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Even the best golfers hit bad shots - the key is to learn to forget them.
Even the best golfers hit bad shots - the key is to learn to forget them. (PGA of America)

These relaxation techniques can mean the death of a Bad Golfer's inner critic

Mark Shatz, Ph.DBy Mark Shatz, Ph.D,

"Golf is essentially an exercise in masochism conducted out of doors." - Paul O'Neil

Is golf a form of self-abuse? If masochism is "the act of deriving pleasure from being offended, dominated, or mistreat in some way," then most golfers must plead guilt to the charge of enjoying abuse. The master of self-inflicted pain, the Bad Golfer, not only must plead guilty but also accept placement in a 12-step program for the self-abused.

Though most non-golfers view the idea of hitting a little ball inherently masochistic, the abuse the Bad Golfer experiences does not come from the physical demands of golf. The source of self-abuse is the inner critic, the voice heard inside the heads of all golfers. For the Bad Golfer, the inner critic runs rampant and the Bad Golfer is subjected to a constant barrage of critical statements such as "You suck," "You're not worthy of a Big Bertha," and "You know your golf score is higher than your bowling average."

The inner critic is also responsible for most golf rages by demanding unrealistic performance. Statements such as "I must make this shot" and "I should make this putt" are heard by all golfers. Psychologists refer to this type of absolute thinking as "musturbation" or "shoulding on one self."

One of the primary challenges of the mental side of golf is learning how to manage the inner critic. The following are strategies that the Bad Golfer can use to reduce the influence of the inner critic.

Relaxation techniques for the Bad Golfer: A "cleansing" breath

Anxiety fuels the inner critic. The Bad Golfer can starve the inner critic by reducing the jitters by practicing relaxation techniques. A simple relaxation strategy is to incorporate a "cleansing" breath into the pre-shot routine.

Relaxation techniques for the Bad Golfer: Selective memory

Golfers are notorious for replaying shots in their minds. The Bad Golfer often ruminates on episodes of really Bad Golf while the Good Golfer forgets bad shots. For example, Jack Nicklaus was once asked by a reporter about a shank he hit during a round. Nicklaus responded to the question by feigned ignorance of the missed shot.

Relaxation techniques for the Bad Golfer: Visualization

Professional golfers often imagine playing each hole of a course before playing a round of golf. Nicklaus called this approach "going to the movies." Visualization of successful outcomes can also be incorporated into a pre-shot routine.

With practice, the influence of the inner critic can be minimized. Unfortunately, the Bad Golfer may have grown so accustomed to "shoulding on one self" that the death of the inner critic may feel like the loss of a good friend. The Bad Golfer must decided whether to accept the continued abuse of the inner critic or the challenge of changing a mental habit.

If golf is truly an act of masochism, then choosing from two painful choices should make the Bad Golfer a happy golfer.

Dr. Mark Shatz is the author of "Kissing Golf: The Keep It Simple (Stupid) Instructional Method" and "Comedy Writing Secrets."

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