Course Strategy

The Most Important Mental Skill For Golfers

Through my experience of coaching players of all levels from junior to Tour player, there’s one mental skill that seems to elude the average player, yet the elite player utilizes it to the max to go low.

When I give a playing lesson I try to get into the head of the player and I often find a stark difference in the approach to every shot with each ability level. And the outcome of the shot is definitely affected by this.

When I’m working with a higher handicap player and I ask them what their thinking is before a tee or approach shot, the answer is typically:

“To get it on the green (or fairway)”.

When you ask a better player the same question, the response will be a lot more detailed and thought out:

“I can see the better miss is to the right, so I’m going to adjust my target to the right half of the green. The pin is cut towards the back, which means a miss long would make for a tough up and down so I’m going to club down a bit and favor the front half. The pin is also cut on the left half of green so I’m going to visualize a draw starting at the middle of the right half of the green. If it draws, it could get close, if not, it’s on the correct side with more green to work with. ”

Notice the difference?

“But the better player can hit those shots that require that level of thought vs my inconsistent game!”, I can hear some of you say.

I’m not suggesting you try to hit shots you’ve never hit before. You should always play shots you know you can hit.

Deciding on a shot and committing to it requires no physical ability, yet it can improve the outcome of your shots, no matter what your handicap or your perceived physical ability. The more you commit, the closer you will get to that shot. It’s that simple. The pros don’t hit every shot how they intend – no golfer is perfect. But their commitment to the shot they have chosen gets them a lot closer and their misses are better as a result. As Ben Hogan once said “Golf is about how good your misses are”.

Next time you’re out on the course, I’d like you to get into the habit of getting really specific about your strategy and shot selection. Talk to yourself about it as if you were talking to a caddy. In fact, this is one of the reasons that most golfers play better with a caddy, because they verbalize their shot selection which reinforces their commitment to it. When a caddy is telling you the best shot to hit, you forget about everything else but that shot.

But unless you’re a Tour pro, you’re going to have to learn how to become your own “inner caddy”. Ask yourself questions about the lie, wind and whether the best shot is short vs long, left vs right. Have that dialogue that the tour pros have with their caddies in your head, or if you’re playing on your own, say it out loud. Decide on your shot and then commit to it, right until the end of the shot. Get a really clear picture of how it will look. If you’d like to learn more about how to visualize and feel golf shots (play sensory golf), you should check out my Golf State of Mind Training Program.

The reason for doing this is simple. When you’re playing, the golf swing is (should be) controlled by your subconscious mind. That is, you have no conscious thoughts of what your body is doing during the 2-3 seconds of the golf shot. And your subconscious uses imagery, not words or technical instruction to do its job. This is why, with proper decision making and commitment, you get a picture for your subconscious to create a swing to manifest (or get close to) that particular shot. You “look and react” to that imagery instead of focusing on what your body needs to do.

At a very basic level, ask yourself these 3 simple questions before EVERY shot.

“What is my strategy?”

“Where is my target?”

“What does my shot look like?”

Decide, commit and visualize and let your mind help you hit it there!

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David MacKenzie

is a golf coach and golf publisher and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind a teaching program designed to help golfers eliminate negative mental interference and play with confidence.

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