Confident Golf: How Comfortable Are You?

Quote of the day: “I always like to see a person stand up to a golf ball as though he were perfectly at home in its presence.” Bobby Jones

Confidence (part 2) – Comfort’s Influence on Confidence

In the last newsletter we talked about confidence – your belief in your own skills and abilities. You already know that being more confident can help you make smoother, more consistent swings, and you usually score better when you play with confidence. Confidence is also a precursor to playing “in the Zone”, so it is a key skill we’d like to develop. We usually think confidence is one of those things we either have or don’t have. But in the last newsletter feature story (Confidence – You Are In Control), I suggested that you may have more control over your confidence than you would initially think, and I made reference to three key components of confidence: Comfort, Concentration, and Commitment.

In this newsletter we’ll examine the first of the three C’s of confidence – Comfort – and recommend specific action plans you can use to take more direct control over your confidence the very next time you play to help you score better and have more fun.

Comfort. We’ve all had that feeling of standing over a shot knowing we’ll pull it off even before we hit it (high confidence). Conversely, we’ve also faced shots knowing in advance that we would have trouble (low confidence).

But if you dig a little deeper into these situations you may discover something interesting about your comfort level with that particular shot or situation and how it relates to and influences your confidence level: When you are comfortable your confidence comes easily; when you are uncomfortable it is very difficult to make a confident swing.

The goal, of course, is to always make confident swings.

We may not be able to influence our confidence directly. But we can influence our comfort level – through our shot strategy.

For instance, part of good course navigation is planning in advance to put your self in situations where you know you’ll be comfortable with the next shot. Knowing the type of shots you are comfortable hitting can help you develop sound course navigation strategies.

Of course we often find ourselves in challenging situations on the golf course (though usually not by choice!). Rather than give in and make a swing that won’t have much confidence behind it, the key in these situations is to come up with alternatives that will give you some measure of comfort so you can make a confident swing. That usually means evaluating different alternatives.

So the first step in influencing your confidence through your comfort level is to understand why you are not comfortable. That will usually be a function of one of two variables:

1. The physical demands of the shot, or
2. The mental demands of the situation.

Physical Demands of the Shot:  Let’s say your drive has left you with a 220-yard approach shot that’s uphill to a green surrounded by hazards. Your first thought is that it’s a par 4, and you’re supposed to hit the green in two. But a 220-yard, all-carry hybrid is a stretch for you. You might … maybe … if you hit it absolutely perfectly … carry the trouble and make the green.

But how comfortable will you feel over the shot? Not very. And what do you think the odds are you’ll pull off the shot? You’re far more likely to second-guess your strategy mid-swing and tense up or bail out, bringing the hazards into play and risking double-bogey or worse. The answer is to find alternatives.

Change the Rules: If you are a Star Trek fan you’ll be familiar with the Kobayashi-Maru conundrum. It’s a test administered to star fleet cadets to assess their leadership potential and ability to make tough decisions. What the cadets don’t know is that it’s a no-win situation: the test is rigged so no matter which decision they make they lose. James Kirk was the only cadet to ever win and pass the test. But how?

Years later we learn that he hacked the computer and rigged the system so he could win. Think about that. Rather than accept a no-win situation, he changed the options in order to be successful.

You can use the same philosophy on the course to stack the odds in your favor. Pedal to the metal, straight at the pin is not always the best choice. Instead of trying to rip a 220 yard hybrid – a shot you can only pull off 1 in 10 times – use the 80/20 rule to pick shots you know you can execute 8 out of 10 times. Hit a 9-iron to 70 yards and then hit your sand wedge to the pin. It’s not sexy. It may not be “manly.” But it takes the possibility of double-bogey or worse out of the picture. And your scorecard does not have a column for “how manly.” Just the score.

The key question to ask yourself as you are deciding your shot strategy is how you can rig the system so you hit shots you are comfortable with … where you know you can succeed. You’ll make much more confident swings and be much more likely to hit quality shots.

Remove the Pressure: You can use the same process when the mental demands make you uncomfortable, except in this case it’s all about removing pressure.

Splitting the fairway with your drive on the last hole of a tournament when you have a 6-shot lead is easy. Hitting the same drive after you’ve just blown a 6-shot lead is excruciating. Same hole. Same shot. But a completely different level of pressure.

The important thing to remember about pressure is that it is self-imposed. You are the only one who can put pressure on yourself. You are also the only one who can ease the pressure.

Now there are a number of techniques to address pressure: relaxation breathing, imagery, and positive self talk are three of the key tools you can use. It’s worth your time to find out which techniques or combinations work best for you.

But it’s your philosophy I want to address here: you want to adopt conservative strategy so you can make aggressive swings. Ask yourself “What is the pressure that is making me uncomfortable?” Then ask “What choices can I make so that I am comfortable?” Often just deciding on a different navigation strategy where you know you are going to be hitting shots with which you are comfortable will remove the pressure and allow you to make confident swings.

So remember, you don’t have to take the conventional route to score better. The next time you play, try the “conservative strategy, aggressive swings” approach and select strategies where you know you will be comfortable and can make confident swings. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with lower scores and more enjoyment.

What do YOU Think? (post a response on the blog)

1 Response

  1. Kevin says:

    Very well written reasoned article Eric. But, what ‘s the mind up to when you are feeling confident, relaxed and looking forward to the shot that you set up to, exactly as (well you think have) before. Take a smooth practice swing, go for the shot and *%$£@!?…… It could be topped – shanked – hooked – sliced – whatever. And here’s the ‘but’ – But I didn’t do anything different. Obviously I did. But what? If the mistake can’t be figured out there and then confidence is shattered because the next shot might produce the same result. Eventually you would probably discover what it is you did wrong. Too late though. And to get that out of the back of the mind is so hard. Any advice? Thanks, Kevin.