As a mental game, golf is unlike most other sports. Games like football and basketball have the referee’s whistle to tell you it’s time to start playing. But in golf, you have to rely on your own mental triggers to get you fully prepared for when it’s time to “play”. This article is about how to use simple mental game techniques from the PGA Tour to get your mind “switched on” when it needs to be, and then “switched off” when it’s time to relax.
When to switch on and off
Golf is a long game and you couldn’t possibly concentrate for its entire duration and still play your best. It’s a game where you’re only “playing” for a small fraction of the time you’re on the course. For this reason, and because each shot is mentally demanding, a successful golfer is one who knows exactly when to switch focus on and off. The better you can switch off, the better you’ll be able to switch on. But how exactly do you do this? Just telling yourself to do it probably isn’t enough.
How to do it
The world’s top players have what’s called “go triggers” or “cues” which remind them how they should be behaving. These are visual, verbal, auditory (sound) or kinesthetic (touch) “anchors” which tell the brain what it needs to do. We’re all different how we respond to stimuli, so no one trigger will work for everyone. What this also does is make every shot feel the same – so it all becomes the same process no matter how valuable you think that shot is.
Switching on is reminding yourself to give your pre-shot routine 100% and being solely in the present for every shot. Switching off, is putting the result of that shot behind you and relaxing your brain without thoughts about your score or how you’re playing.
The Red Dot
Do you remember the red dot that Louis Oosthuizen put on his glove when he won The Open in 2010? That was one such trigger. With all that surrounds a tournament as big as The Open, Louis needed a trigger to to be able to shut out all the noise and focus on the process (pre-shot routine) of hitting the shot at hand. By looking at the red dot before each shot Louis told himself it’s time to concentrate and nothing else mattered except focusing on his pre-shot routine.
This type of trigger may or may not work for you as everyone’s sensory perception is different – the best thing is to experiment with several and see what gets your attention best. Other ideas are to say something to yourself like “I’ve got this one” or “Commit”. You could also try tapping yourself or clicking your fingers.
The more you can relax in between shots, the better you’ll be able to focus on the process of executing each and every shot. After each shot, you need to vacate the mind and keep your heart rate low. Thinking about stress causing things such as why you hit a bad shots, “what ifs” or “maybes” will only cause tension and doubt and poor golf swings.
Whether the shot was good or bad, you need to accept the outcome. Doing anything else (like analyzing your swing or beating yourself up over a poor decision) is pointless and will only cause loss of focus and tension for the next shot. I’m not saying you shouldn’t analyze your game and figure out what you need to do to improve, but do it after your round. To remind yourself to accept and relax, a trigger also comes in useful.
Accept and Move On
You could start to think of putting the club back in the bag as your trigger to forget about the shot and stay in the present. Tiger has his ten pace rule, where he only gives himself ten paces to accept the shot before it’s over and forgotten. You could have a verbal cue like “what’s done is done” or “accept and move on”. You could also try an “acceptance” breathing exercise like this breathing exercise for golf by PGA Tour coach Dr. Lagos.
Once you’ve gone through your acceptance exercise and the shot is behind you, it’s time to just enjoy being outside among natural beauty. But if focusing on the trees, the birds or talking with your playing partners doesn’t allow you to stay in the present and prevent your mind from thinking about your score and how you’re playing, you could try having a “go-to” subject up your sleeve. This can really be anything – a place where you can go in your mind to relax. It could be thinking about your college sports team, how to make your favorite dishes or reciting poetry (anything!). Another suggestion that Dr. Lagos gives is recounting your most successful moments whenever you’re feeling tension. Whatever it is have something that will take you away from the game and keep you calm, ahead of doing all over again for the next shot.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to get your comments or feedback on these exercises.
Photo by Torrey Wiley