The process of getting better is really really hard.
Because the things that make you great can often be your downfall.
Golf gives you little cuts almost every day; every round; every tournament. They vary in size and severity, but they come often. The tap in you missed after doing all the hard work to get back in play. The drive you hit into the hazard right because you were trying too hard to avoid the OB left. The lag putt you left 10ft short because you forgot to factor in the sudden downfall of rain on the speed of the greens. All the little moments that individually, don’t mean much; don’t highlight anything. Like most cuts, if you leave them alone, they’ll heal. They might hurt for a while, might sting a bit, might add up to a missed cut or two and cause you a few sleepless nights or extra beers, but they’ll heal. You’ll get on with it. Until you want to get better.
When you want to get better, you’ll not know whether to leave the cuts alone or whether to pick at them until they bleed. Are they hiding something you’re missing?
The 3 wood you hit a couple of yards off line into thick rough that you didn’t know was there which cost you shots you never had enough time to recover from – that’ll still be in your mind as you’re grinding on the range on Saturday at the course you desperately wanted to be climbing the leaderboard on. But it’ll fade; you’ll be rational. You’ll know it was just one shot, a shot that wasn’t even that bad; just a case of horrible timing; a split-second of poor course strategy, a split-second of a clubface being a split-degree more closed that you wanted it to be. It’ll hurt, but it won’t make you question everything. Keep trusting. You’re good at course strategy. It’s just golf.
But what about that little cut the week before that? When you hit your first tee shot six inches from a fairway bunker which gave you a shot you could never get close enough to the green to have a good chance of par, meaning you were fighting from minute one of three hundred in the amphitheatre of a major, where there was no fairway bunker to cause you any damage on the opposite side of the fairway? You tried to keep trusting. But was that poor course strategy too? Are you missing something? Are you kidding yourself?
And what about that little cut the week before that? When you put yourself in a great position after round one with some of the best golf you’ve played all year in the biggest event of it so far, but then failed to adjust your shot visualisation to the fractionally lower standard of golf you were playing in round two, leading to just a few too many short-sided misses? You tried to keep trusting. But was that poor course strategy too? Are you missing something? Are you kidding yourself?
Because remember that little cut today? In the round that effectively puts you out of the tournament before it’s even begun? When you hit that drive a yard through the fairway into the cut between the semi and the rough, where the saturated, heavy grass twisted the clubface of your 9 iron and sent the ball arrowing towards a spot that you were only ever going to make double from? Both your playing partners hit 3 wood. You tried to keep trusting. But was that poor course strategy too? Are you missing something? Are you kidding yourself?
Because remember that tournament you should have won earlier this year? When you were cruising, until you made double from the middle of the fairway on a hole where the wind was off the right and the ball was above your feet and there was water on the left and your shot pattern is a draw? After you let that one heal, you knew it wasn’t anything other than golf exposing a bad shot with the worst possible outcome. It happens; it didn’t have to mean anything more than that. You tried to keep trusting. But was that poor course strategy too? Are you missing something? Are you kidding yourself?
Finding a pattern without creating the illusion of one is possibly the most difficult thing to do in golf. Commentators will fall into that trap, media will fall into that trap, coaches will fall into that trap. But so will players themselves. When you want to get better, you want reasons; you want answers. You have to pick at the cut and sometimes you’ll make it bleed for no reason. But what if it’s something real? Self diagnosis as a golfer is really hard, but more often that not you’re the only one that knows enough about your game – and your thoughts and your actions – to truly do it. You might hurt yourself as you make yourself better. Knowing which cuts to leave alone to heal and which ones to pick at is almost impossibly hard. But it’s the process of getting better.
Knowing what’s bleeding and what’s healing.
And then trusting.