If you watch golf on the TV, you will have seen many famous golfers miss an easy shot. And you have probably heard the commentator say: ‘golf is a mental game’ or ‘you need the right mindset and his slipped there.’
If that slip of concentration, or negative mental chatter, can affect professionals, then it can influence you. In this article, I am going to tell you some tips and tricks to get that mental game in its best form
You need to have the physical game as well of course. No amount of mental exercises can compensate for lack of skill. But if you have that mental sharpness as well, then you can leave the competition behind.
You don’t have to believe me. Nearly every top golfer would agree. Here is what the great Jack Nicklaus said: “Confidence is the most important single factor in this game, and no matter how great your natural talent, there is only one way to obtain and sustain it: work.”
Get your mind and body working together
Some golfers think working on your mindset is a bit mystical and a new-age. I hope to convince you that it is not. The reason for my belief is that mind and body work together. If you are confident and relaxed, your muscles will be looser and easier to control. If your mind is clear, you will feel secure and more in control of your motor functions. Many golf professionals know this and employ psychologists to improve their game.
Memory is your friend
Remember the good shots you have made. Remember the bad shots when you played poorly. Learn from each of them. In your mind draw a bad shot on a blackboard. Rub it out. You are telling your brain to forget it. In your mind take a picture of your excellent shot. Put it in a beautiful frame and put it on the wall. You are telling your mind to cherish it.
Be a Realist
Delight in your game. If you are still trying to get a golf handicap, you can always take maximum pleasure when you make your best shot. If you have the highest handicap of all your golf buddies, you can even celebrate when you make that long shot down the fairway. Plan to be better by all means. But enjoy where you are.
Welcome a challenge
Try to stretch yourself as many times as possible. If you succeed, you will feel wonderful. If you fail, it is a chance to learn and do better next time.
Model yourself on the best
Choose one thing you want to improve. Pick people who do it better than you. Choose different levels: for example, a PGA tour player, your club professional and your best golf buddy. Study in detail what they do. Every physical move, the little tricks, and steps they make. And their mental attitude. Pick out what seems most important to you. Imagine yourself doing this. After you have done this, get out and practice this. When you have improved this one thing move on to another.
Get in the moment
If you are always worrying about the next shot, you will never play your best golf. Do not get upset if you take more shots to get around the course today then you did yesterday. You will not perform well. Instead, enjoy and participate fully in every single action you make on the golf course. This is true focus.
There is nothing wrong with a to-do list. It will enable you to measure yourself against your previous performance. You can also enjoy the improvements you make, however big or small they are.
Practice and practice again
If you regard the practice as a chore, then you will not improve as fast as you want. Start to enjoy your time on the driving range and the practice green. How do you do this? Make it fun. Set yourself constant hurdles. Practice with a buddy and challenge each other. Reward yourself when you reach a goal. Keep a record of your improvements.
Get a routine before every shot. (If you look at PGA tour players you will see them doing this) Try out at home to get what is right for you. Once you are happy, practice at home until this feels completely natural. Then you are ready to take it onto the course. Here is one to start you off, but adapt it to suit your style and personality.
- Breathe slowly and deeply
- Call up a positive image of you playing golf
- Make a small physical move when you have this image. For example, touch your nose or ball your fist.
- Say a positive phrase. Here are some examples: ‘Make a good shot.’ ‘Best play.’ ‘Great swing.’ Choose whatever suits you best or even better develop one of your own.
- Make your shot.
Stay in the present
Concentrate on the shot you are playing. Do not worry about that bunker on hole 13 or getting down your handicap or what your golf buddies are doing. CONCENTRATE ON THE SHOT. When it is over go onto the next shot.
Talk to yourself
There is a simple message here: good talk will drive out bad talk.
Here are some phrases which will get your mind in the right place. Think about what phrases make you feel a world-beater and treasure them.
- This shot is simple to make
- I can hit the ball correctly.
- I am present and thinking about now.
If you feel nervous, it’s because you value your game. Think of it this way: ‘If I were useless and didn’t care if I never play golf again, I would not feel nervous and tense.’ Tension is the price you pay for your love of the game. Welcome the feeling. It shows you care. Control it and then use it.
Control the tension
Tension shows you care, but it should not get out of hand. Recognize these feelings. They are preparing your body for action. They are making your body sharper, faster and ready for the fight. But you need to keep them in control. Work to turn them into the decisive goal. Learn to breathe slowly and deeply. Imagine your mind emptying of chatter. Look at the sky. Then play.
Play to your skill level
Plan the best shots you know you can make. Then practice and work to deliver them every time. You will get better, and then you can stretch yourself and add new shots. Build up gradually, and your skill level will increase. You will be a happy and confident golfer.
Greet your golf clubs kindly
Your golf clubs are your weapons and your tools. You have invested good money in them. Learn to love them. Whenever you take your clubs out, think of the best golfing day you have ever had. Soon the association between the two will be robust, and you will be in a great mindset.
Don’t obsess about what you cannot control
It might rain. You might have teed up the best shot you can play when a gust of wind whips across the green. The ball might hit a bump in the ground which you didn’t see. Develop a Zen attitude. Don’t get upset if there is nothing you can do about it.
You cannot change what happens you can change how you think about it
Learn how to stop negative chatter. Imagine that voice which disses you when you make a bad shot is a small annoying parrot, with a silly squawk. And a stupid expression on its face. Tell it to quieten down. Tell it to change its tune. Give it some positive things to say. And wipe that silly expression of its face.
Give it a kind and helpful look. And change that voice! A gently encouraging tone, please. Spend five minutes every day getting this voice, which is your internal voice, right for you. In the space of a week, you will see a difference. You can change that voice from a severe nuisance to a real resource.
Cultivate a positive attitude
- You will not fail. You will create opportunities to learn. Welcome failures, they show you what you need to do to improve.
- Laugh at yourself. No-one has died. The sun will rise tomorrow.
- Enjoy being outdoors. Breathe the air, look at the sky. Open yourself up to the whole experience.
- Move on. One good thing about golf is that there are eighteen holes. Mess up one? Don’t worry; there is another coming up in a moment.
Aim to play wonderfully
Get the idea in your mind that you are going to have a great time. You are going to make your best shots. Play to win, rather than not to lose. If you play to win it will free up the creative part of your mind. You will see shots you could not get before. You will dare to make a putt which just seemed too complicated. Your body will change. Not only will your breathing be more comfortable but also your muscles will be looser. You will feel ace and play better.
Visualize your shots when you are on the course
Sports psychologists often say what the mind can conceive the person can achieve. Nowhere is this more accurate than in golf, the ultimate mental game. As you set up to take a shot visualize what you’re going to do as sharply as you can. Work on that picture. Make it as brightly colored as you can, make it as sharp as you can. Put in the relevant sounds. Then fix it in your head.
Do this with every shot you take. You will not make every shot perfectly. But you will find that even when you miss, you miss by a smaller margin.
Put in effort
All the time. Not just when you have made an error or messed up. The effort you make is the key to mastery.
Own your successes
If you cultivate a positive mental attitude, then you will put yourself in control. Your success is down to you. It is not luck or an accident. It is because you have practiced hard and focused well. Congratulate yourself.
Don’t be afraid to share
If you cultivate a positive mindset, your game will improve. Guaranteed. And your golf buddies will notice. Share the secrets of your success. It will make you feel prouder of your achievements. And you will get much gratitude from those around you. Does that feel good? I know it does.
Trust your instincts
Most of what we do, in every area of our lives, is done unconsciously. And the better we get at something, the less we consciously think about it. Think about driving. When you took your first lessons, you had to think about every move, every turn, every braking, every start. Now you are hardly aware unless there is an emergency. Apply this to your golf. When you are a rookie, you will need to think of every single thing. As you get better, it will become more natural. Welcome this, it is a sign of your success.
Don’t expect perfection
Welcome imperfection. One of the delights of golf is that it is not predictable. You are outside for a start, and weather changes. You are in nature, and those bumps and imperfections on the course are part of the fun. And it is hard.
No-one, and I mean no-one has ever played a perfect game. So, learn to enjoy the roller-coaster. Going out onto the golf course, not knowing how it is going to finish is the attraction of golf. Welcome it, and you may end up finding it addictive. And on a bad day, there is always tomorrow.
Take time out
This is an especially good one for the winter if you live in a cold climate. Watch some television golf. Read a biography about one of your favorites. It will put some grand visions, ideas and memories in your golfing brain. It all helps to build up a positive mindset.
Dream a bit
One of my favorites is to look at some of the world’s great golf courses. Then I imagine playing at St Andrews or even in China. That gets me in a great frame of mind to get out on my local golf course the next day.
I bet you use your brain in other areas of your life, at work, in a relationship, with your kids. Use your mind in golf as well. If you make a mistake reflect, analyses and research.
Stop the self-criticism when you are on the course
It takes discipline and mental practice. If you make a mistake say to yourself that you will learn from it later. Then get on with the game. Imagine you have a filing cabinet in your head. When you make a mistake, put it into the cabinet in a place you can find it later. Then shut the cabinet. This means you are telling your mind to remember so that you can analyze later. But for the moment you are going to ignore that mistake so you can get on with the next shot. That is why you shut the cabinet.
Keep everything in its place
Play is play; practice is practice, coaching is coaching. Each deserves time. Each deserves its own space. So, keep them separate and make sure you know what you want to get out of each before you start.
Keep the technical analysis away from the course
One guarantee to get you to play badly is if you are running through your technical faults while you are playing. Bob Rotella puts it this way: “If you are trying to tell your body how to swing, you are telling yourself you don’t know how to swing.”
(You can see more about what this great golf mindset guy says here. To correct technical faults, you will need more time, perhaps more coaching and more focus. Don’t try to make these corrections on the course. You will only make yourself miserable.
Work on your shot routine
If you practice, you will build up a good habit. If you do this, it will become second nature. It will get more comfortable even if conditions are not ideal. You can feel confident even when the pressure is on. You will also find it easier to make a good shot when something unexpected happens.
Cultivate a shrug of the shoulders
There’s no point dwelling on a bad shot. I bet you already know this. You certainly will know this if you watch the professionals. Often a brilliant top golfer will lose it, and you can see the moment when it all went wrong. The golfer couldn’t get over that bad shot on the fourth hole, and it has ruined the rest of their game.
So, it’s worth working to minimize this risk. I call this cultivating a shrug of the shoulders. A great golfing buddy of mine has a different phrase; he calls it chucking it in the trash.
One of my coaches said ‘looking up at the sky’ was the way to do it. Whatever works for you, get a mental trick which says to your mind, that was bad, but it is over. You will then get your confidence back much more quickly. Here is a video of a top sports psychologist explaining what happens.
Leave your comfort zone
Golf will always give you challenges. That is why we love it. But if you worry about being faced with things which are difficult you will lose confidence and play badly. So, strengthen your ‘difficult zone’ Take yourself to a new course which has a reputation for being tough. Play against a better player. Try that shot you always mess up when you are next on the practice course. Do this often and do it regularly. You will soon find you welcome rather than fear the new.
Keep it fresh
It is no accident that lots of the things we find fun are unfamiliar or new. New and different is often refreshing and creative. Think about that day you started a new project at work. I bet you felt more energized and alive and sharper than the day before when you were just on the tedious routine tasks. Apply this to your golf. Once you have a good routine, add to that routine. Try new shots. Visit a different course. Get creativity into your game.
Set aside time for analysis
Being positive involves more than just looking at good things. Its essence is looking at bad things and learning from them. Set aside time for this. For example, go to the practice course with the explicit intention of working on that shot you messed up last week. Break it down into its component parts. Work out where the weakness is. Think about how you can correct or improve this. If you cannot work it out, get help. Book a coaching session or look for a video which runs through the fault and what you can do about it. Sort it out and then move on.
Focus on success
Often if I go to the practice range to work on the weak parts of my game, I spend fifteen minutes at the end playing my best shot or playing a shot which brought me victory last weekend. That gets me back in a positive mindset where I enjoy my golf.
Golf mindset tips conclusion
I find developing a healthy mental attitude one of the best parts of golf. Do it well, and you will enjoy your game more. I also see it has positive effects on other parts of life. If you can cope with making a terrible shot, on a windy day, while playing with Jo who is a supercilious guy at the best of times and is a better golfer than you, then you can cope with anything!