Mastering the Mind

golfing mind
Golfer’s mind via Steve Elkington

There’s a saying about golf that describes the game as being 10% physical and 90% mental. But what does this mean? Because after all, there are a wide range of mechanical skills that you have to perform in order to hit a variety of different shots. So could the key to golf really be so centered in your mind? Some of my most vivid childhood memories on the golf course centered around my struggle to control my mind and my emotions.

In the youth tournaments I played in, my dad would take off of work for the day and come caddie for me and to be honest it was the only way I could make it through some of these rounds. I was a hot head and expected an extremely high level of play from myself. I expected to play perfectly and to win always and when if I pulled the ball into the woods on an iron shot or missed a short putt these mistakes would consume my thoughts. My dad knew this and created an annoying method of reminding me to forget about the past hole. Say I tripled a hole before and was sulking as we walked towards the next tee. He would say come up behind me with a big smile on his face and exclaim “New Hole!”, to which my response somewhere around “I hate this stupid game” or “why do I even play this sport”. And these snappy remarks cracked him up to no end, and his contagious laughing eventually made me laugh, and by the time I had walked to the next tee I was over my mistakes and was ready to play golf again.

Now we can’t all have a caddie or a personal coach with us on the course as we play. And as I started high school this was a big problem for me. I would get in funks for a couple holes and it would completely ruin my round even though the rest of my scorecard was exceptional. It took me until late in my junior and senior year to finally learn how to limit the damage from one bad hole and keep it from carrying over to the rest of my game. Once I mastered this, I saw improvement like I had never seen before. There truly a limit to how much improvement you can make physically, after that, you need to start shaving strokes by sharpening your mind. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

So how exactly do you get mentally tougher? I mean it’s not quite as easy as flattening your swing plane or keeping your wrists neutral. It’s something that takes constant commitment and conscience thought during your round in order to master.

Staying positive is an important part of mental toughness. Now as obvious as this one is, it’s much easier said than done. Negativity can put you in a horrible downward spiral, it can turn a bad shot, into a bad hole, into a bad round and even further if you don’t turn it around. One thing I use when I’m playing poorly that helps me is (if I had played the course before) thinking back to good shots I’d made on that hole one of the previous times I’ve played there. While you usually won’t be in the same spot, visualizing a good shot from your past can only help you take your mind away from the things that are going wrong in your game.

Another thing I would help me focus when I was playing bad was to try to make one really good shot per hole and that was often enough to snap me out of my negativity. Honestly, if you hit a few mediocre shots and one great shot on each hole, chances are you’ll actually score pretty well. Say you push your drive into the rough, leave your iron shot short in the sand, but you have a great shot out of the bunker and leave ball with in range to one putt, you just pared that hole and all you needed was one really exceptional shot. This can come from anywhere; a long putt, close chip, or a deep drive . All of these things can be enough to set you up to score well and the best part is, when you’re playing poorly, every shot you take is another chance to have a really excellent shot and shake yourself out of the funk you’re in.

These two tips might be helpful for you, I know they were for me but they can both be summarized and improved in one phrase. The single most important thing about being mentally successful at golf is to always think ahead.

golf quotesAnd this is why it’s successful. If you occupy your mind with thoughts about what club you’re going to need next or how you want your approach shot to travel you won’t have time to think about the drive you hit in the water or the three footer you pushed off the right edge on the last hole. Forcing yourself to think will not only keep you from focusing on your bad shots, but it’ll make your next shot better also because you’re decisions will be well thought out. Sounds like a winning strategy to me.

You can’t let yourself fall into negativity while you golf, especially because at the end of the day we’re out there to enjoy the game. Very few of us could ever dream of making a living at the game and if we aren’t enjoying the game then we really aren’t getting what we should out of it. Mental toughness can help us with both of these things though. Having a strong, positive mindset can help you play better and enjoy the game and the people you’re around even if you aren’t having the best day on the links (because we all know everything can go to hell some rounds anyways).

Ultimately, mental toughness isn’t just about improvement but it’s also important for life outside of golf. Something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. And if it’s true about the extensive mental side of golf then maybe we should spend more time focusing on that instead of how many balls we can hit at the range. Because eventually, once you reach a certain level of mechanical skill, all of the competition comes down to who is more consistent. Mental toughness will make you more consistent in every aspect of your game and, if you want to improve, it is an absolute necessity. There’s an old quote in golf that goes “if you keep shooting par at ’em, they’ll all crack up”. So next time your out on the links and your round starts to go a little south, take a deep breath, look around, and enjoy  your time away from all the other struggles in life. Because I know that if you put some time into improving your mind, and enjoying the game more, your scores are going to be the next thing to improve. So until next time fellow golfers, start tapping the power of your minds.

-Sully

 

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