ADHD Anxiety and Punitive Free Short Game Practice.

Many ADHD people have to cope with the co-morbid trait of anxiety. Dealing with ADHD and anxiety while playing the game of golf can be very tricky.

The neocortex has a huge role in where and when our anxiety surfaces. Simply put, the neocortex builds models of things in order to predict the future. The models can be nested, associated with other models, … don’t dwell on this too much, it will make your head hurt. The point is that the neocortex adds the emotional state that you are in to the models it builds.


Here is a classical example from my childhood. When I was 6 years old I ate a Stouffer’s Lasagna that my mom had heated in the oven. Later that night I became ill with an unrelated stomach virus and threw up my dinner.

At that moment my model of what a lasagna was including the emotional fear of peril. I could not eat a lasagna for 10 years. When I was in High School, a nice lady, Haditi, who was the caregiver for my ill Cuban grandfather, cooked a lasagna. I did not want to eat it at all. My Wheel of Fortune of predictability had a big fat “Lose Your Lunch” on the wheel. In order to be polite, my mother forced me to eat the lasagna.

Now, Haditi, who was from Eritrea, a former Italian colony, made her lasagna quite different than the lasagna I remembered. Her sauce was very meaty like the Cuban Picadillo my mom used to cook all of the time. So I tried it and I loved it.

However to this day, I still look at the packaging of a Stouffer’s lasagna with a little discomfort. So in my neocortex, I have a model of Lasagnas that includes both joy and a very diminished peril.


This type of neocortical model building has a direct correlation to golf. The mental state you practice in will be the mental state you play in provided you do not treat a round of golf as a test.

When caring for my mother when she was dying from pancreatic cancer, I would spend about 1-2 hours a day in the short game area at Baytree National in Melbourne, FL. I would practice on chipping and pitching.

The problem is that I came to the short game practice area to unwind from the anxiety and stress of caring for my declining mother. I practiced my chipping and pitching with a anxious mindset.

Low and behold, I developed the chipping and pitching yips simply because in my model of the short game I had unknowingly added anxiety to it.

I then realized that prior to moving to Florida, I had been practicing my short game AFTER I walked 18 holes. I was totally unwound and anxiety free by then. Back then it was not uncommon for me to have in one round 12 pars with 9 of them being par saves. I had lost my short game simply because in my updated neocortical model, anxiety dominated the model

In hindsight I should have done some exercising to unwind from the anxiousness that I was feeling before heading to short game practice.

So how do you undo the anxiety. Although, it takes time to rewrite your anxiety laced neocortical models, the solution is quite simple. Create a practice in an non-punitive rewards-based structured exploration of the short game area.

The practice I recommend is the short game variety of the ladder drill. Take 5 balls and place them in a line with balls being 4-6 feet apart. This line can be in line with the flag, perpendicular to the flag or at an angle. You can even start with one ball in the green side fringe, two balls in the bunker and two balls behind the bunker. Be creative, the alignment of the ladder does not matter.

Short Game Ladder Example Gallery – click to view

Imagine that each shot is an attempt at a par save. The goal is to have 3 out of 5 up and downs with no “double bogeys”. If you have a “double bogey” do not start over. That would be a penalty. You finish every shot as it is free homework for the next set.

With each shot being different it forces your brain to reformulate the picture. With each shot you learn the feel for distance as well as how the ball reacts to the green from that side. You then can apply what you have learned from each shot to the next shot without repeating anything.

The lack of repetition is a huge key for the following reasons:

  • When you try to repeat something you turn a moment of improvisation into a test. If you repeat the task you pass and if you don’t you fail. Practicing with punitive tests goes against your efforts in trying to remove anxiety from your neocortical model.
  • By making every shot different you are constantly learning, while still being able to apply the knowledge gained from the previous shot to the current one.
  • Keeping each shot different holds the interest of an ADHD distractible brain.

So how is this type of practice not punitive?

First, you go in with the expectations that you are not supposed to achieve the goal in the first set. After all, the average scrambling rate for PGA Tour Professionals is 60 percent. You are learning. You then apply what you have learned to the next set.

Second, there is no do or die situation because there is always room for redemption. If you blade the ball out of the bunker and the ball flies across the green you can still get up, up and down for a “bogey save”.

So how do you refine your skills?

This is easy. You simply move the goal posts.

You can increase the amount of sets that are required to “go home”. The best way to do this is have your ladders set to practice different aspects of the short game. If you achieve the first goal out of the bunker then only continue with the other shot types around the green. Eventually you could have the ladder goals include some or all of bunker, chip, pitch, bump and run, flop, deep rough, collection area with tight lie, …etc

This type of practice is perfect for focusing an ADHD golfer for these reasons:

  • Unlike simply hitting a cluster of chip shots towards a hole, gathering the balls on the green and hitting another cluster from a different location, this type of goal oriented practice focuses an ADHD golfer simply because you have to deal with the consequences of your shot attempts.
  • With the consequence being on the green you are more likely to be focused on the target than mechanics or the ball
  • By using only five balls, the ADHD golfer does a lot of walking which helps keep anxiety out of their practice.
  • You leave the practice with the “walk off” reward of the final set having achieve the goal.

This type of rewards-based practice of structured exploration turns refining your short game skills into an anxiety free playground provided you have have come to the short game practice completely unwound. Then you will start to view practices as collecting a portfolio of accomplishments. The anxiety will then greatly diminish over time.