Would you like all my Mental Game Lessons as audio? If so, click here.
“Golf is a matter of confidence. If you think you cannot do it, there’s no chance you will.” – Henry Cotton.
As golfers we all know that the more confident we feel, the better we play. But what comes first? Do you have to play well to have confidence or are there ways to build confidence no matter how well you’ve been playing recently?
In this article, I’m going to show you my top 10 ways to build “inner confidence” (confidence that comes from within) to get you feeling as confident as possible on the first tee, regardless of your recent scores.
1. Build confidence through a good process
One way to improve your confidence is to stop focusing on what you can’t control but instead focus on what you can control. At the beginning of your round, you can’t with any degree of certainty say you’re going to shoot 65 or 85. It’s out of your control. And if you equate how well you’re playing with the quality of every shot you hit, you’re setting yourself up for an emotional roller-coaster and frequent dents to your confidence.
I teach all my players to measure the success of a round by how well they stuck to their process (their routine) before and after every shot. This way, your success is totally within your control vs being at the mercy of where the ball finishes and what score you might shoot. You’re going to get bad bounces, you’re going to get bad lies, the wind will affect shots and some putts will hit a bump on the green and lip out. Fixating on the outcome of each shot and your score will only hurt your round. Putting faith in your process and making that the goal will take a lot of the uncertainty out of each round and over time improve your confidence.
2. Don’t become obsessed with your swing mechanics and learn how to trust what you have on that day
Golfers that lack confidence are constantly asking themselves questions about how good their swing is. They can hit it great on the driving range all week, but miss a fairway or green during their round at the weekend and all of a sudden there’s a problem with their swing. Such thinking leads to over-analysis and over-thinking about the swing which leads to tension and more bad swings. One of the keys to good golf is making relaxed swings which is impossible when you’re thinking about your swing. Tell yourself before each round that you’re not going to give yourself a lesson but instead keep tension low by having no swing thoughts.
3. Build a plan for success
If you’re a smart golfer, you’ll know exactly where you need to improve and focus your practice time on that. When you have a plan, you’ll feel like you’re on a path to progress which is good for the confidence. If know you have 8 hours of practice time during a week, have a plan for exactly how you’re going to use that time instead of deciding when you get to the range.
4. Improve your ability to focus
Letting your mind wander onto things that will affect your confidence is a major reason for under-performance. When you stand over a shot, are you concerned about the trouble? The last bad shot you hit? How you look in front of your playing partners? Or is your focus intense between the ball and the target like a Tour player? Find ways to improve your ability to concentrate.
5. Separate your golfing self from you as a person
Many Tour players will have a separate persona on the golf course. In other words they detach who they are as a golfer from who they are as a person. Tim Gallwey, considered to be the first golf mind coach, said in his book The Inner Game of Golf: “If it is golf that made you someone, then golf can make you no one again”. Point being, if you start playing ego golf and build your self esteem around how good your scores are, what happens when you start to play badly? You lose confidence quickly. Golf is something that you do, not who are.
6. Acceptance and re-framing
Your response to your shots can have a big effect on your confidence. The longer you harbor emotions of frustration and anger towards a shot you hit, the more doubt, negativity and tension you create for your next shot. Tour players have learned this from experience, so they don’t hold on to bad shots the way that amateurs do. Granted, Tour players have the benefit of a caddie, who knows exactly what to say to a player to make him or her forget a bad shot quickly, but given that you don’t, you’ll need to learn the art of good, positive self-talk and offer yourself encouragement not criticism.
7. Anchor success (and pay attention to failure)
In golf you have to celebrate success and use failure to improve. At the end of every round, remember your best shots and replay them vividly. You could write about these in a journal and recount them when you need to give yourself a confidence booster. It’s also a good idea to write notes about bad rounds so you can notice any patterns in your behavior and mental approach, so you can change it. Even though failure doesn’t feel good, it feels a lot better if you can see it as a way to learn.
8. Have a plan for the time in between
90% of the game of golf is when you’re not actually “playing”, you’re in between shots. During this time you have the ability to make or break your confidence and your scores. Have a plan for this time, so you don’t allow your mind to wander onto the wrong things.
9. Feel prepared for your round
I find there’s nothing worse for the confidence when you get to the course a few minutes before your tee time, making you feel rushed and unprepared. It’s even worse if you haven’t played the course before. On the contrary, if you’ve allowed yourself plenty of time to warm up and relax and look through the yardage book to determine your strategy for each hole, you’ll feel a lot more prepared and confident for the round.
10. Take yourself out of your comfort zone
A great way to build your confidence fast is to challenge yourself and experience what it feels like to pull shots off under pressure. This includes your practice sessions which should be as close (if not harder) than the pressure you feel on the course. Don’t be afraid to play with players that are better than you and feel nerves. If harnessed properly, nerves are a good thing and increase your chances of lowering your scores and taking a good confidence boost with it.
Photo by Tour Pro Golf Clubs