Mental Mistakes In Golf

5 Mental Mistakes In Golf That Tour Pros Hardly Ever Make

Mental mistake 1: Too much ego

“Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.”– Ryan Holiday, Author of “Ego is The Enemy”

We all have a bit of ego in us, but more successful players are more in control of it. 

Firstly, what is ego? 

From my research, there are several psychological definitions and interpretations of it. Personally, I  think of it as a drive to increase our sense of self-worth or standing with others through being good at something, in our case, golf. 

The ego seeks pleasure, validation and improving/maintaining identity through achieving external goals such as winning, shooting a low score, or impressing others. If we shoot that low score or get that decent finish in a tournament, then we will be happy, if we don’t we won’t be. 

What happens when we play “Ego Golf”?

The ego is constantly telling us stories about how good (or bad) we are and how we are viewed through the eyes of others. You have too much of your “self” invested in the game. Playing ego golf means that you attach your self worth and/or your identity to your scores. When you do this, the following can happen:

  • You have too many highs and lows in each round
  • Your confidence fluctuates depending on how you play and what score you shoot
  • It’s hard to stay present and give all your attention to each shot
  • With the mind constantly striving for results and judging, it’s hard to get into the FLOW state
  • We fail to appreciate the beauty of the game, because it’s all about the future outcome

Softening The Ego

Playing with less ego, doesn’t mean you don’t care about how you play or that you can’t be competitive. I work with many players who are super-competitive but don’t have an ego mindset. They’re not worried what others will think of them if they don’t succeed or they won’t feel like less of a person.

Players who achieve great things are able to separate themselves from their results. Unfortunately there are no hacks or quick fixes for this – your ego is a conditioned unconscious process, but with daily repetition to soften it over time (using an internal “mental scorecard” rather than an external one), you can become a higher performing “mastery” golfer. 

Mental mistake 2: A lack of focus

“The successful warrior is an average man with laser like focus”– Bruce Lee

The ability to quiet the mind, bring yourself into the present moment and focus on precisely what you need to when you want to is probably the most important skill in golf, regardless of ability level. Whatever happened on the previous shot, or what might happen on the next, shouldn’t affect how well you are able to focus on What’s Important Now to maximize your chances of success with the shot in front of you. 

Too many players lose focus at the critical moments and don’t realize it. They find themselves focusing on doubts about their swing or what they don’t want to do or how their score could be affected by a good or bad outcome. The mind is no longer quiet or focused on what it needs to be to make a good athletic swing or stroke. 

Once you’ve decided on the shot you are going to play, what do you want to focus on? It is consistent, right up to the point of impact? Or do you allow your mind to wander? Getting better at focus starts with intent and accountability. 

Do you have a clear Pre Shot Routine that is in line with your personality type? This requires self-discovery, testing, reflection and regular practice.

Mental mistake 3: Not knowing what your negative thinking patterns are

“Know Thyself” – Socrates

What are your negative thinking patterns that can trigger a loss of confidence and change your mood for the worse? What are the behaviors that you need to change? We all have them , we need to figure out what they are and develop awareness of when we are allowing the mind to go down that path.

Doing this “self-discovery” is what we focus on in module 1 of the Mental Game Training Program

Only when you know your triggers, your negative thinking patterns and behaviors can you do something about it and improve your mental game. A thought’s power only comes from the power you give it. After this self-discovery process, and with awareness of when you are engaging/doing them, you can intercept it and re-focus on something positive or neutral. Over time, you change your automatic negative thinking patterns. 

Mental mistake 4: Building up a round or a shot in your mind

When I hear a player tell me “I’ve got a big tournament coming up”, I remind them that no one tournament or shot is “bigger” than another. They are all big! When we create the illusion of a shot or tournament being bigger than another, we increase pressure on it. The habit we want to create is bringing your best performing self to every shot, every round and every practice session. 

Notice your language and interpretation of specific tournaments or shots and change it so you are neutral about it – instead of it being a “birdie putt” it’s another shot where I focus on giving 100% to my process. Again, this takes time and repetition. 

Mental mistake 5: Not being able to bounceback from setbacks 

“It is not external events themselves that cause us distress, but the way in which we think about them, our interpretation of their significance. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble. We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” – Epictitus

We all suffer setbacks on the course. We’ve all had a triple bogey start, a 3 putt from a birdie opportunity or hit a tee shot out of bounds. It never feels good to experience a setback, but the mindset you choose to have afterwards makes all the difference in what happens next. Be aware of how you interpret them. You could respond to a double bogey start as “it’s going to be one of those days” or “what an awful start” – unhelpful interpretations that will negatively affect your mood and confidence level. Or, you could interpret it in a way that is constructive and helps you bring your best performing self to the next shot…

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David MacKenzie

is a mental golf coach and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind, a teaching program designed to help golfers condition their minds to overcome fear and play with confidence.

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