“It’s such a psychological and mental game, that the smallest wrong thing at the worst time can distract you from what you’re trying to achieve.” Lee Westwood
The End Game
Golf is a very challenging game where perfection is an illusion. A degree off on your swing path can mean the difference between a great shot or disaster. The wrong cock of your wrist on your backswing or extension of your wrist at ball impact can cause havoc with your ball’s flight. So many variables and timing issues in your golf swing can lead some to throw their clubs into a dark forgotten corner of their garage. It’s not an easy game and every professional will tell you that. This blog will focus on the mental side of the game with an aim to hopefully help you, the reader, enjoy this amazing sport.
Little background about me and my journey. My dad’s best friend was an excellent golfer and he gave me a few clubs as a 15 year old. I immediately painted my driver blue and started reading Jack Nicklaus’ columns in our morning newspaper, the Montreal Gazette which I delivered Monday to Saturday. We didn’t live near a golf course and my Dad didn’t play the game so it was up to me if I were to play. I played maybe 5 or 6 times at Beleoil Golf Club. Danny Talbot was a junior member there and and we played a couple of times together. Danny went on to be the Canadian Junior Champion and become a PGA professional. I can remember building a two or three hole golf course in the gully between Mont St. Hilaire and Otterburn Park with my good friend Bruce Marshall. Calling it a golf course is an exaggeration to say the least but we managed to take a lawnmower to a wild field of grasslands and hack out a target we called a green. This only lasted one summer but it was fun and little did I know it would be another fifty years before picking up a golf club again.
- Visiting my brother on Georgian Bay while on a year long assignment in London, Ontario assessing the health of a manufacturing plant and its leadership; I was told, “It’s time you took up golf.” He gave me a mixed bag of clubs and no, I didn’t paint the driver. After work once or twice a week I started going to a local golf range and hitting balls. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but it was fun and filled my time in a place where I only had my cousin close at hand. Only a few weeks into my ball striking days at the range a gentleman approached me after he’d been working with a junior golfer. Little did I know he was a former member of the Ontario Team that competed in the Willingdon Cup, Canada’s national inter-provincial championship. He asked me how long I’d been playing and told me I had a good swing, and gave me one or two pointers before going on his way. I can’t count the number of times a professional at the range has told me that about my swing or that, “You should be a single digit golfer.” Where am I going with this? This was a recipe for disaster and my expectations could never match my play or scoring. I got frustrated, angry, and wasn’t enjoying myself on the course. I started asking myself why I was playing if I wasn’t having fun. Golf is hard and anyone who says otherwise is only fooling him or herself.
Here’s list I’ve had to either learn or relearn when playing the sport:
- When I was playing other sports I was usually in the zone; that is, I wasn’t thinking how to play nor was I not focused on the task at hand. I felt in control and everything for the most part flowed effortlessly.
- Start by identifying what areas of the game you need to improve. 1. motivation-still excited to play. 2. Goal Setting-what you want to achieve. 3. Planning-steps how will you get better. 4. Beliefs-how you see yourself. 5. Emotional Stability-how do you manage your emotions? 6. Focus-staying centred in the moment. 7. Execution-100% commitment to the shot. 8. Analysis-evaluate your performance. 9. Fun-what do you need to do to enjoy the game regardless of your play?
The Start Line
- Do you like practicing ALL aspects of the game? Putting, short game, and long game.
- Do you know specifically what you need to get better at?
- How do you perform under pressure?
- Do you get distracted easily?
- Self Talk. Is it positive or negative over a shot or situation?
- Can you maintain focus for 18 holes?
- Do you repeat the same swing or course management mistakes month after month, year after year?
- Is it fun?
- What aspects of the mental game do you need to improve on? How will you accomplish this?
Why do you play the game? What excites you about the game? What goals will excite you to continue to play?
Is it a positive or negative motivator? I play to enjoy my time with family and friends or I play to be a single digit handicap golfer (everything is based on score).
Goals are broad statements of where you want to go within the game. Objectives are statements that are SMART: 1. Specific 2. Measurable 3. Achievable 4. Results-oriented 5. Time bound You need to first identify your key goals (no more than three/year) and then set objectives for each goal.
Your beliefs can dramatically affect how you play. Do you believe you’re having fun? Do you have any limiting beliefs? For example, “I can’t do this?” “I’m a poor golfer?” “I’ve started the round well but I know it’ll fall apart.” “I always screw up on the first tee with everyone watching me.” “Oh god, everyone is watching me. I can’t screw up.”
What can you do to change any negative beliefs you carry? What’s your self-talk? What expectations can I control and not control? You can’t control whether or not your fairway shot lands in a divot.
What do I need to learn to understand and manage my emotions better? For example, The Arousal Cycle and how it impacts on your ability to perform at your best.
What things can I do to manage my emotions? For example, deep breathing before a shot. Self Talk-what’s your inner voice saying? Daily meditation. Visualization. Centering-combination of deep breathing and body awareness. Body Awareness-where muscle tension is in the moment or heart rate.
Note: The Arousal Cycle is a physiological response to an external or internal stimulus. If left unchecked it will cause four drugs to be elevated in our bodies. 1. Adrenalin 2. Noradrenalin. 3. Testosterone 4. Cortisol. These four drugs will cause one to see a diminish in ones cognitive ability and physical performance with sometimes devastating affects.
Learn to Anchor your emotions in a positive past performance, decision making, or shot situation. Anchors are helpful and can help build self confidence.
Learn a pre round and practice routine that starts before you leave home or your workplace. Learn a pre shot routine that allows you to approach your shot with confidence, focus, and zero distraction.
Learn risk/reward for lies on the courses or course management. Commitment to a shot. Eliminate distractions and learn to play under pressure.
So what’s my goal for the 2024 golf season? I plan to concentrate practice on my short game and in between wilderness excursions doing my landscape and wildlife photography, and travels to the West Coast to see my friends and family I intend to relax and have fun no matter the score. Golf is not my sole focus and I have to accept that being a single digit golfer probably isn’t realistic because I have so many other interests, my golf game will be what it is!