Writing down what I’m grateful for helps me play my best.

I’ve always been a happy person, but only in the past few months have I become a happy golfer. There is absolutely a difference.

The past few years have been awesome for me – I’ve gotten back to the PGA Tour and won twice, and I fulfilled a lifelong dream of winning the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, a tournament I attended as a kid. But before that, I went through some pretty brutal times. 

During the 2016-2017 season, I made two of 17 cuts, won just $US18,008 and lost my card. It was almost impossible not to let those consistent failures affect my mood on and off the golf course. 

Though I’ve gotten my game back, there are still moments that can make me feel pretty crappy. Maybe it’s missing a putt to get a top 10, rather than missing a putt to make the cut, but this game continues to test your emotions, no matter who you are or how good you are. 

I played in my first Masters last November and shot 75 on Friday to miss the cut by one. As you might imagine, I was not happy. Shortly after that performance, my caddie and longtime close friend Joe Greiner made a wise observation. He said I spend all this time working on my physical golf game but hardly any time working on my mental game. Why was my preparation ignoring such a huge part of golf?

Since then, I have made a conscious effort to turn my thinking around and bring the “happy guy” outlook to the PGA Tour. I’ve been reading books on it. I’ve been talking with my wife, who’s a huge help, and a music artist named Mike Stud about how I can focus on the right things when I’m playing. 

It boils down to this: for me, there is not a single positive that comes from getting mad after a golf shot. Of course, it’s good to remember the shot and analyse what went wrong. Then you can address it in your practice after the round. But sitting there and being angry isn’t going to do anything positive. It’s only going to bring you out of your focus and rhythm. Think of when you were playing your best; I highly doubt you were angry. 

‘Why was my preparation ignoring such a big part of golf?’

It’s easier said than done, of course. I’ve found it helpful to focus on all the things I have in my life to be grateful for: a wife who loves me, amazing friends, a dog who loves me (at least when I feed her) and the opportunity to play the game I love for a living and make a whole bunch of money doing it. I can’t lose sight of all that just because of a bad shot or a bad round or even a bad month on the golf course. When I hit a bad shot, I try to think of all that’s right in my life. It puts everything into perspective and makes whatever thing happened on the course feel smaller, if that makes sense. 

I’ve found that writing these things down can be super useful. Before the final round at Riviera, I remember sitting in my car and making a list of all the things I was excited for that day. This helps my mind focus on the positives.
I played an almost perfect round until the 18th green, when I missed a three-footer for the win. That could have made me really angry, but I called my wife afterwards, and she reminded me to “forgive quickly”. I wasn’t going to let one bad shot overshadow a fantastic day on the golf course. 

I was able to let that putt go before the playoff against Tony Finau. I made two solid pars to win, and it wouldn’t have been possible if I let that missed putt dominate my thoughts. 

Next time you’re on the golf course, and you hit a bad shot, take a moment to be grateful for the good things in your life. You’re on a golf course, so it can’t be that bad. Unlike me, this isn’t your job, so give yourself a break. This game is supposed to be fun, after all. – with Daniel Rapaport