Golf is difficult.
Even on your best days, one bad swing can ruin a hole. And if you aren’t careful, it can escalate to more holes and eventually, the round. It’s important to remember that even the best players in the world hit bad shots.
Ian Poulter has made some terrible shanks in competition, and Bryson deChambeau won a shot at 2021’s Players Championship. Bad shots are part of golf, even for those who make millions.
As I’m sure you know from experience, it’s hard when the train falls off the track. You can bounce back quickly, which is the good news. Here’s how…
Did you know that every tournament, the PGA Tour tracks bouncebacks for its players?
According to the PGA “Bounce Back (also known as Reverse Bounce Back) is a stat that measures how a golfer recovers after a bogey or worse to make birdie or better on the next hole.”
The 2021 season will see the following: PGA Tour averageAdam Scott was the leader with 32%. Adam Scott was at 20.08%. This means that the average Tour player makes one birdie every five after making a par. Adam Scott was the leader of the field, and he made more birdies or pars than any other player after making an eagle.
These tips will help you bounce back to golf stronger than ever.
Before getting into the best ways to bounce back after a bad hole (or bad shot), let’s keep things in perspective…
Every round there will be bad shots.
You won’t be able to hit every shot perfectly in a round. You won’t likely have a round where every shot is perfect.
The PGA Tour’s best players only hit a little more than 50% of fairways and 65% of greens in regulation. These are the best players with the best equipment and the best team.
But they still make bad shots all the way.
So it’s a little silly to think you won’t hit bad shots as an amateur golfer. You will. The higher your handicap, golf’s best friend, the more you should allow yourself to make mistakes.
Ben Hogan once said that he expects to hit about 7-10 bad shots per round. He was also one of the most skilled ball strikers. He said this so that when he did hit a less than perfect shot, he wouldn’t negatively react. He just accepted it as one among those 5-7 shots, and moved on.
Accepting that mistakes are part of the great game is the first rule for bouncing back.
Preemptive strategies are the second rule for bouncing back. You can also follow the rules Tiger Woods uses for every round.
- No more than three putts
- Zero double bogeys
- Par 5s are not eligible for bogeys
If you can avoid these, you’ll be more consistent and play solid golf. But the most important one I think is no double bogeys as they’re round killers. They can also hurt your scorecard and cause you to lose your momentum, which can make it difficult to complete your round.
Avoid these and you won’t have to bounce back often. If you do find yourself in a bad situation, read on to learn how you can get back on track.
There’s a difference between bad shots and bad holes. Bad shots can happen even to the best players, even during their best rounds. But what separates them from the average golfer is they don’t hit let it lead to another bad shot.
One reason they’re able to separate each shot in a vacuum is with a good post-shot routine. While we talk about the importance of a great pre-shot routine a lot, don’t forget about what happens after the shot too.
Accepting the negative shot and moving on is the last part of a good practice routine. You have a few options to get past bad shots quickly.
Tiger Woods is not afraid of showing emotion on the golf course. While we tend to think of Tiger Woods as a fist pump celebrator, he is also known as a slammer and critic who slams clubs like any other golfer.
But, he does this only after the shot.
In fact, it’s only about 10 paces or steps that give him room to vent and get out his frustration. After those ten steps, it’s on to the next shot. Tiger taught this concept to Charlie, his son. He was quoted as saying:
“Son, I don’t care how mad you get. Your head could blow off for all I care, just as long as you’re 100% percent committed to the next shot. The next shot should be the most important in your life. It should be more important than breathing.”
The second trick is to create a post-shot routine. Once the glove comes off or you undo the Velcro, it’s time to decompress and move to the next shot. While it’s still securely in your hand, you can be mad and process the shot.
But once it’s off or undone, it’s time to move on. This can be combined with the ten-step Tiger Ritual.
If you aren’t walking the golf course, another trick to put each shot in a vacuum is this… once you put the club back in the bag, the last shot is over. Now, it’s time to move on to the next one with 100% focus.
While I had to include that point in avoiding doubles and bad holes, they’re still going to happen no matter what. But you know what’s worse than one bad hole? Two bad holes back-to-back.
Another tip for bouncingback is not to make the same mistake again on the next hole.
Many golfers try to make it twice (or worse) on the next hole. You might think that swinging like Bryson de Chambeau with a driver will make your worries disappear. While it’s okay to swing aggressively, don’t take an absurd line or play overly aggressive.
When you make a big number, remember that you can’t make it all up on the next hole. Accept that it might take a few holes to “get those shots back” so you don’t try to do much from any one swing. This will allow you to think with your head and not emotionally to make good decisions.
Bad drives are part of golf. However, how you react to a bad shot (or drive in this case) is what will make the difference between a great shot and a poor hole. Remember Tiger’s rule – no double bogeys.
Double bogeys can be caused by trying to recover from a bad tee shot. Many golfers believe they have a window in their trees and attempt to hit a hero shot. While it’s fun to attempt, it can lead to big numbers quite quickly.
Chipping in the largest window between the trees is a better option. This will allow you to get the ball back in play. This will allow you to hit the green and save par. Worst case scenario (hopefully), you make bogey and it won’t completely derail your round.
Another thing you can learn from Tiger is his approach to golf. You would not believe that Tiger was aggressive when he was hitting the pins. He was a good player who could hit greens and leave himself 20-30 feet to make birdies.
He would be more aggressive with a wedge in his hands if he could get closer to the flag. This was evident in the 2019 Masters which he won after an eleven-year major drought. Of his 18 approach shots he missed 16 or was under the hole on 16 of the 18.
Meaning, he didn’t short side himself which can lead to double bogeys, aka round killer. Although his aiming points are conservative, his swings can still be aggressive. He used to call it, “Swinging aggressively towards my spots.”
So if you have a bad hole, don’t feel like you need to take dead aim at the pin with your approach shot. Instead, swing aggressively at your target while maintaining a conservative approach.
You only need one swing to get you back on track after a bad hole or series of holes. To do this, hit your “go-to” shot off the tee. This isn’t the time to try out the shot you’ve been experimenting with at the range or hit one you “hope” you can hit.
If you are a cut driver, for example, it is a good idea to hit your trusted cut driver off the tee. Don’t try to hit a high draw or a stinger – instead, stick with your most trustworthy shot.
It’s common to have your emotions running high still after a bad hole so don’t let them get the best of you by trying to hit a new shot. Playing your preferred shot can help you gain confidence, find the short grass, improve your scoring ability, and make it easier to get a good score on the hole.
When things start going sideways on the golf course, it’s easy to start questioning your swing. But this isn’t the time to get technical and worry about mechanics in hopes to find a quick fix. This only makes matters worse and adds to the problem.
I’ve found the higher the handicap golfer, the more frequently this happens. Lower handicap players are more familiar with their swing and know that correcting it mid-round is rarely an option.
Remember, the driving range is where you test out swing thoughts and mechanics… not the golf course. Don’t get into playing your golf swing vs. playing golf.
It’s best to only take one swing thought with you to the golf course. More than that and it’s easy to get in your head instead of simply reacting to your target.
You can also deal with a bad hole by making sure you are present. It’s easy when you make a big number to spiral out of control and assume the rest of the round will unfold the same way.
The truth is, you have no idea what’s going to happen in the future. The past can’t be changed and the future hasn’t happened yet. Don’t let one bad swing or hole let your mind wander too far in the future.
Instead, be present and focus on each shot.
Keep breathing even if you are having trouble with your shot or feeling the jitters. If you take shallow or irregular breaths, it can signal panic to your brain and put you into fight or flight mode. This will increase your adrenaline and make it difficult for you to not get emotional while on the golf course.
Instead, you should focus on your breathing and take a few extra to calm down. As Byron Nelson stated, “One way to break up any kind of tension is good deep breathing.”
Jayne Storey’s book Breathe golf is a great resource for more information. It’s a fascinating look at the impact of breathing in golf (and life).
As she stated in the book “Remembering how is as simple as remembering your breath, remembering that when you focus on your breathing your mind quietens down, your emotions are neutralized, and your body relaxes.”
Breathing can calm the mind and allow you to focus on making good decisions which will lead to better golf.
You can set short-term goals when you are in a frustrating situation on a golf course.
For example, let’s say you just made a triple bogey on the third hole of the day. Instead of trying not to swing for the fences during anger and frustration, set short-term goals such as:
- Play the three remaining holes at even par or higher
- At the end of the front nine, you should have at least one birdie
It is a great way of staying present, forgetting the past, and not thinking about the next round.
The final tip to bouncing back is making sure your self-talk and body language aren’t affecting your attitude. Golf is hard enough but if you’re saying and thinking negative things about yourself, you’re only going to make it more difficult.
Instead, your self talk should be empowering you to get the most from your game. You can save the analysis part of your round for after the round.
Think and say these things during the round:
- I’m hitting it well today
- I’m not out of this hole
- Bad shots are part and parcel of golf, but I love getting back.
Plus, don’t forget about your body language too. When you hit a bad shot don’t slouch your shoulders and look to the ground in defeat. Keep your head high, keep your chin up, and concentrate on sending positive signals to the brain.
Remember that only you can control your attitude
These tips can help you get through a bad shot, or a bad hole. But I wanted to include a caveat – match play.
Match play is unlike stroke play as you’re only playing one person and strokes don’t matter. You only lose one hole regardless of whether you lose by one shot or four.
If you do have a horrible hole or hit a few horrible shots, it’s even more important to not get down on yourself. Accept the hole once it’s been made and move on.
Match play requires you to forget about the past and focus on the next hole. Plus, you never know what can happen in match play so keep your mindset positive so you’re never out of the hole.
Bad shots and bad rounds are part of golf.
This game would not be possible if we all missed bad shots or played difficult holes. But a bad shot or even a bad hole(s) doesn’t have to derail your round.
Accept the challenge and accept that mistakes are part if the game. Use the tips from above to bounce quickly back.