3 Ways Playing Golf Can Help Relieve Stress—Way 2

by Doc Orman, M.D.

How Playing Golf Can Help Relieve Stress 2

Let’s continue talking about 3 key ways playing golf can help people relieve stress. 

Remember, even if you don’t play golf at all or even if you dislike the game, you can still get value from this discussion.  This is because I’m really talking about three key skills for dealing with life successfully. And it just so happens you can work on all three of these skills at the very same time you are busy playing golf.  (You can also work on improving these skills in other sports and in many other ways as well.)

Way 2—Mastering Your Emotions

In golf as with many other sports (and with life as well), there are many times when we have to deal with strong emotions.  Often these are negative emotions stemming from making critical mistakes or not performing the way we know we can.  But sometimes they can be strong positive emotions as well, which we have to learn how to temper so they don’t interfere with our next shot or playing the next hole before us.

When you’ve seen or played with as many golfers as I have over the years, you run into a wide range of displays of emotion.  Some people remain calm, composed and well-focused, even though they may be temporarily upset with themselves or with others.  Some people temporarily lose control but rapidly gain it back. Then there are those on the other extreme, who once they get upset stay that way for the rest of the round and who knows for how long after it ends.

Why Is Golf Good For Learning Emotional Control?

While you can learn to control your emotions with any sport you play, there is something special about golf that makes it a fertile training ground.  This is because there are just so many different ways you can mess up during an 18-hole round that the opportunities are endless. 

After all, it’s not like you’ve got some 7-foot defender standing right in front of you, trying to disrupt your shot.  And it’s not like there are 11 steroid-crazed guys running towards you trying to knock the club out of your hand.  And there’s no breaking curveballs or 98-mile-per-hour fastballs coming your way that you have to figure out how to hit.

There’s just this little round ball sitting motionless on the ground in front of you.  How hard can smacking it with a stick really be?

Damn hard.

Frustratingly hard.

Exasperatingly hard.

Even Hall Of Famers Struggle!

I’m from Baltimore, so I had the pleasure of watching Cal Ripken, Jr. play his entire Hall Of Fame baseball career.  I also had the pleasure of meeting him in person several times, as we live only a few miles apart.  His daughter and my daughter are the same age and were in several Christmas shows together. And one day, Cal actually rescued my daughter on a ski slope when she was skiing by him and lost control of her balance.

The reason I bring Cal up is because when he retired from baseball, he decided to take up golf.  I never got a chance to play with him, but I did once hear an interview where he said it was definitely more of a challenge than he thought it would be.  Here’s a guy who could hit the crap out of a moving baseball travelling toward him at ungodly speeds.  I can only imagine the emotions he must have felt standing over a motionless golf ball and having trouble making it fly.

Golf Can Help Us Develop Emotional Coping Skills

Instead of having our many bad shots in golf do nothing more than stress us out, why not take advantage of them to help build up emotion coping skills we can use all throughout our life?

There was one young man I did play with regularly who was an inspiration to me when it came to dealing with emotional stress.  He was a serious golfer and when he would make a really bad shot, he would stomp around and vent for about 10 seconds (never any more than this) then he would suddenly stop and say “I’m over it.”  And then he would move on like nothing had happened.

What a great way to deal with being angry.  Let it out for a few seconds then boom…completely drop it and move on to the next shot.

Of course, there are other emotions in addition to anger that we golfers frequently experience.  There’s the fear of standing on the first tee waiting to hit your first shot, or fear of standing over a two-foot putt to win your first big tournament.

There’s feeling guilty over letting your teammates down.  There are countless opportunities to become frustrated. And there are moments of pure sadness, like Phil Mickelson finishing second in the U.S. Open for the 100th time, or mis-hitting the brand new $4 ProV1 ball you just bought into the pond on a short par-3 hole.

My point is that if you approach the game of golf in the right way, you can learn a lot about yourself (and other people) and you can also learn about how to control your emotions.

Stay tuned for the final post in this series, where I’ll tell you about the third big way we can reduce our stress through playing golf. 

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