Everyone has always said that accepting the result is the best way to play golf. And the best way to accept the result is to really not care at all about the result.
But people have also always said that the only way to improve is to practice really hard and prepare fully SO THAT you can let go and not care.
So how do you care enough to practice and prepare fully and deliberately, while at the same time not caring at all?
This is the balance that I feel like I found at the height of my playing career. I would pour myself fully into practice and preparation, whether it was putting, chipping, driving range, or on-course practice. Complete and total focus on achieving my daily goals of improvement.
But when it came time to play for a score, I flipped that switch off. I was able to not care. I was able to trust my practice and preparation. As I was walking into the ball before a shot I would mutter to myself “Pick a target, let it rip, accept the results” (a phrase I stole from Trevor Immelman, which he said before every shot on the way to winning the 2008 Masters). I would hit the shot and look up and see where it was going and simply accept where it was going. Most of the time I would have to fight disappointment or elation, but every once in a while I would play a round where every shot I hit I was completely indifferent to the result.
So how do you get to the point where you can flip that switch off? You’ve probably heard someone say the quote “The longest walk in golf is the one from the driving range to the first tee.” That’s because you go from almost zero expectations to the presence of at least one expectation. And how could you not? You want to play well. You want to shoot a good score. At the very least you want to hit a good first shot.
So how do you get rid of these expectations? Just like everything else in golf, and even in life. You practice at it.
What do you do before you practice something? You set a goal and lay out a plan for improvement. Getting rid of expectations and caring about result is no different. You set a goal of having no expectations on the course; of not caring one way or the other about result. You say “I’m GOING TO rid myself of caring about result” and anything else is settling for less. And you lay out a plan for improvement. That plan will look different for everyone, but for me it was committing to telling myself before every shot “Pick a target, let it rip, accept the result” over and over and over until it was my default.
When I felt a care or an expectation rising up I talked to that thought. I would literally talk to myself until my thoughts were my own. I slowly replaced expectant thoughts with thoughts of freedom and acceptance and indifference.
Now there is a disclaimer for this kind of thinking. The journey to this thought process is not for the faint of heart. You will, like me, most likely find on this path that you feel lost or naked without your cares and expectations. You may feel like you don’t have anything to live up to without expecting something of yourself. You may feel like you won’t be any fun to be around if you stop caring. But the opposite of all of these is true. The freedom of indifference to result will be a better companion and a warmer blanket than any expectation could ever be. Now that you don’t care what you live up to, the weight that gets removed from your shoulders will finally allow you to reach the heights you previously expected of yourself. And fun will be the only thing that matters because the frustration and complexity of expectations will be gone.
And this isn’t just a better way to play golf. This is not just for sports. This is a better way to live. All the concerns and frustrations and hopes and fears that you live with on a daily basis can all melt away when you realize that the expectations of the people around you are pretty much all man-made. So let other people strive to live up to those man-made expectations. You’ve got a life to live.