golfer surrounded by camera crew
0 17 mins 2 yrs

Why do we falter at golf? What stops us from playing our best golf? Why do we fail to execute shots we know we can hit? Now, I am not talking about those miracle shot attempts but the stock standard stuff like pitching, chipping, and straight forward short putts. Why do we fluctuate so much in our abilities to play steady golf? This unreliability is what makes the game of golf so infuriating and maddening to us amateurs and hackers. Is it too much to expect that we can strike a small, dimpled sphere reasonably straight toward a pretty generous target? The evidence, in my own experience of late, suggests it may well be.

Why Do We Fail To Execute Shots We Know We Can Hit?

Over the last couple of years I have made a conscious effort to remove some of the negative variables from my life to improve my readiness to play better golf. I used to be a big drinker of alcohol and imbibed generously in the evenings. I found that this interfered with my sense of clarity in the mornings out on the golf course. Being hung over and generally worse for wear was not conducive for the fine motor skills required for delicate things like chipping and putting. So I gave up drinking eventually for a number of reasons – one of which was golf. This has improved my experience of playing golf and has constructively contributed to lowering my handicap. I used to love drinking and how it made me feel at the time. I did not enjoy how it made me feel in the mornings. Now, I wake up without that dry, furry mouth and that blurry state of consciousness lasting hours. The balance tipped toward sobriety and my golf definitely benefits.

What stops us from playing our best golf - Golfer on the bridleway
Golfer on the bridleway by David Anstiss is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

What Causes Crap Shots & Bad Golf?

I immediately noticed that I had more energy out on the course and in my life more generally sans alcohol. Of course, we adjust to things after awhile and the new clarity becomes par for the course. Next, I turned to my mental state and how I prepared for competitive golf. Thinking about a hundred and one things during a round of golf is not helpful in my experience. Real life is forever banging on the door of my awareness, however. Thoughts and worries about work matters can often impinge upon our concentration levels out on the course. I needed to quarantine these concerns and separate them from the moments when I was playing shots and plotting a strategy around the links. Similarly, relationship troubles are difficult to manage when they threaten your status quo. I have seen fine golfers reduced to angry hackers thrashing their way through the rough when burdened by marriage difficulties. These things need to be sorted out obviously and peace needs to be restored on the home front. You cannot consistently play good golf if you bring your troubles to the course.

So, what stops us from playing our best golf? Golf demands precision and this can only be achieved via a clear slate ‘tabula rasa’. Everything must come together in perfect synchronicity to produce a great golf shot. All those moving parts must reach a conjunction at the moment of impact to result in a solidly struck iron or fairway club. How in the world will that happen if you are all over the place, both mentally and physically?

Actually, it is a minor miracle that many weekend warriors ever achieve that moment of orgasm with clubface and ball. Is it any wonder that we sometimes stand back dumb faced in awe at a well struck drive down the fairway.

This is why the golf professionals all recommend practice. Practicing our short game in particular will produce more enjoyment of the game and lower our scores. Most golfers don’t have time for practice, according to market research. So, as part of my renewed application to golf I greatly increased the amount of time I spent on the range and at the chipping and putting practice areas.

What Stops Us From Playing Our Best Golf? - Golfer vintage drawing
Golfer vintage drawing by The British Library is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

In addition, I had a series of lessons with PGA instructors in a bid to get my golf swing on plane. I have had around 25 individual lessons over the last couple of years and joined a high performance group for a weekly lesson over a few of months too. All of this has greatly increased my enjoyment of the game and raised my golf swing awareness by some margin. Yes, there are still days out on the links when I am  all at sea but not so often as I once were. What you put into the game in terms of an investment of time and money pays off in spades with golfing IQ and Intel. You begin to feel like you know what you are doing out there more often. Having someone show you what to do and practicing those skills via drills enhances your ability to pull those shots off on-course when it matters. If you do not know what the fundamentals are to begin with, you are blind to them going forward. Every golfer needs a trained eye to look over their swing and golfing technique to see if they are on the right track. We all need this evaluation on a regular basis to ensure we have not got into some bad habits over time too. You cannot see yourself swing the club so you require another pair of eyes – eyes attached to someone who knows about the golf swing.

Salient Points to Consider

  • If you stuff up simple shots you have a problem.
  • If you cannot trust your swing something must be done.
  • Ask yourself if your lifestyle supports your golf?
  • Are you focused and mentally clear during your round?
  • If not what can you do about it?
  • Have you invested in your golf swing and golf IQ?
  • Do you have trained eyes on your game?
What stops us from playing our best golf? person in white pants playing golf
Photo by tyler hendy on

As golfers we are all unique individuals with varying levels of commitment to the game. If you are a once-a-week player with no time to practice that is your status within the game. Depending upon your natural talent and previous experience you will play at your level for better or worse. There is no crime in that but go easy on bemoaning your mishits and fluffed shots because your limited investment offers little room for improvement. Mental clarity on the day will help you get the best out of yourself, however. A healthy body and a healthy mind will make those four plus hours on the golf course less challenging.

Walking the course, if you can, is better for your golf and for your physical wellbeing. Golf is all about the lie of the land and the natural rhythms inherent within the golf swing.

Robert Sudha Hamilton

Getting in tune with this is achieved more easily by walking the course. It is the difference between walking around the streets where you live and someone driving past in a car – the whole experience is far more gratifying for the walker. Monkeys weren’t made to fly by in a rapidly moving vehicle.

What stops us from playing our best golf? man in blue shirt holding bags
Photo by Jopwell on

What stops us from playing our best golf?

We only make cursory visits to planet golf. Modern men and women have so many thoughts whizzing around inside their heads they only engage superficially with their golf game. They are present but not totally. It is like stepping back in time the whole playing golf experience.

Homo sapiens hitting a stone-like sphere with a stick. To make a good swing we know that we have to slow everything down. The internet wont help you here. This mode of behaviour is almost anathema to our sped up digital lives in the 21C. Playing good golf is like going back in a time machine to a more sedate era. A pre-computer time where a stick and a small hard ball was enough for a man or woman on a mission. Our expectation that we will turn the clock back for four to five hours and execute perfect shots for the duration is completely unrealistic. Many don’t practice because they find it boring without the structure of the game to entertain their hopes and fears. How often in the rest of your life do you golf objects? How often in your real life do you adjudge distances to roll small balls on smooth surfaces? How many times a day do you strike something with a club? We do not do stuff like this outside of golf. It is an ancient pastime and our fine motor skills are lacking in this regard due to the infrequency of performance and practice. This is why we cannot manage to consistently execute these seemingly simple shots. We may have a good day on the links every now and then. Then the following time we venture out we have a shocker for some unknown reason. It is the nature of the beast. Harvey Pennick used to write that an old fashioned weed cutter was good practice for the golf swing. Of course, in our time whipper snippers are motorised and not much use for emulating the golf swing. We live in an era of mechanised, computerised labour saving devices at every turn. Swinging a golf club is an ancient practice and we know what modern folk think about practicing anything – sounds too much like hard work.

The North British Railway golfers and anglers guide (guidebook)
The North British Railway golfers and anglers guide (guidebook) by North British Railway is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0

Our own reality stops us from playing our best golf. The fact that we spend the greater part of our lives seated on our behinds. The fact that we move from air conditioned comfort at home to an office or shop similarly comforted by every mod con available including our luxurious cars.

Life is easy, our lives are soft. Golf is not! That hard little ball has no sympathy for your whining and moaning about misdirected shots. The grass, dirt, and trees, the wind and rain, the water in the pond – none of these things cares about your feelings.

Golf is governed by physics, all those hard angles and planes. Golf gives not a fig for your indulgent and pampered lifestyle. Golf is a hard game. This is why it is often played by lean and mean individuals without an ounce of fat on their frames. The archetypal golfer from years gone by was an acerbic Scot, as reedy as his one iron and with no time for overfed, stuffed Englishmen. Motorised golf carts and Americans have changed the face of the game but deep down its very soul remains the same. Its birth was on a windswept coast where hardy sheep and goats mowed the heather. Cold and wet conditions, with sand and fescue beneath the feet of the intrepid golfer called forth great skill to be displayed. There was no fanfare, however, in these bleak and blustery climes. Golf was from the very beginning an internalised contest, where the battle raged inside each competitor to strike the required shot. Golf is a lot about judgement. The golfer must adjudge the right amount of force with which to strike the golf ball. It has been played with stones, hair and feathers wrapped in animal skin, gutta percha, and seen the evolution of today’s high tech golf ball. Clubs have morphed from sticks into iron, steel, and staffs made of fine strands of wound graphite. The grey shades of black and white tug at the sleeves of the brightly clad modern golfer. The history of the game lives on in the fact that we still all have to wield those clubs ourselves. There is no push button, touch screen easy alternative. Golf at its heart is judgement day. Every time we are faced with making that shot – it is judgement day. The old men with long beards may be missing (apart from John Daly) but the ancient flavour of the pastime remains.

What stops us from playing our best golf? Golfers vintage drawing
Golfers vintage drawing by The British Library is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

What stops us from playing our best golf? The vast majority of golfers today are fair weather friends to the game. We pick and choose our contests and challenges. We spend large amounts of money on high tech clubs in the hope that our golf will be magically transformed via technology. Shiny surfaces and golf balls enclosed in little boxes made of glittering cardboard – these are the hallmarks of golf equipment marketing. The swanky golf professional has been with us since Walter Hagen in the first half of the 20th century. These men were the sponsored sporting heroes of the small ball game. Names like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Tiger Woods would walk tall through the pages of golfing history. Equipment manufacturers would saddle their wagons to these thoroughbreds of the game. Golfers of all abilities would become walking billboards for the makers of mass produced clubs and balls. Weekend warriors and hackers gladly wear caps sporting the names of makers like Titleist, Callaway, Ping, and Taylor Made, to name a few. We pay these companies for the privilege in the hope that the badge will make us look like we belong out there. The golf course, however, often has other ideas. We think that we do our best but I am not so sure. Dressing the part, on its own, will not make us better golfers. We may own the best sticks and use the best ball, but are we a house of cards just waiting to fall apart? We may don the white belt and white golf shoes. We might even watch a few YouTube videos of our favourite golfers on tour. We tune in to the goings on at PGA tour events. We hover on the periphery of the game.

Do you smell the stale sweat inside your old golf glove when you pull it on? Do you feel the grooves on your wedges prior to heading out into the green cathedral? Do you count the number of clubs in your bag? What is the wind doing today in terms of direction and speed? How are the greens?

Do you limber up with some practice swings? Some golfers use weighted clubs or just grab a couple of irons. The smell of that old glove sends a message to my brain that it is time to compete. As Walter always says, “are you ready to do battle?” Even the weekend warrior needs to find the right mindset before heading out into his or her round. Go get’ em Chief! Remember to be here now, when you swing! Be here now in this very moment! Be present. Take dead aim!

Robert Sudha Hamilton is the author of The Golf Book: Green Cathedral Dreams.