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Before you're reduced to this, listen to your 'emotional caddie.'
Before you're reduced to this, listen to your 'emotional caddie.' (.)

Dr. Al's prescription for better golf: Get an emotional caddie

Dr. Alan EdmundsBy Dr. Alan Edmunds,
Special Contributor

If you are not yet convinced that your golf emotions have a huge impact on your game, you might as well give up trying to play better golf.

Extremely satisfying golf is about hitting good shots under some sort of pressure and where there is pressure, internal or otherwise, your emotions are at play. Golfers cannot act like a bear with a sore bum and expect positive thoughts about their next shot and still expect to feel calm and focused enough to execute it properly.

Similarly, an over-exuberant high five after making a 40-footer often leads to a five on the following par three. We know that overly powerful emotions are detrimental to good golf but players let their emotions get the better of them all the time. Let me explain why this happens and then I'll suggest an enticing solution.

Nearly all golfers accept that "blowing up" can ruin their round, but it takes true courage to admit that they missed their drive on 13 because of the bad break they thought they suffered on 12. Golfers do not acknowledge that their emotions affect their game for three reasons:

• 1) Our emotions occur naturally,

• 2) Most don't think they know how to handle raw golf emotions, and

• 3) People take it very personally when told to control deeply rooted feelings.

My fundamental instruction message for fellow golfers is that you may not be able to control what happens to you on the course but you can control how you react to what happens. Ignoring your emotions is impossible but you can definitely manage yourself once they happen.

What causes powerful golf emotions?

Powerful golf emotions, high and low, occur because golfers want to be better players. Our highs happen because we feel proud and we celebrate truly great shots and our lows happen because we feel frustrated or angry about a poor putt — or three! If golfers aren't careful, this strong desire to perform can put them in a constant state of agitation and frustration because few players are consistently satisfied with golf performances.

Fred Shoemaker says that most golfers are only two bad shots away from being very frustrated. In this constantly agitated state, a golfer's emotions can easily rise up and torpedo their game. But it doesn't have to be this way. If people can keep their emotions from torpedoing their jobs and their relationships, I'm convinced they can do it for their golf game. How? Read on.

Get an emotional caddie who demands respect!

Everybody experiences powerful emotions all the time but we selectively hide them from people by changing our outward reactions and behaviors. Why don't we do the same when we golf? Simple. In golf, as long as we don't rant and rave, our emotions are private and no one is offended.

We simply don't have to show ourselves the same degree of inward respect we publicly give to others and this lets our emotions run wild. So, to keep your emotions in check, I suggest hiring yourself as an Emotional Caddie (EC). No, I'm not kidding and the job interview goes something like this:

Self: So, you want a job as my Emotional Caddie?

Emotional Caddie: Yup!

Self: Why do I need you?

EC: Because you're not doing so well on your own.

Self: Maybe not, but what do you know about my game?

EC: Everything — obviously.

Self: What are you going to do?

EC: I'm going to demand the same respect and support you give everybody else!

Self: Hey, what d'ya mean by that?

EC: Last week you told Charlie to regroup and go through his full routine when he was playing bad but you didn't do that for me yesterday on the back nine.

Self: Yeah, but I was so annoyed. I couldn't even hit one decent shot.

EC: So? That's golf. Why'd you call yourself "a hacker" for nine holes?

Self: I just felt so bad.

EC: So did Charlie. What did you do for him that you couldn't do for me?

Self: Nothing, I guess.

EC: My point exactly.

Self: So, what are you going to do about it?

EC: Whenever I sense your emotions are about to interfere with your game, I'm going to ask if you're emotionally OK to hit your next shot. If you are, it's a green light special!

Self: And if I'm not?

EC: I'll hold you back a little and remind you to use your special breathing exercise. It works great when you use it, but you're just like Charlie, you don't use the skills you already have to regroup after an emotional high or low.

Self: Sounds great. What else are you going to do?

EC: Every time you have an emotional moment on the golf course and then get yourself under control for your next series of shots, I'm going to buy you a beer.

Self: You're hired! I feel better already.

EC: I know, and we just earned our first beer!

Alan Edmunds, PhD is a golf sports psychology researcher, writer and head coach of women's golf program at the University of Western Ontario. He has helped top amateurs and university teams develop the finer mental aspects of the grand old game. His book "Golf on Auto Focus" (available shortly) addresses some of the most puzzling psychological elements of golf and his golf psychology seminars are engaging, humorous and practical. He can be reached at aedmunds@uwo.ca.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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