Salvaging a Round That’s Headed in the Wrong Direction

If there’s a sport filled with more emotional, and mental ups and downs than golf, I haven’t heard of it.  The sheer elation after making a birdie, followed by the despair after making double bogey on the following hole, is schizophrenic.  Very rarely do we have those rounds where everything clicks.  

On the other hand, there seem to be plenty of rounds that start out poorly, and only proceed to get worse.  The reality is tough rounds are going to happen.  The only way to prevent them is to give up this maddening game entirely. 

But what if there were some ways you could save a round that’s headed in the wrong direction?  Some hacks (pun intended) that would allow you to keep your composure?  If any of this sounds familiar to you, read on.  I’ve compiled a list of best tips to keep the wheels from falling off when you don’t have your best stuff.

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Slow Down

Having taught and played golf for more than 30 years, one of the most common mistakes I see players of all levels make is playing too quickly.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for maintaining a steady pace of play.  How you go about your business from one shot to the next, is another matter. 

When most golfers start to struggle, their tendency is to speed up.  All of a sudden, there’s a need to birdie the next hole because they just bogeyed the previous.  Pre-shot routines are forgotten.  Playing to the safe side of the flag goes out the window.  More often than not, this sense of urgency leads to compounded mistakes and increasingly high scores.  

Even though it seems counterintuitive, the best thing you can do after a few bad shots, or a tough stretch of holes, is slow down.  Get back to the basics.  Be deliberate about your pre-shot routine.  Slow down your breathing.  Choose conservative targets. 

By paying extra attention to the little things you normally do instinctively, you redirect your attention from whatever unfortunate event just occurred, to the process of what’s in front of you.

Dance with the Partner You Brough

This is one of best pieces of advice I ever received from my college coach.  He always stressed that warming up on the range before the round isn’t where you find the magic pill for your golf swing.  Some days, you’re going to hit it better than others.  It’s on those days that you don’t quite have your best stuff, that you’ve got to make due with what you have. 

Maybe you’re not hitting your driver down the middle like you normally do.  Instead of fighting it and risking wayward shots, hit a club you know you can find the fairway with.  Are you catching your irons a touch thin?  Try taking one more club on your approach shots and swinging easy. 

At the end of the day, scoring well isn’t about how great your good shots are.  It’s about managing your misses.  If you’re able to avoid big mistakes and big numbers, you’ll find yourself shooting respectable scores, even when you’re not on top of your game. 

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Respond Instead of React

Throughout the course of a round, chances are you’re going to hit a number of poor shots.  Whether it’s missing a short putt or mishitting a drive, it’s bound to happen.  And you’re going to be upset with yourself.  The key is not letting it impact your next shot or the rest of the round.

In his book, Zen Golf, Dr. Joseph Parent talks about emoting after a golf shot.  This is the process of allowing yourself a limited space and time to be frustrated, upset, and analyze what worked or didn’t after a particular shot.  It’s a healthy process, as you need to release whatever energy you have built up. 

However, it’s important to leave the results and feelings of the last shot behind before you start preparing for the next one.  Having a specific point or trigger when you let go helps.  For some players, it’s when they put the club back in their bag.  For others, it’s a breathing exercise or positive affirmation.  It doesn’t matter what method you choose.  The key is to have a point where you accept the last shot and move on to the next.

Stick to the Game Plan

We’ve already discussed the tendency for players to start moving faster after a bad shot or hole.  Another part of that is deviating from the game plan.  Let’s say you just made a big number on an easy hole and the next one is a risk reward par five.  You’re in the fairway and faced with a decision of going for the green in two.  It’s into the wind, over water but, if you can pull this shot off, you can erase the mistake from the last hole. However, you normally lay up and leave yourself an easy wedge shot, taking a big number out of play.

Is reaching for that 3-wood the best choice?  On occasion yes, but most of the time, no.

It’s like a gambler chasing his losses.  More often than not, they just dig themselves deeper.  Patience is a virtue.  Going away from your game plan usually results in more penalty strokes and frustration. 

When you find yourself frustrated after a bad shot or hole, it’s wise to stick to your guns.  In this particular circumstance, it’s best to lay up.  Hit a wedge on the green and take a big number out of play.  After all, why wouldn’t you stick with the plan you know has brought you success in the past?

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One of the hardest things to do in the game of golf is accept results.  A low score or a high score.  A great shot or a poor shot.  If you think about it, a 300-yard drive counts the same as a tap-in.  One shot. 

Sure, it’s understandable that you’re going to be more excited about some shots throughout the course of a round than others.  However, they all only count as one shot.  That’s why accepting results for what they are and nothing more, is critical to maintaining a level head on the golf course.  If you’re able to adopt this mindset, you’ll be well on your way to managing your mistakes, and not letting them affect you after the fact.

All good putters know that the most important aspect of putting is speed.  When you have good speed, the putts you miss end up a lot closer to the hole.  As a result, the number of three and four-putts you have decreases significantly.

To do this drill, all you need is three tees and three golf balls. 

To set it up, place a tee 20 feet from the hole, another at 30 feet, and the last at 40 feet, all on the same line. 

Final Thoughts

If you’re an avid golfer, you know all too well the highs and lows that come along with playing this crazy game.  One moment golf seems effortless and the next, you’re asking the golf gods what else can go wrong. 

The key to navigating the ups and downs is how you handle adversity.  Do you get angry and make irrational decisions after something unfavorable happens?  Or are you able to maintain your composure, stay in the moment, and give the next shot your full attention and commitment? 

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