The great Bobby Jones once said: "Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course – the distance between your ears." For a sport that demands such precise skill, success is often determined by mental strength.
"A strong mind is one of the key components that separates the great from the good." Gary Player – nine-time Major winner. A first win in your weekend roll-up would be a start, right?
However, it might just be that those first tee nerves, or that huge water hazard is holding you back. What you need are some game-changing mental tips.
With this in mind, RSNG spoke to leading performance coach, Karl Morris, to get his advice on how you can stop psyching yourself out on the golf course. These seven tips will help to transform your game…
1. Re-label ‘First Tee Nerves’ Everyone suffers with nerves, especially when it comes to pegging it up on the first tee. However, this is where golfers have an opportunity to use those butterflies to their advantage.
"Look at the phrase: first tee nerves. Instead, label it as: first tee energy," suggests Morris. "When you see something that is energising you, it actually tends to increase your focus."
Morris, who has worked with six Major winners, is not aware of any great players who don’t experience nerves. "They’ll get those feelings in their body but they’ve actually learned to frame it differently," he says. "It’s not something to be terrified of. Use that energy."
Ask what does a good shot look like here? It focuses your attention on what you want rather than what you don’t
2. Ask Yourself Something Positive Danger lurks everywhere on a golf course, and it can play havoc with the mind. That lake that needs to be carried; the out of bounds down the right; and that deep pot bunker guarding the green – we see card-wrecking hazards everywhere.
Morris has an answer for those who fret in this scenario. "It’s all about the last thought that you have in your mind. If you’re asking yourself where the trouble is, that’s exactly what you’ll see."
"Instead, ask a different question – such as, what does a good shot look like here? Your brain will come up with an image of what a good shot actually looks like. It focuses your attention on what you want rather than what you don’t want, which is the trouble." Danger averted.
3. Don’t Concentrate On The Overall Goal It’s not unusual to experience one of those wretched collapses when you have a good score going. This tip, however, may just help you to finish off the job.
It’s simple: rather than think of the target as 18 holes, break your round down into six sets of three holes. "It’s very difficult to hang onto a good score when you’re focused on the overall score," says Morris.
"Try this strategy. No matter how badly or well you’ve gone on the previous set of three, your goal is to do as good as possible on the next set of three."
"This concept of shrinking the goal allows you to focus on something that is more immediate, rather than to protect the overall score."
After working with over a hundred Tour professionals, Morris says even the very best hit awful shots
4. Improve Your Relationship With Failure Golfers have a tendency to set very high standards, which can be a recipe for disaster. Having worked with over a hundred Tour professionals, Morris can confirm even the very best hit awful shots.
"The problem is, if there’s a high degree of expectancy and you’re expecting to hit high quality shots all the time, there can be quite a lot of emotional reaction to poor shots."
"An emotional reaction can contaminate the next shot because you’re still stuck on what happened previously, whereas you should actually be able to cut off that previous shot and create the next one from a fresh position."
5. Try ‘Whole’ Swing Thoughts It’s hard not to focus on technical aspects of the swing when you’re playing, such as your elbow position, wrist angles and where your hips are. Whilst Morris is an advocate of swing thoughts, he suggests keeping them simpler – more ‘whole’.
"The whole swing thought is just to focus a little bit more on tempo, or what the golf club is doing through the journey of the swing, rather than trying to break the swing up into pieces."
Morris also believes such thoughts work much better under pressure – perfect for when you need to make one last good swing to finish off a good round.
6. Find A Pre-Round Process The mind is often racing with unhelpful thoughts before arriving for a tee time. For Morris, everyone could benefit from refocusing before teeing off, and this ‘leftfield’ tip is a must-try.
"Head to the putting green and focus your attention on the writing on the golf ball. What that does is focus you on something in the present moment; that logo on the ball exists in the now."
‘You need to be in the present moment for golf. Everyone thinks about warming up physically, but to mentally warm up in so important.’
Nobody can tackle you, nobody can punch you or pick up your golf ball, so focusing on other people is pointless
7. Imagine Your Opponent Is The course Designer Despite working with seasoned professionals, Morris still comes across players who focus on their opponents – which, he says, is "futile".
"When you start to view your opponent as the golf course designer, you look more closely at what he’s trying to get you to do, such as hitting a driver or 3-iron off the tee. What is the designer trying to trick me into doing?"
"This frame of reference changes the way you look at the golf course. Nobody can tackle you, nobody can punch you or pick up your golf ball, so focusing on other people is pointless."
WHAT NEXT? Want to read more RSNG golf content? Check out our exclusive interview with five-time PGA Tour winner, Rickie Fowler.
- Karl Morris and Gary Nicol are the authors of the Amazon best-seller The Lost Art of Putting. Their latest book is The Lost Art of Playing Golf*
You can read more about Morris’ work at themindfactor.net
Gary Player photo by Kevin Murray