Emotional Golf – A Good or Bad Thing?

We all remember the Patrick Reed/ Rory McIlroy match during last years Ryder Cup. It was an epic battle of emotion by both players. Neither could gain an advantage over the other trough intimidation or brilliant play. Going on at the same time, was two wily veterans showing less emotion, but as much intensity for their game; of course that match was between Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia. In all cases, emotions were riding high and it seemed to propel these great players to new and more exciting emotional level for the fans. Both matches were awesome to watch!

I am wondering, does this type of emotion also help the average player or does it block their ability to perform? 

17th hole at Osprey Links Golf Course

For me, this answer to this question is not difficult to answer. Emotions are an important aspect of sports competition and to be successful, one must play with emotion. Preferable positive emotion, but that is entirely up to the individual; I have seen players perform extremely well either way.

However, (there is always a however 😉 ), there is one aspect of playing with emotion that most amateurs forget about and it is critical to low golf scores. Play with emotion, but keep your ability to think!

I know this sounds a bit crazy, but just think about it. Remember back to a time when you were emotionally charged, a positive result occurred when you stayed focused,  could think and still control your actions. Reed, McIlroy, Mickelson, and Garcia were perfect examples of being able to think while emotionally charged.

This ability falls in the category of mental toughness. We have discussed this trait often at The Grateful Golfer and I think we can agree that mental toughness is a key component to great golf. When we stop thinking, we start losing.

I understand this concept from personal experiences over the years. The following was the first of my many learning moments over the years that demonstrates the direct correlation between thinking and emotions.

Back in the early 90s, I was playing in a Military Regional Competition just north of Toronto, Ontario. I was new to the competition stage and my mentor, Bob Fortune, told me before I started to play within myself and remained focused for the entire round. What he was really saying was keep the ability to think during all shots! At the time, I did not realize his message, but I sure do now.

I was standing the 179 yard, 6th hole, hitting the ball into the wind. I selected a 4-iron and hit a great shot. The ball landed 8 feet left and 3 feet short of the pin! Then something amazing happen; my ball shot directly towards the pin; hit it solidly, and fell into the hole for my first hole in one! My emotions went through the roof! I was jumping around, giving high-fives and smiling from ear to ear. My heart was pounding and all I could see was my ball dropping into the hole! It was an amazing feeling.

Unfortunately, I could not check my emotions, nor could I really think for the next 4 holes. I was even par after the hole-in-one and was walking on air. Well, my emotions came crashing to earth as I double bogeyed the next 4 holes. Standing standing 8 over on the 11th tee quickly changed my emotional state. My emotions had turned from elation to dread! What was I going to do?

I started to panic and worry about every shot. I lost confidence in my swing, even though not 5 holes before I hit the perfect shot, nothing seemed to work. My negative emotions prevented me from thinking straight and playing golf like I knew how! Well, I guess you know where this tale is going; at the end of the round I shot a smooth 17 over par 89! I walked off the 18th green dejected because I thought I had let my team down. As I recounted my story to the team, they all smiled and said, but you shot a hole-in-one; time to buy a round!

Afterwards, I discussed my emotional woes with Bob and he completely understood what I was talking about and, not surprisingly, recounted a similar story from his past. He explained that this was an outstanding learning moment and that next time I would be prepared to mentally handle the surge of emotions. Bob was right and now, I get excited, but keep a clear-headed and retain the ability to think during every shot.

Playing with emotions is important. It brings joy (and sorrow) to any sport, but is an intangible factor to success. In golf, being able to think clearly through the a haze of emotions is critical. Golf is both a mental and physical game, being in control of both for 18 holes can produce some amazing results.

When players discuss mental toughness, I think they really mean ‘the ability of a golfer to think’ during all situations! What do you think?

I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!

15 thoughts on “Emotional Golf – A Good or Bad Thing?

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  4. He Jim, I only came across your blog relatively recently and this post is the best I have read, love it (they are all good though, thought I’d clarify that, you know \I am a fan!)

    I wear my heart on my sleeve and you know what emotional state I am in most of the time, BUT, I totally agree that if you can remain in control of your thoughts and be clear throughout your round, you WILL get better results.

    I love your story about the Hi1 and how it affected your round. It resonated with me because I too shot a gross 89 in a major tournament in November 16 near Tokyo on the first day and I am sure it was because my emotions were all over the place and I just wasn’t thinking straight My own Bob (Thomas actually) had an in depth chat with me that evening and got my head back in the game. The next morning on the final round, we had a very emotional team meeting where I told everyone what was needed from them, including Neil my long time caddie, and what I would be doing to turn the situation around.

    I was really excited about day 2 even though I was trailing but even though this positive emotion was so strong, my desire to stay in control and think my way around was stronger and I was strangely very calm all day. I can honestly say it was the best round of golf of my life because I was crystal clear all the way around and was thinking cleverly not emotionally. Don’t get me wrong, I still celebrated the good shots and putts but swiftly moved on to the job in hand, the next shot. I won the event by 6 shots and retained my title.

    You have to care about what you are doing, you have to have the desire to do well, but more important is to stay focused and think straight.

    Great post Jim, thanks

    Paul at Team Blind Apple

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jim, on mental toughness, most players would do well to follow Dr. Bob Rotella’s advice to judge themselves on their preparation level for each stroke rather than the result of the shot. I think that is the key to controlling your emotions. Sure it’s fine to get excited about a great shot or down about a bad one, but you should always try to take an analytic approach and understand why you did what you did. I.e., don’t confuse effort with results.

    Good post, thanks!


    Liked by 1 person

      • Jim, I played 9 holes on my executive course and then hit balls and filmed myself. Went back out after lunch for another bucket to work on a few things. Then worked on my patio for three hours. My back is complaining a little 🙂 Should be good to go for my afternoon round tomorrow.



        Liked by 1 person

      • Jim, I wanted to validate I was still getting to the position that my instructor wanted me in. It looked like I was close but when I went back out and exaggerated the position, that’s when I started hitting it better. Funny how that works. Not totally surprising though. Breaking 40 year habits isn’t easy. Will see if I can leverage the change in today’s round.



        Liked by 1 person

  6. We are kind of opposite there. I’ve had one hole in one and more than a few hole outs for eagles over the years, and when they happened, I was generally the only one not jumping and shouting though I was surely smiling. But I do my best when I stay low key and just try to keep my mind on the next shot. It’s the one that counts.

    That said, it is a little different in team competition. I do get a lift from my partners spirits when I play a 4 ball tournament sometimes and we start off well. And I can see how Rory and Patrick and other pro’s can gain something from the crowds. It is infectious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kevin

      I am in more control now then ever. It was my first real experience with that much excitement on the golf course. Now, I take must things in stride and try to play my game. It is fun to get excited on the course.



  7. What a great story and how well it illustrates the point you are making in this post. Emotions, both positive and negative, need to be managed in order to play well, and it certainly not always easy. Cheers, Rob

    Liked by 1 person

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