Mental Fitness in Golf
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Mental Fitness in Golf

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Mental Fitness in Golf

If you’re like me, you’re looking for any means available to improve at this great game of ours. Investing in lessons is probably the best way to get better quickly. Getting fitted for equipment is a very close second. Improving your physical capabilities through better overall fitness, strength and mobility is another.

But what about mental fitness?

Can you shave a few strokes if you improve how you use that space between your ears? Maybe learn a little more mental toughness? Absolutely. While by no means an exhaustive list, here are some things to consider for both immediate and long-term improvements to your mental game.

Understand What Good Is

One of the main obstacles to maintaining a healthy and productive mental outlook and playing your best golf is your own expectations. I get it, maybe you’ve got a full-time job and other responsibilities but you’ve found a way to get in some practice reps. You’re possibly working out, perhaps even doing some speed training, and you’ve been vigilant about that mobility and flexibility routine. Perhaps you even get in some putting practice. The point is that, the demands of being a grown-up aside, you’re trying to improve and it can be extraordinarily frustrating when you don’t see the results when you get on the course.

I’m here to tell you that you’re hitting better shots than you think you are when you play golf if you are as dedicated to your golf game as I think you are (you’re reading this article, after all). Then I’m willing to bet you watch a little golf on TV. The problem with that is that you’ve likely unintentionally warped your perceptions of what a good golf shot looks like.

Think about it: TV almost exclusively shows shots from players on the first page of the leaderboard. Not only are you watching the best players in the world but you’re watching the best players in peak form. Golfers playing at their best that particular weekend. Of course you’re going to see some spectacular shots but the problem arises when you think those shots are representative of what’s going on all over the course. It’s not and it’s time to fix that mindset.

PGA Tour Stats

Don’t believe me? Then it’s time to get hit with some knowledge.  Go ahead and get on the PGA Tour website and research the statistics for proximity to the hole and you’ll see what I mean. Care to hazard a guess at the average distance from the hole for a PGA Tour pro for a shot from the fairway from 100 to 125 yards? Must be tap-in range, right? Actually, the answer is more than 20 feet.

In fact, the average green in regulation percentage from that distance is 81 percent. This means the best players in the world are missing the green with a wedge almost 20 percent of the time!

The fact is, from 100 yards from the fairway, if you’ve hit the green you’ve hit a good shot. Could it be better? Sure, and every now and then you will hit one to kick-in range. But have some perspective and stop beating yourself up for not hitting highlight-reel shots with every swing. Chances are that you’re hitting plenty of quality shots. If you keep up the hard work, you’re going to hit more of them. It’s on you to recognize them when you do.

Play With Discipline

Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you that you actually hit some pretty good shots, it’s time to come down to earth a little bit. While you’re maybe better than you give yourself credit for, by that same token it’s time to recognize that you are not the second coming of Seve Ballesteros. You are inevitably going to hit some bad shots. It’s what you do after those shots that is going to have the greatest impact on your score. If you can apply some discipline to your on-course decision-making, you’ve got a good chance at minimizing the damage of that bad shot. More often than not, though, amateurs like us tend to compound our errors.

Accepting Bad Shots

Wayward tee shots are a classic example. If you blasted one offline and found yourself in the trees, it’s time to accept that you are playing for a bogey. Your job is to get out of the trees and up the fairway as far as you can while ensuring you’re out of trouble.

From there, put your next shot on the green, take your two-putt and move on to the next tee. Be proud you minimized the damage. What you shouldn’t do, but I’m willing to bet you try to do, is to play the hero shot.

Hero shots are fun and they’re tempting, especially when you’ve got a good round going and the bogey you’re staring at puts that round in peril. It is possible to hit a slinging hook through a 10-foot gap in the trees with your 7-handicap swing, after all. But “possible” does not equal “probable.”

What is far more likely is you’ll find yourself still in the trees, perhaps even deeper after your ball ping-pongs around the pines. Now you’re staring at a double or worse, a result you could have avoided if you had just come out sideways and played for the bogey. Worse, chances are you’ll be kicking yourself for that decision for the next several holes, prompting the wheels to really come off.  (More on that later.)

Recognizing Limitations

While I’m encouraging you to not be so hard on yourself, I’m also asking you to know your limitations and play to them. As Raymond Floyd advises in his book, The Elements of Scoring, learn to play comfortable and within yourself. If you see a tucked pin, maybe it’s time to recognize that your approach game is not pro-level or elite. Apply some course management skills and play to the fat or safe part of the green, away from the hazards that pin is trying to sucker you towards. Start selecting clubs based on how far you usually hit them, not based on that one perfect strike you once had with it. If you can learn to play with discipline and within your limitations, you will lower your scores and lower your on-course stress.

Get Off the Ride

If you’re that rare breed of golfer that can completely divorce yourself from outcomes on the golf course, bravo. Maybe you’re on the course for some vitamin D and fresh air, and that little white ball is just there to help you pass the time. Or maybe you’ve mastered the art of indifference. You care about your score but if things don’t go your way, so what? It’s just golf, after all. If that’s you, then I kind of envy you. For many of us who don’t have ambitions of a green jacket but are trying like hell to get better, a round of golf is somewhat akin to an emotional rollercoaster. It’s fun but there are peaks and valleys around every corner, starting at the first tee.

Recovering From Bad Shots

First, you’ve got to overcome those first-tee jitters. If you do and manage to par the first, you’re off to a good start. But after a few more holes like that, you realize you’re off to a really good start … a new personal best and finally breaking 90 or 80 (insert goal here) is actually attainable. But no sooner do you think that then disaster strikes in the form of an OB drive, a fatted wedge from the middle of the fairway or your putter betrays you and you lip out a three-footer.

Whatever it is, that shot stays with you and haunts you and that brilliant start to your round is just a memory. You start focusing on swing mechanics. Maybe you abandon or rush your pre-shot routine. Your body language transforms from confident and assured to slumped and discouraged. Perhaps a bad break in the form of a tricky lie in the sand comes next and that positive attitude is long gone. Your self-confidence is damaged and you’re engaged in some pretty negative self-talk.

Regaining Form

Then you finally tell yourself you don’t care about the score—this is just a practice round. And then what happens? Your form returns, the swing feels comfortable again, the fairways are wider and the hole looks bigger, and all is right with your golfing world.

Sound familiar? Have you been on that roller coaster too?  Well, perhaps it’s time we stop riding that monster and find a more mentally productive way to handle the emotional highs and lows of a round of golf. I’m not suggesting it’s time to care less.  Trust me, I know, for many of us (me included), not caring about the results isn’t in the cards. Bad rounds are always going to bother you. But it is possible to remain calm and steady on the course or, at the very least, much less vulnerable to those emotional ebbs and flows, and you don’t need your own personal sports psychologist  or extensive coaching to do it. What is the path to that steadiness and improved mental performance? Meditation. Hear me out.

Mental Training

If you decided you need to get stronger or faster or leaner, I probably wouldn’t have any trouble convincing you that you could undertake some form of physical training to achieve that goal. In other words, you believe that training your body is effective and something you should do. Why not your mind? Think about it. Why can’t you train your mind to be stronger, faster, leaner … more effective? You absolutely can and regular mental training through a dedicated meditation practice is the easiest way to do it.

Meditation

Relax. Meditation does not mean you need to grow a scraggly beard, sit cross-legged in a hot room and hum incessantly for hours. There are plenty of guided meditation apps that step you through short but impactful mental exercises. Headspace, Calm or my favorite, Waking Up. After some consistent, dedicated practice at meditation, you will find yourself much closer to “the zone” with your emotions in check on the course than ever before. Will you still have some distracting thoughts? Of course. Meditation isn’t going to teach you how to stop thinking those things or arrest whatever negative swing thoughts pop into your brain. A setback will still bother you. But you will learn to recognize those thoughts for what they are, just a thought, and not something that should have any impact on your next shot.

I’m sensing your skepticism. Give it a try. You’ll be surprised at your improved ability to be mindful and present on the course and in the shot. Rather than lost in a shot from three holes ago or in the anxiety of a daunting one that you know is coming.

The space between your ears may very well be uncharted waters for you in your quest to shave strokes off your score. Like working out, you can absolutely train your mind to function more effectively on the course. Play comfortable, disciplined golf and stop beating yourself up for what are actually pretty good shots. Better scores will follow.

DECADE Golf

One more thing: If you really want to dive deep down the mental game rabbit hole, consider looking into Scott Fawcett and DECADE Golf. There’ll be more from MyGolfSpy on DECADE in the future. For now suffice it to say that if you want to learn how to make better decisions on the golf course and have the right mental outlook to help hit your best shots, DECADE is the way to go.

Conclusion

In summary, beyond lessons and equipment, mental fitness is a game changer in golf. Adjusting expectations, playing smart and embracing meditation can significantly improve on-course performance. Train your mind, play disciplined golf and explore the uncharted territory between your ears for a more satisfying game and lower scores. If you’re serious about the mental game, check out Scott Fawcett’s DECADE Golf.

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Hayes Weidman

Hayes Weidman

Hayes Weidman

Hayes is a husband and father, and a single-digit handicap golfer in pursuit of scratch. He’s an avid golf fitness enthusiast in search of another yard, and he’s always a sucker for the next training aid that comes along.

Hayes Weidman

Hayes Weidman

Hayes Weidman

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Hayes Weidman

Hayes Weidman

Hayes Weidman

Hayes Weidman

Hayes Weidman

Hayes Weidman





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      cksurfdude

      3 months ago

      ” .. you can apply some discipline to your on-course decision-making …” 🤣🤣🤣 .. omg I’m still cracking… But seriously, great rundown on steps to take to improve! Thx!

      Reply

      John Martini

      3 months ago

      Great mental tips.
      You all might benefit from Golf Inside the Zone by Rob Polishook. The book discusses real/actual situations a golfer will experience during their golf game.
      No matter what level you are on you’ll find ideas that will resonate and provide value to you.
      The quotes from many of the touring pros are quite insightful.

      Who thinks Spieth will ever rebound and win another major after his horrendous 12th holes at Augusta? Did that leave a permanent scar?

      Reply

      Andrew the Great!

      3 months ago

      Got nothing productive or insightful to add. I just want to say that this is a terrific column. Thank you for it.

      Reply

      Yaaqob

      3 months ago

      “Whatever it is, that shot stays with you and haunts you and that brilliant start to your round is just a memory.” That perfectly sums up the attitude of so many golfers that I play with. The dreaded “spiral”. One of the best pieces of advice I ever read was from Tiger Woods’ 10 step rule. You have 10 steps to be mad at that bad shot you just hit, but after that you need to stop and focus on the next shot because you can’t change the shot you already hit.

      Reply

      Andrew the Great!

      3 months ago

      Hadn’t heard that 10-step rule before. Thanks! Every little bit of good advice helps.

      Reply

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    First Look
    Jun 12, 2024
    Want a Personal Shopper? Try Short Par 4
    Drivers
    Jun 11, 2024
    Callaway Paradym Ai Smoke Ti 340 Mini Driver
    Putters
    Jun 11, 2024
    Triple Black Evnroll 38 Tour Spec Putters