Golf Psychology - Winning the Mental Game

Golfer Focussing on a putt

There are few sports where the mental game is so important than golf. This holds whether you are a professional golfer on the PGA tour through to an amateur golfer who played once a week, the psychology of golf performance is crucial. You may be interested in hitting consistently good shots, recovering composure after hitting a bad shot, putting consistently, or simply enjoying your round of golf. Whatever aspect of your golf game there are plenty of sport psychology tips that can help you improve to play good golf. 

In this article we explore the psychology of the game of golf. If you are really interested in improving your mental game you may wish to consider the course developed by the Sport Psych Lab by leading experts on Mastering the Mental Game of Golf. You could also consider speaking to one of the consultants on our directory who can provide support both in person and sport psychology support online. 

But for now let's explore golf psychology in more detail. 

The 72nd hole of a major championship humbles many hopeful golfers expecting to win their first major championship. At the British Open championship at St Andrews in 1970, Doug Sanders missed a putt of fewer than three feet to win the Claret Jug. This error not only cost him millions of dollars in lost prize-money and endorsements but also the chance to win his first major tournament in golf. 

A player does not need to be on the 72nd hole of a major championship to feel the nerves, execute a careless shot or a make a poor decision. The psychology of golf is obvious to players at all levels. Because of this many golfers employ the services of a sport psychologist. This is true for club players, social players, junior players as well as those who are playing professionally. Our site has many consultants who have worked in golf and who have authored books on the psychology of golf

To illustrate how psychology can help golfers, let us consider the putt by Doug Sanders. His mistake was simple: he was thinking too far ahead rather than focusing on the task at hand: “I made the mistake about thinking which section of the crowd I was going to bow to! I had the victory speech prepared before the battle was over… I would give up every victory I had to have won that title. It’s amazing how many things to my normal routine I did on the 18th hole. There’s something for psychologists there, the way that the final hole of a major championship can alter the way a man thinks”. Though it is easy to explain the mistake Doug Sanders made, it’s much more difficult to correct it. We do not lose concentration – we misdirect it. If you think about your concentration as a torch shining a beam of light toward something, then it ought to point toward what you are doing rather than what you wish to avoid. On the 18th tee, we might regret what just happened on the 17th green or forecasting the outcome on the 18th hole; however, these thoughts are unlikely to help us to succeed on this tee shot. To overcome this dilemma, we need sensible strategies to improve our concentration and to stay in the present. Here are three practical tips to improve your concentration. 

First, develop and refine your pre-shot routine. Pre-shot routines work because the golfer learns to focus on task-relevant information (e.g., focusing on the back of the ball) rather than task-irrelevant information (e.g., thinking about the outcome of the shot). Your pre-shot routine helps you to prepare yourself physically and psychologically for the upcoming shot and play the shots you need time after time.  

Second, we can instruct ourselves about what we want to do. This instructional self-talk might be “smooth and low” to remind ourselves to create a wide takeaway on our backswing. Self-talk can maintain focus over 18 holes of playing golf. 

Finally, we can practise in our minds what we wish to do on the golf course - this form of mental practice is known as mental imagery. Mental imagery allows us to rehearse physical actions (e.g., swinging a sand wedge) in our mind. Mental imagery is a vital skills for many tour players, including Tiger Woods and famously was a vital skill for the 18-time major champion, Jack Nicklaus: “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head. First, I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes, and I see the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behaviour on landing. Then there is a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality”. 

In summary, golf is a game played with the body but won in the mind. You might feel that much of what is written is common sense; however, a question to consider is this: Is it your common practice? If not that why not speak to an online sport psychologist and help your golf game bounce forward. Or up skill your golf psychology game by completing the Mastering the Mental Game of Golf course which is coming soon.