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Good 9, Bad 9 - "Comfort Zones" in your head and the Art of scoring.

Every golfer will be able to find rounds of their own that match the following scenarios. How many times have you played a fantastic front 9 and follow it with the worst 9 of the year? Conversely, how many times have you shot the worst 9 on the front and suddenly turned it on, playing great on the back?

What tends to frustrate us is that we end up shooting what we usually score, regardless of the scenario. I’m fascinated by what’s going on in both of these situations and I think the following explanation may help us understand this clearer.

A weird twist of fate, luck or the golfing gods conspiring against us? Maybe, but I have a tendency to believe that there is something more going on inside our minds. And it’s having a direct effect on what we shoot and how our rounds can spectacularly fall apart or recover just in time.

If you’re a 90’s shooter and you have a huge desire to break 90, 89 can seem elusive. Just imagine the scenario. You’ve played well on the front shooting 40. You’re swinging freely; you’ve had no “blow up” holes. You’re keeping it together. On the 13th Hole, whilst still going along well, a little thought pops into your head and whispers…, “I could break 90”.

Suddenly and seemingly inexplicably the wheels fly off; you follow a double bogey with another and then send 2 balls into the pond on 16. You collapse to a back 9 score of 51, to record a very respectable 91, decent, for a 90’s guy like yourself.

Try the second scenario. One week later. You’re awful on the front 9, can’t swing the thing. You try everything you can think of but you’re all over the place, lost balls, 3-putts and a demeanor that would curdle milk. You shoot 51 and are wish the world would swallow you up.

Suddenly and inexplicably, something switches in your mind. You’re past caring but you birdie 12. Two pars later, you birdie another one. You cruise down the stretch and shoot 40 on the back… and shoot exactly the same number as last week. You leave the golf course with a spring in your step and take the positives from the day. Onwards and upwards.

It appears to me that, every golfer has a number in their minds that they shoot. If you ask them, they’ll tell you what it is. What’s also apparent is that people will go to great lengths to convince themselves that their number is accurate. If you believe that you shoot 91 and can’t go lower, you won’t. If you believe that your number’s 91, you won’t shoot higher either. No matter what happens on the golf course, you’ll come in with a number that fits into your “Comfort zone”.

As humans, we have comfort zones for all facets of our busy lives. We make decisions and take actions to allow us to stay safe in these, even if it causes discomfort, in the short term. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all had moments on the golf course that we get too excited as we head for a record low score, only to fall apart under the weight of expectation. The fear of success unravels as much as the fear of failure. Conversely, we’re able to drive ourselves enough and grind like crazy to turn a bad front 9 into a decent 18 hole score. The result puts us back in our safe zone again.

As a golf instructor, this has nothing to do with swing mechanics and everything to do with the players’ psyche. How do we convince ourselves that our number is lower? We have to somehow convince ourselves that a lower score is perfectly within our grasp. It’s not luck or the golfing gods. It’s possible and more likely, if we stay out of our own way and just let it unfold.

Alternatively you could find ways to stop caring about score. This has more merit and is easier to manage. Of course, we are going to think of score. We get a reminder every hole when we put a number in the box on the scorecard. What we must avoid though is thinking of what we might shoot as we’re over the ball. Imagining a birdie on a hole before you’ve hit the green is motivational, but full of the dangers of over confidence. Alternatively, thinking of the pain of shooting an 8 on a hole has inherent dangers too.

Focusing solely on the shot at hand and dealing with all the necessary details of that shot can alleviate our desire to think of score. Leave the scoring of the game to your playing partner. Leave the scorecard in the golf cart or in your bag.

Controlling your emotional connection to the numbers on the card is so important. You’ll hear some of the world’s best say that they never look at the score board when they are in contention at a big tournament. Or you'll hear, "I didn't even know that I shot 62". I don’t know if that is exactly true (or possible!), but it’s obviously something that has required comment. The secret is not to get ahead of ourselves. Imagining either possibility of a record low score or a record high, is likely to destroy our ability to concentrate on what we need to, in that moment.

Whatever way you feel you should approach your scoring, know that staying in the present and with the shot at hand will reap better rewards.

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