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Dealing With Bad Breaks on the Golf Course

OK, picture the scene: you're in the middle of one of your best rounds in many months and potentially headed for a new low score. The sun is shining. Shots are coming off. Putts are dropping. In short, life is good.

On the next tee, you stripe a drive down the centre of the fairway and take in your buddies' praise, only to find your ball comfortably settled into a deep, nasty fairway divot.

You curse your luck. You might even come over all McEnroe-esque...

"You cannot be serious!!"

You struggle to control your second shot (because whoever practices hitting from a divot, right?) and card a double bogey - or worse. After one single slice of bad luck, seeds of annoyance, self-pity and/or anger have been sewn.

Good breaks Vs bad breaks

If you've been playing golf for a while, the likelihood is you have developed a reasonable amount of skill; however, luck - both good and bad - has the potential to rear its head and impact almost every round you play.

Every player gets roughly as many good breaks as they do bad ones, but it's human nature that we tend to remember misfortune more vividly.

Many of us will have horrifically hooked our tee shot at some stage, only to watch it ricochet off a tree and mercifully back into the fairway. We accept the lucky escape and get ready to hit our second without much of a fuss.

However, when our ball bounces off a sprinkler head (for example) and shoots straight OB, it can stay with us for a hole or two, maybe more - and it's hard to hit good golf shots when you're feeling wronged.

Most rational golfers will accept that this thing we call 'luck' - both in life and in golf - is utterly random. It's so easy to feel like the golfing gods are against you, but, in reality, it's never quite as personal as that.

The destructive force of self-pity

One thing that separates the good players from higher handicap golfers is their ability to deal with adversity and regroup on the golf course.

They shake off a bad shot or a slice of misfortune and get ready to make their next swing their best swing. Tiger Woods famously employs a "10 step rule" whereby he allows himself to get angry, but ten steps down the fairway, he must forget about it and refocus.

Here's the thing about luck: nobody actually cares about your bad breaks. Not your playing partners - they're focused on their own game, and certainly not your 'significant other' - they stopped listening to your post-round gripes ages ago.

The only person who cares is you. What's more, when you've just had a massive slice of misfortune, you're also the only person with the power to stop your round from getting away from you.

Making your own luck

So is it possible to 'make your own luck' on the golf course? Well, no, not really. Bad breaks will always happen. Instead, you can change your approach to your preparation, to the round itself and to how you personally deal with misfortune.

Here are three separate areas to focus on:

Practice and more practice - As mentioned above, luck is inherently random and so relying on Lady Luck being kinder to you isn't a valid strategy to improve your scoring.

As the saying goes, the more you practice, the luckier you get. What we're really alluding to here, rather than luck, is chance and probability. The more your skill level improves, all things remaining equal, the greater the probability you'll get a hole-in-one, or drain a 60-ft putt, etc.

And while you can't stop bad breaks from occurring, often our annoyance at finding a fairway divot, a bare lie, a plugged lie (and so on) stems from a dissatisfaction with our own skillset.

With practice and proper instruction, these shots become easier and easier, and you can regroup to stop your round from spiralling out of control.

Have a plan (and stick to it) - As a general tip for preparing for your round, if you take the time to preview the golf course the night before - particularly when you're teeing up at a new track - you could avoid potential card-wrecking disasters.

That's where the Course Preview function of your Hole19 app can help.

You'll see the course layout and yardages at a glance without needing to start a round. Distance arcs will show you the remaining yardage to each green, and you can gauge the position of key hazards from tee to green.

If you're a Premium user, you can utilise the Notes feature on particularly tricky holes to remind yourself of your preferred club selection and general strategy.

A real benefit of having a defined plan is that when you have a bad hole or get a bad break that sees the red mist descend a little, it gives you something to turn your attention back to and take you out of that moment.

You'll find even more tips about playing more intelligently in our article on good course management.

Have a good sense of humour (and a short memory) - To enjoy your round, make sure you can laugh off the bad breaks that do come your way, remember each of those good shots and enjoy the company of your playing partners.

Also, if you can develop an ability to forget your unlucky breaks, it will help immensely.

Some of the world's best golfers have a form of 'short term memory loss' - essentially the ability to stand on the next tee with a clear mind.

If you can learn to put the 3-putt, the chunked chip shot, the plugged lie, or the unlucky bounce out of your mind, you'll relieve yourself of the negative emotions that make it harder to play good golf.

How do you deal with your share of bad breaks on the golf course? Let us know in the comments below.


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