How do you respond when your shot doesn’t go the way you hope?

Many golfers respond with harsh self-judgment. Some also blame the course, the weather, other distractions. “Swing and then swear” is a common pattern.

Do self-judgment and blame ever help your golf game? Probably not. They work against the calm, focused clarity needed to achieve your best performance. And they rob you of some of the health and happiness that time on the links can otherwise provide. You also risk carrying this negativity beyond the 18th hole to clubhouse, home, and office, making you less pleasant to be with both on and off the course.

If you are an experienced golfer, you know rationally that many of your shots will not go where you hope. Yet, just before you swing, it is easy to become attached to a hoped-for outcome. This attachment is what sets you up for increased tension as you swing and a self-sabotaging, negative reaction to any disappointing results. (You may recognize this as similar to reactions you sometimes have when things don’t go as you hope in your work or relationships.)

Fortunately, there’s another way — one that is healthier for your golf game (and your overall life performance). That other way is to respond without attachment to your shot’s outcome, choosing instead to see each result as neither good nor bad but rather as “interesting” or an “opportunity.”

How could a bad shot be seen as an opportunity? Well, it might alert you to tweaks needed in your stance, swing, choice of club, etc. Or the new lie of your ball might provide a fascinating learning challenge. And, of course, bad shots always provide opportunities to practice accepting yourself and your shots. By choosing to make each shot a learning opportunity, not a pass/fail test, you are adopting a “growth” rather than a “fixed” mindset.

Don’t expect to make this powerful shift in perspective overnight. It takes focused mental practice to change any self-sabotaging habit (just like changing your golf swing). Improving your acceptance of self and circumstances on the golf course will likely not only improve your golf score and enjoyment of the sport, but can also have a positive ripple effect in many other areas of your life.

So as you approach each shot, remind yourself that calm, focused clarity is an invaluable strength for you as a golfer and as a leader, and that you have in front of you on the golf course a beautiful opportunity to cultivate that strength. If you would like to explore using a coach to help you build your life and leadership strengths, let’s chat. I would be glad to help. Reach me at

(Previously published in “Golf Digest.”)

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