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All golf professionals can hit the ball far and straight. Yet, week in and week out, some pros struggle to make the cut and stay on the leaderboard. With the exception of a few shots, the real difference between winning and losing can be attributed to the mental game of golf.
Having the right mindset when you play golf takes time to develop and perfect. I spent many years perfecting my mental toughness training, working with golf psychologists, and eventually creating a strategy that worked for me.
⏰ Quick Summary on Golf Psychology
If you are short on time but want to get a few quick tips to help improve your golf mental game, here are the most important takeaways:
- The way you think, talk to yourself, and react on the course all have a direct impact on the scores that you shoot.
- Your golf game does not stay the same from one day to the next; if you want to get enjoyment out of the game of golf, learn to adapt.
- Senior golfers can adjust to physical changes in their game by becoming stronger mentally and developing an edge on the competition.
- Sports psychology is just as important to work on and improve as the golf swing itself.
- Create high-pressure situations before entering golf tournaments, so you are prepared and ready for action.
- Mental skills can be practiced during the off-season and even used in your everyday life when it comes to remaining calm and staying in the moment.
Having shared a handful of quick tips, it’s time to step up our game with more detailed advice. As a pro golfer, I’m eager to guide you through all 10 mental game strategies that have been my go-to’s, especially beneficial for mature golfers. So, let’s get started.
1. Golf Practice & Pre Shot Routine
If you have decided to start working on the golf mental game, the first tee is not the place to start. In fact, you should do quite a bit of reading, practicing, and testing of strategies before you even take them to the course.
Starting a golf mental strategy on the course is a bit like heading to the first tee with the idea that you will try an entirely new swing today. Instead, start the prep off the course. The best tip of advice I can give you here is to schedule a time to work on your golf mental game each day.
Just as you may say, you need to spend a half hour putting, incorporating ten minutes of mental game preparation, routine setting, positive thinking, etc., into your daily routine.
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2. Overcoming Extreme Golfing Nerves
Extreme golfing nerves can be detrimental, but they can also be very good for your golf game. When I played in tournaments when I was younger, I would feel sick to my stomach. As I got older, I realized this feeling was simply because I cared. Since I cared about what was going on out there, I was nervous, and that’s a positive.
There were two ways that I learned to manage my extreme golf nerves. The first is to breathe. When we get nervous, we often forget to take full deep breaths. You can calm a lot of nerves by just breathing in through the nose.
The second was for me to think about the worst that could happen. It may sound funny, but I would say to myself things like, “If you hit a line drive or a slice off the first tee, you will simply recover on the next shot and par the hole.” I tried to downplay the nerves but also replaced them with positive thoughts. It works quite well.
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3. Understand the Basics of Golf Psychology
So many amateur golfers either don’t believe or don’t understand golf psychology. How many of your friends stand on the first tee box and say, “I just hope I don’t miss it.” You may also hear people say things like, “watch this one will head right to the water.”
Why are we putting these ideas in our heads?
Most of the time, golfers just don’t have the knowledge and understanding that the golf mental game is very specific and that golf psychology is a real thing.
I have found that in addition to being positive on the golf course and expecting to make certain shots, I also have to be smart about golf course management.
If you have an off-season where you are located, studying golf course management and golf psychology books would be a great use of your time.
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4. Don’t Fret on Losing Distance in Your Golf Swing
One of the things that can really throw off the mental game of golf is when golfers focus too heavily on distance.
This is especially important for senior golfers who may lose distance based on their age and slower swing speed. If you find that, for some reason, your 8 iron is only traveling 130 yards, and it typically travels 140, don’t worry about it. For that round of golf, play the 8 iron at 130, and when you finish your round, see if you can figure things out on the range.
If you spend your entire round harping on the issues you have with distance, the mentality is that you need to swing harder, faster, and more aggressively. As most players know, if you continue this throughout a round, there’s a good chance it won’t end well.
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5. Setting Reasonable Golf Goals
Similar to giving up on distance, try to set reasonable golf goals for yourself. When you study golf psychology, a lot of it will tell you that you need to believe that you can be a better player and even speak it. This is true, but it has to be reasonable to be effective.
If you are a bogey golfer and you want to start improving your mental golf game, think about making four or five pars on the golf course. Pick holes you know you can par and develop a plan and a mindset for those holes.
In other words, it is unrealistic to stand on the first tee box and tell yourself that you will shoot 72 today. It won’t happen or improve your mental game. Matching your physical and mental golf game is where you see the best results.
6. Recovering on the Bad Golf Days
The bad shot is the ultimate destroyer when it comes to the golf mental game.
One of my favorite quotes is when Ben Hogan said:
“Treat your birdies like your bogeys. If you can go through a round with a level head, it makes it much easier to recover and to still salvage a good round.”
The mindset here is to expect bad shots. They are going to happen.
However, one bad shot may simply turn into a bogey. You can recover from a bogey. The trouble is when you make a bad swing and then let it impact your swing for the rest of your round. Move on, get out of that hole and reset on the next tee box.
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7. Eliminate Negative Self-Talk
Golf teaches us a lot about life. Perhaps one of the most important mental tips in golf you will come across is the importance of being positive. When you are optimistic about your round of golf and your goals for it, it’s much easier to obtain your goals. Haven’t you noticed this in life as well?
Negative people are constantly surrounded by negativity, and many times; it is just not necessary. Don’t be a negative golfer, don’t have temper tantrums, and be positive about your chance to still make a birdie or a par on the next hole.
I’ll admit that I have a tendency to be more negative than positive on the golf course. When teaching golf and helping others, I know how to be positive and coach and assist.
However, for my own golf game, it’s so hard for me to stop the negative self-talk. In fact, when I was playing competitive golf, I resorted to writing down a few positive things I could say to myself on the course. I would read these before a round and then pull them out if I started to get negative again.
My little self-talk cheat sheet said things like “I’m a great putter,” “I hit every fairway,” or even “this is your hole to birdie.” At first, I was reluctant to try positive self-talk because I thought, how could it work if I didn’t believe it? Surprisingly, over time, I learned to believe everything that I had told myself, and it ended up lowering my scores.
So if you think being hard on yourself is the solution for playing better golf, be very careful with the approach you take.
If you need a bit more inspiration, here’s a quote from Vijay Singh from his win back in 2008. Working on his mental game tips to overcome putting challenges, he convinced himself he was the best putter in the world. The result paid off.
8. Put Yourself in a Pressure Situation
Pressure situations should not be saved for tournament days. Put yourself in pressure situations as often as possible to test your mental toughness.
You can do this on the driving range, during a friendly match, or just personally to try and make things matter a little more. The way your brain reacts in these pressure situations is a little different, and you need to test it.
When there is a little pressure on me to play well, I play a lot better. I take a little more time to plan out shots and to be optimistic about the swing I’m about to take.
9. Accept that Your Golf Swing Changes
Change is something that is going to happen on the golf course. Have you ever had a day where you shot 78 and then the next day followed it up with an 88? Your game changes each time you go out, and if you can’t accept this change, scoring becomes difficult. How about going from 250 yard drives to 240 yard drives when you age from 50 to 60, or 60 to 70?
One of the most important golf mental skills you can work on is to learn to accept change, especially as older golfers who may want to compare their skills from yesteryears. This applies to one round being different from the next, but it also applies to situations where you may be losing distance as you get older or after a knee surgery. I know it’s hard to accept that the 7 iron may only fly 140 yards now, and you can’t get that 150.
However, the sooner you accept the change, the better chance you will have to play great golf again. Stop putting yourself through the mental torture of refusing to match your physical game with your mental game; it’s not worth it!
10. Post Round Debriefing
After a round of golf, it’s a good idea to debrief. If you are serious about taking your game to the next level or simply struggle with being upset about bad shots, it can help to debrief after a round. One of the best ways to do this is to write it down.
You don’t need a shot-by-shot of your round, but instead, write down a few paragraphs about what was good and what was bad on the course that day.
Give yourself both the positive and negative. Don’t stay stuck on all of the negative. I like to keep a little notebook with each of my rounds. If you have any kind of golf technology, like a watch or launch monitor, that keeps some of your stats, you can also add that to the post round info.
I think you will find that this helps you put the bad rounds behind you and move on. In addition, recognizing what positive that day can also encourage more productive thoughts for the next round of golf.
Frequently Asked Questions
The golf mental game is something that I find incredibly interesting. There is so much power in having the correct mindset on the golf course.
What is the mental game in golf?
The mental game in golf is where players focus on thoughts and mindsets that help them play a better round of golf. The more mentally strong a golfer can be, the easier it is to shoot lower scores and reach their golf goals.
How do you beat the mental game of golf?
One of the best ways to beat the mental game of golf is to work on it. You can practice things like being in the moment, staying positive, and recovering from negative experiences. These will all help you on the golf course.
How much of a golf game is mental?
The better a golfer gets, the more the game becomes mental. At some point, everyone knows how to hit the golf ball with relative consistency. Professional golfers will tell you that the golf mental game is what they have to think about and work on more than anything.
Why is golf a mind game?
Golf is a mind game because you must stay focused, self-aware, calm, and self-confident simultaneously. In addition, you have to do this while swinging a golf club, sometimes close to 100mph. That’s a lot going on, and you need quite a bit of brain power when playing golf.
Final Thoughts on the Golf Mental Game
At this point, you should feel as though you have a few strategies to take your golf mental game to the next level.
If you have never considered your mental approach and how it impacts your scores, you have a tremendous opportunity to make real changes in playing golf this year.
Investing in a few great golf books, working on mental toughness on and off the course, and improving your self-confidence as a player will only help make lower scores more attainable.