Recently, my husband and I were playing a round behind an excruciatingly slow-moving couple.  They appeared to be beginning golfers as evidenced by their shared bag and clubs.  In addition, they waited way too long for the foursome ahead of them to clear the green before they hit.  On one hole, there was water between them and the green.  I don’t believe either player could have even reached the water on their next shot.

Waiting and watching was getting to me, affecting my focus and my game.  I decided to approach them with an educational message regarding their “wait” time.  I approached the couple and explained they could still hit when the distance between them and the green was much greater than the distance their ball would fly.  I encouraged them to keep playing toward the green because in most cases the green would be clear when they got to it.

It did not go well.

The couple responded as though I was just a grouchy old lady and they did not change their play.  I returned to my partner behind them and played the rest of the game somewhat agitated and unfocused.  We did not get to play the entire game, as we had to leave after hole 16 for another engagement.  Normally, I believe, we could have played the full round in the time we had spent at the course. 

I did not ask to play through because the course was busy that day and I sensed there was no place to go.  I was mainly trying to eliminate some of the unnecessary wait time on each hole and perhaps be able to finish 18 holes.

Do you have any advice for me around this type of situation?

As much as we would like, we cannot control other people’s thoughts and behaviors.  However, we do have control over our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  In this circumstance, I suggest you employ the skill of intentionally managing your thoughts, so they do not linger on others’ behavior, which is trapping you in continuous feelings of agitation.  We can learn to intentionally release unwanted thoughts and create thoughts which serve us better.

(The method for releasing and changing thoughts was formulated from a study conducted at Harvard in the 1970’s by sociologist Daniel Wegner.  I wrote a bit more detail about the study in a previous “Ask Bonnie” column focused on letting go of bad golf shots.)

I offer you practice choosing thoughts that serve you, instead of thoughts about other golfers that keep you in an agitated and unfocused state of mind.  When agitating situations occur, and you know they are not going to change for the rest of the round, even when you have tried a plausible intervention, I offer you learn to create thoughts that keep you in your best golf mind.

You can begin the process of mind management by defining and accepting the reality of the situation, which in your case is “slow play and unreceptive people.”  Then you can ask yourself, how am I going to show up in this circumstance so that I can enjoy the rest of my game?  How can I control the situation for myself and not let it negatively control me?  How can I stay calm, confident, focused and enjoying my game?

After you’ve asked yourself these questions, you can start creating thoughts to support how you want to feel instead of feeling agitated and unfocused.

I’ve listed sample replacement thoughts, however, thoughts which you create for yourself are usually the most powerful.  In addition, the replacement thoughts must be thoughts you can believe. A few sample replacement thoughts are:

  • I can use this waiting time to develop my strategy for this hole.
  • I can use this time to practice visualizing my next shots.
  • It’s possible I can use this time to relax and appreciate being outdoors.
  • It’s possible I can find humor in this situation.

The mental process of intentionally changing thoughts is simple; however, it takes practice, similar to practicing your swing and other mechanical aspects of the game.

Learning to use replacement thoughts is a powerful mind management skill for use on and off the course in all types of situations.  I offer you begin noticing circumstances where the skill could be useful, and practice creating new and improved thoughts and feelings.

You can think of changing out old thoughts for new ones similar to changing out old golf balls for new.  They just feel better.