How to Change Your Reaction to a Bad Golf Shot

Overcoming a Bad Golf Shot

What is your typical reaction to bad shots? How frustrated do you get after you hit a shot out of play or miss a three-footer?

Are you able to recover quickly or does the frustration linger or build up throughout a round with every miss?

Following a bad shot, some golfers respond by replaying the images in their heads over and over… or by ruminating over what happened… or by verbally beating themselves up, which can lead to club banging or other overt signs of frustration.

Here’s the problem: when you can’t move past a bad shot or when you respond with frustration, a mental wrestling match starts in your head and the odds are not in your favor.

This mental battle includes a competition for your focus. On one side of the focus battle is your strategy for the current shot (choosing your club, eyeing up your shot, where are you looking to place the ball, etc.)

The other side competing for your focus is quite the powerhouse of intense emotions, demoralizing images and negative thoughts about the bad shot.

The winner of this internal battle, or your mental response to your circumstances, will profoundly impact your play on the course.

When it comes to this internal battle for focus, you get to choose who wins out.

You choose your response to every shot and putt!

You can choose to focus on the current shot or you can focus on all the distractions from that bad shot that has already happened.

No matter how much energy and focus you place in the shot that has already happened, there is nothing you can do to change the past outcome.

Conversely, if you focus on what you can do in the moment, better results are more likely to happen.

If you want to raise the level of your golf game, you will need to learn an effective method to mentally rebound after a bad shot.

At the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational, Tyrrell Hatton had to decide how he was going to respond after a bad shot on the ninth fairway in the second round of the tournament. Hatton landed his approach shot between two bunkers, almost 30 yards off target.

After the bad shot, Hatton had an interesting exchange with his caddie:

HATTON: “Have you seen a worse golf shot? (pause) No, answer the question.”


HATTON: “That was terrible.”

These are often the conversations golfers have internally with themselves all the time. After you hit a shot, there will always be some type of thought and emotional response, whether the shot is good or bad. After all, you are not a robot.

While Hatton’s comments may seem a bit self-critical, he remained incredibly composed in the moments right after the shot. In fact, Hatton managed to save par and played even better in the third round shooting a 6-under 66 with 7 birdies.

The key to rebounding after a bad shot is to respond with a healthy response, that is, to let go and deal with the next shot.

How to React Better to Bad Shots:

There is no magic when it comes to your mental game. If you want to respond with composure, you’ll want to rehearse a new response.

Visualization is a great way to start changing your reaction to a more effective positive response.

Let’s use missing a short putt:

(1) Get comfortable and close your eyes. Review a recent missed putt that caused an intense negative reaction.

(2) Visualize or imagine yourself getting upset with missing. How did you feel?

(3) Imagine taking a few deep breaths to calm down physically.

(4) Integrate breathing with with a calming thought about the miss, such as “I’m not perfect, even the best putter miss short putts. Let it go.”

(5) Imagine yourself refocusing on the next shot. Feel a sense of calm and confidence as you go through routine on the next tee box.

You can use visualization or mental imagery to practice any mental skill. In this case, you are anticipating bad shots that might anger you, and practicing a new way of reacting to the bad shot.

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What are mental game customers saying?

“I want to tell you how much I appreciate all your help. You have made an enormous amount of difference in my game. I feel much better because of your help; I don’t feel the tension like I did before. You should feel very good about what you do for people—it is truly a gift!. I know my students and myself have benefited enormously from Dr. Patrick Cohn’s teaching.”
~Jim Dahline, PGA Professional

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~Emmanuel Grizaud, Amateur Golfer

“Dr. Cohn has helped me improve confidence and build a consistence pre-shot routine that helps me stay confident, and learn how to play one shot at a time during competition. He also taught me that I don’t have to hit every shot perfect to score well.”
~Brian Belden, Winner 2003 AJGA Steel City Junior Classic & Marsh Junior at Hawk Pointe

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“After working with you at the end of 2001, I went from 51st to 18th on the money list. Mentally, I am a much better player now. Your golf psychology lessons on setting goals, playing without expectations, and reacting well to mistakes has made a big difference. Thanks for all your help and I look forward to continuing to improve my mental game.”
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“Just wanted to say thank you Patrick for the many years of golf psychology training you have given me to help all the players the Good Lord sends my way and all the knowledge you have assisted me with over the years at the various seminars, tapes, and reading material. It is not often enough that we thank those who have played a significant part in our growing as instructors in this great game of ours. You have helped me in many ways and many of my players are that much better because of your influence in me.”
~Joe Thiel, PGA Master Golf Professional

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