How To Build Mental Toughness For Golf

Performing well when it counts is what golf is all about. It’s safe to say that almost all golfers want to reach the level where they’re holing putts to win in big events.

But what does it really take to become a competitive golfer at the very highest level?

A good swing is not enough. In fact, even average physical skills are capable of winning majors.

There’s one factor that all the greats of the game have in common and I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s called “mental toughness”.

What is mental toughness for golf?

Mental toughness is being able to access your best game whatever the situation. It’s being able handle the stress of competition and not let it take your focus away from the task at hand.

Before I give you a simple way for you to improve your mental toughness, let’s dispel a few myths about it.

Myths about mental toughness:

  • You’re born with mental toughness, it can’t be learned
  • If you’re mentally tough you act cocky and unfriendly
  • You can’t be mentally tough if you don’t feel good about your game that day

All of these are simply NOT true.

With that out the way, let’s determine how you can become mentally tougher and take your game to a higher level.

Check out this simple process:

Thinking/Self-talk/Body Language => Emotions => Muscle Response

The premise here is that what we think, say to ourselves, and our body language becomes our emotions, and our emotions trigger a response in our bodies.

E.g. If your inner voice is telling you that you can’t do something, you will have more negative emotions (fear, doubt etc), which leads to negative physiological reactions (tension, tightness, shaking etc). And we all know what tension does to the golf swing!

The good news, is if we can control our thoughts, talk to ourselves in the right way and adopt positive body language, we can elicit positive emotions (confidence, determination, persistence etc), which will lead to positive physical reactions (fluid motion, seamless action etc).

Separating you the person from you the player

As I touched on in my last article, “How to build confidence on the golf course”, one of the first places to start in building mental toughness and unshakable confidence is being able to separate “you the player”, from “you the person”. From now on, I’d like you to take this a step further and “act yourself” into the persona of a champion.

All great athletes do this. They are able to reach within themselves and access their “player-self” regardless of how they feel about their “real-self”. Great competitors can in some ways be thought of as great actors.

Your body language triggers an emotional response from within

Research has shown that when you’re feeling stressed and fearful, you have more of a hormone called Cortisol. When you’re feeling confident, you have less Cortisol and more testosterone.

A study was done between Harvard and Columbia Universities which had 42 subjects adopt different body postures and afterwards, their hormone levels were tested. The results showed that those with the more “high-power” postures (standing up, back straight, shoulders back), had much higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisone i.e. they felt more confident and powerful and less stressed. Conversely, those that adopted “low-power” postures (slumped posture, low shoulders, looking down etc), experienced greater stress levels. If you’d like to see the original article (which is very interesting).

Act your way into the right thinking

In the same way, actors use similar techniques. Research shows that movements in your facial muscles can elicit certain emotional responses, e.g. frowning can produce a feeling of displeasure, whereas smiling can make you feel happier. Try smiling right now just for the sake of it, and see if it lifts your mood, even just a little.

Next time you’re on the course, I’d like you act like a champion. Use very confident body language no matter how you’re playing, now you know what an impact that can have on your emotions. Act as if you’re a Tour Player, with a confident walk in between shots – shoulders back and eyes looking up at flag level, not slumped over looking down at the grass. Be aware of your posture and try smiling and laughing as much as you can!

Following these techniques will help improve your stress handling skills and your ability to perform under pressure.

I’m not saying that this is the only thing that helps build mental toughness but it’s one of them. If you’d like the full list of techniques, you can find them in the Golf State of Mind Mental Game Training System. Following these techniques will show you many more techniques for how to build mental toughness techniques for golf.

I’d love to hear how you get on! Please leave a comment below.

Photo courtesy of Hone Morihana

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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.

This Post Has 2 Comments

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    Michael Garofalo

    David amazing post as usual ! I never consciously did this but when I am playing my best rounds, I always walk and talk with confidence. Thinking back to some of my best and worst rounds, I can visualize my posture and how to correlated to my performance. Even how it changed when good rounds went bad or vice versa.

    What I found the most valuable (for me anyways) is to separate “me the player” from “me the person”. Usually “me the player” is pretty dependent upon “me the person”. Next round I will try to experiment with my “me the person” to alter it from an optimal “me the player” and then try to access “me the player” on the course.

    Yes it sounds silly to intentionally screw with myself, but I trust your teachings 🙂 I think this would be a fun and exciting way to experiment with it 😛

    I’ll keep you posted on how that goes !

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      David MacKenzie

      Hi Michael, thanks for reading and commenting! It’s amazing how all these little things add up to become game changers. I’m definitely interested to hear how your game progresses.

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