Your Stories: Tips to play better golf – and get through the Coronavirus pandemic

Rainbow over a golf course
Thos Caffrey/

A guide for your golf game and social distancing

Throughout this difficult period, this Golf News Hub will explore what it’s like to actually live through this moment. Here we will print your stories about how this is affecting you, your family, your friends … your daily life. Email us your story.

Here is the the third essay in our series. (Read our first essays here and here.)

Golf provides an abundance of life lessons.

One of golf’s best gifts is that whatever you learn on the course, you can apply off it. There are so many mental hurdles to overcome in this game, and you can take those newfound skills and practices to your work (or to any stressful situation -- like a pandemic).

Before I started my current job in marketing, I was a professional golfer for five years, teeing it up everywhere from Australia and Morocco, to Florida and California. I learned a few lessons along the way, and below are some of the highlights. My hope is that these tips help bring a sense of calm and confidence into your daily routine during the COVID-19 crisis.

1. Prepare

Before a pro golf tournament, everyone typically plays a practice round. During that time, golfers collect notes and plot their strategy for the tournament. Each hole has its own plan, and developing this vision helps them feel confident and prepared for the challenge ahead.

Of course, if every round went as planned, we would shoot a perfect 54 every time and be dreadfully bored. But golf is anything but boring.

How do we deal with the inevitable bumps in the road? Create a foolproof plan: stick to your vision but commit to staying open to new experiences. It is just as important to have a plan as it is to be flexible in the moment. Miss a fairway off the tee? That’s OK, take a deep breath, use your creativity to find a new solution and stay in your routine. More often than not, positivity will get you to the green in regulation.

Coronavirus Application: Everyone has questions surrounding the uncertainty of COVID-19. When will it end? Will my loved ones and I stay healthy? Will I have a job at the end of this? Plan ahead as best as you can but understand there will be unexpected detours. Be resourceful, feel optimistic and stay present through those challenges. This will help you remain calm about the future while also building confidence in your own resilience.

2. Celebrate

Intentional or not, we find many ways to compare ourselves to our golf buddies and their games. Tallying scores at the end of the round is, of course, the ultimate showdown.

Golf is an individual game, just as life is an individual journey; we have support from others throughout both, but we are the protagonists of our own stories. It’s important to remember that everyone has his or her own goals and challenges.

If you lose a match and feel envious of others’ success, try to remember to celebrate their win and yours. What win, you may ask? Search for them in your round. You can start with golf-related victories: you made a birdie, you hit a solid 5-iron, you hit 12 fairways, you implemented your pre-shot routine the entire round, etc. You will always find some good when you review the last few hours. Other victories to celebrate: you were healthy enough to play today, and you were able to spend time outside with friends. When you look for the positives, you’ll find many!

These “mini-victories,” as I like to call them, will propel you forward in the face of adversity.

Coronavirus Application: Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some people have a solid stash of toilet paper while others have a constant flow of fresh water. Celebrate victories and acknowledge the positives in everyone: you, your friends and neighbors are prepared in different ways. Spin this win-lose situation as a win-win by collaborating and seeing the bigger picture. Together, we can all alleviate envy and tension throughout this pandemic.

3. Focus

Have you ever tried wearing a dryer sheet in your golf visor to keep the gnats away while you’re putting? The gnats can shake your focus from your primary goal: sinking the putt. Now, what if I told you I have a dryer sheet to protect your mind from debilitating thoughts?

You can only think one thought at a time. Therefore, put your brain power behind the lone idea that will lead you to successfully hitting your target. Make that thought dependable and repeatable by creating a trigger action or word for it.

How do you form that target-focused trigger? Like creating a new habit, it is easiest to change a thought by attaching it to an action you do regularly. For example, if you want to remember to floss more often, you would start flossing immediately after you brush your teeth. Brushing your teeth is now the trigger. You can go an extra step and tape a reminder note to your bathroom mirror.

You can do the same in golf. Many people use the act of slipping on their golf glove as a trigger that they are ready to hit the shot. I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but I chose a word that notifies my brain and body that it’s game time. I also have my word, “Target,” written in my yardage book cover, which I open before every shot.

Whatever you choose, this trigger will remove your anxious thoughts and help you concentrate on the task at hand. Focusing on your target makes all your other concerns fade away, allowing for a clear head and relaxed body. After all, don’t you hit your best golf shots when you’re feeling loose?

Coronavirus Application: Everyone needs food, even during a pandemic. Let’s say your safest option is to run to Target. With the COVID-19 peak hitting the U.S. this month, this is a daunting and stressful task. Write your trigger on a note in your car or on your gloves; before you enter the store, or even while you are running around inside, use it to center your thoughts and re-focus your energy towards the task at hand: getting in, grabbing what you need and getting out. Just like in golf, we are better suited to handle any situation with a quiet mind and an earnest determination.

Stay present, stay positive and stay focused: this pandemic will end, and you and your golf game will come out stronger on the other side. Please share your golf story and let us know if any of these tips worked for you.

Kelly Okun
Charlestown, R.I.
(Kelly Okun is an employee of Buffalo Groupe, which owns and operates Golf News Hub.)

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About the Author
Kelly Okun, the strategic partnership development manager for Buffalo Groupe, is a professional golfer turned professional golf fan. After playing at William & Mary for four years (Go Tribe!), she spent her next five years competing around the world. Her favorite tour was the Australian LPGA, where she once stayed in Adam Scott’s neighborhood; sadly, she never ran into him “by chance.” While on tour, Kelly also was a freelance writer, working with and writing reviews for several fun golf products.