At some point in the process, all golfers realize that the mental game plays a significant role in shooting lower scores. Those that master the mental game, gain a big advantage over their competition. When we think of the greatest players of all time – Jack, Tiger, Hogan, Sorenstam – we regard them as mentally tough and in control of their emotions. Their success was always foreshadowed by their steely nerves under pressure.
The good news is that the mental game is a skill that can be taught and learned. It’s best to begin with a couple of important definitions.
1. Mental toughness – The ability to perform at your best when it counts the most, even under adverse conditions.
2. Mental skills – Specific actions and thoughts that you can use to reduce interference and help you perform at a consistently high level.
In order to master the mental game, young players need to understand and recognize the difference between the things they control and the things they don’t. When that happens, they can devote time and attention to the parts of their game that will have a positive effect on their score. To help illustrate the difference between the two groups, I hand this list out to our students.
Some or Full Control
- Nutrition and hydration
- Shot selection
- Reaction or response to challenges
- Body language
- What I say
- What I do
- What I think
Limited or No Control
- Homework or test schedule
- Course conditions
- Playing partners
- Tee times
- Pace of play
- Rulings by officials
- Good or bad bounces
- What others say
- What others do
- What others think
- Finish (1 st , 2 nd , etc.) in a tournament
When younger golfers get confused or forget to manage the things they control, they begin to get frustrated and make mistakes. For example, it’s common for junior golfers to allow their confidence to be based upon their most recent results. If they hit a good drive on the previous hole, they’ll be more confident hitting their driver on the current hole. Conversely, if they hit a bad drive on the previous hole, their confidence will be low, and they might choose to hit a different club regardless of strategy or the hole’s length.
A golfer with well-trained mental skills will instead realize that they have control over their reaction to previous shots and might engage in positive self-talk (the best way to maintain confidence) before hitting their next drive.
Another example might be a junior that gets annoyed by the pace of play or the things their playing partners do or say. This typically leads to frustration and a loss of focus and motivation. Players who are better trained might view these distractions as a challenge and will know to increase their concentration and focus more intently on their pre-shot process.
Everyone knows that unexpected stuff happens on the course and in life. Once young players learn where to focus their attention and energy – on the controllables, they can begin to improve their mental skills. Improved mental skills is one of the quickest ways to reduce errors and lower scores.