28 Feb Succeeding on the Golf Course by Managing Your Emotions

Handling your emotions on the golf course is no different than the emotional struggles people face when they lose a job, get into legal or financial trouble, or breakup with their spouses. Loss is loss, says therapist Robert A. Moylan. It does not matter if it is in the stock market or on the golf course, one still has to process and deal with one’s emotions. The same with fear/anxiety. The only difference between worrying about losing one’s job and hitting a ball over the water on a two hundred yard par 3 is the degree to which one cares about each task. To help understand what types of feelings interfere with a golfers ability to succeed on the golf course and tips for succeeding on the golf course, I have interviewed therapist Bob Moylan, LCPC. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“Growing up on the West Side of Chicago I was raised by a single mother and had 12 siblings, including nine brothers. All of us boys used sports as an appropriate outlet for our natural aggression and competitiveness. I was a Chicago Park District Boxing champion and wrestled for Northwestern University. After graduating from Northwestern University with an Economics and teaching degree. I found that I loved the aspect of teaching troubled adolescents so I decided to get further licenses in Special Education as a Behavior Disorder Teacher and School Counselor. From there,I went into private practice as a psychotherapist helping emotionally troubled youth and adults. My love for sports allowed me to do research in sports counseling and psychology of sports.”
What types of emotions interfere with a golfers ability to succeed on the golf course?
“Grief (otherwise known as loss) and fear (otherwise known as anxiety) are the two most debilitating feelings that golfers face when they play. Unfortunately for most amateurs, every golf round is filled with these unwanted feelings. Golfers of every level need to get a handle on their emotions when they play a round of golf or face the consequences.”
You didn’t mention anger. Is anger an emotion that frequently happens and can interfere with a golfers performance to succeed on the golf course?
“Sure, when you throw your driver after hitting the ball into the nearby woods the rage one feels is real. Anger is a reaction to loss. In a lot of ways, it mirrors a defense mechanism for most men. In my experience, woman are better at processing and experiencing true emotions. Sure, they face loss and fear to the same degree as men do, yet you don’t see the rage and anger that men display on the course. Still, woman golfers also need to be aware of how to cathartically release their feelings in a healthy and productive way on the golf course.”
In your private practice how do you help golfers and even other athletes manage those feelings?
“In my private practice I help golfers/clients deal with their fear is that I usually start with a stress assessment such as a stress test. I have a simple 5 minute test I give to my clients. The stress test covers about 45 different life events such as death, divorce, injury, fired from job, changes in finance, troubles with in laws, home foreclosure, etc. All these events cause emotional pain. The test gives you a score which can give golfers an idea if they are overwhelmed. After a test, we spend some sessions on treatment to reduce stress such as relaxation, self talk/physical exercise, visualization, expressing feelings, asserting oneself/self esteem building, and nutrition. We use individual golf situations such as hitting a shot over water, under a tree, or out of rough, and show how each technique can cathartically release toxic pain. With golfers I look at symptoms such as shallow breathing, muscle tension/poor nutrition, withheld feelings, behavior such as avoiding situations (avoiding all shots over sand, etc) My treatment helps golfers face feelings they face every round and help them become better golfers. In many cases, athletes, including golfers experience that relationships outside the sporting arena improve as they become better at processing their feelings.”
“My main focus in counseling golfers/athletes and other clients is to have them understand the four primary feelings. These are “Joy/grief/fear/relief”. Anger is a reaction to grief and is also analyzed in counseling sessions. Why do we need to spend a great deal of work on these feelings. All four effect your golf swing. In simple terms all four true or primary feeling evolve from entering and leaving relationships. When you enter a relationship you like there is joy. (think of eating your favorite ice cream) When you leave something you like there is grief (saying goodbye to someone you love) When you go towards something you dislike there is fear. Think of walking near a snake pit. When you leave a fearful event, there is relief. Ask any golfer and they will tell you that playing golf is a relationship also. A relationship with nature. The tougher the golf course, the tougher the test is emotionally on a golfer’s psyche.”
Grief and fear hurt as they affect our brain/central nervous system, and in turn our swing. If you doubt what I am saying, think of this scenario that all golfers have faced at one time or another. You book a round of golf at a favorite course several days in advance. In the morning, prior to starting your round, you hear some devastating/bad news. For example, a job loss, a loved one breaks up with you! The whole round you have difficulty concentrating on golf as your psychological world is near crumbling. You can’t focus, start missing shots, and before you know it, you shoot a very poor golf round. Emotional pain clearly adversely effected your game. Likely in your mind, you had repeated thoughts of fear or grief/loss. Both of these primary feelings send messages to the brain, which in turn, send messages to the central nervous system, which in turn send messages to your muscles, which effects your swing.”
“My psychology practice sometimes is psycho educational in it’s approach to letting golfers learn how to properly deal with their emotions on the course. The psychological tools we teach our golfers helps them hit various golf shots 1)Putting 2)chipping 3)Pitching 4)sand shots 5) iron shots 6) Driver and 3 wood shots.”
“The psychological techniques I am use are some of the most current out there. One of the best theorists out there, Heinz Kohut fits in perfectly with the pre shot/post shot routine in golf. Kohut’s theory is called , “Self Psychology”. Self Psychology examines the “ego” as the sense of the self. A good pre shot routine can be called a “Cohesive sense of self” as the sense of self and golfer are fully integrated. What happens when mistakes in the swing occur is that the “ego” fragments, due to toxic feelings, caused by errant muscle mechanics, poor technique, etc. The post shot routine can be seen as a time to “reintegrate” the ego into a cohesive self. These terms, cohesive, integrated, and fragmented, are part of the latest research out there. The key is to have golfers understand these three terms as they happen every round to every golfer.”
“I emphasize the importance of staying balanced/not taking great risks. Why? When grief/depression hits in a round, it can ruin a round like no other. What happens when you hit in the water,have to hit out of the drop zone,are still sad,duff one,and take a double bogie or worse? Essentially, the round is over and you may have 11 holes to play? Why? the nature of grief/sadness is the triggers they cause in your central nervous system. On a golf course,we don’t want those same messages to take place. We want to manage loss/grief. How does this occur? The key is to work through/process your feelings after every shot.”
“My golf psychology approach teaches autonomy and individual responsibility. A stable golfer takes responsibility for all that he feels on the course. If one’s mind is clouded on the range,and course,he will not play his best. One needs a quiet mind to play his best. Autonomy is important to understand as it empowers the golfer to know he can control external forces to some degree.For example,leaving the cell phone at home. working on weaknesses while augmenting strengths. A golfer is no different than a tennis player. It takes hours to master a backswing, forhand, high volley,drop shot. Ditto for golf. In order to excel, you have to hit all the shots well.”
If a golfer wants to be able to hit certain shots, they have to work on proper technique to replicate it on the course. The same goes for handling one’˜s emotions on the golf course. Another key is to have supportive family and friends while you are trying to reach your goals. When you change something about your swing, there is usually a learing curve. Just as a kindergarten needs mommy and daddy’s love to learn the abc’s, a golfer needs friends and family to support one’s goals.
Not everyone is able to come see you so what are some additional tips you can give golfers to help them manage those feelings that interfere with their performance and ability to succeed on the golf course?
“Over the years, I have found two workbooks to be extremely helpful in cathartically releasing one’s feelings. “The Anxiety and Phobia workbook” and “The Depression Workbook”. Both workbooks offer invaluable techniques to help golfers and others looking to release unwanted feelings.”
What last advice would you like to leave golfers?
“Think of a great political or religious leader, Winston Churchill,John F. Kennedy, Abe Lincoln. They were all very positive, yet realistic people,with a vision of where they wanted to go. A golfer needs to understand where he wants to go also on the course. A golfer needs to be honest with himself/herself, and decide if their emotions on the course are helping or hurting them. For exaample,would a two handicap golfer who throws his clubs when he misses a drive, be a scratch golfer if he handled his emotions properly. Can the proper understanding of emotions lower your scrore? How many shots does one throw away because of poorly handled emotions. Mastering the psychology of the mind is essential for any amateur or professional golfer who strives to be his best. Why? An 18 hole round of golf is emotionally demanding and emotionally draining for all golfers of all ability levels. Why? Because golfers have expectations/egos about what kind of golf they are capable of playing. The golf psychology approach that I utilize teaches the golfer to be as honest as possible with himself. This trait of being honest with oneself and one’s feeling allows for the utmost growth/feedback/information/data to learn about oneself.”
“The best reason we can give you as to why to learn to “master the mind” on the golf course is the best golfers in the world do so every day. Most, if not all, utilize a golf counselor/psychologist to help then be better golfers. Why? There are too many ups and downs while playing golf. The game can drive one crazy with emotion. For the pros, better golf means more money. For the amateur who wants to improve, better golf means lower scores and a more pleasant golf experience. Through continually learning, one stays alive. My approach is engaging and accepting of golfer’s limitations and aspires for one to have some inner peace on the course. A key word for my work is that golfers will experience more “vitality” or “vibrancy”. Although it is a gender neutral term, men and woman differ in how they generally feel vibrant. Another word is power. To feel as vibrant or powerful as powerful for both genders. So if you want to feel more vibrant on the golf course and have a more powerful golf game, use these aforementioned golf psychology tips.”
Thank you Bob for doing the interview on tips for helping golfers succeed on the golf course. For more information on Bob Moylan or his work you can check out his website at www.robertmoylan.com
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