A recent poll of PGA Tour players asked what the difference is between the top players in the world and those who play on tour for a number of years without a win. There were answers about technique and length but the majority of players responded with a comment about the mental aspect of the game.
We all know how difficult it can be mentally to deal with a stretch of bad holes; but playing well and scoring low can have its own challenges too. Almost every golfer has gone through a run of great holes early in the round, yet at the end of 18 signed a very average scorecard.
To play golf well you need to know your- self. Pay attention to the details and listen to your body’s signals. If you are a calm, slow paced, chilled out kind of person does your tempo or mindset ever change while playing in competition? Do you know from which yardages you play your best golf?
Think of your intensity or alertness on a scale of 1-10. Where are you on that scale when you play and enjoy golf the most? If you are normally a 6 and when bad things happen you get to an 8 by trying harder, your performance will usually be affected in a negative way. The same can be said when you get on a run of great holes, birdies or pars and you get really pumped up only to find you run out of steam or start going backwards. Don’t get me wrong; there are times when a little extra intensity can work for you but you cannot live there full time. Identify where you play your best and remember that spending too long outside of this area will have a detrimental effect on results.
No matter your skill level you can control your mental state before each shot. You may never play a round where you play completely in the right area – it is normal to bounce around and think about winning, your family or any other random thought. This happens to the best players too but they realize before they hit their important shots and come back to where they need to be to give themselves the best chance of success.
On the range, think about what number on the intensity scale you play your best golf from. There may be some experimenting here if you are not sure but try to match a number to your personality at first.
Hit balls registering what number you are and then try imagining different situations from your past. Take this number with you to the golf course and before each shot have a mental check in, are you at your normal number? Too high or too low? This should be an important step before you begin your pre-shot routine.
If you are too high you may want to focus on your breathing. Take deep belly breaths (six breaths a minute is optimum) and this will help bring you back down on your scale and centre your attention on yourself and not the task which lies ahead of you.
If you are too low relative to your ideal number you may want to think of previous good shots. Focus on the work you have put in to this point, past success – whatever you need to fire yourself back up to your optimum number.
It will take some time to get to the stage where this is a normal step within your pre-shot routine. Use a mental scorecard to monitor your progress on the course. After each hole give yourself a tick on your normal scorecard if you have mentally checked in and played your shot from the correct number. You get an X if you forget to check in or hit the shot before getting yourself to where you want to be mentally.
Count up this scorecard at the end. At first, getting half of the holes with a tick would be a resounding success. Remember it’s a process; you will bounce around every single round but you now have an additional skill in your toolkit to improve the mental aspect of your game. If you play golf from your optimum number you will be calmer, a better playing partner and energized rather than tired at the end of your round. You may even need some extra space on your mantel!