Stop Catastrophic Golf Thinking

A Lesson From My 4 Year Old

I have a four year old daughter.  Those of you who are parents will be shocked to know that, on occasion, she can be dramatic.  Me saying, “You can’t have a cookie right now,” turns into her shouting, “You said I can never have cookies ever again!!!”

As I reflected on this kind of catastrophic thinking is, I realized that golfers engage in their own version of it all the time.  In this lesson, I’ll discuss how to recognize it, why it’s harmful, and how to stop it.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You think about worst-case scenarios on the course

You feel tense or nervous when you golf

What Does Catastrophic Golf Thinking Look Like?

Everyone has experienced the first tee jitters.  They’re the result of catastrophic thinking.  Whether you fully spell it or not, what you’re thinking is, “If I don’t hit a good shot, then _____.”  Perhaps that blank is “Everyone will laugh,” or it could be “I’ll play badly all day.”

Catastrophic thinking can also take place after a shot is hit.  It’s natural to be disappointed in a bad swing, but when it turns into some version of, “This is what always happens” or “I’m terrible and will never hit a good shot,” it becomes damaging to your game.

Why Is It Harmful?

There are two major problems with catastrophic thinking.  First, it creates tension and pressure.  When you believe that the next shot will decide whether you have a good or bad day, whether people will admire or ridicule you, you’re going to get tight.  No one plays their best golf when they’re feeling that way.

Second, thinking about bad results will lead to more bad results.  To use an old cliche, “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right.”  If you spend all your time between shots thinking about how you’re a bad golfer who only hits shanks, you will hit more shanks.

How Do You Stop It?

First, realize that catastrophic thinking is factually incorrect.  In golf, every shot counts for one on the scorecard, so one bad swing cannot ruin your round.  Additionally, while you may take some ribbing for a bad shot, no one really cares how you play (more on that HERE).

Once you can recognize catastrophic thinking and have realized that it’s not true, you can break the cycle.  If you find yourself panicking before your first tee shot, inject your self-talk with some facts.  “This tee shot is no different than the thousands of drives I’ve hit before.  I’m going to give a good effort, the result will be what it will be, and I’ll move on to the next shot.”

If you aren’t one for giving speeches to yourself, you can also defuse the situation with a deep breath and a smile.  And you can promise yourself a cookie when the round is over.

Matt Saternus
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