Hitting Bad Shots in Golf? Here’s How to Recover Like a Pro

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect" by Bob Rotella. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why are you hitting bad shots in golf? What are the benefits of responding positively to your losses?

Sore losers never get far on the course. When you hit a few weak shots during a round of golf, you need to brush it off and move on to the next round. Otherwise, the rest of your game could be ruined.

Continue reading to learn how to pick yourself up after a bad game, using advice from Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect by Bob Rotella.

Respond Positively to Adversity

Choose to respond positively when things don’t go your way on the golf course. Even the best golfers are virtually guaranteed to hit one or two bad shots in golf rounds. Given that mistakes are inevitable, you’ll need to learn how to move on from them successfully.

(Shortform note: Just as Rotella writes that bad shots are an unavoidable reality of golf, business leaders argue that failure is an inevitable part of being an entrepreneur. In some cases, the experience of failure can be a good thing, as the bitterness of failure can make your subsequent successes feel more meaningful. This maxim can also be true in golf—the disappointment that comes from a poor shot makes it even more satisfying when you hit the perfect recovery.)

Rotella notes that many golfers let bad shots derail them. Often, golfers will attribute bad shots to swing flaws and return to the kind of technical thinking that only leads to more bad shots. Or, golfers will become angry or distressed and fixate on the bad shot, distracting their focus from the next shot.

(Shortform note: Obsessively focusing on your failures can hurt your mental health in addition to your golf game. Psychologists refer to this kind of obsessive thinking as rumination and note that it’s often associated with anxiety and depression.)

Instead of letting a few bad shots ruin your round, Rotella recommends that you develop strategies for learning to accept bad shots and move on. Specifically, try to lower your expectations, learn to laugh at your mistakes, and focus on enjoying playing the game.

(Shortform note: In addition to Rotella’s strategies, it can also be helpful to perform a physical ritual to reset after a bad shot. Golf pros suggest adjusting your hat, retying your shoelaces, or performing any other physical action that helps draw your attention away from your mistakes.)

One of the best ways of dealing with poor shots is by preemptively lowering your expectations before each round begins. While you should confidently believe that you’re capable of hitting great shots, if you expect every shot to be great, you’ll always be disappointed. Instead, you should try to accept the fact that poor shots are inevitable and expect to make a few mistakes each round. If you expect to occasionally hit a weak shot, you’ll feel less deflated when it happens and more prepared to respond to it.

(Shortform note: To manage expectations, avoid making comparisons about your play. Experts note that golfers often base their expectations on their past strong shots or on strong shots by other golfers. Making these kinds of comparisons can lead to feelings of inadequacy and frustration, which can distract you from the game and hamper your performance.)

When a bad shot happens in the middle of a round, laughing things off can help to diffuse your anger and anxiety about the shot. This can be an especially effective strategy if you’re golfing with friends or a familiar caddy. Turning to others who can help you find the humor in difficult moments can turn bad shots into great memories in addition to helping you get on with your round.

(Shortform note: Rotella’s assertion that laughter can help you recover from bad shots is backed by medical science. Laughter has been shown to improve circulation, relax your muscles, and even relieve pain. If you find that you’re experiencing physical symptoms of stress on the golf course, laughter may be an effective remedy.)

Lastly, when bad shots happen, remember that golf is a game and that the point of the game is to have fun. For most competitive golfers, there’s obviously more at stake than simply enjoying a round, but Rotella argues that competitive focus shouldn’t come at the cost of sheer enjoyment of the game. Rotella recommends that you remember the reasons you chose to pursue golf in the first place and remind yourself that if you’re able to take time to spend a day golfing, you’re in a lucky position. Remembering to have fun on the course can help put bad shots in perspective, enabling you to better move on from them.

(Shortform note: Not only can having fun help you move on from bad shots, but it can also help improve your performance overall. Studies have shown that productivity significantly increases in workplaces where employees are encouraged to have fun. Not only that, but having fun has also been shown to help you retain new information, which could help you strengthen your golf game in the long run.)

Hitting Bad Shots in Golf? Here’s How to Recover Like a Pro

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Bob Rotella's "Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect summary:

  • A framework for improving the mental side of your gold game
  • Why thoughts, confidence, and strategy are more important than your swing
  • Techniques for choosing the right thoughts, goals, and shots

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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