Can You Handle Success?


Readers of this blog know that I’ve committed this season to improving my ball striking through a series of lessons and concentrated practice.  I’m giving it all year to see improvement, but sometimes I get inpatient trying to get results that don’t happen when I think they should.  But a thought came up after my last round:  When things DO break right for you, can you manage success properly?  In yesterday’s round, I did not.

The day before, I played nine holes in the morning and then went to the range to practice and gather some swings on film.  I wanted to make sure that I was correctly implementing the positions my instructor wanted me in.  After lunch, I reviewed the film and spotted a couple areas to work on and headed back out to the range.

Yesterday’s outing at Clustered Spires in Frederick, MD started off well.  I warmed up on the range and felt loose and comfortable.  At 6,200 yards, Clustered Spires is not terribly long and my game plan was to get as many sand wedge, gap wedge, and pitching wedge approach shots as possible, since I’d been practicing those the most.  That would require a good day with the driver and it started out great as I was busting it long and straight.  The changes I worked on the day before were clicking.

To make a long story short, the true measure of ball striking success is greens in regulation (GIR), and I hit the first 15.  While I didn’t see this ball striking bonanza coming, I was thrilled that the changes I had worked on were taking hold, but at the same time, I was at 3-under par and was  STARTING TO EXIT MY COMFORT ZONE!

What happened next was where you figure out how good you are at handling success (or adversity).  On the par-3 16th, I missed the green right into a bunker with a 3-iron.  The streak was over and it threw my equilibrium off – I had been thinking about it the whole day as the round progressed.  I played a nice bunker shot but misjudged the amount of fringe I had to carry and played a poor approach putt from the first cut.  I struggled to make bogey.  I knew I was choking because I hadn’t hit a short shot in 16 holes and wasn’t sure I could.  Still, it was just a bogey and I figured a physical error was bound to happen.  It was deflating, as my 18 GIR fantasy bubble was busted.

#17 is a medium length par-4 that I usually hit with a driver/8-iron, and I caught a huge break.  My drive hit the cart path on the right and catapulted forward another 50 yards shortening the hole considerably.   I was between a sand wedge and a gap wedge but got greedy and went with the gap and tried to fly it all the way to a back left sucker pin.  I went long and short-sided myself into a bad lie.  Again I choked on the chip trying to be too perfect, left it short, and made double.

#18 is a longer par-4 and my drive was solid but trickled just into the left rough, but the lie was deep in three-inch grass.  I pulled an 8-iron left into a bunker and short sided myself again.  With no green to work with, I blasted out 30 feet past the flag and three-putted for another double.  Wow!  Now that’s handling success.  Went from 3-under to 2-over in the bat of an eyelash.

I learned a hard lesson here and sometimes you need to learn it more than once.  Even when it feels like you’re on cruise control, you MUST take it one shot at a time.  Forget your score, forget your streaks, forget your fantasies, and focus on your routine.  I’m not disappointed about #16 and #18 because they were physical errors.  That happens.  But the greedy play on #17 could have been avoided by dropping a sand wedge on the middle of the green and two-putting for a routine par.

Despite the mental breakdown, I’m very excited to see the hard work starting to pay off, and for the first time in a while it felt like I was playing golf instead of golf swing.

How’s your game coming?  Handling success and adversity equally as well?

4 thoughts on “Can You Handle Success?”

  1. Brian

    That is a tough finish for sure. I agree that keeping the proper perspective of an awesome 16 holes is something to focus on. I bet next time you are in that situation, you finish under par! Thanks for sharing.


    1. Jim, my brain was working overtime thinking about all the wrong things and I choked like a dog. Hadn’t been under that kind of heat in a while and it was good that I managed to get there. It helps me to validate the work I’ve been doing is working and hopefully next time I’ll handle it better.

      Thanks for the encouraging words!


  2. Brian,

    15 greens in a row! That is magical my friend. It’s too bad the last few derailed the round a bit. To put it bluntly, the comfort zone sucks. I hate it. I have done the same thing a couple times this season where I’ve played brilliantly for 14 or 15 holes and then started to realize the score I might be capable of posting, then making a few mistakes and gravitating towards a score that’s more in the comfort zone. Whether it’s mental errors or just variance rearing it’s ugly head at times, it is still frustrating.

    I have seen some steady improvements again this year and my spread of scores has definitely narrowed. In ways I’m frustrated that I don’t post more scores right around par (I tend to shoot between 75 and 80 a lot), but in other ways my improvements have really brought down my top end and I shoot over 80 way less often. I always thought of improvement as lowering your low scores, but I suppose it also comes in the form of lowering your high scores. I think lowering the low scores comes as the mind catches up to physical improvements.


    1. Josh, awesome observation about the mind catching up to the body. The fact that you are lowering your high rounds tells me you are eliminating mistakes (step 1). Then you can get on to making more spectacular shots which will improve your proximity stats and lower your scores (step 2).

      My ball striking is definitely improving since I’ve completed my lesson series. It’s really helped with my practice approach. I’m no longer trying new stuff when some shots start flying awry, just returning to what I was instructed on. As you know, improvement is not a straight line affair. There are bumps that we both are experiencing. It happened again last Sunday. I was 1-under through 12 and then went bogey – triple. The good new was that they were all physical errors. I steadied and finished 3-over. I can feel it coming!

      Thanks for the encouraging words and play well!


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