Banishing the golf demonsPublished 8:17am Monday, June 11, 2012 Updated 12:19pm Monday, June 11, 2012
It happens every summer. Every year I think I can avoid it, but I have determined it is unavoidable.
I call it the golfing doldrums. It’s usually a time sometime in the early to midseason when I simply don’t play as well as I have. Early on, after a long winter, it’s a treat to simply be golfing, and since I haven’t been playing much, expectations are low.
After a few rounds, however, it’s difficult not to tamp those expectations down. And if your game, as mine has, fails to meet, or even come close to, those expectations, frustration ensues.
In the past month, my handicap has increased by three strokes since last summer — the product of a series of below-average rounds.
As usual, the short game is the culprit — missed short putts, bad long putts, duffed and skulled chips, all of which add strokes to one’s score.
What’s worse, my practice sessions would suggest that my issue is mental more than technical. When I practice, I can effortlessly drain short putts, and stick long putts and chips within inches of the cup.
Of course, I realize this refrain —great in practice, can’t take it to the course — isn’t unique to myself.
Anyone who has followed the Twins this year, particularly the play of pitcher Francisco Liriano, understands the “practice-play” paradox. With a fastball in the mid-nineties and a nasty slider, Liriano has as much talent as any pitcher in major league baseball.
And in pitching sessions that don’t mean anything — spring training, bullpen sessions or mop-up roles in blow-out games — he’s unhittable.
Yet, when games have relevance, Liriano turns into a middle-aged batting practice pitcher.
In virtually every sport, but in golf and baseball especially, trying too hard is a real issue.
For even the most talented baseball players and golfers in the world (Liriano, Tiger Woods), a series of bad shots, plate appearances, or pitches can stain one’s confidence.
And when someone starts to doubt their ability, the tendency is for one’s conscious mind to try to “control” the movement of our hands, arms, hips, shoulders and feet.
Except it doesn’t work. There are so many precise muscles that need to be moved to hit a good golf shot, your conscious mind can’t control it. It would be like consciously controlling one’s circulation or liver functions.
So when someone tries to consciously control his or her golf swing, the inevitable result is a bad shot (certainly in my world).
The best advice I could offer Liriano, and myself, would be to relax, stop putting undue pressure on one’s self and get your mind out of the way.
Of course, the most recent round I played, my game seemed on the upswing, and I scored one of the better rounds of the year.
While I certainly have been practicing, the more likely answer was, after a brutal front nine, I essentially gave myself a break on the back, and stopped pressuring myself to hit good shots. The result was, by far, the best nine-hole round I played all year.
Similarly, Liriano has had two consecutive good starts in a row.
The million-dollar question for Liriano and myself is, of course, can it last? Can I get the “demons” out of my head telling me I’m a bad golfer who can’t make a good putt or chip, and simply relax and let it happen? Can Liriano stop telling himself he can’t get anyone out, relax and let it happen?
For the sake of my own golf game and the Twins, I hope so.
But believe me, it’s harder than it sounds.