I have written many articles on the mental side of the game. It is a well-known fact that a good golf mindset is essential to playing the game well. With that in mind, I spend as much time with my students working on the mental and emotional side of the game as I do mechanics and technique.
A golfer can possess excellent skills from a technical standpoint, but a poor mental approach can sabotage everything. One of the biggest keys is practicing the mental aspect of golf, just as you would your swing or putting stroke.
Here are the 5 best golf mental tips:
- Your pre-shot routine sets the tone mentally.
- Use the right self-talk
- Connect the body and mind
- Focus vs. tuning things out (Tiger Woods approved)
- Managing your expectations on the course.
The problem is that many golfers do not know how to work on the mental side. There are no real golf mental secrets.
All the tips that I will share with you today will make a lot of sense and may already be things you know. The trick is to incorporate them into your training and your playing.
Read on for the tips and how to implement them into your game for an immediate impact.
5 Mental Tips to Help You Play Better Golf
In the 27 years I have worked in the golf industry, most of my time has been spent coaching. Helping golfers enjoy the game has always been a passion of mine. What I have learned in the 40 years I have played the game and the almost three decades working in the business is this…golf is largely an exercise in mental strength.
Playing this game to the fullest of your ability takes a great understanding of the mechanical aspects of golf. Once you have learned those aspects, practicing them regularly is a significant factor in future success.
Additionally, you must learn how to play the game. That is different from learning how to execute shots. Playing is taking technique from practice and bringing it to the course.
Strategy, course management, and the mental and emotional aspects of golf are part of the recipe as well.
To be a complete player at any level, you need a marriage of technique, course management, and mental toughness.
The following five mental game tips are some of the more important ones I teach my students. These are aspects that I have learned over my 40 years of playing and 27 years of coaching the game.
Tip #1: The Play Box and Think Box: How a Pre-Shot Routine Sets the Tone Mentally
The premise of this idea is something I learned myself as a junior golfer. The idea behind this tip is to separate the planning and preparation before a shot. Any mechanical swing thought you might have, and the actual execution of the shot.
Basically, this is a way to set up your pre-shot routine so you can become freed up when it comes time to hit the shot. Many golfers think of multiple things over the ball right before hitting. That is a recipe for potential disaster.
Setting up your pre-shot routine with a Think Box and a Play Box melds those one or two mechanical thoughts, strategizing, and moving into execution.
Many successful golfers, such as Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, use this process.
Here is how it goes, in ten clear steps…
- Step 1- Stand about 20 feet behind your ball and face your target. This will be your “Think Box.”
- Step 2- In the “Think Box,” assess everything that may affect your shot—wind, your lie, where the target is, any trouble around your target, etc.
- Step 3- Plan the shot you need to hit after assessing your situation. Visualize that shot. Draw a picture in your mind’s eye of the shot flying toward your target.
- Step 4- While still in the “Think Box,” set up to make 2-3 practice swings, set up towards the target as if you were hitting it. These are not merely practice swings but rather rehearsals of the swing you will need for your shot.
- Step 5- Get back in line with your target line and look once more at your target line. Visualize the shot one last time while in the think box.
- Step 6- Walk towards the ball as you leave the “Think Box.” Stay focused on your target line.
- Step 7- Once you reach your ball, you are in the “Play Box.” Your only thought is your target. Start by setting your clubface perpendicular to your target line. Next, place the trail foot parallel left of your target line (for righties), followed by your lead foot.
- Step 8- Check your body lines of your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders. They should all be stacked on top of each other, parallel to the left of your target line (for righties).
- Step 9- Make a few waggles of your club as you stay loose. Turn your head a few times, looking at your target.
- Step 10- Take a breath, one last look at your target, and execute.
This process should not take very long. If it lasts any more than a minute, that’s too long. Some preliminary information you may need for your shot should be gathered before you get to your ball.
Tip #2: Self-Talk Will Help You Win The Day, Or Make You Want To Quit The Game
How we talk to ourselves, whether it’s internally or externally, has a direct effect on how we execute a shot. Many golfers have a constant internal conversation going on in their heads as they play. Unfortunately, a lot of times, that self-talk is in a negative tone.
That negative talk can have physical repercussions as you swing the club. “Don’t go left” may be interpreted by the brain and the body as “Go left.”
Here is an excellent exercise you can try with a friend on the range. Something I have had students do on several occasions.
Play a hole with a friend, and speak aloud as if you were their inner voice. But, of course, the trick is to do it in a negative tone…as would be the case for many of us on our own, in our heads.
Even if a good shot is hit, they roll in a long birdie putt and flip the self-talk to a negative. “You should have made that birdie putt long ago, you idiot.”
Sounds pretty sad, doesn’t it?
When you say that to someone else, it sounds cruel and nasty. Yet we do this to ourselves all the time.
On the next hole, flip the script. Say only good things out loud about each shot your friend hits. But please don’t do it condescendingly, either. Look for the good in each shot.
This exercise can be eye-opening for many.
Tip #3: The Mind-Body Connection; Can You Have One Without The Other?
This is a fascinating concept that transcends golf. But since golf is our focus here, we will stick to that. And before anyone thinks this tip might be hocus pocus nonsense, watch the following video from Dr. Deepak Chopra.
Our mind and body are deeply connected. This is based on science. This concept is worth mentioning with what we are talking about specifically in this article: our mental game in golf. Your thoughts in your brain, if negative, affect your body physically.
If you are nervous or apprehensive about a shot and think that a negative outcome may happen, you could tell your body to manifest it.
More from Golf Span: How To Practice Golf At Home – 6 Steps To Practicing At Home
Tip #4: Focusing vs. Simply Tuning Things Out (A Tip From Tiger)
Tiger told HVIII that he hears everything around him but has learned to tune it out. Tiger told Varner, “It’s like reading a book with the TV on.”
Many have heard the stories of Tiger’s father jingling loose change in his pocket while he was over a putt or hitting a drive. He was training him from an early age to tune out all the noise…to not try and overly focus, and try not to hear it, but learn to tune it out. You can’t help but hear it sometimes. You have to simply learn how to tune it out.
Many of us get too distracted by the most minor things as we play. Those little things become excuses. Excuses could eventually lead to negative undertones.
Tip #5: My All Time Favorite Tip: Learning To Manage Your Expectations On The Course
My dad taught me one of my favorite tips of all time. This tip is something that I have long passed along to my students.
An issue many golfers have is not managing their expectations very well. It is indeed OK to have expectations for yourself. Perhaps a score you want to shoot in your next tournament or when playing your next casual round. That in and of itself is fine.
The trick with this is twofold. First, you want to manage your expectations. It would be best if you were realistic. Look to do your best, but understand that a bad hole or two is bound to happen. Secondly, you should not tackle your scoring goal all at once. In other words, you can’t live and die on every single shot throughout your round.
This trick I mentioned earlier, which my dad taught me, is a great way to be realistic with your expectations and take on your scoring goal.
Let’s say you want to break 90 for 19 holes. You could leave that goal of breaking 90 as your overarching goal for the round or break it up into bite-sized, manageable pieces.
My dad taught me to break down your round into three-hole segments. Something much more manageable and that will keep you more present.
If you want to shoot 90, that means every three holes, you need to shoot a total of 15. So it does not matter what the par of the first three holes is or what holes 4-6 or 7-9 are; you need to shoot 15 for each three-hole set.
The first three holes in your round could be a par 4, par 3, and par 5. You could play with 15 as your three-hole total goal in your head and go 6-4-5 for a 15…or look at the par for the hole and start with a double bogey and think, “Oh crap, here we go again!”
You decide what might help you more…
Check this out: The 10 Common Golf Problems Every Beginner Makes
Here are a few frequently asked questions regarding the mental game of golf.
What Are Some Common Mental Mistakes in Golf?
Overthinking is a common golf mental mistake. You want to limit your thoughts to only one or two things before hitting a shot. Underthinking is another common mistake. What I mean by this is not having a clear plan of attack. This is where a good pre-shot routine on all shots pays big dividends.
How Do I Stay Focused During a Round of Golf?
A great way to stay focused is to learn how to acknowledge the noise around you and tune it out. Acceptance of the fact that distractions will happen may be the best way to overcome them.
Additionally, a good pre-shot routine is an excellent way to stay in the present.
How Can I Stay Positive After a Bad Shot or Mistake?
In high school, many years ago, I created a mental, as well as physical cue for allowing me to let stuff go. I called it "Flushing it."
Once a bad shot was hit, I would take a deep breath, smile, put my hand up in the air, and make a motion as if I was flushing a toilet. In essence, I was flushing the crap down the toilet.
The humorous undertones helped me remember that it is just a game, not life or death. Much better than swearing or throwing a club!
Summing It All Up
There is no getting around it; golf is challenging. Part of what makes it so difficult is how much our mind plays a role in our success. Letting frustration, too high expectations, or distractions keep us from playing to our full potential is natural. Many golfers underestimate the importance of the mental game.
Many things I mentioned in this article have proven successful for my students. Hopefully, the tips laid here can help you as well as you continue along your golfing journey.
PGA Professional Brendon Elliott is the founder of Little Linksters, LLC, and its nonprofit arm, the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development. He is the winner of 25+ prestigious industry honors, including the 2017 PGA National Youth Player Development award. Brendon is a respected coach, businessman, writer, and golf industry expert.