Telltale Signs of a Golfing Burnout

by Betty Baird Kregor

When I was playing junior golf in the 1960’s and 70’s. there were just a handful of national and statewide tournaments and relatively few girls playing the game. My junior year of high school, girlfriends across the county and I highly anticipated the arrival of the AJGA and couldn’t wait to enter the few events that would make up the first national “tour” for accomplished junior golfers.

Today, US junior players are blessed with several, year-long national tours. Additionally, every PGA section and city across America boasts rigorous, statewide and metro events, bringing more and more girls into the game each year. It is not uncommon for an advanced girl golfers to travel to 15 (or more) events per year, excellent preparation for Division I college golf and possibly even a career on the LPGA Tour. But there’s a dark side to this progress . . . the possibility of total burnout at a young age.

For years, I jokingly told my students that I got burned out on golf, but, in all honesty, I did experience mental fatigue and the stress brought on by increasingly challenging competition at the college level. I had unrealistic expectations of keeping pace with my junior golf wins, assuming I would breeze into college golf and dominate there as well. I also chose a very technical college program, where practice and video review were paramount. That regimen did not compliment my learning and playing styles. In four short semesters, my scores climbed and my positive attitude diminished. I was physically exhausted and felt like a failure. In short, I was burnt out. So, in a single moment after a particularly high-scoring collegiate round, I walked away from a game that had given me so much. If I had only seen the signs and taken action, I might have finished four years of college golf with my friends and enjoyed at chance at Q school.

In professional golf, the term qualifying school (or Q school) is used for the annual qualifying tournaments for leading golf tours such as the US based PGA and LPGA Tours and the European Tour. A fixed number of players in the event win membership on the tour for the following season, otherwise known as a “tour card,” meaning that they can play in most of the tour’s events without having to qualify. They join the leaders on the previous year’s money list/order of merit (and certain other exempt players) a members of the tour.

See the Signs

Physical Fatigue

If you are tired, anxious and drained, it is impossible to play well for an extended period of time. Talent and pure adrenaline may carry you for the short-term, but burnout won’t be far behind.

Watch your tournament scheduling and ask the help of an LPGA or PGA professional to see if you are over-scheduling events. Too many rounds can, in fact, cause injuries and interfere with much needed rest. Eat healthily and consult with a trainer to maintain simple workout sessions to help stay in shape and avoid injures. This will also make the potential transition to college golf much easier for you.

Mental Fatigue and Stress

It is easy to get overwhelmed and demand too much of yourself too quickly. Failing to achieve goals, even unrealistic goals, can easily translate into negative feelings about the game Add competitive parents into the mix too and you will soon see teens that have schedules and practice session rivaling the most prolific tour players . . . and no down time to be a young girl, not to mention a young student!

Check with your pro about realistic expectations, achievable goals, and reasonable practice and tournament schedules. Have at least one day a week to chill out and rest. Also practice positive thinking (focusing on what you can and do accomplish) and be patient with your progress. If you are diligent (without being a fanatic) about your practice regimen (did someone say, “short game”?), you will see improvement.

Although some may disagree, I urge my students to keep up any other sports they may love . . . for enjoyment. There are quite a few options, may which will compliment your golf game.

College coaches often recruit two-sport athletes who can demonstrate athleticism on the course and on the field or court . . . and who aren’t afraid of 6 am workouts.

Consistently Higher Scoring

This is a sure sign of burnout. If you are taking lessons, practice correctly every day, but if you are shooting higher scores each time out, something is definitely wrong! Take a break and consult with a professional that can evaluate your tournament and practice schedules. Sometimes a break can bring much needed drive and determination back into your game. There are many LPGA pros that take a month off and don’t touch a club. You may be so consumed with “finding the perfect swing” that you have forgotten how to just get the ball in the hole! My best tournament finishes came in 1974-76 when Kentucky was experiencing some of the worst winters recorded. The year I won the Optimist Junior World, I had not touched a golf club all winter . . . and had tried cheerleading! Taking a break could be your best move.

Feelings of Failure

This problem is burnout in a nutshell. No one can enjoy a round of golf and maintain perspective—remember, it is just a game—if they are feeling like a failure to themselves, to their parents, or to their coach.

Gut-wrenching feelings of inadequacy can cause a player to quit out of the blue, especially if wining or perfection is expected in every championship. Find a counselor, golf professional, friend or former player that will listen to your frustrations. Realize that your scoring will have highs and lows and that you should be in it for the long haul, looking forward to teeing it up when you are 75 years old . . . and purely for the love of the game. This is hard to do as a pre-teen or high school student, but look at the small successes you are experiencing and focus on positive thoughts as you move toward you short-term and long-term goals. Step back each week and evaluate your game, first seeing your successes as accomplishments, and then seeing your weaknesses as opportunities for improvement during short intervals of excellent practice.

Success—in golf and in life—generally requires hard work. But, in the end, if you are not enjoying the journey, you will eventually burn out. Keep it all in perspective, develop a training program that provides balance, set your goals wisely to allow for success . . . and don’t forget to celebrate those successes!


Written by Betty Baird Kregor for Summer 2008 2.2 of Golfer Girl Magazine pp 42-43.

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