Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect

Perfectionism in Golf
Golfers Try To Be Perfect At An Imperfect Game

Golf is anything but a game of perfect, that’s according to my mentor at UVA, Bob Rotella. in his book “Golf is not a Game of Perfect.” Golf is inherently a game of mistakes.

The winner in golf is often the one who most effectively deals with their mistakes. If golf is an imperfect game, why do some many golfers set the expectation of perfection during a tournament? Golfers say, “I am a perfectionist” as if it the ultimate mindset for achievement. Many consider that if you shoot for perfection and miss you will achieve excellence. On the contrary, the opposite is true… missing the mark of perfection usually leads to mediocrity.

Perfectionist golfers have some advantages, such as a high work ethic, commitment, and are goal oriented. However these advantages of being a perfectionist in golf are overshadowed by the many disadvantages…

The Big Problem with Perfectionism in Golf

Perfectionism is oppressive. Perfectionism sets unrealistic expectations.

As the gap between where you are and where you want to go becomes bigger, so does your level of anxiety. Perfectionism creates tremendous pressure to perform and unbearable anxiety because you are trying to attain something that is impossible. Trying to be perfect in a round of golf causes you to have knots in your stomach, tension in your muscles and negativity in your mind. How can anyone play well under those circumstances?

These perfectionists are their own worst enemies and they self-destruct on the golf course because of frustration and inability to deal with mistakes.

As soon as perfectionist golfers hit a poor shot, their round is ruined because they miss their goal of perfection. These golfers experience such negative emotions after a bad shot, that they act out on the course by throwing clubs, cursing, berating themselves, etc. If you attempt to be perfect or play the perfect round, you will be disappointed every time. Fortunately, the beauty of golf is that you don’t need to be perfect because no one you are playing against will be perfect either.

6 Pillars to an Optimal Golf Mindset

Manage your expectations – Perfectionists set the unrealistic expectation of eliminating all mistakes. This unrealistic expectations sets you up for failure because golf is truly an imperfect game.

Shooting for perfection does not raise your game up as many golfers believe. The pursuit of perfection has quite the opposite effect. Perfection hinders play because you allow yourself no room for error… That is a tremendous amount of pressure to heap upon yourself. The goal should be to minimize mistakes since you can never play a mistake-free round. Remember you don’t need to be perfect to play great golf.

Control what you can control – While belief you can hit different shots and trust in your ability to make shots is critical, you need to have the logical understand that once the ball leaves the club head, you have no control of the result.

Factors like course conditions, wind, bad hops, uneven ground, and anything that happened in the past (even your last shot) are beyond your control. Any attempt to control uncontrollable variables is futile and will stir negative emotions. Negative emotions only serve to take you out of that zone where you play optimally. You can’t make effective shots if you are fuming over the last few bad shots.

If you can accept that there will be some bad breaks during a round of golf, you will be better prepared to manage your emotions and prepare for your next shot. While bad shots will affect your score, how you react to these shots will have a greater bearing on what you shoot. Make a case for yourself – You need to stop beating yourself up after every bad shot.

You will have plenty of detractors throughout your golf career. Don’t join them by negatively judging your play. Mistakes are a part of being human. No human is perfect. In fact, you would never hold another golfer to the standard of perfection or yell at them after missing a 3-foot putt.

So, don’t torture yourself. Ease up on yourself… give yourself a break and give yourself permission to make mistakes. Recall the times you made that great recovery shot. Fight for your abilities instead of making a case against yourself.

Golf is a game of recovery – Of course you are going to hit some bad balls, miss relatively easy shots and drive the ball in no-man’s land. The key to successful play is how well you recover from mistakes.

If you can recover from your bad shots sooner than your opponents, you will put yourself in position to place higher. So there is no time for negativity and feeling sorry for yourself. After your ball lands, no matter the result, start thinking about your strategy for the next shot. Look to become a recovery expert. If you can master the recovery shot, you will be viewed as the recovery master.

Focus on the present – The present is where you need to play and where you need to stay. You can’t change the past. What is done is done.

Carrying your mistakes with you from hole to hole is like replaying a golf horror show in your mind. You may not be able to erase the bad memory but you can certainly push the stop button on those mental tapes… Projecting what might be your final score vaults you into the future and adds extra pressure on every shot you take.

The best place to be is in the “now.” Now is the happening place. You need to frequently ask yourself, “What should I do now?” to keep yourself focused in the present. Your reaction is everything – Your reaction is your choice. You can choose to dwell on a bad shot and feel sorry for yourself or you can choose to stay calm and maintain your composure. Either way, the choice is yours.

Negative reactions don’t set you up for better shots. Negative reactions provide no benefit to your overall play, not at all! Negative reactions create negative emotions that linger from hole to hole. Anger makes you tight, upsets your rhythm, distracts you, switches you to your analytical mind, causes you to criticize yourself, makes you second guess your mechanics and produces poor play.

Accept that “golf is not a game of perfect” as Bob Rotella says. “Calm, relaxed, focused” should be your mantra. Your reaction affects your current action and your future satisfaction.

Strategy for Golf Excellence

  • Success never requires you to be perfect; it just requires that you keep swinging and focus on playing the best shot you can at that moment.
  • Train yourself to accept that you can’t be perfect in golf and mistakes will happen and move past them quickly.
  • For a period of three weeks, create a phrase that you will repeat after every bad shot: “Rebound,” “It’s just one shot,” “What can I do now?”
  • After three weeks, note your progress. If you can master this strategy, you will soon notice better scores and regain that enthusiasm for playing golf.

Want to learn more about how sports psychology can help perfectionists? Check out my golf psychology coaching programs.

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