Self-talk In Golf

How To Talk Yourself Into A Great Performance

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

I played with a friend this week who had a pretty rough round. His game got worse throughout. The only thing that was consistent was his attitude. After most shots I’d hear something like: “Oh S@#T, I did it again! I can’t play this game today! In practice I’m great, but I just can’t play on the course.”

After the round, he asked me if there was any advice I could offer him and the first thing that came to mind was “you need to work on your self-talk”.

In a game where there’s so much time to think, it’s hard not to have a running dialogue with yourself (in your head or out-loud). But do you really appreciate the power that these conversations or outbursts can have over how you feel and how you perform?

All the Sports psychology studies that have been done on how top performers think has shown that they use self-talk in a very positive way. They’re fully aware of how their choice of words can affect their mood and performance. A lot of amateurs, just react and say whatever comes into their head which makes them play worse, not better.

Negative self-talk doesn’t get bad shots out of your system, it gets them deep into your subconscious. It makes those experiences you are trying to avoid more likely to happen in the future. We push success further away with every negative word and create stress, tension and damage confidence.


My work with top players has shown me that they all share positive self-talk in common. They use it to:


By using what are called “mantras”, you can easily push yourself to better performances. Just saying these words, can make you believe it. Try some of these:

I am a mentally tough competitor.
Anything is possible!
Today is going to be a great day as I’m playing golf!
Things could be a lot worse.
My words have the power to give me self belief and power, I will choose the right ones!
You become what you think of yourself!
Something good is just around the corner…
I am committed and and I am confident.


You’ll often hear Jordan Spieth talk about his game in terms of “we did this..”, referring to his team of him and Michael Greller, his caddie. Unless you’re a Tour player, it’s unlikely you’ll have a caddie, so you have to create this positive team dynamic with yourself.

Before a round, write down (on a 3×5 inch card) the words used to describe your optimal mental approach for golf when you are playing your best golf. Take this with you to the course and read it aloud to yourself before you play. You can also look at it in between shots.

Songs can also have a powerful effect as part of your pre-round ritual. Pick out songs you know will help lift your mood and get you in the right mindset. Play them while you are warming up.

Remind yourself to “be grateful and thankful”. No matter how you play, you are outside on a beautiful day, getting the opportunity to hit some shots just like the pros.


I teach all my students to have an automatic verbal acceptance response to shots they’re not happy with or bad luck, such as a bad lie or bad bounce. Try to get into the habit of saying something positive after every shot. Think of what your coach or caddie would say. I’m sure it would be something like:

“You’re a good enough player to recover from that”
“well that’s interesting”
“that’s very unlike you [name]”
“even the very best players hit shots like that. The difference is they don’t let it affect them.”


Work on replacing negatives with positives. Replace statements such as “I can’t do this…” and “My putting is awful today” with “I can play better” or “Just stay focused on your process, that’s all you can do”.


Some players I work with find it helpful to talk themselves through their routine as they are doing it. This can help keep you focused on what you need to do and keep the conscious mind occupied in those precious moments before a shot.

How does your swing feel when you play your best golf?

Is it “smooth”, “powerful”, “rhythmical”, “seamless”, or “aggressive”? By using a “performance statement” before you swing can help you make the same move you associate with those specific words.


Reciting a poem or singing a song has been used by Tour players to keep them in the present and not engaging in negative self-talk or thinking into the future.

Remind yourself to breathe (you can count your breaths).


Next time you play a round of golf, listen closely to your language and the words you say. Notice how calmly or harshly your words are spoken. Observe your tone of voice and how rapidly or slowly you speak. Gently guide your language to the positives and you will gently guide your mind.

Change your words and you will literally not only change your golf game, but your daily life.

Photo by B Wendell Jones

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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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