The Resilient Golfer

In the Mind of the Resilient Golfer: Seeking Self-acceptance as the Key to Enjoyable Golf

Dr. Sam Goldstein Resilient Golf

If you want to become a resilient golfer, you have to learn to accept yourself, your capabilities and your performance. Acceptance involves possessing realistic expectations and goals, recognizing and identifying your feelings on the course, managing your feelings constructively for both highs and lows, defining your strengths and vulnerabilities and playing a balanced game in concert with the reasons you choose to play.

How would you answer the following questions?

  1. What words would you use to describe the person and player you would like to be on the course?
  2. What words would you actually use to describe yourself and your play?
  3. How far apart are the words that you use to describe your ideal golfing persona and the words you would use to describe your actual play and feelings?
  4. Can you think of a time or during a round you believe you came closest to this ideal self? What occurred that made you feel this way?
  5. Can you think of a time during a round when you felt far removed from this ideal self? What occurred in this situation that made you feel that way? What, if anything, did you do then to change your thoughts and feelings?
  6. Can you think of two or three goals or expectations that are a priority for you as you play? Are these expectations realistic?

These questions cannot be answered in a moment. I encourage you to think about them and to use your answers as a guide to achieve a resilient mindset and enjoyable golf.

To facilitate this process, I suggest three steps in the path to self-acceptance as a golfer. These steps are interrelated but I will highlight each separately.

Step One: Recognize your feelings, thoughts and coping style on the course. Your feelings and thoughts direct your behavior and the way you cope. In turn, your behavior influences your feelings and thoughts and your play. If you don’t take the time to identify and reflect upon your emotions and beliefs when you play, you are not only vulnerable to playing impulsively but to perpetuating a negative cycle in your game. On the surface you might wonder if most people are aware of the emotions they experience, their strengths, vulnerabilities and values as they play. While some people may, many are not. Many players adhere to self-defeating scripts, projecting their anger and frustration outward, hoping that an outpouring of emotion and frustration will lead to better play. Many of these players wear blinders when it comes to recognizing their emotions, understanding what triggers their emotions and sensing how these emotions impact their play.

Are there certain feelings you experience more often than others on the course? In what situations do these feelings typically occur? How do you cope with these feelings? Can you think of times when you didn’t handle your feelings effectively on the course? What was the outcome? Can you think of others times when you felt you handled your feelings effectively, especially feelings of anger and frustration? What was the outcome then? This process will help you be self-aware on the course. Self-awared players typically reflect on each shot, plan for the next shot, and allow themselves to think and play rather than play impulsively.

Step Two: Define realistic expectations and goals for yourself. Establishing realistic expectations and goals is not confined to any one aspect of the game but to the entire process, including your reasons for playing. An obvious question is what are realistic expectations and goals for you? There is no one single simple response. Why do you play? What are your goals? What vulnerabilities deter you from reaching your goals when you play? These questions revolve around assessing your strengths and weaknesses, accepting them, deciding how they become part of your goals and expectations as a player and developing a plan of action to achieve and modify these goals. Acceptance does not simply mean you adhere to an unhappy status quo. It suggests that you possess the insight and courage to say to yourself this is who I am now and this is how I play. If there are things that dissatisfy me about my game, I have the ability to establish goals and decide on a plan of action to make necessary changes. This may seem like a straightforward, common sense approach. However, the simplest approach to resilient golf is often the most elusive to most golfers.

Step Three: Play in concert with your values. We are reminded time and time again that golf is the only sport in which players can call a penalty against themselves. It is a game that has become synonymous with ethnics, sportsmanship and fair competition. To become a resilient golfer you must also ask yourself what role and place golf plays in your life. Why do you play?

Self-acceptance is a cornerstone of attaining a resilient mindset. Absence of self-acceptance makes it difficult to accept others as well. Self-acceptance is associated with self-esteem and dignity. It is a lifelong process involving an ongoing honest evaluation of your strengths and vulnerabilities as a golfer, of your goals and expectations and finally your ability to experience joy in the game. The process of nurturing self-acceptance is often filled with many challenges. However, to avoid these challenges is to ultimately play with dissatisfaction and frustration. Nearly one hundred years ago, David Forgan wrote of golf, “It is a test of temper, a trial of honor, and a revealer of character.” It is, to say the least, a mirror of our lives.

Sam Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical neuropsychologist and a member of the faculty at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Dr. Goldstein’s work and writings in the area of resilience have been in collaboration with Dr. Robert Brooks, including their book The Power of Resilience. Author of thirty one books, he is the Director of Psychology at the Golf Lab in Salt Lake City, Utah.