The top players who make it as pros in golf, and most other sports, obviously require a great deal of talent. However, what really separates them from amateurs is their mentality. You need to keep your emotions under control and learn to deal with the pressures that come from winning. If you feel as though you aren’t getting the results on the course your game deserves, maybe you’re missing something from the mental aspect of your game. Here are ten top tips to help you use psychology to improve your golf game.
Now is the most important moment
Many golfers are already thinking four or five holes ahead, perhaps even further, but it’s important to concentrate on the here and now. Sure you know the next hole it a tricky one, but it’ll be even harder if you have a bad score on this one. Instead of worrying about what lies ahead just play the shot that’s in front of you, shot by shot, until before you know it you’re in the clubhouse. That way, even if you shoot a bad score, you were in the moment, and you can reflect on where you went wrong for next time. Worrying about a shot in three hole’s time can distract your attention from the shot you’ve got right now, so maintain focus on the task at hand, then worry about the next hole when you get to it.
One thing you really need to learn how to do on the golf course is to trust yourself. Only you know how you strike the ball, see the shots, and select your clubs. Nobody else hits the shot for you, so why should they tell you what shot to take? Confidence is key in golf, and it should be treated like a part of the body that requires exercise. You’ll need to learn to trust yourself when playing under pressure, so at the end of your round of golf forget about the bad shots and focus on the good ones.
Your brain will continue to think of the bad shots when you're in a pressurised moment if you constantly dwell on the bad moments after a round. Instead, focus on your good shots, that can hardwire your brain to automatically thinking of the better plays when you approach a tough situation, rather than reverting to the failed shots of the past.
Listen to your coach
If you work with a coach, follow their guidance and theirs alone. You might have a hundred “expert” playing partners all giving you hints and tips on where they think your game needs tweaking. All this will do is cause confusion. So, instead of making loads of adjustments to your game each time you play, focus on the advice your coach has been giving you. If you listen to too many opinions when it comes to striking the ball, you won't know which piece of advice to listen to. Work with your coach, and if things aren’t going well speak with them to make the adjustments you need.
You’re having a terrible round, you’ve given up keeping score because it’s getting embarrassing at this point. That’s fine, everyone has bad days but the worst thing you can do is dwell on it. You have to learn how to move on from bad rounds, or even better, bad shots. Learning to put the past in the past is going to help keep your mind positive and your shots better. Tiger Woods when in his prime employed the 10-yard rule following a poor decision. Woods would allow himself to be incredibly angry, but once he’d moved 10 yards beyond the point of impact, he shrugged it off and forgot about it.
Confidence is a skill
Like a chip shot, or a flop, confidence is a skill that needs constant work. All golfers suffer setbacks; it’s not an easy sport despite how easy some pros insist on making it look. The top pros are the best at recovering from their bad shots as they can see it, let it go and move on. Try not letting your head drop the next time you hit a bad shot, to avoid having negative thoughts. If you do hit a bad shot, focus on keeping your posture upright and keep looking at the flagstick. You should find those nagging voices disappear much quicker in the future.
Results aren't everything
It might sound like a cliché, but results really aren’t everything in golf. Focus on playing the game and the results will come. Yes, you might break the course record, but if you start thinking you’re on for it, you probably won’t. Focus on keeping the game fun, enjoy your shot selection and if you make the wrong choice it’s not the end of the world.
Concentrating on playing well is much more important than focusing on winning. There are so many variables in golf the only constant you can control is your game, so focus on that and the results will take care of themselves.
Treat each shot like a new challenge
Each shot is a new challenge. You need to play the ball where it lies, and if that means you’re chipping out of the bunker, or a bush, then that’s what it’s got to be. This is why you play golf, for the challenge, right? If every play was easy, would you really still enjoy it? It’s all about learning from your experiences, so stay rational when approaching your ball, even if the lie is the worst you've ever seen.
Keep things simple, can you make it to the green from here? If not, maybe you should play a safe shot to give you a better lie and take the hit. If you can reach from your lie, is it worth the risk of failure? Figure out the most effective way to get the ball from where it is now to the hole in as few shots as possible.
Understand your golf personality
One thing that will help you focus on the golf course is learning what kind of player you are. Do you need to have a chat with your playing partner to take away the nerves? Maybe you prefer to focus on your game and do your talking after the round. Whichever way you prefer to play, figure that out and then try stick to it, otherwise you can end up throwing yourself off your rhythm. If you have a chatty partner but you don’t like talking, just let them know you’d rather focus on your game; that way they won’t keep talking and interrupting your thoughts.
Positivity is key, especially on the greens
When you’re standing on the green, if there’s any doubt in your mind about making the putt you’ll probably miss it. Keep the faith in your lines and continue putting on the course you believe is best; even if some days the ball just won't fall in the hole. The chances are you are putting well, you’re just misreading the greens slightly, continue following your putting lines until you get them spot on.
Never give up
Sport is a funny game, players or teams can be outplaying their opponents yet still end up losing. The rules are the same for everyone playing sport so there is always the chance that you can turn things around. Had a bad first nine? No matter, that’s in the past now so move on and don't give up. You might not win the tournament at this stage, but you definitely won't win if you give up. If you had a complete collapse on the front nine, those in front might have similar failings on the back nine.
Improving your golfing game takes plenty of practice and a whole lot of mental agility. The next time you want to take on a serious challenge, like the Old Course at St Andrews, see if you can put some of these psychology tips into play.