It recently occurred to me that while we have discussed many of the questions asked at the United States Golf Academy, I had avoided one of the most frequent, “How can I have a great round one day and be terrible the next time.” Obviously, there is no easy answer for that one. There could a million different specific reasons, but the consideration of why someone can’t play to their potential on a consistent basis is something that can keep you up at night.
As a younger man I wanted to be a tournament player first and foremost. I worked very hard on my game, but did not have the success I hoped for or felt I deserved. After hearing me complain over and over, a good friend, who was very knowledgeable about tournament golf, sat me down and gave me three things to consider as I tried to understand why I was not playing up to my expectations.
The first point he made was that you cannot play the game when you are mad. It is one thing to complain about a bad result or misfortune, but if you are still thinking about it by the time you reach your next shot, the emotions will eventually catch up with you and result in some poor golf shots, which will make you angry, which will result in more poor golf shots. Eventually, you get out of the rut because you are too exhausted to care, but by then it is usually too late.
Second, he told me you can’t play scared. When you pick a golf club and a target you have to believe you are going to hit the ball as planned. If you play scared or assume a miss, you make timid swings that lack confidence. A full swing with confidence is always better than a scared swing, even if the scared swing produces a reasonable result. If you have always played scared you will never know how good you can be.
The final point he made was, “Is it possible you are not happy with your score because you have overestimated your ability?” You especially have to understand the difference between skill and luck. The tendency is to over-estimate your ability. In my case it was too many better ball games where I made a lot of birdies, but forgot the other scores that didn’t count. Another example, if you play in a lot of charity scrambles your team score is a lot lower than your individual score would have been. In addition, you might hit some good shots, but you don’t have to string them together. In the end you have a false impression of how you played for the day. This false impression often leads to taking the game for granted and avoiding the areas of your game that need improvement. I guess honesty is the best policy in golf as it is in life.