Golf is hard.
Even on your good days, all it takes is one bad swing to ruin the 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 hit some horrendously bad shanks in competition and Bryson DeChambeau topped a shot at the Players Championship in 2021. The point is, bad shots are a part of this great sport, even for the guys who earn millions of dollars to play golf.
As I’m sure you know from experience, it’s hard when the train falls off the track. But the good news is that you can learn to bounce back quickly. Here’s how…
Did you know that the PGA Tour tracks bounce backs for their players every tournament?
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.”
In the 2021 season, the PGA Tour average was 20.08% while Adam Scott led the field with 32%. Meaning, the average Tour player makes a birdie about 1 out of 5 times after making a bogey. Adam Scott led the field and made more birdies or eagles than any other player after making a bogey.
To help you bounce back in golf stronger than ever, use these tips to not let a bad swing or bad hole ruin your round.
Before getting into the best ways to bounce back after a bad hole (or bad shot), let’s keep things in perspective…
Bad shots will happen every single round!
You will never have a round where you hit every shot 100% perfect. You will likely not have a round where you hit every fairway and every green either.
Remember, the best players in the world on the PGA Tour only hit a little over 50% of fairways and about 65% of greens in regulation. These are the top performers, with the best equipment, and a team of people around them.
Yet, they still hit bad shots all the time.
So it’s a little silly to think you won’t hit bad shots as an amateur golfer. You will and the higher your handicap, the more you should accept bad shots as part of golf.
Ben Hogan once said he expects to hit about 5-7 bad shots per round and he was one of the best ball strikers ever. He said this so that when he did hit a less than perfect shot, he wouldn’t negatively react. Instead, he just accepted it as one of those 5-7 shots and moved on.
The first rule to bouncing back is accepting that bad shots are part of this great game.
The second rule to bouncing back is actually a preemptive strategy. Tiger Woods has a few rules he tries to adhere to for every round of golf that are great golf goals for you too:
- No three putts
- Zero double bogeys
- No bogeys on par 5s
If you can avoid those, chances are you will play solid golf and score more consistently. But the most important one I think is no double bogeys as they’re round killers. Not only do they hurt the scorecard, they kill your momentum which can derail your round.
Avoid these and you won’t have to bounce back often. But when bad holes happen, keep reading on how to get back on track.
There’s a difference between bad shots and bad holes. In fact, bad shots happen even for the best players in the world, during some of 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.
The final part of a good routine is accepting the bad shot so you can move on. There are a few ways you can do this so you can get over bad shots quickly.
Tiger Woods is not afraid to show emotion on the golf course. While most of us think of his fist pump celebrations, he is also known to berate himself and slam clubs like an everyday golfer.
But if you notice, he only does this immediately 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 even taught his son Charlie this concept too. 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. That next shot should be the most important shot in your life. It should be more important than breathing.”
The second trick to creating a post-shot routine is simple. 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. You can also pair this with the ten-step Tiger ritual too.
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 to bouncing back is not compounding the mistake on the next hole.
So many golfers make a double (or worse) and try to make it all up on the next hole. Somehow thinking that swinging like Bryson DeChambeau with a driver will make all your worries go away. 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 should help you think with your head and not play emotionally to make sound decisions.
Hitting a bad drive is inevitable and part of golf. But how you react is the difference between a bad shot (or in this case drive) vs. a bad hole. Remember Tiger’s rule – no double bogeys.
One of the main culprits of double bogeys is trying an impossible recovery shot when your tee shot is in trouble. So many golfers think they have a window in the trees and try to hit a hero shot. While it’s fun to attempt, it can lead to big numbers quite quickly.
The better solution is chipping out in the largest window from the trees so you get the ball back in play. This will give you a chance to hit the green and possibly save par. Worst case scenario (hopefully), you make bogey and it won’t completely derail your round.
Another tip you can take from Tiger is how he approaches golf in general. If you watch him on approach shots over the years, you would never say he was an aggressive player when firing at pins. He was fine hitting greens and leaving himself 20-30 feet for birdie.
If he had a wedge in his hand, he would play closer to the flag but still not overly aggressive. This is more evident than ever in the 2019 Masters, which he won after an 11-year major drought. Of his 18 approach shots, he was underneath the hole or missed on the long side 16 of 18 approaches.
Meaning, he didn’t short side himself which can lead to double bogeys, aka round killer. While his aiming points might be conservative, his swings are still aggressive. He once called 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, play a conservative line but swing aggressively at your target.
After a bad hole or stretch of holes, you need one good swing to get things back on track. 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.
For example, if you play a cut driver, hit your trusty 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 go-to shot can help you gain more confidence with your swing, find the short grass, and put yourself in a good position to score well 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. For so many golfers, this only makes things worse and compounds the issue even further.
I’ve found the higher the handicap golfer, the more frequently this happens. Lower handicap players know their swing well enough and also know that trying to correct it mid-round rarely works.
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.
Another way to deal with a bad hole is to make sure and stay 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, stay present and hit each shot with 100% focus.
When you hit a bad shot or have the first tee jitters, one of the most important things you can do is keep breathing. When you take irregular breaths or shallow breaths, it signals panic to your mind and will put you in fight or flight mode. This will send extra adrenaline through your body and make it hard to not get overly emotional on the golf course.
Instead, focus on breathing regularly and maybe taking a few extra breaths to calm down. As Byron Nelson said, “One way to break up any kind of tension is good deep breathing.”
To learn more about this topic, I suggest reading the book Breathe Golf by Jayne Storey. It’s a fascinating look at the impact of breathing in golf (and life).
As she said 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 will keep the mind quiet and calm so you can focus on making good decisions that lead to better golf.
If you find yourself in the midst of a frustrating situation on the golf course, set short term goals.
For example, let’s say you just made a triple bogey on the third hole of the day. Instead of trying to swing for the fences the rest of the round out of anger and frustration, set short term goals like:
- Play the next three holes at even par or better
- Get at least one birdie by the end of the front nine
Setting goals for every three holes is a great way to stay present, forget the past, and not think about the rest of the 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 needs to empower you to get the most out of your game. Save the analyzing part of your game until after the round.
During the round, think and say things like:
- I’m hitting it well today
- I’m not out of this hole
- Bad shots are part of golf and I love bouncing 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 up, chin up, and focus on sending positive signals to your brain.
Remember, you and only you control your attitude!
All the tips discussed thus far can help you after 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. Whether you lose by one or four shots on the hole, you only go one down.
If you do have a horrible hole or hit a few horrible shots, it’s even more important to not get down on yourself. Once the hole has been conceded, accept it and move on.
With match play, you want to leave the past in the past so you can focus on hitting a good shot 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 an inevitable part of golf.
If we never hit bad shots or had challenging holes, no one would play this great game. But a bad shot or even a bad hole(s) doesn’t have to derail your round.
Accept the challenge, understand that bad shots are part of the game, and use the tips from above to bounce back quickly.