Why is Golf so Hard?: Why You Struggle

Introduction

For those that have played the game, I think you will already know!

For those that haven’t I will lay out my reasons below but the most succinct explanation is given in the following quotation:

Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.

Winston Churchill

Let’s break down the different aspects of golf to see why each presents its own difficulties.

The Mental Game

Even when played quickly a game of golf will still take a long time with small amounts of that actually being hitting shots.

This means you often have long waits between shots with only your thoughts for company.

For this reason, almost as many books have been written on the mental side of golf as on the physical side.

bunker lie 2
not the best lie

Unfairness

An aspect of golf that some find difficult is the fact that a 1-inch putt counts the same as a 300-yard drive. Indeed Ben Hogan did suggest at one point that putts should only count for half a shot. Mr. Hogan was struggling with his putts – like me!

There are also many rules for you to break which will often lead to strokes being added to your score. So you have to deal with the fact that your score has increased without even making a swing at the ball.

When you do finally manage to hit a fairway splitting drive you might find your ball sitting in an unrepaired divot. One of the most important tenets of golf is ‘play the ball as it lies’ so you have to be mentally prepared to take the rough with the smooth.

Focus

No one can remain totally focused for an entire round of golf. One skill that has to be learned is being able to turn your focus off and then back on when you need to play your shot.

Some people find that a physical cue can be used as a trigger for your focus. E.g., you could use fastening and unfastening the velcro of your glove to signify the points where you want to turn your concentration on and off.

Overthinking

Peter Alliss often used the phrase “unconscious competence” during commentary. I believe he was referring to the fact that good golfers ingrain the necessary actions. They are performing the physical and mental tasks required for good golf without actively thinking about it.

A good analogy would be learning to drive. When you first start driving your gear changes will likely be jerky (in a manual car). You may find yourself looking at the controls rather than the road et cetera. Eventually, as your level of competence increases, all of these actions become second nature. Your primary focus is always on the outside of the vehicle. You no longer need to deliberately concentrate on the pedals et cetera. You have reached a level of “unconscious competence”.

Think Do Not Don’t

When faced with a difficult shot many amateurs will think about where they don’t want to go.

This is the wrong way to approach it. You should always focus your concentration on the target you want to hit rather than something you want to avoid.

For example, when faced with a large body of water that they have to carry many amateurs will just be thinking don’t go in the water, don’t go in the water!

What you need to do is get your brain focused on where you want to actually hit the ball, whether that be the fairway or a green. You are much more likely to hot a good shot that way.

Too Many Swing Thoughts

Your head will be full of all manner of advice from TV, books, instructors and playing partners. You get so consumed by the swing thoughts you forget you are meant to be hitting a ball.

Nice deep pot bunker
not another bunker!

The Physical Game

As Winston Churchill said golf is difficult because of the equipment used to play it!

Since Winston Churchill’s day, there have been unbelievable advances in club and ball technology. It is interesting to note that the typical handicap for amateur golfers has remained pretty consistent over the years in spite of this.

The basic problem is that you are trying to propel a small golf ball into a small hole that is many hundreds of yards away.

That’s quite tricky on its own but then adding the following factors:

  • Weather conditions
  • Uneven lies
  • Rough
  • Trees
  • Water hazards
  • Bunkers
  • Blind shots
  • Slopes

Is it any wonder that people find golf difficult.

Which Club do I Use?

Beginners may find themselves confused as to when they should use particular clubs from their bags. Having up to 14 clubs can be both a blessing and a curse.

Selecting the correct club for the shot is an important part of having a successful round. Knowing the distances you hit your clubs is an important part of getting better at golf. Players will often make things more difficult for themselves by selecting the wrong club for the distance they have to hit. Most amateurs tend to overestimate their distances.

Water filled ditch
open ditch

The Playing Area Changes

With most other sports the playing area remains the same. Raquet sports for example have courts that are the same dimensions no matter where you play. Every golf course will be different to every other and all 18 holes will also be different to the others on the course.

Even if you are playing the same course again and again then the teeing area can be repositioned and the flag on the green will be moved every so often.

This will create different challenges for the player.

Games Within a Game

Golf consists of at least two separate types of stroke and some would argue more!

Putting is an activity reliant primarily on accuracy but also requiring great judgment of pace. In addition to being able to reproduce a consistent putting stroke, you must also learn how to “read” greens. You then need to judge the strength of shot you need, married to the line you have picked.

Other areas of the game require different swings. To get the best out of your driver it needs to be hit on a slightly upward swing. Fairway woods need you to hit the ball where your swing is more level. Irons should be hit with a downward strike. Chipping, pitching and bunker play also require modifications to your technique.

Sometimes you need to hit the ball high or low or curve it to avoid hazards or obstacles. These shots will require slightly different techniques to achieve them. This increases the difficulty of learning the game.

Lies

In golf, this has a double meaning. It can refer to the condition of the ground upon which the ball is resting and also any slope which will affect the stance you need to play the shot.

If you are playing from the fairway then you would expect a good lie since the grass is closely mown. However, sometimes you may find you finish in a divot hole from a previous player’s shot. This will make executing your shot significantly more difficult. Should you miss the fairway then you could end up in a number of different bad lies. For example rough grass, bunkers, heather, gorse, pine needles et cetera. Any of these will make your shot more difficult.

A further difficulty could be having to deal with a variety of sloping lies. The ball could be above or below the level of your feet making your shot awkward. It could also be resting on a downslope or an upslope meaning your stance will need adjusting to allow you to hit your shot.

Of course, these difficulties are not mutually exclusive so you may face several of them at the same time. Having to learn different types of recovery shots and also what is achievable at your own skill level is another reason that golf is difficult.

150 yard marker post
only 150 yards to go!

The Ball is Stationary

Personally, I believe this is one of the biggest reasons why most people find golf difficult to play.

In moving ball sports, people will react to the movement of the ball which I think comes more naturally to most. In golf, you are standing still attempting to hit a stationary ball sitting on the ground.

In order to achieve a degree of success, you have to perform a series of fairly complicated movements in the correct sequence.

You Are Alone!

The fact that you play almost all golf as an individual against the course means you have no one to rely on but yourself. At least professionals have a caddie to help them with the difficult decisions on the course. They can also take their mind off the situation at hand and relieve some pressure.

As an amateur, you are totally reliant on your own ability to work out what you are doing wrong and correct it.

Why is Golf so Hard: Conclusion

So in summary golf is hard because it is a mental and physical challenge. Some would argue that’s why most people keep playing. If golf was easy then we wouldn’t keep coming back for more!

Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at them.

Jimmy Demaret

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