These Ten Commandments of Mental Golf should be fresh in your mind before every round to give yourself the best chance of success.
1. Thou Shalt Make Process Your Number One Goal
During a round of golf, you can only control what you can control. When we focus on what we can’t control (our score) the uncertainty of it all causes the body to start “the stress response”. No one can predict the future and in a game with so many variables and possibilities, it’s especially hard to do so. But so many of us try to do it! “If I can make a birdie here and par in, then this will happen…”
A better way is to focus on doing what you can control i.e. Your “process”. When we talk about process, it can include many things, but simply put, process goals are the actions that you can decide to do, that give you the best chance of hitting good shots, one by one. Execution of these process goals is the measure of success.
What you’ll need to determine is what the best process goals are for you during a full shot, short game shot and putt. What are you focusing on when you’re hitting your best shots and putts? Once you know this, you’ll have your recipe for success.
2. Thou Shalt Stay In The Moment
Learning how to stay present is a skill that transcends golf, but it can do wonders for your scores. I have a daily practice routine that helps me quieten my mind on demand and reduce mental chatter. It lowers stress and improves focus. Being able to “switch off” your mind in between shots is a great way to stay calm and conserve mental energy ahead of the next shot. Playing without consequences (not thinking about the future) is how to play without performance anxiety. The primary goals for every round should staying present and being absorbed by your process.
3. Thou Shalt Accept The Outcome Of Every Shot
Unless you are able to look at mistakes objectively and not become emotional about bad shots, you’re likely to worsen your mood and hit more bad shots. If you don’t have planned responses for bad shots (which you will inevitably hit), you’ll likely react, and reactions are usually negative. Negative emotions change mood and lower confidence. Choose a positive response, instead of a negative reaction.
4. Thou Shalt Trust Your Swing
Over-thinking swing mechanics on the course is one way to shoot a high score. Your practice sessions (or part of) is when to consciously think about, and improve, your technique. The golf course is about trusting your mechanics and letting it flow subconsciously.
5. Thou shalt Play Without Expectation Or Hope Of A Good Result
Hope of a good result creates fear of not getting that result. It’s one thing to believe you can go out there and shoot a good score, but heading to the course with a good score as a target will only create pressure and a tentative swing. The goal is to give every shot 100% effort, without thinking of how it will affect your score. If you can do this, you will be free to access the best skills you have.
6. Thou Shalt Build Confidence and Self-belief
Using mental skills and golf psychology to improve confidence is key to reaching your potential. Sure, there’s external confidence, which comes from results, but there’s also internal confidence which is created from within. In addition to my daily practice to improve my focus and quieten my mind, I use techniques to nurture my confidence and inner belief. My players do the same thing. By using techniques such as NLP, we can make our subconscious mind align with our conscious goals and instead of feeling fear in the big moments, we can learn how to feel confident and powerful.
7. Thou Shalt Learn How To Control Nerves
Are you aware of what happens mentally and physically when you feel fear and nerves? Nerves should be welcomed as when you’re aroused, your senses are heightened, you’re more focused and the surge of adrenaline gives you more fight and power. But if you get overwhelmed by fear, you’ll trigger the fight or flight response (fast heart rate, tension, confusion etc). Did you know there are techniques to reverse the effects of the body’s stress response? With practice it’s easy to do.
8. Thou Shalt Have Goals And Know How To Allocate Practice Time
All my students have 5 year and 1 Year (long-term) goals, and an 8 week (short-term) goal. Through stat tracking we know exactly where their strengths and weaknesses are and what they need to improve (in the short-term) to take them closer to their long-term goals. This allows us to put together a practice plan with drills to make sure every minute is practicing is spent as effectively as possible.
9. Thou Shalt Eat And Drink Properly
This is one of the most overlooked areas of golf improvement. I’ll often give a playing lesson where a student has nothing to eat or drink for 9 holes in summer heat! Most of my current students have a nutrition plan (for on and off the course), which helps them stay mentally and physically fresh for 18 holes.
10. Thou Shalt Have A Great Course Strategy
Course strategy represents a huge difference in the pro and amateur games. If you were to give a weekend golfer a Tour player’s course strategy for one round, they’d probably save 5 or more shots. Tour players know where to miss to avoid the big numbers, have a better idea of their strengths and weaknesses (and play to them) and know more about their distances and shot dispersion.
How well you do these 10 things will make a big difference in how well you play. If you’d like to measure your rounds by how well you’re performing mentally on the course, download my “mental game scorecard” below.