How often have you had the feeling that you finally cracked the secret of golf. You are on a high and every drive, shot and putt goes as planned. You don’t have to think about what you are doing. You are composed, in control, confident, and focused. It all comes naturally. Golf seems so easy. We all experienced this feeling. And we also experienced how this feeling doesn’t last. Suddenly those negative thoughts creep in and eat away at your confidence. Doubts set in and suddenly:
• Simple putts are missed
• Indecision sets in: You cannot decide over what club to take
• You build up anxieties a out certain holes or about getting out of the bunker
• You rush shots or you take too long for a shot
Once your confidence in golf has taken a knock and doubts and negative emotions have crept in, your game can quickly disintegrate. It can actually lead to a vicious cycle where a negative emotion leads to a poor shot which causes more negative emotions leading to a downward spiral which can quickly swirl out of control.
Golf is a constant up and down and a lot of this has to do with our mental state. As Arnold Palmer famously said:
“Success in golf depends less on strength of body than upon strength of mind and character. “
Although the mental state also plays a role in other sports it does more so in golf, but why? Well, there is a lot more time to mull over a bad shot or a bad score. Golf is not very forgiving and every shot counts and adds up relentlessly. In addition every shot is self generated and not a reaction to another shot or player, so there is much more time to think and get frustrated. Once those negative thoughts creep in, your body releases chemicals that cause your body to react in a way that make it more difficult for you to play golf. Your muscles stiffen up and you loose some of your fine motor skills, your touch and feel - which is bad news for your putting. In addition your focus widens, making you more aware of what is going on around you, which is never good for golf where you should only just focus on the shot ahead.
Of course your body also reacts in a similar way in other sports and releases stress hormones but here they can be quite helpful (they help you to run faster for example).
By adopting the right mental state you can prevent those negative emotions from taking over and your game from disintegrating. It sounds simple:
• Always stay in the present
Concentrate only on the shot ahead. Easier said than done, especially when those stress hormones kick in. Try and control your thoughts. Never mull over the last shot or start racing ahead in your mind as you no longer concentrate on the immediate task. Don’t think about what has gone before, or the outcome of the round, just focus on your next shot.
Focusing on the process (your swing) instead of the result (score) can also help as it shifts your focus onto things that will give you a greater sense of control.
It’s easier said than done and most amateur golfers get trapped and mull over a bad shot. But ask yourself ‘What’s the point’? Once a shot has been hit, nothing can be done about it. A great way to let off steam, forget a bad shot and bounce back is to adopt the “10-yard rule”, which allows you to vent your frustration until you are 10 yards away from where you struck it. After crossing the imaginary line, the shot should be forgotten and your mind should move on to the next stroke. You need to refocus and not think about anything else.
Harvey Penick was quoted saying,
“Once you address the golf ball, hitting it has to be the most important thing in your life at that moment. Shut out all thoughts other than picking out a target and taking dead aim at it.”
Developing a refocusing routine can help you bounce back quickly and focus on the present. You can using deep breathing and muscle relaxation to refocus your mind. Positive affirmation or visualization.
Using cue words or focus points may also help to bring yourself back. These “cues” or “statements” can be action words such as “full shoulder turn” or instructional words such as “play the body”. They can also help you maintain emotional control, for example, you made a mistake or the ref made a bad call; “swing to the target.” It is very important that you create your own concentration cue words and stay consistent with them.
• Control your thoughts
Stay positive, don’t let negative thoughts take over. Sometimes negative thoughts creep into our mind and we’re unable to shake them. We become consumed by them, which only makes us feel worse and creates a cycle of negative thoughts. Recognise evasive thoughts early and STOP them, replace them with positive thoughts. Imagine a big red stop sign or red flashing light or say “STOP” to yourself.
Eventually, it will become second nature to you, and you’ll notice yourself feeling more positive altogether. Great tactics that help are intensity keywords, such as keep calm, easy, and relax. Keep repeating these words, they are reminders of what you need to do to perform your best.
• Whatever you do - avoid indecision
You don’t know which club to take and the one you take in the end turns out to be the wrong one. Sounds familiar? If you can’t make up your mind, you are sending an indecisive message from your mind to your muscles. You don’t trust yourself and your game will suffer. You must believe that the club in your hand is the right one for the shot you are about to hit. If you are unsure, “act as if” it is the right one.
• Have a pre-shot routine
and use it consistently. It keeps you focused on what you have to do, and when the pressure is on, it helps you manage your nerves. Developing a pre-shot routine will keep your mind occupied with process and fear will not have any time to creep in. I personally use looking at the target and imagining the ball flying to the target.
• Above all believe in yourself
Use positive keywords and keep repeating them throughout the round - it helps.
• Keep a record of what went well
We usually focus on what went wrong on the round. After each round think about what went well and write it down - it helps boosting your confidence.
Now get out there and give it a try. Be confident, focused, and in control of game.
If there is anything else that helps to boost your mental golf game then please add it in the comments below.