Any golfing enthusiast will tell you – golf is a mental game. Physical strength counts for something – but it’s just one factor that goes into a solid game of golf. To succeed at golf, you also need focus, cool nerves, and sharp concentration.
The best golfers have a mastery of the mental game, which helps them sink a hole when it counts. But how can you attain that fortitude and mental stamina? When you want to improve your physical fitness, the solution is simple – do physical exercise. Improving your mental fitness can be a bit trickier.
Are you ready to hone your mental game? If you want to flex your grey matter on the green, try these five mental hacks.
1. No self doubt
If you want to win, first you must believe you can win. It’s healthy to admire elite golfers, but don’t hold them in such awe that you doubt your own ability to perform.
You may not win every time, but never lose faith in yourself. Self-doubt is self-defeating. The minute that you stop believing you can win, you’ve sealed your own fate – you won’t win.
Ever seen a golfer with a case of the yips? Pessimism and bad nerves can be very counterproductive on the green. Don’t let self-doubt cramp your style. Reassure yourself with affirmations before every game. Tell yourself: I can do this.
2. Hone your pre-shot routine
It’s common for nerves to set in between the time you select your club and start to swing. If you don’t have a consistent pre-shot routine, this is when your mind can wander, distracting your focus from the shot at hand.
Fend off nerves by concentrating on the present moment, thinking only about what you’re about to do. There’s no one-size-fits-all routine – you have to develop a process that works best for you. And hone your routine every time you’re on the golf course – whether it’s practice or play.
Once you have perfected a pre-shot routine for every shot, you will operate on autopilot. If you watch the best pro-golfers, you’ll see that their routines never change. It’s the same every time – right down to the number of seconds it takes.
3. Don’t forget to breathe
When you’re staring down the fairway and the pressure is on, your breathing pattern can make or break. Improved breathing techniques help to counteract the nervousness and loss of fine motor skills that occur in stressful situations.
Proper breathing has a calming effect, which reduces the mental and physical impacts of stress. On the golf course, a deep breath can eliminate nerves and tension, enabling you to concentrate and perform. It also reduces muscle tension, which improves your range of motion and muscle function.
Simple breathing exercises can help you clear your mind and recover from a bad hole. Take five deep and steady breaths: inhale slowly, count to three, and then gently exhale. This delivers oxygen to your brain, which improves your focus.
4. Practice under pressure
Your practice shouldn’t just prepare you for the physical challenges of the game. During a tournament, you have to perform under mental pressure – so you should introduce similar pressures to your practice.
Instead of repeatedly hitting for the same target, simulate golf course conditions. Set yourself score targets, to recreate the pressure of competition. Or do a quick burst of cardio exercises, to boost your heart rate and replicate the pressure you feel on the course.
In a tournament, you don’t have the luxury of putting away, without consequence – every shot counts. Approach your practice with the same discipline and focus that you will need on the green.
5. Keep calm and play on
It’s important to manage your emotions on the golf course. Disappointment and anger are natural reactions to a bad shot, but you must let go of those negative feelings. If
you carry them from one shot to the next, your whole game will suffer.
Find ways to resolve negative emotions. You might focus on your breathing; or try visualising another, more impressive shot that you have made; or choose a positive thing, place or person to think about, to shift your mindset – it may have nothing to do with golf.
And remember: patience is a virtue that can help you win. If your impulse is to make an aggressive play, opt for a more conservative shot. When you compete, the greens are faster and the rough is thicker. If you grow impatient, you will flounder.
Kurt Linde is General Manager at Golf Club, Port Stephens. Kurt is a PGA professional and former touring professional, having golfed on the Australasian, South Pacific and Canadian tours alongside some of the most talented golfers in the world.