Alex Nicolson dissects the results of Premium Golf’s Enjoyment Survey and reveals how changing the reason you play the game, and eliminating the fear about what others think, can help unlock your potential.
Christmas and New Year is the perfect time to sit back with a warming winter drink and reflect on your golf. Away from the cut and thrust of ‘the season’ you naturally have a little more distance, a better perspective from which to plan how the coming year’s campaign could produce your most enjoyable year of golf yet.
To aid your reflection, I’d like to share some results from the Golf Enjoyment survey we ran in conjunction with Golf Monthly. It aimed to get an insight into what I believe is the most important question – is golf serving its purpose as part of our leisure time? A few things came out that I think could help golfers for whom fulfillment is elusive.
Enjoyment Survey Results
In the last question of the survey golfers were asked to rate, out of ten, the extent to which their purpose for golf was fulfilled. So, who are the most/least content? Well, ability didn’t seem to matter that much, lower handicaps were only slightly more contented than higher handicaps.
Age showed an interesting curve in that the youngest (under 15s) and oldest golfers (over 65s) were the most fulfilled, with fulfilment at its lowest between 45 and 54 years, and then rising back by retirement age.
Scoring and striking We asked, in separate questions, how important scoring and striking were to your enjoyment of the game and matched them against your overall experience. Fairly conclusively, it appeared that the more important scoring or striking was to you, the less fulfilled you became with the game in general.
What other people think The most unhappy souls on the course were those who rated other people’s view of their golfing ability as extremely important. In fact, they were 20 per cent less fulfilled than those who were only slightly or moderately concerned about what other people thought of their game.
What can we learn from this? Golfers for whom scoring and striking is extremely important are (in golf at any rate) more dependant on performance outcomes to be happy. Given the number of variables and uncontrollables involved with both (not to mention the time required to achieve consistency), this places fulfilment further from one’s grasp. It doesn’t make better golf more likely, either.
Content and Context
The biggest shifts in golfers’ experiences of the game are often in context rather than content. Context is the reason you’re out there, which gives meaning to the content – for example, your score.
Why do you think that the under 15's and the over 65's were the most contented groups? Of all the age groups, these are the least likely to be beating themselves up about results. The kids are exploring, free from the baggage of expectation. The retirees have perhaps more perspective on life, and their purpose shifts. Neither group is probably shooting the lowest score they’ll ever make, but they’re having more fun and the reason is context.
For all ages, instead of chasing results, change the context, the reason you’re out there. There are three good reasons that you should consider shifting your focus away from quantifiables, such as scoring or striking, and towards qualities like concentration, awareness, self control or learning.
Firstly, these qualities are arguably of higher value than the number of times you hit a small white ball around the course (blasphemy, I know!). Secondly, you have more influence over them on a shot-by-shot basis. And, thirdly, they are qualities that are the sources of good shots and scores.
Take learning, for example. If your context for golf became an opportunity to learn, is it possible that this would create an attitude that made you more able to notice things that would aid performance, and better prepared to deal with failure? A succession of bad shots on the last few holes in the context of results is depressing. But in the context of learning, it could be, well, fascinating, and less likely to happen again.
What Others Think of Your Golf
The fear of playing badly in front of other golfers was frequently cited as the greatest obstacle to enjoyable golf. However, this worry is not only damaging your experience of the game, but it can also become self- fulfilling. If your attention is drawn to “don’t top it into the water and look like an idiot” it becomes more, not less likely to happen. Although it’s hard to overwrite our evolutionary wiring regarding social embarrassment, here are four things to bear in mind the next time you feel nervous playing in front of others:
The fear serves no purpose.
The chances are that others are equally worried when it’s their turn.
Other people care considerably less about your shots (good or bad) than you do, or than you think they do.
Accepting bad shots with good grace is more indicative of our character than hitting consistently good golf shots.
New Year's Resolutions
Remember, you have the freedom to play for whatever reasons you choose. Changing the context of your golf can change your experience quickly, and in a way more likely to lead to better golf. Making next year about learning or concentration could actually unlock your best golf.
Playing without fear is possibly one of the most rewarding goals in golf. Worrying about what others think about your golf is an enormous weight for many golfers which, if diluted or removed, allows us to play with freedom. If this is what your best golf felt like, then start here and good results will be a nice bonus.