mad-golferIn this job I get to see the professionals play golf quite a bit. People often ask me what’s the difference between a Tour professional and an amateur? Do they hit it further, do they putt it better? The answer is yes, they do hit and putt better but the single greatest difference between pros and amateurs is how they handle making mistakes.

Take for instance Thomas Bjorn. He was the first guy on the range at Carton House on the Monday before the Irish Open. He practiced his swing and his long game with his coach for about four hours, chipping for two and putting for another two. His clubs are custom made to suit his consistently repeating swing. Yet when Bjorn went out for nine holes that evening he didn’t expect to hit every shot out of the sweet spot of the face; maybe three or four perfect strikes would be what he was expecting.

Then you have the amateur, racing to the golf course on a Sunday morning; hasn’t played since the previous Sunday. Jumps out his car ten minutes before his tee time, feverishly blasts 15 drives into next week on the range and runs to the tee box. His clubs are mix of Christmas presents and some irons he got cheap on DoneDeal. Yet the first ball that hooks viciously out of bounds has him ripping mad for the day.

Professionals realize that golf, as Bob Rotella puts it, is not a game of perfect. It’s actually a game of mistakes. They however, don’t let mistakes affect them mentally, they don’t compound an error by making another, and they don’t get psyched out.

For amateurs on the other hand it’s a slippery slope. Thoughts after the first lost ball might go something like “Why did I hit that big hook? What if I hit another one like that? I’ll run out of balls. This hole is going to cost me a tenner in Pro V1’s. That bloody pro ruined me with that lesson last month. I was grand until I met him. Waste of bloody time. I might go in after nine.”

So how can an amateur be more like a pro? One way is to use the Tiger Woods approach. He allows himself 30 paces down the fairway to call himself everything under the sun after he hits a bad shot. Then his attention switches fully to executing the next shot as good as possible. That’s why you hear commentators saying so often “Tiger never gives up,” even when he is playing poorly.

Another method is to use your handicap as your bad shot allowance. If you’re a 12 handicap, allow yourself 12 mess ups per round. Every time you hit a poor shot, it’s no problem, just subtract one from your allowance.

Developing the acceptance of mistakes and the ability to recover quickly is as valuable to an amateur as spending an hour beating balls on the range. Next time you’re out on the course and hit a bad shot, put it behind you and make the next one a good one; you’ll enjoy your golf more and see your scores improve.

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