The worst golf mental game mistakes that add strokes to your game:
Golf isn’t an easy game but some golfers make it even harder by their mental approach to the game. Just as there are physical obstacles on a golf course, sand traps and water hazards, there are mental obstacles that many golfers seem to fall into that add strokes onto their score. Navigating through those mental traps is essential for optimum play. This is the reason it is extremely important to dedicate time to developing your mental game. Your mental game can be your greatest ally or worst adversary. If you can understand the most common mental errors that cost you shots, you can begin to arm yourself against making those mistakes and start discovering your true potential as a golfer.
Mental Error #1: Over-thinking your swing while playing
Analysing your swing on the golf course is counter-productive to a good score. Some golfers get into the bad habit of taking the practice course to tournament play. These golfers constantly are reminding themselves of what they are working on during practice or coaching themselves on the technical aspects of the swing. A conscious focus on technique creates physical and mental tension interfering with a smooth, relaxed swing.
SOLUTION: If you want a swing reminder you can use a cue word prior to your pre-shot routine. Cue word can include “relax,” “head steady,” “square clubface,” “rotate” or “follow-through.” You could even use the mental cue word “trust” to remind yourself that you have the ability to make an effective shot. Remember, nothing needs to be 100% correct to shoot a great score. This strategy is a great antidote against over-thinking your swing.
Mental Error #2: Thinking about your score
Many golfers fall into the trap of endless score calculation… “I need to bogey this hole,” “My score is three strokes off from when I played this front nine last time,” “If I par this hole, my score will be…” Focusing on the score adds to the pressure to your game and creates more problems than necessary. Golfers who are overly focused on their score tend to react with strong negative emotions after adding a stroke to their score. Focusing on score vaults your mind to the potential outcome in the future instead of the process of playing good golf in the present.
There is one exception, you may need to know the score during the last holes to best choose an effective strategy for playing those holes but, on the whole, it’s best to have “score amnesia.”
SOLUTION: Most of the time, your best rounds of golf were when you were just playing, slightly oblivious to the score. If you can stay focused on strategy and playing each shot to the best of your ability, your score will take care of itself.
Mental Error #3: Watching the leaderboard
Golfers look at the leaderboard to see the scores of other golfers. When you watch the leaderboard, you become more focused on what other golfers are doing and you take the focus off your golf game. The problem is that you cannot control what other golfers are doing or how they are playing. Focusing on others takes you out of your game and what you need to do in the moment, adding to the stress of the game.
SOLUTION: Wear blinders! When horses are racing they wear blinders so they focus forward ignoring what the other horses are doing. If a horse turned his head during a race, he and his rider would crash. Remind yourself of this analogy when you feel the urge to look at the leaderboard… Watching others will cause your performance to crash!
Mental Error #4: Beating yourself up for bad shots or overall poor play
Berating yourself on the golf course only serves to generate intense negative emotion taking you out of your game mentally. You can probably recall times when you said to yourself, “What the heck am I’m doing out here?” or “I can’t make a shot to save my life!” You probably found it difficult to calm down after those thoughts. Subsequently, those unproductive, negative thoughts took you out of your optimal playing zone and your performance spiralled downward.
The manner in which you talk to yourself will have a huge impact on your next shot and your self-talk is totally within your control.
SOLUTION: Be a good caddie to yourself. Your caddie wouldn’t yell at you… your caddie helps you to focus on the next shot. So tell yourself what a caddie would tell you, “Alright, let’s forget about that shot and move on. This is how we should play the next shot…” The result of your last shot is irrelevant in the present. The important thing is your strategy for the next shot.
Mental Error #5: Not having a consistent pre-shot routine
Many golfers have no set pre-set, consistent routine they perform for each shot. Your pre-shot routine settles your mind, helps you focus on what needs to be done and is your mini warm-up for the current shot. A pre-shot routine lets your body and mind know that you are ready and prepared to stroke the ball.
SOLUTION: Take some time to write out a pre-shot routine. Watch other golfers and see what they do prior to their shot then adopt some of their strategies and personalise your routine so it is comfortable for you. Make sure to include both physical and mental aspects when developing your routine. Then, practice that routine prior to every shot during practice rounds until it becomes a habit.
Mental Error #6: Thinking about the Tournament too far in advance
Some golfers think about tournaments days in advance. Little by little, they can feel the pressure build up in the days leading up to the “big day” and, by the time they get to the first tee, they are a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode. Excessive worry before a tournament drains your energy and creates a feeling of tiredness on the golf course. Worrying is like throwing money out a window, it wastes valuable resources better spent on important things.
SOLUTION: Find activities that relax you when you get that anxious feeling. Reading, watching TV and hanging out with friends can provide that distraction you need to get your mind off golf for a while. It may also be useful to learn relaxation techniques (progressive relaxation, yoga, deep breathing) to help quiet your mind and body.
Mental Error #7: Trying to please or impress your coach or parent
“People pleasing” is actually the fear of social disapproval. Worrying incessantly about what others think or how others may criticise you for your level of play chips away at your confidence. Confidence is self-confidence meaning it resides in you. When you look for approval from other sources, you will often be disappointed and feel you are not good enough. I t is impossible to play great golf or even feel good about yourself when you see yourself in that negative light.
SOLUTION: Stop thinking about what would make others happy and focus on what will make you happy. It is merely a matter of shifting the focus from others to yourself. When others criticise, tell yourself that those remarks have more to do with a deficiency within that person. Remind yourself why you started golfing in the first place and identify personal goals you want to achieve in golf.
Mental Error #8: Trying to be perfect
Perfectionism is the enemy of any golfer. Perfectionism is the fear of failure to the highest degree. Perfection doesn’t raise your game up a notch; it actually holds you back from playing your best. Since playing aggressive is too risky for the perfectionist, they tend to hold back and play it safe. Playing the safe shot may minimise mistakes but it also minimises success.
SOLUTION: Challenge the irrational belief of perfection. You need to examine why you feel the need to be perfect and re-examine your thoughts about perfection. Trying to be perfect means trying to be mistake-free. You can be mistake-free at easy tasks but shooting for excellence helps you achieve the most of your potential.
The Secret to Great Golf
Arnold Palmer once said, “The whole secret to mastering the game of golf — and this applies to the beginner as well as the pro — is to cultivate a mental approach to the game that will enable you to shrug off the bad days, keep patient and know in your heart that sooner or later you will be back on top.”
ACTION DRILL: How to Avoid Mental Traps & Hazards
The next time you play notice what mental hazards trip you up the most. Select the top hazard and identify one strategy to put into play when you are approaching that mental trap. Notice your progress after each round of golf. Too often golfers try to work on too many areas at once or give up too early when not experience immediate success. Be patient. Commit to cultivating and growing your mental game.
I would love to know how things are working out for you, so feel free to share your experiences with me.
To further understand how your mental game affects your golf performance, why not take the mental game assessment.
Its free and only takes 4 minutes to complete