I occasionally get questions about golf psychology from players who are suffering with;
- on course anxiety
- inability to perform under pressure
- anger/frustration that ruins their game
While I’m not a golf psychologist as my main role, I think that instructors should delve into and at least get a good understanding of the basics of psychology. I spent many hours reading books on goal setting, self-help, philosophy, neuroscience etc. in my 20’s, and was constantly linking it to golf and my coaching.
And while I hate reductionism, I could boil a lot of psychology down to a golden rule (which I will share at the end). So, here are my 2 cents on the mental game.
Tactics Vs Philosophy
There are lots of tactics to control emotion/nerves etc. Having these are important for sure – things like
- a good quality routine
- controlling body language
- breathing exercises
are all great for getting your mind into the zone and dealing with mental issues.
However, these tactics are just dealing with the symptoms, not the underlying issue.
While it is much harder and takes longer to “achieve” (it’s essentially a never ending process), working on your deeper philosophy about the game, and even your life, can render the “tactics” redundant.
As a self confessed club-snapper in my youth, my mental game was all over the place. Now, in my adulthood, I feel my mental game is one of my stronger assets (even if I have to check myself every now and again). Why?
Why I’m More Stable Now
✅ My understanding of what creates a bad shot has dramatically improved as an instructor. Golf is no longer voodoo – when I hit a bad shot I know exactly what happened at impact, and have a “toolbox” for how to fix it. The game is now simply to implement the right amount of a fix (which is where practice comes in). But I am never “lost” – and this has taken out 99% of frustration in the game.
✅ Adding to the above, every shot is now simply a learning experience. For example, if I miss a drive left, my internal voice doesn’t say “you idiot, what the hell are you doing”, it says “ok, you presented the face 1 degree more closed than you wanted. Let’s monitor it, see if it becomes a pattern and then implement something to open the face”
✅ My understanding of stats improved – did you know pros only hit 60% fairways? An 8 ft putt on perfect greens is a coin flip. Understanding these things should help you put things into perspective when you miss one – taking a lot of the frustration away from a bad shot.
✅ The difference between a fairway shot and an OB ball can be as little as 1.5 degrees of clubface presentation, or even a few mm of face strike with the driver. That ball you just fatted into the water short? Perhaps you dropped 1/4 of an inch in height from one of the 20+ degrees of freedom your body has (yes, it can be this small of a difference). Again, understanding this puts things into perspective and takes some of the frustration away.
✅ When I was a club-snapper, golf was everything to me. It was life. Now I’ve grown, I have a business, a wife and more important things on my mind. Golf is simply a game now – something impossibly difficult, but there to be enjoyed. We often forget that when we are striving for improvement so much.
✅ I see “success” for what it is. We are all chasing to better ourselves, and this is fine. But ultimately, any achievements we make provide a short term feeling of fulfillment. Trust me – getting to your handicap goal is just a “horse chasing the carrot” scenario. For me, golf is NOW less about getting out there and playing my best, and more about going out, seeing what happens while enjoying the company and scenery.
✅ What does a bad shot mean to you? Players who suffer with mental issues in golf tend to place too much importance upon how they play. Every shot, in their mind, is a character judgement. If you hit a bad shot, just remember, you are not a bad person. It’s not a reflection of how hard you worked or who you are. Your response to the bad shot is, however, more of a reflection.
✅ Shit happens – read about the neuroscience of free will. You’ll quickly see we don’t have any. We can’t ultimately control what outcome we get because we don’t have full control over our body (even though we feel like we do). Ask anyone with Parkinsons to “just control your shakes”. All we can do is train the best we can and this will improve control over the long term. However, ultimately, our motor system will decide what outcome we get.
✅ You’re not a pro. You don’t practice 8 hours a day, and you’re not the genetic elite. A bad round for you??? You still get to put bread on the table that week. Your round is meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Sure, if you’re putting to win a major and write history, that might be different. But even then (depending upon how nihilist you are) even that is meaningless.
✅ Your playing partners really don’t care about you or your shots. We feel like they do, but they don’t. So stop stressing over what they think of your game.
✅ You think getting better will reduce the need for improved psychology – if you hit fewer bad shots, you’ll get less angry or nervous, right? Not true. As you get better, your expectations will simply raise proportionately (or sometimes disproportionately). Anger and frustration tend to be a result of expectations not matching reality. Ever see Tiger miss it 30ft right from 200 yards and think “why the hell did he just slam his club”?
A Golden Rule?
All of this could be summarized as
stop caring so much about the outcome”
This sounds overly stoic, and I have certainly been influenced by those philosophies. But for me, that mindset helped me get rid of the need for “tactics” and has helped me massively in my life. Ironically, I enjoy my golf more than I ever have, even though my motivation to be the best golfing version of myself is not as high (double edged sword).
It is interesting that, while my skills are not as good as when I was obsessed with achievement, my improved mental game overcomes that.
If you want the outcome and results to mean more to you, because you enjoy that, that is equally fine – it’s your life and you can live it with your own philosophy. However, it’s much more likely that you will suffer from the mental issues associated with the result meaning so much to you.
I’m not trying to push my philosophy onto everyone, but I thought I would share what helped me. I’m sure you can learn at least one-thing from my experiences.
Improve Your Game
If you enjoyed this, I share more of what I have learned about golf psychology, as well as information on swing technique, strategy, training, impact physics and more in my Next Level Golf Program.
Or if you have a specific issue that you want fixed (slice, fat shots etc), check out my other improvement programs – click the image link below to explore them all.