Karl’s blog: There are ANTs in my head

An England squad player gives Karl his tips on squashing those negative thoughts.

I’m playing a lot of golf at the moment – with limited success.

Over the past week or so I’ve been to Wales, the West Midlands and Nottinghamshire for various rounds, for various reasons.

So you would think that I’d be getting better in terms of the golf that I’m playing – practice makes perfect, and I’m putting what I’ve learnt during my lessons into play right?

Having been on the road so much, I missed last week’s lesson at the Leadbetter Academy, and I think the lack of contact time might be allowing some of my older errors to come back into my game.

Standing over the ball, I find that my hands automatically move forward, like a cricketer, and I have to consciously move the club centrally. What I’ve found is I’m hitting a lot of shots that head off to the left – which I’m certain is a result of this.

Yesterday I played at Notts (Hollinwell), which is a spectacular course that is this year hosting the prestigious Brabazon trophy. I got the opportunity to accompany England golf squad member Luke Johnson, who just the day before had won the Berkhamsted trophy for the second year running.

While he was plotting how to attack the course at the amateur championship in June, I did my best to merely survive the course – which is spectacular, but very long and tough for the high handicapper (I managed to hit six bunkers on six consecutive holes).

‘Take those ANTs and stamp on them’
As I’ve found with the more talented golfers that I’ve played with recently, they’re quite amiable when it comes to playing with those less skilled than they are – the perception of stuffy, impatient golfers is a misconception adopted by too many mid-handicap club golfers who think that’s how you should act on the course.

As we played up the second hole, I took some practice swings with my pitching wedge. I addressed my ball, noticed a bit of mud on the club face, thought ‘it’ll be OK, hit my ball, and duffed it into the rough.

I mean, I’d gone through my pre-shot routine so I wasn’t going to step away and start again just because of a bit of mud was I? There were people waiting for me after all.

Actually, that’s exactly what I should have done, and Luke pointed it out to me.

He explained how his golfing career took a major step forward when he learnt about self discipline (he’s 22-years-old by the way). This included stepping away from the ball if you don’t feel right – whether that’s because of something physical because there’s mud on your ball, or because you think in your head that you aren’t addressing it correctly.

He’s got a point – how many times have you stepped up to the ball and thought ‘This doesn’t feel right, I’m going to slice this”, and then you’ve proceeded to do just that?

The key is to step away, crush those ANTs (which I’ll come back to), and then go through your approach shot positively, thinking about the shot you want to play, not the one you fear to play.

So these ANTs, or Automatic Negative Thoughts. They jump into your head without prompting and have the potential to ruin your round. It’s those little thoughts that you don’t want, such as “I always knife my wedges”, “I’m going to slice this drive”, “Oh God look at the size of that water hazard”. In my case, it’s “I’m hitting my irons left at the moment”.

Take those ANTs and stamp on them, then head back to the shot with a positive thought. 

Remember those times you didn’t slice your drive? Or when you chipped in? How about the time when you carried the water and land comfortably on the green? How about, Karl, all those times you nailed the ball centrally down the fairway?

[“All those times”? Maybe not that often! – Ed]

You’ve done it before, you’ve played the shot you wanted to hit, so why not do it now?

How come the thoughts we focus upon when we’re playing golf are the negative ones? 

Maybe that’s the difference between us (the high-handicappers), and the (the better players)?

Do we focus on our flaws, while they focus on the positive aspects?

I’m not suggesting that’s the only difference – but it might be one thing they have in their favour that we can embrace.

National Club Golfer staff writer Karl Hansell may be a half-decent journalist, but he’s a pretty poor golfer. So he’s on a quest to transform his game, with the help of those nice people at the Leadbetter Academy at Leeds Golf Centre. You can view previous editions (if you’re so inclined) by clicking here. It’s like downloading a box set online, only less good.

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