When was the last time you played golf consistently? It’s probably been a while. And, depending on where you’re living and your own personal circumstances, you may not be back to golfing yet. Who could have predicted we’d be away from golf for so long?
No matter what your experience during this “new normal,” what is normal is experiencing some “rust” as you get back out onto the course. That rust may show up in your body: not feeling as comfortable as you start to swing the club again, fatigue as you take on a full round, or perhaps muscle soreness in the days following your outing.
You may also experience some mental rust: doubting your shots, being more easily distracted, or getting frustrated more easily.
Golf should be a nice change of pace, but for some of us, the rust we experience may change the usual joy we experience into something more negative.
When you imagine your golfing skills, your brain fires the same neurons that it does when you’re playing. By imaging your swing, specific shots you’ll take on the course, or great shots you’ve experienced, you’re helping rebuild your muscle memory. With imagery, you’re essentially priming the pump to get back out on the golf course.
Consider doing imagery a few times a week, and especially leading up to a visit to the course. Your imagery sessions can be brief: 5-10 minutes if that’s what you have, but try to make your imagery practice consistent.
Under previous circumstances, a couple poor shots may be annoying, but that’s it. You can move on. But now? You might be harder on yourself and wonder why you’re struggling. This negative thinking can magnify the hard time you’re experiencing. Take the time to be kind to yourself: notice what’s going well and remind yourself that the hard moments are just that: moments in time.
Practice compassion on the way to golf to create a positive and calm frame of mind, and also be sure to be compassionate out on the course. You might even want to give yourself a visual reminder, such as a smiley face on your ball to remind you to be nice to yourself.
In early 2020 we would have never imagined a time where it was impossible to go outside and golf (aside from bad weather!). But that’s been the reality! And now, we are so fortunate to be able to start to resume some normal activity. When you’re experiencing some mental or physical rust, you’ve probably shifted away from gratitude to a more negative attitude.
Take the time to notice your surroundings, be grateful for the fresh air, the (distanced) time with friends, or the fact that you get to move your body again. Gratitude may not dissolve all the rust, but it helps to shift your focus away. You can mentally practice gratitude by noticing what you have to be thankful for while you golf, but you can also create a gratitude journal in your phone or in a notebook and write down what you’re grateful for when your round is done. With this approach, you have something concrete to refer back to, which will serve you well in the long-run.
Remember when you were a golf newbie? You had to practice more to gain consistency and improve confidence. Well, you might need to go back to those earlier days: go to the range a bit more, take the time to practice putting, or even book time with a pro. Practicing the elements of your golf game help shake off the physical rust and can rebuild your confidence for playing the game.
You’ll know what’s right for you, but consider adding in some practice sessions to your schedule, plan ahead which elements of your game you want to work on, and set goals for what you want to work on while you’re there.
While experiencing rust in your golf game is never fun, for many of us, it’s part of our “new normal” as we get back into not only golf, but to the activities we’ve taken a break from. If you’re the parent of an athlete, these tips can help them as they get back into their sport(s) and you can even work on these strategies together.
Sara is a Mental Skills Coach specializing in work with athletes. She received her M.A. in Sports Psychology from John F. Kennedy University and did her undergraduate work at New York University. Sara also helps support busy working moms to develop their mental skills and create more balance at getmombalanced.com.