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The Mind Games We Play
For many golfers, the thrill of playing their best-ever front nine is enough to jolt them right back to normalcy. Why is it so? There cannot be a simple explanation for it, or sports psychologists would be unemployed. However, I would like to take a shot at maybe explaining this phenomenon as best I can.

There are some harsh ways to say it, like choke, or that you are afraid of winning or of losing. So whether or not you decide to take the brash approach and call yourself a choking dog or if you attempt to quickly expel it from memory like it never happened, the mental approach to handling the situation is the answer.

I believe that there is an explanation. It is related to your comfort zone, and by this I mean that if you play better than ever before you have escaped your comfort zone. So in order to become comfortable with your score, you accidentally play poorly on the back nine and turn that potentially great round into an average one.

The main reason why we know it is related to how comfortable you feel when playing is because there is another trend that occurs toward the end of the round. I would like to call it the "oh well" phase. Around the 16th hole, you have blown your round back out to normal, and you know this because you have been anxiously counting your strokes and trying to predict what your outcome will be. Does this sound familiar? "If I can only par the last 6 holes, well the last 5 holes, well the last 4 with maybe a birdie on one of them..." And then it arrives -- "OH WELL" -- and then what happens? You relax, forget about your score and par the last 3, just missing your personal best round by a single stroke. So if we see that a pattern is building in our games, believe it or not, this is a positive step, because patterns are easy to correct compared to erratic occurrences.

There is also a suggestion for handling these situations, and please note that I did use a plural because you will be constantly faced with this for your entire golfing lives. I call this solution my "THREE Rs FOR CONQUERING AMEN CORNER" -- Routine, Rhythm and Raw Willpower.

The pre-shot routine can be your saving grace when trying to turn the corner, as adversity affects the unprepared golfer and not the one with a plan. The pre-shot routine is your plan and it involves three things. "See it" -- You have to visualize the shot you want to hit. "Feel it" -- You have to take a practice swing to help relay the mental image of the shot to the physical swing. "Trust it" -- You have to believe that this process works and commence the swing without inhibition. Your rhythm throughout this routine must also be smooth, calm and deliberate. This is very important because it helps to ease the mind into trusting the swing. If your rhythm is skittish and jerky, it exhibits lack of trust and panic. And finally in the list but first in the round, raw willpower -- Resist the urge to count your score before you're finished and in the club house. If you are able to resist and play one shot at a time, you will succeed if not delay the "Zone Alert." And if you realize that you are slipping because you are trying so hard to keep a good round together, go straight to your rhythmical routine and let it guide you home.

Good luck in golf and life, and remember...

In order to release your true potential, try not to lock it in by focusing on score. Evaluate your round by how well you maintained your routine and your attitude.

 ©1999 Craig Hocknull
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