Are you an earnest grinder?

Are you an earnest grinder?

I’ll bet that, like the overwhelming majority of golfers that I know, you are.

How to tell?

Do you show up before your round in a desperate search for a swing thought that—’please dear golf gods’—will work today?

Are you forever tinkering with your game, trying this and that, combing through your Rolodex of past swing thoughts, and recallilng snippets of wisdom from Uncle Steve?

Do you consider yourself a ‘student of the game? Do you always have a golf book on the go? Are you constantly skimming through YouTube et al for the latest revolutionary breakthrough?

If so, that’s cool. You’re a fellow golf nerd.

But, I’ll bet that, unfortunately, most of the time, you’re disappointed in your golf.

It’s like the golf gods play a perverse inverse trick on golf nerds. The more you try, work, hope and invest yourself in your game, the more you find yourself crushed yet again by the weight of your expectations.

Consider the following example, which I hear constantly. A player struggling with his chipping will tell me that he found something that “worked,” and that he practiced it for two whole hours with brilliant results. During his next game, he got over his first chip— and chunked it. And the next one. Misery and woe ensue yet again.

Many of the people that come to me are more than simply frustrated. They often feel inept and demoralized. It’s no exaggeration to say some feel despair.

For many people, just walking to the first tee fills them with dread. Or realizing they have a short putt. Or that they must chip or hit a bunker shot.

Yes, this is extreme. But most golfers who are serious about trying to become better players experience similar feelings of anxiety. It seems absurd. Out of proportion. It’s a game after all. But for many golfers, it strikes at their feelings of competency, self image and their hopes for their golf, but also their aspirations in other parts of their lives.

This is golf hell, as Howard Glassman and I have explored many times on our Swing Thoughts podcast.

How do we find fun in the game again?

How do we strike a balance between doing our best to play well and enjoying everything else that golf has to offer? And ultimately, how do we get on a path that leads to playing the golf that we aspire to?

I believe it requires a radical re-ordering of our mindset and relationship to the game.

How about this: What if we change the meaning of success?

For most of us, success is hitting “a good shot.” Think of how you instantly judge a shot: if it’s “good,” you feel good; if it’s “bad,” you feel bad. No wonder people get so anxious.

Rather making success about outcomes, let’s make success about awareness.

In other words, play the “awareness game,” as my late friend George McNamara used to call it.

Instead of success being about the shot, let’s make success about being aware of what was happening as you prepared for and hit the shot?

In doing so, you may become aware that you, for example:

  • You were trying to execute a swing tip from Uncle Steve
  • You noticed that your body was tense
  • You realized that your hands were slowing down coming into the ball
  • You swung so fast you resembled Zorro
  • You were thinking about ordering two beers when you see the cart girl


  • You felt the club swing to the target
  • You felt in balance
  • You felt yourself “swing smoothly”
  • You noticed something that you were never aware of before

Or something else. It’s your brain and body. Whatever you notice is different for everyone.

As George McNamara said, “When you play the awareness game, you never lose.”

Here’s why: you become aware of what’s actually happening.

When you play the good shot/bad shot game, you’re in a constant state of judgment. You’re thinking, evaluating, comparing. You’re in your head. You cannot experience what’s happening in your body when you are distracted by thinking (including when you’re trying to move body parts in certain ways).

If we make success about being present to what’s actually happening, you become more aware of how your body moves, and how you use the club.

You may notice for the first time why you slice, chunk or shank. It’s no longer a mystery. Now you can begin to address it beause it’s no longer in your blindspot.

You can also begin to develop your own distinct technique that’s unique to you. Your way. Yes, your technique can incorporate fundamentals you’ve learned from professionals or Uncle Steve, but now you’ve actually experienced them.

Here’s my invitation: The next few times you play, rather than making success about outcomes, make success about your awareness.

I guarantee that you’ll learn more about yourself, which will lead to great awareness of how you can play your best and enjoy the game more. And perhaps you’ll be less of an earnest grinder.

Need some help with your swing or mental game—or both? Email me for a chat at

Tim O'Connor
Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID — a Guelph punk band!

2 thoughts on “Are you an earnest grinder?

  1. we do not use the card to keep score any longer. After the 1st hole, we simply acknowledge that we are 1, 2 , or 3 up or 1,2,or 3 down ! When you realise that not keeping a double, or triple bogey in yer head is a good thing, people always score better, and more importantly , have more FUN

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