
Even those of us who don’t play golf for a living can use that advice. To enjoy the pure pleasure of playing golf a little more—particularly during those less-than-stellar rounds.
“You’ve got to find a way to enjoy the game. The good breaks and the bad breaks—and everything that goes along with it,” Harman said.
In golf, as in life, the best players know how to enjoy the ride.