Archived Story

Remaining calm, steady bolsters putting

Published 9:53am Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Column: Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom

Whether you are on the disc golf course or the conventional golf course, there comes a time to make a crucial putt. You want this to go in for a birdie or even just to save par.

There are times you nail those, and there are days you can’t make anything. Why is that?

Sure, there is plenty of content to find on the Internet and in magazines that will improve your putting, whether you play ball golf or disc golf. And you’ve done those. And you practice regularly. You know how to putt correctly. You might even say you are fairly good at it.

Still, despite all these, this skill has the strange irregularity that on some days you can do it well and on some days you struggle.

The major differences I have found are these: Being calm, confident, focused and positive.

The less drama there is going on in your life, the better you will putt.

The more you practice putting, the better you will putt.

The more you follow your routine for successful putting, the better you will putt.

The more you think you can make the shot, the better you will putt.

Work and home sure attempt to create ways to disrupt tranquility. Work sometimes is hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry, then you get to the course, which demands you to slow down, and your mind and body cannot put the brakes on fast enough. You rush your shots. You can’t see the lines well. You screw up.

Stress from kids can function the same way.

For some folks, they can make that transition easily somehow. For others, like me, it requires trying to remain calm and peaceful throughout the workday so that putting skills remain steady, even if I am not going to the course that evening.

When you get to the course, don’t just rush out and play. Practice putting. After all, the point of golf is to put the ball in the cup. The point of disc golf is to put the disc in the basket.

Practice putting, for me, is about gaining focus. I putt well in disc golf when somehow I am able to cross over from the active, entertaining world around us into this sort of quiet zone where all I see and think about is this focus point. I usually eyeball something on the pole inside the disc golf basket, such as a scuff mark on the galvanized steel of the center pole. Some guys like to look at a link in a chain.

It’s easier to be in this zone when you are calm.

I first make sure I have space and a good stance, where I can push forward well with my left leg, transferring its power to my right arm. Then I look at the focus point, rock back and forth to get the feel of the throw, then just throw. There is no thought given to the mechanics of the throw, like I did when I was newer or when I would struggle with putting. There comes a point where you let your body do the work, and your mind’s only job is to see the target.

I like to say that I putt by feel. Don’t think too much. Just let it happen.

One of the best pieces of advice came from Albert Lea disc golfer Jared Johnson. He said, “Play the course. Don’t play the competition.”

He’s right. I never aim to play other players. I used to, when I was new. These days, when I am following my routine, I just hit my shot, then think about the next shot. Nothing more. Nothing less. I couldn’t care less whether the other players got a birdie or a bogey. I only worry about the scores at the end of round.

If my approach shot leaves me with a long putt, instead of worrying about a bad approach or missing the putt, I begin thinking that I can make that putt anyway. No problems. That’s an easy shot. It’s going in. The positive outlook really increases the likelihood of success.

I never seem to putt well when I worry about the shot, or worse, what other people think of my skills. There are some players I hope to impress, and that’s when I don’t impress. In fact, trying too hard is a bad situation, and when I do that, I feel like I have had a total lapse in all that I have learned mentally from the game.

It’s not the worst situation, though. That is reserved for the kind of people who seem to bring too much tension to the round time and again. I understand when someone now and again is tense — we all have bad days — but the people who bring tension are the ones talking smack about their game or your game, who can’t shut up when it is your turn, who root for players to mess up, you know the kind. In the long term, it seems nobody wants to play with them anyway.

Anxiety is the toughest enemy. I’d get really nervous and screw up. In fact, I still do at times. I recently got over it largely by not working hard mentally to force it away. Instead, I began to accept it. Yup. There is that anxiety. That’s normal. No big deal. Play through it. Part of the game. Thinking like that calmed me down. I don’t suffer it nearly as much now.

Being confident in your shot helps reduce anxiety, too. That comes from practice, practice, practice.

There are three lessons to take away from all this, not just for sport, but for life: 1. relax, 2. simplify, 3. repeat.


Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.