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The Mental Game of Golf: 5 Tips for Success

Updated: Apr 19


six small inukshuks made with rocks in the foreground and a golf green and a golfer in the background


The Game of Golf Never Ceases to Amaze Me


I can have a decent round one day, and the next time I play, it’s like I never swung a golf club in my life.


I spent a great deal of time at the driving range at Black Bear Ridge Golf Resort in the 2023 season. I also took lessons from Ben, a Canadian PGA Pro, and Instructor at Black Bear.


The combination of the practice and lessons helped a great deal and I developed a pretty good driving range game.


Unfortunately, couldn't bring my range game to the real game. 100-yard approach shots that I consistently hit on target at the range during my golf lessons were nowhere to be found in the “real” game.


Could it be that, without the watchful eye of my instructor Ben behind me, I lacked focus? I would joke with my buddies saying that I needed to get a life-sized cut out of Ben and put it behind me before every shot.


I’m Undefeated — While Playing Alone


Some of my best rounds have been while playing 18 holes myself. No distractions, just me, the ball, and the course. My head seemed to be in a good place. I felt relaxed and loose. Most shots were executed as planned, and when I hit a bad one, I would drop a second ball and have a do-over. The do-over usually went where the first ball was supposed to go.


I Suck at the Mental Game


One day when I was out golfing with my buddies, I was standing over my ball on the tee at a short par three. The hole was playing 95 yards, water to the left, green-side bunker short right, and trees farther right.


With a gap wedge in my hand, I checked the wind, picked my target, moved in, and addressed the ball. A baby draw was programmed into my brain.


With the target in sight, I lowered my head and looked down at the ball. I turned my head and had one last look at the target. I then straightened my head and shoulders back up. Chin up, eyes down, I was ready to go.


Add “Shoelaces” to the List of Excuses for a Bad Shot


Ever notice what the pro golfers do before taking a shot? The pro and his or her caddy stand behind the ball for a few minutes. They check the wind, factor in what is between the ball and the flagstick and analyze their options.


Once the proper club selection has been made, and the target has been determined, it is the golfer’s job to move in, address the ball, and execute the shot that he and his caddy decided upon.


Back to that 95-yard tee shot of mine. There I was, standing behind the ball. I was going to step up and put a nice smooth swing on it and stick it tight to the pin, maybe even hole it for an ace.


Oh no, not me. I got ready to hit my tee shot, looked down at the ball, and thought this;

Why do the people who make golf shoes make them with such damn long shoelaces?

It's a fact. The shoelaces on my golf shoes are way too long. I double-knot them and they are still too long. The question is, why would I worry about my shoelaces when I should have been focused on where I was about to hit my ball?


FYI: My ball missed the green left and made a lovely splashdown into the water.


Arnold Palmer said it best, “Golf is a game of inches. The most important are the six inches between your ears”.


 

A New Golf Season Brings Renewed Optimism


For the 2024 golf season, I am going to pay more attention to the mental side of the game. I am optimistic that the following five steps to mentally prepare will help a great deal.


 

Five Steps to Mentally Prepare for a Game of Golf


1) Pre-Game Routine:


Visualization: Before stepping onto the course, take some time to visualize successful shots and positive outcomes. Picture yourself executing the perfect swing and making successful putts. This helps build confidence and primes your mind for success.

Warm-Up: Engage in a physical warm-up routine to prepare your body for the physical demands of the game. Nothing elaborate, just some stretching, swinging practice shots, and light exercises. Warming up contributes to your mental readiness.


2) Mindful Breathing:


Deep Breathing: Practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing to calm your nerves and focus your mind. Take slow, deep breaths to relax your body and clear your mind. During your game, this can be particularly useful when faced with challenging shots or high-pressure situations.


Stay Present: Concentrate on the current shot rather than worrying about past mistakes or future outcomes. Being mindful and staying in the present moment helps you maintain focus on the task at hand. As Ted Lasso said, be a goldfish.


3) Positive Self-Talk:


Positive Affirmations: Develop a repertoire of positive affirmations to counteract negative thoughts. Remind yourself of your skills, past successes, and your ability to handle challenges. Positive self-talk can boost your confidence and maintain a positive frame of mind.


Constructive Feedback: Rather than dwelling on mistakes, view them as opportunities for improvement. Adopt a growth mindset and use constructive feedback to refine your skills. This perspective can prevent negative thoughts from taking over. So you missed the green left by 25 yards. You were pin-high, you superstar.


4) Establishing Routine:


Consistent Pre-Shot Routine: Develop a pre-shot routine and stick to it. Consistency in your approach helps create a sense of familiarity and control, contributing to mental stability. It can also serve as a cue to switch to a focused mindset. Oh yeah, get those shoelaces shortened too.


Post-Shot Analysis: After each shot, briefly analyze what went well and what could be improved. However, avoid dwelling excessively on mistakes. Use the information to make adjustments for the next shot and then refocus.


5) Manage Expectations:


Realistic Goals: Set realistic and achievable goals for each round. While it’s natural to aim for improvement, setting overly ambitious expectations can lead to frustration and negatively impact your mental state. Learn to adapt to changing conditions and unexpected challenges. Maintaining a flexible mindset helps you navigate the course with resilience.

I hope that these tips help you with your game. I have high hopes that they are going to help me with mine.


 

The mental aspect of golf is as important as the physical one. Developing a routine that works for you and incorporating these strategies can help you approach the game with a positive and focused mindset.


Don’t Forget the Number One Rule in Golf


Regardless of the score, the #1 Rule in Golf is to have fun out there. Score high or score low, what does it matter? Just make sure that you are enjoying the day golfing on your own, or with fellow golf lovers.


Interested in a Golf Trip to This Region With Your Friends?

Please visit The Hungry Golfer homepage and subscribe to our newsletter. We will be writing about great places to play, stay and eat at, in the Bay of Quinte and Prince Edward County region.


Stay Well, Stay Safe, and Have Fun


Swing easy my friends. Keep your head down and put a smoothy on it.

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