You show up to the course with 20 minutes to spare before your tee time. You spend it chatting with your buddies, stroking a few on the practice green to get the feel of the day’s putting.
Maybe you squeeze in a small bucket and somewhere in there you find the time to put the club behind your back and stretch a little.
Maybe you kind of just wander around feeling your way around the practice area and clubhouse or maybe you have a really solid, consistent pre-game routine.
Either way, you walk up to the first tee like you’ve done a hundred times or more before and everything seems ok. Not amazing or in the zone, but just ok.
The holes fly by and before you know it, the front 9 is over and you are making the turn.
You add up your score and are somewhat surprised to see how well you’re doing! You thought you were playing pretty good but didn’t realize just how good! Wow, exciting. Much better than usual. “This game is pretty fun after all” you think to yourself.
Walking up to the 10th hole your mind is filled with thoughts of what could be. “If I can repeat what I did on the front, I’ll shoot a ______ “(which would be one of your best if not your best score ever.)
A little jolt of energy shoots through your body.
You tell yourself to calm down and just get back to playing golf like you did on the front 9. You start having a full-blown conversation with yourself with one part of you thinking about how great it will be to get the respect from your buddies for such a great round.
Another part of you, the worrier part, starts to give you all sorts of advice inside your head for how to repeat what you just did with your swing and putting or the last advice you got from a book or pro.
Your game falls apart.
You start steering your tee shots. You spend too much time over the ball on the green and overthink everything there.
You feel the tension or stiffness in everything you do.
…and another round that “Could have been” goes into your memory banks.
As you followed that story from the perspective of me writing this as an outside observer, can you see yourself in it? It’s so hard to see/feel/know what’s going with us WHILE it’s going on but it’s crystal clear from this viewpoint right?
What caused the problem in the story? The obvious answer is because SCORE became the focus of the game on the back 9.
“But Craig, how am I supposed to avoid focusing on the score? It’s right there and I have to put down a number every hole. I can’t just ignore it.”
Yes, I get that. Our unconscious mind is too smart to try to fool it by pretending SCORE doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter or to NOT think about it. Your unconscious is what kicked into gear those destructive parts that hurt your back 9.
I teach all of my clients that it is SO MUCH easier to replace thoughts than it is to NOT THINK of certain thoughts. This is what you did on the front 9 that worked so well for you. In sports psychology terms, it means “playing in the present moment” or “one shot at a time.”
You hear that advice so often but it goes in one ear and out the other and what does it really mean anyway in reality out there on the course?
It means WHAT are you going to fill your mind with while you play so that SCORE doesn’t have an opportunity to take over and ruin your game?
Why not make a list, in advance, on a 3×5 card for what things in your game that you will dedicate the next round to focusing on.
Pull that card out of your pocket and look at during the round to keep you on track. This kind of mental work is what is going to keep SCORE in the proper mental compartment and allow the back 9 to repeat the front.
Also, the next time you have a great 9 (or if you can remember the last time), see if you can identify the difference in your thinking from front to back. Write down WHAT WORKED on the front about your THINKING. Add it to that 3×5 card. Bring it to your next round.
DO NOT assign your front 9/back 9 breakdown to any physical part of the game. That’s the trap you’ve always been in and there’s no way out of that because your swing is already good enough to go low.
Greens and fairways,
P. S. I’d love to see your comments and additional help for other golfers on the front 9/back 9 problem. Let’s help each other all out. I read and answer every comment.