“Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course…the space between your ears.”
Ah, the mental game of golf. Have you ever noticed that some of your best rounds occur when you can just get out of your own way?
When you look at the literature surrounding the mental game, whether it’s Dr. Bob Rotella, Dr. Joseph Parent, or any of the other excellent sports psychologists and mental game coaches, one of the recurring themes is getting out of our own way,
They all have their own approaches to achieving this but it is certainly not easy. Especially not when something is riding on the line (your club championship, your best round, your first time breaking 100, 90 or 80).
One of the reasons that I kept the word Zen in this website is that I have come to believe that the Zen philosophy is completely applicable to golf. My view of Zen is that optimal performance occurs when the thinking mind is silent, when we allow the body to do what it has learned, to simply react to the shot and situation. But how often does that happen?
The truth is that we enter an autopilot like state nearly everyday. If you drive a car, you do it instinctively. Have you ever had the experience of driving, and during the drive you “zone out” for a few minutes, and you look around and recognize that you are still driving perfectly well, miles down the road? That’s the autopilot taking over.
That can be used in golf.
However the main obstacle that gets in the way is thinking about technique. Often when we hit a poor shot, we automatically go into diagnosis mode and technique mode. We try to figure out what went wrong. Did my elbow stick out? Was my backswing too long? Did I take the club back too far inside?
I think the first response should be “Did I pick out a good target?” or something along those lines. Once you are on the golf course it is too difficult to change technique. Many of the bad shots that we do have don’t come from bad swings, but they come from bad decisions.
A bad decision can happen when we don’t inspect the lie carefully. It can happen when we don’t take the slope or the wind into consideration. It can happen when we don’t know our distances very well and under club. I would imagine that the average golfer can shave 5 strokes off their game by making better decisions.
Ray Floyd in his excellent book “The Elements of Scoring” says that if he was playing against you, and he had the same physical game as you, he could beat you every time because he would make better decisions.
That’s something to think about. Those decisions are not related to swing technique (although your options are constrained by your skill level). They are related to your game plan and what information you take into account.
Elements to a successful mental game
- Carefully evaluate the situation
- Plan your shot
- Visualize the shot vividly
- Fully Commit to the shot
The steps above can help to keep you away from entering a technique mindset. Focusing on the target, visualizing the ball flight, and trusting your swing will usually produce excellent results. Focusing on technique brings your conscious mind into play. Your conscious mind is not the best swinger of the club. Your unconscious or subconscious mind that runs your body does a far better job. Keep your conscious mind occupied on strategy, visualization and trust and you can allow your subconscious to produce the swing you need.
Do your best to keep technique-related thoughts out of your mind while playing a round. Changing your mental game will take practice and discipline but it should pay dividends.