Bobby Jones, the famous cofounder of the Masters Tournament, said it all!
“Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course… the space between your ears.”
You can hear it ringing in your ears all the time on and off the course.
Golf is as much about mental strength as it is a game of skill.
When it comes to the average weekend warrior this is only partly true though. The average golfer in general has so much to improve techniquewise that willpower alone won’t and can’t make the shots happen that he needs and longs for. (Especially when he devotes nearly no time to practice.)
Wishful thinking and pie in the sky dreams won’t make you play like a PGA pro no matter how strong your positive attitude is.
On the other hand if you are phenomenal with your technique but get a nervous breakdown whenever you find yourself in a challenging situation on the golf course you won’t play you best golf either.
In other words; you need to know where your mental strength needs to be in practice as much as when you play or compete. It’s a synergy that leads to the best scores.
So instead of lulling yourself with overgeneralized statements like “I need to be mentally strong.” or “Golf is all about your mindset.” let’s go a little deeper and find out how we can build a teaching and playing regimen for ourselves that let’s us enjoy the good as well as the bad rounds while we continually learn and improve.
Sounds impossible? Not if you ask the famous sports psychologist Dr. Joseph Parent. He wrote the very successful book “ZEN GOLF Mastering the Mental Game” and promises in it a way to walk a successful path on and off the course.
According to him you need to focus on 4 things to become a fearless zen master on the links.
No 1 – Mental Strength – Performing When It Matters
When all is smooth sailing golf is a lot of fun. But it is inevitable to find yourself in tough situations. Good golf and scoring low is all about how you manage your misses.
The average amateur doesn’t have the skill and mental strength to pull himself out of the heavy rough or other tough spots. What ends up happening most of the time with amateurs who face a tough lie is that they almost give up and call it tough luck.
The end result is that they start compounding mistake after mistake. Suddenly they need three shots to get out of the bunker just because they didn’t focus at all and got more and more nervous with each shot.
A good player can double down on tough situations, focus even harder and decide on the best solution that suits his abilities and mental state.
A Good Habit To Toughen Up
Embrace the no gimme rule (that includes mulligans too). From now on every shot counts. Even if there is time pressure or your buddies are telling you to pick it up – you play until the ball is in the cup. This way you learn to deal with tough situations. And trust me, this will teach you over time to perform when it really matters.
No 2 – Mental Flexibility – Don’t Play Cookie Cutter Golf
Think, think, think, baby. Many golfers have the mindset that they could approach every golf course and golf hole the same way. Golf is still played one shot at a time and it needs to be the right shot for the right situation.
Weather conditions, course conditions, your lie and the course layout should all be taken into consideration when you pull a club from your golf bag and decide on your next shot.
Especially beginning golfers think that there is perfect golf swing that will somehow magically make you par every hole. That’s far from reality, of course. The more options you can come up with in your mind and actually implement on the course the lower your scores will be.
If you are just able to perform well one chip shot from one distance, you will get screwed sooner than later. But if you are able to play a flop shot, a bump and run a high shot etc. your odds are way better if you take your time to decide on the right shot for the right situation.
A Good Habit To Become More Flexible On The Golf Course
Cultivate your creative thinking in your practice sessions. Just because you find yourself in the bunker doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to pull your sand wedge, for example.
Experiment with your club selection and your shot versatility for different situations. Here are a couple of suggestions for starters:
- Chip with your 3 wood from the fringe.
- Putt out of a bunker with a low lip.
- Use your putter to pop it out of heavy rough next to the green.
- Chip with longer clubs like a 6 iron while choking down on the grip.
No 3 – Balance – Learn To Stay In The Moment
Staying in the moment can be easier said than done when things get hot around the course. But keeping a cool head and mental balance are the only ways to play your best golf.
You can’t get too excited or too depressed as both things will distract you from the task at hand which is your next shot. A mental unbalance seduces your mind to wander into the past or into the future too much.
A Good Habit To Stay In The Moment
On your next round count how often you get angry about past events or wonder about a challenge that will be coming up. Golf leaves you with a lot of time to think. Your goal should be to get that number eventually down to zero. Always use your time for your current shot.
No 4 – Stamina – Conserve Your Mental Energy
A good round of golf has many emotional highs and lows. The key to play your best is to conserve your energy as much as you can. Of course you can be angry over shots you messed up. But if you are still thinking about a three putt five holes later, you are wasting your energy on things you can’t change anyways.
Whatever you do don’t drain your energy from hole to hole.
A Good Habit To Conserve Your Mental Energy
Refocus at the mid point. People often forget how long they still have to go. Especially after 9 holes. That’s usually the point where most people throw their game plan over board and start to play wild catch up or destroy their otherwise good round.
Make it a habit to refocus at the mid point. Reevaluate what you want to do the next nine holes and stick to your plan. There still is a lot of golf to be played and anything can happen.
If you take these tips and the for areas of a strong mindset to heart you will see positive results in the long run, no doubt about it. Don’t forget to build your mental strength, stay flexible, keep your balance and conserve your mental energy.
If you want to read more about these four areas I recommend the book:
It’s a quick read and easy to digest with many applicable exercises and ideas.
Do you already have a special habit or routine that helps you to stay calm when it gets tough on the links? Let me hear about it in the comments section or via twitter or facebook.