Tips on the mental approach to golf
Start every shot with "I can do that”
Not everyone has the natural ability or the inner drive to become a PGA touring professional. Everyone, however, has the ability to discipline his or her mind to become a better golfer. The mental approach to golf is equally important as the physical skills, but the mental approach to the game is usually overlooked. Here are five tips that can help all golfers discipline their minds.
1. Ignore the mechanical swing thoughts. One of my friends constantly tells me, "Swing the club.” When stepping up to the tee, you should not be thinking about swing mechanics. Remember the saying "paralysis by analysis." The driving range is the place to concentrate on weight shift, back swing, follow-through and other fundamentals.
On the golf course, the swing should be an automatic motion and more of a feeling than a thought process. Golfers can feel a good swing and need only repeat it over and over. Once you stand over a ball, reduce your thoughts to one or two basic ideas such as swinging through the ball and keeping your head down.
2. Play the shot you have and not the shot you want. After hitting a bad shot, many amateurs attempt a second shot that is even worse. It is called the "Tin Cup Syndrome," named after Roy McAvoy, the main character in the movie who always went for it. The rule is that if your recovery shot is harder than the shot that got you there, look for a safer way out of trouble. Professionals usually get out of trouble first and take their medicine with only a bogey. Recreational golfers often compound the problem with consecutive bad shots, resulting in a double or triple bogey.
3. Get the ball in the hole the easiest way possible. Recreational golfers try to hit for distance on every shot. For example, their goal is to reach the green in two on a par 5, but the second shot usually gets them into trouble. Professionals, on the other hand, pick and choose when to go for the flag and when to lay up. The term is called "course management."
There are many ways of making a par, and the scorecard does not care how you achieve it. In simple terms, think your way around the course and play the appropriate shot. That is why there are 14 clubs in the golf bag.
4. Visualize your shots from your pre-shot routine to where you want the ball to land. When amateurs look down the fairway, they see a wide open fairway. Professionals, on the other hand, pick a spot and use the appropriate club. Their goal is to set up their second and third shots and not just to "grip it and rip it." When professions shoot rounds in the 60s, they have control of where the ball is going from tee to green. Visualize every shot and do not let the course beat you.
5. Eliminate negative thoughts. Most amateur golfers constantly use negative self-talk that is not productive, such as:
- My ball loves water, sand traps and trees;
- Four-foot putts are impossible; or
- This club hates me.
These excuses and many more encourage negative attitudes while eroding confidence and need to be eliminated. Self-talk can be more destructive than criticism from your playing partners and should be replaced with a positive attitude.
Lee Trevino, former PGA golfer, always joked about having a positive attitude during a round. “It is easy to be positive playing golf, just make sure your pencil has a good eraser,” he said.
Golf is a difficult game physically and mentally for both amateurs and professionals. Every golfer needs a good mental approach to the game and should never settle for being self-destructive. Start every shot with "I can do that."